a) Basic Tibetan For Travelers

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

Thanks                                                tujay-chay

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



I/me                                         nga

You                                          kayrang

He/him                                                 kho

She/her                                     mo

We/us                                       ngânts

They/them                               khontso

He/she (polite)                                     khong

Friend                                      drogpo (m) OR drogmo (f)

Family                                                 nâng-miy

Daughter                                  bumo

Son                                          bu

Brother                                    pingya bu

Sister                                        pingya bumo

Father                                      papha

Mother                                                ama

Husband                                   kyoka

Wife                                        kyeman

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)

Teacher                                   genla

Doctor                                                 âmchi

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

Meat                                        sha

Fish                                          nya-sha

Fruit                                         shing-tog

Chicken                                   cha-sha

Flour                                        thrushi

Noodles                                    gyâdu

Dumplings                                momo

Stir-fry vegetables                    tshay

Rice                                         dray

Corn                                        ah-shom

Potatoes                                  shawgaw

Yogurt                                                 sho

Coffee                                      cha kabi OR cha tsigcha

Tea                                          cha

Water                                      chu

Milk                                         oma

Beer                                         chang OR piju OR beeyar

This is good.                            diy yâgpo du

The meal was delicious.            khala shimbu shedra chung


Important Locations

How do I get to … ?                 …-la ka tesi dro gawray?

Where is … ?                            … kâba du?

Market                                                 trom

Mosque                                    kache lha-khâng

Temple/Church                                    lha-khâng

Shop                                        tshong khang

School                                      slob grwa

Hospital                                   men-khâng

House                                       khâng-pa

Home                                       nâng

Bathroom                                trü-khâng

Toilet                                      sânchö

Shower                                     thor chu

Kitchen                                    thab tshang

Garden                                                 dhumra



How much?                              kâtsö?

How much is it?                       gong gâtsay ray?

Money                                                 ngü

Price                                        gong

Expensive                                gong chenpo

Cheap                                      kepo

Time of Day

Morning                                   shawgay

Afternoon                                chito

Evening                                   gongda

Night                                       gongda OR tshen-mo


Useful Words and Phrases

Yes                                          ray, du, yawray, gaw

No                                           maray, mindu, yaw-mâray, mögaw

Maybe                                      chig chay-na

Okay                                        grigs

Now                                         dânda

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!

Who?                                       su?

Where?                                    kâba?

Why?                                       kâray-chaynay?

What?                                      kâray?

When?                                                 k.dü?

How?                                       ga dra zer?



Peace                                       shiy-de

Love                                        gawpo OR tsewa

Work                                       layka

Enough                                    dâng-pa

Beautiful                                  nying jepo

Slowly                                      kâlay kâlay

Strength                                   shugs

Bad                                          dukcha

Good                                        yagpo

My condolences                       nga lo-phâm yö

Buddha                                     sangye

Congratulations!                      tashidelek!



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

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