The Tibetan Language Institute’s System of Learning Tibetan

TLI has developed a unique and efficient system of Tibetan study that blends Tibetan tradition with Western language learning insights. Our system has been developed by western lamas trained both in Tibetan Buddhist dharma (graduates of the traditional three-year retreat) as well as in language and language teaching in Western universities. Furthermore, we have continually refined our techniques and learning materials based on our two decades of teaching Tibetan to Western Dharma students. This approach is further enhanced by our emphasis on Tibetan as a way to bring out a deeper understanding of Buddhist teachings, prayers, and texts.

In this interview, learn about Lama David’s unique approach to language learning, the unique characteristics of the Tibetan language that he loves, and how different approaches to grammar can open up meaning at different points in a student’s journey. He also reveals how to approach language learning as a spiritual practice, and shares stories of his interactions with prominent gurus and translators.

Unlike other courses that rely heavily on linguistic or other technical vocabulary and assume knowledge of jargon—where years of study before any proficiency is reached—from the very beginning of studies with TLI, the student is learning Buddhist vocabulary and grammar. One student said that after a couple of courses, being able to read Tibetan has made her daily sadhana text luminous, shining with new meaning. Many students comment on how easy the program is to follow compared to other approaches and how much fun they have studying Tibetan with TLI.

Following our Dharma-centered system, a student will very soon be able to…

  • Read and write the Tibetan script

  • Use a Tibetan-English dictionary

  • Understand beginning Tibetan grammar

  • Understand Tibetan sentence structure

  • Acquire basic Tibetan Buddhist vocabulary

Our goal is to get the student quickly into the reading of core Buddhist texts such as the Heart Sutra and the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva.

Reading and studying texts such as these brings students to a new level in their Dharma practice and transforms their relationship with the dharma.

Whether you want to study Tibetan for purposes of Buddhist practice and study or you wish to learn to converse with your lama and other Tibetans, our beginning level is the place for you to start. Following this trajectory, the student can then successfully begin to communicate with native Tibetans, including lamas and rinpoches, as well as begin to practice in Tibetan and to study using authentic Tibetan vocabulary rather than relying on others’ translations.

Level I Study Package
Level I Course Registration

Our Tibetan learning materials and courses have received enthusiastic endorsements from many, many of our students over the years. As one long-time student wrote:

“Outside of the university environment*, there is no one else that comes close to David for teaching classical literary Tibetan….There’s no one else that teaches the Tibetan language as David does to the followers of Buddhism…”
— Chantal P., CA

Study Materials - Tibetan Language Institute

*Tibetan is only taught in a very few American universities, and in most of those universities, beginning courses are not taught every year.


Help Bring the Profound and Beautiful Tibetan Language to Modern Dharma Students All Over the World

We are committed to supporting practitioners from all Tibetan spiritual lineages by empowering students to read and translate the transcendent language of Classical Tibetan.

TLI is a 501( c)(3) educational nonprofit organization. We often operate with very limited funds. Please help us continue this work.

Donate to TLI