Learn Tibetan: win a car!

Tibetan language competition winners celebrate with their prize
Tibetan language competition winners celebrate with their prize

29th January 2016

Tibetans use protest and prizes to promote their language

While Tibetans in Amdo in the far east of Tibet have been forced to stage a protest over the failure of their local education system to support Tibetans' needs, elsewhere in Tibet, Tibetans have organised a competition to promote the use of Tibetan. With the lucky winner taking home a car and prizes of bikes and cash for the runners-up, Dza-Nyin Association's "Unprejudiced Tibetan Vocabulary Competition - 2016" was a major hit in Nangchen County. with over 1,000 participants.

Shining sun over the mountains

The competition was part of a five-day programme of Tibetan language teaching last week, organised by the Yulshul Nangchen Dza-Nyin Association for Nurturing Mother Tongue. Set up by local villagers in Yushu prefecture in 2012, the association's name can be roughly translated as "sun shining over the mountanins". The organisers described the aim of the competition as:

"to protect Tibetan mother tongue, to promote Tibetan language among Tibetan populace, to encourage learning and the utilising of Tibetan language from children to old people, to support those Tibetan scholars making great efforts to create new Tibetan words"

They also hoped the competition would "inspire other regions of Tibetan areas to take similar actions for the protection and promotion of the Tibetan language".

There were separate categories for students and those who had had no formal education. The winners were Lhapa Tsering and Lhundrup from Nangchen.

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

  • Tibetan Vocabulary Competition in Nangchen County

Preserving Tibetan

Children in school are now taught in Mandarin, rather than their native Tibetan, and fluency and literacy in Mandarin is essential for higher education and good employment in Tibet. As a result, Tibetans fear that the language will fall out of use and already many young people are not fully literate in it.

The Chinese constitution theoretically offers protection to the cultures of "ethnic minorities" and China has made great show recently of its efforts to protect and preserve the Tibetan language. However, these policies are often tokenistic and patchily supported by local education authorities.

Protest against education policies in Tsoshar

Protest over education in Tsoshar, Tibet

Tibetan students and their parents joined forces with Muslims in Tsoshar county on 24 January to stage a protest over local authorities' failure to implement policies in support of "ethnic education". In a separate letter to authorities, they complained about the decline in Tibetan language and culture under the local authorities' neglect.

Both the demonstration and letter were at pains to assert that Tibetans were simply claiming their rights under the Chinese constitution - a tactic used to protect them from accusations of Tibetan nationalism or "separatism". The authorities have promised to look into their complaints

Tibetans supporting Tibetan language and culture risk overstepping the bounds of what is politically aceptable and can be persecuted and convicted for their activities. Community leaders advocating for and supporting Tibetan language - very often monks - are seen as a threat by the authorities.

Take action for Thardhod Gyaltsen

Tibet's monks and nuns are at the forefront of resistance to the Chinese occupation, either by demonstrating or by preserving Tibet's culture. Many are put in jail. Take action for Thardhod Gyaltsen, sentenced to 18 years in jail for owning pictures and recordings of the Dalai Lama.