There are no formal courses offered in Bhutan but your tour operator may be able to arrange programs (meditation, Buddhism, cooking etc) to meet your particular interest. Given sufficient notice, the Dzongkha Development Commission can arrange brief courses and lectures on language and music.
With prior arrangement through your tour operator, WWF (www.wwfbhutan.org.bt) and RSPN (www.rspn-bhutan.org) can arrange lectures and discussion groups on wildlife and environmental issues, and the Folk Heritage Museum can provide courses in Bhutanese cooking and paper making.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha. While Dzongkha uses the same ’Ucen script as Tibetan – and the two languages are closely related – Dzongkha is sufficiently different that Tibetans cannot understand it. English is the medium of instruction in schools, so most educated people can speak it fluently. There are English signboards, books and menus throughout the country. Road signs and government documents are all written in both English and Dzongkha. The national newspaper, Kuensel, is published in three languages: English, Dzongkha and Nepali. In the monastic schools Choekey, the classical Tibetan language, is taught.
In eastern Bhutan most people speak Sharchop (meaning ‘language of the east’), which is totally different from Dzongkha. In the south, most people speak Nepali. As a result of the isolation of many parts of the country, a number of languages other than Dzongkha and Sharchop survive. Some are so different that people from different parts of the country can’t understand each other. Bumthangkha is a language of the Bumthang region, and it’s common for regional minorities have their own language. Other tongues in Bhutan’s Tower of Babel are Khengkha from Zhamgang, Kurtoep from Lhuentshe, Mangdep from Trongsa and Dzala from Trashi Yangtse.
The Dzongkha Development Commission has established a system for transliterating Dzongkha into Roman script. This official system uses three accent marks: the apostrophe to represent a high tone (eg ’ne) or a ‘soft’ consonant (eg g’); a circumflex accent (eg ê) to represent long vowels; and a diaeresis (eg ö), which alters pronunciation in different ways, depending on the vowel. The system also attempts to represent sounds in Dzongkha that don’t occur in English, such as retroflex and aspirated consonants.
aas in ‘father’
äas the ‘a’ in ‘hat’
eas the ‘ey’in ‘hey’
ias in ‘hit’
oas in ‘go’
öas the ‘ir’ in ‘dirt’ (without the ‘r’ sound)
uas in ‘jute’
ülike saying ‘i’ with the lips stretched back
Most consonants in Roman Dzongkha are pronounced as in English. The following list covers letters and sounds that might prove troublesome.
An ‘h’ after the consonants c, d, g, l, p and t indicates that they are ‘aspirated’ (released with a slight puff of air) – listen to the ‘p’ sounds in ‘pip’; the first is aspirated, the second is not. While getting aspiration wrong can have a direct impact on the meaning, it shouldn’t be a problem with the words and phrases in this guide.
cas the ‘ch’ in ‘church’
ngas in ‘sing’; practise using the ‘ng’ sound at the beginning of a word, eg ngawang (a name)
shas in ‘ship’
t, th‘dental’ consonants, pronounced with the tongue tip against the teeth
zhas the ‘s’ in ‘measure’
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Good luck.trashi dele
(Hello) How are you?chö gadebe yö?
I’m fine.nga läzhimbe ra yö
Where are youchö gâti jou mo? going?
What’s your name?chö meng gaci mo?
My name is...ngê meng... ing
Where are youchö gâti lä mo? from?
I’m from...nga... lä ing
I’m staying at...nga... döp ing
What is this?di gaci mo?
It’s cold today.dari jâm-mä
It’s raining.châp cap dowä
I know.nga shê
I don’t know.nga mi shê
Can I take a photo?pâ tabney chokar la?
May I take yourchögi pâ ci tapge mä? photo?
That’s OK.di tupbä
What time does thedrülkhor chutshö gademci bus leave?kha jou inna?
I want to get offnga nâ dögobe here.
Is it near?bolokha in-na?
Is it far?tha ringsa in-na?
Go straight ahead.thrangdi song
I’m ill.nga nau mä
I feel nauseous.nga cûni zum beu mä
I feel weak.nga thangchep mä
I keep vomiting.nga cûp cûsara döp mä
I feel dizzy.nga guyu khôu mä
I’m having troublenga bung tang mit shubä breathing.
30sumcu or khä pcheda nyî
50ngapcu or khä pcheda sum
70düncu or khä pcheda zhi
90gupcu or khä pcheda nga
1000ciktong or tongthra ci
The word khang means building; in many cases it’s only necessary to add the kind of building.
Where is a...?... gâti mo?
policestationthrimsung gakpi mâkha
publictelephonemanggi jüthrin tangsi
Where is the toilet?chapsa gâti in-na?
How far is the...?... gadeci tha ringsa mo?
I want to see...nga... tagobe
I’m looking for...nga... tau ing
What time does itchutshö gademci lu go pchiu mo? open?
What time does itchutshö gademci lu go dam mo? close?
Is it still open?datoya pchidi ong ga?
What is this?di gaci mo?
I want to changenga tiru sôgobä money.
Bargaining is not a Bhutanese tradition, but if you are buying Bhutanese handicrafts at the weekend market, you might be able to lower the price a bit.
How much is it?dilu gadeci mo?
That’s too much.gong bôm mä
I’ll give you no morengâgi... anemci lä trö mitshube than...
What’s your bestgong gademcibe bjinni? price?
What is the time?chutshö gademci mo?
Five o’clock.chutshö nga
Which trail goes... josi lam gâti mo? to...?
Is the trail steep?lam zâdra yö-ga?
Where is my tent?ngê gû di gâti in-na?
What’s the name ofAni ügi meng gaci zeu mo? thisvillage?
steepdownhilllam khamâ zâdra
alpinepasturela nogi tsamjo
stonecarved withdogi mani prayers