Friday, June 28, 2013


All of a sudden it seems that we are halfway through our year in Bhutan. Already we've experienced and learned so much here, but I regret how little Dzongkha I have learned and so I am making a resolution to really make some progress in the next 6 months.

Dzongkha prayers flying on the school gate.

On a daily basis I am immersed in, and surrounded by Dzongkha. Definitely the sounds are familiar, I hear words and if I know the context and an English word or two is thrown in I can make some sense of what is said. It's a good place to start!

All classrooms are signed in Dzongkha.

I'm guessing this one says 'staffroom'.

Dzongkha is not a world language by any stretch, there are next to no print or online resources available to learn, and yet perhaps my best teachers are some of my students who I walk to school with who enjoy teaching me simple phrases and are patient with my questions and mistakes.

I was inspired to really give it my best shot after watching this youtube clip about a young 'polyglot' (someone who can speak multiple languages). What a great kid and I have no doubt he would have taken Dzongkha by the horns and be fluent in the time it's taken me to learn 'Where are you going?' (the most common greeting here).

I was reading in the Kuensel this week (Wednesday June 19) that not only foreigners like me are struggling with the national language, but across the country politicians who are contesting the next election in two weeks time are faced with a dilemma. They are travelling to far flung parts of the country to share their policies at common forums in areas where one of 23 other languages are spoken. Policy dictates that these forums must be conducted in Dzongkha even though some politicians struggle to use the language or it is not understood by the audience.

This lovely shop has opened recently on the ground floor of the building where we live.

And this restaurant is also on the ground floor of where we live.

The rationale behind this push is that Dzongkha, which was chosen to be the national language in 1971 is the language of the national parliament and therefore all political aspirants need to be fluent. At a time where the medium of schools is English and Bhutanese who want to engage with the rest of the world need to speak English, some are concerned that within the next ten to fifteen years, the levels of proficiency in Dzongkha among Bhutanese could fall dramatically.

From my observations in Bumthang where Bumthap is spoken as a mother tongue by many, Dzongkha is the language most widely spoken in the school and social setting. The Dzongkha Lopen (teacher) told me that students perform quite well in Dzongkha as they have heard it spoken at home since birth and they have a natural grasp of the grammar, in contrast to their abilities in English.

Dzongkha test papers I collected.

Some Dzonglish graffiti!


Perhaps the problem with Dzongkha gets worse the further east and south you travel from the capital.

In any case I am eager to get my hands on a copy of a book written by a fellow volunteer in Bhutan and work hard to become at least conversational if not a polyglot in the next sixth months.



  1. ... 6 months already! wow. No doubt your dzongkha is already very enviable - especially after only 6 months! I so love the script - so beautiful. x

  2. ps lovely pictures, as usual, too! x