Basic Tibetan for Travelers
This is a brief introduction to Tibetan, spoken by approximately 6 million people across the Tibetan Plateau, and in parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan. Tibetan is also particularly well known for its use in Buddhist literature.
This introduction contains basic instruction about pronunciation and important words and phrases.
There are thirty consonants and five vowels. Each consonant letter includes an inherent a, and the other vowels are indicated by marks surrounding the corresponding consonant.
Although Tibetan has only five vowels, many of the vowels have several sounds. The various sounds are listed below.
a a as in father u oo as in mood
i i as in it e e as in met
iy ee as in see ay ay as in say
â a as in alone (short a) ö er as in her
o o as in so ü ew as in crew
aw aw as in paw
The vowels can also be pronounced nasally. In this guide, a vowel is nasal if it is followed by n, m, or ng. The easiest way to nasalize a vowel is to push your air stream through both your nose and mouth as you pronounce the vowel.
Generally, Tibetan consonants are pronounced the same as in English. However, there
are several unique sounds.
k k as in skip ny ny as in canyon
kh k as in key, (breathy) t t as in star
khy cu as in cute th t as in tent, (breathy)
gy gu as in regulate
ng ng as in sing
tsh ts as in Patsy
dz dds as in adds lh lh as in cool headed, (breathy)
p p as in priest thr tr as in triumph, (slightly trilled)
ph p as in pat, (breathy) dr dr as in dragon, (slightly trilled)
Tibetan is generally not a tonal language, though some dialects have developed slight
tonal qualities. Those differences will not be indicated in this guide.
Come in. ya pay
May I come in? ulay ulay
Good morning. nga-to delek
Good night. simja nâng-gaw
Goodbye. kâliy shu OR kâliy pay
See you later. jema jay-yong
Nice to meet you. kayrang jel-pa gawpo chung
How are you? kayrang kusu debo yimbay?
I’m fine. nga debo yin
My name is… ngay minglâ … ray
What is your name? kayrang gi minglâ karay ray?
I am from America. nga amerika nay yin
Where are you from? kayrang lungbâ kanay yin?
I’m a student. nga lob-trug yin
Thank you thugs rje che
Please kuchi (informal) OR tujay-sig (formal)
(generally Tibetans don’t use the word “please.”)
Don’t mention it shu-goyak yaw maray
I’m sorry. gawn-da
Pardon me. gawn-da
He/she (polite) khong
Friend drogpo (m) OR drogmo (f)
Brother pingya bu
Sister pingya bumo
Male, same age chola
Female, same age ajala
Male, grandfather’s age pola
Female, grandmother’s age mola
Male, father’s age pala
Female, mother’s age amala
Younger male bu
Younger female bumo
Honorific -la (added to the end of a name)
Food and Drinks
I am hungry. nga throgaw-tog giy du
I am thirsty. nga ka kom-giy du
I want… nga-la … gaw
Food kha lag
Bread bag leb
Stir-fry vegetables tshay
Coffee cha kabi OR cha tsigcha
Beer chang OR piju OR beeyar
This is good. diy yâgpo du
The meal was delicious. khala shimbu shedra chung
How do I get to … ? …-la ka tesi dro gawray?
Where is … ? … kâba du?
Mosque kache lha-khâng
Shop tshong khang
School slob grwa
Shower thor chu
Kitchen thab tshang
How much? kâtsö?
How much is it? gong gâtsay ray?
Expensive gong chenpo
Time of Day
Night gongda OR tshen-mo
Useful Words and Phrases
Yes ray, du, yawray, gaw
No maray, mindu, yaw-mâray, mögaw
Maybe chig chay-na
Later phyi ba
What is this called? diy minglâ? OR karay ray?
How many? kâtsay?
I am tired. nga nyi ku giy du OR kâlay ka giy du
I am lost. ngay tang-ga ha kugiy mindu
I am ill. nga na-giydu OR nga nâgiy du
I am happy. nga kyipo du
I don’t understand. ha ko-masong
Could you repeat that? te yâng-kyar soong rog nâng?
Could you speak more slowly? tâtung kalay-kalay soong nâng dâng?
How do you say … ? … kâday lâb gaw ray?
Do you speak English? kayrâng injiy-kay shing-giy yawbay?
Help! rog nâng-da!
How? ga dra zer?
Love gawpo OR tsewa
Beautiful nying jepo
Slowly kâlay kâlay
My condolences nga lo-phâm yö
0 laykor 11 chug-chig 22 nyi-shu tsa-nyi
1 chig 12 chu-nyi 30 sumchu
2 nyi 13 chog-sum 40 ship-chu
3 sum 14 chup-shi 50 ngâp-chu
4 shi 15 chö-nga 60 trug-chu
5 nga 16 chu-trug 70 dün-chu
6 trug 17 choop-dün 80 gyây-chu
7 dün 18 chop-gyay 90 gup-chu
8 gyay 19 chu-gu 100 gya
9 gy 20 nyi-shu 1,000 chig-dong
10 chu 21 nyi-shu tsa-chig 10,000 chig tri