About the Teacher & An Invitation to Study Tibetan

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About the Main Instructor of the
Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy:

Eric Tsiknopoulos

Eric Tsiknopoulos in Hong Kong, October 2014.

Eric Tsiknopoulos has worked as a professional Tibetan-English translator, interpreter and Tibetan language teacher since 2008, and has been teaching Tibetan language online since 2011. 

He is highly literate in both Classical and Modern Literary Tibetan (C2+), and has an advanced degree of fluency in Colloquial Tibetan (C2+).

He worked as a full-time translator of Tibetan Buddhist texts while living in India from 2009 to 2019, and currently he both translates and teaches Tibetan language to students around the world.

Eric Tsiknopoulos first started teaching Tibetan in 2008, began teaching online in 2011, and founded the Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy in 2020. Since then he has taught Tibetan language courses and seminars on Buddhist texts full-time, specializing in the development of learning materials and instructional methods for Western and Asian students.

He is motivated by a strong aspiration to help others learn the Tibetan language in more effective and efficient ways — whether for their own personal spiritual practice or in meditation retreats, as future translators, interpreters, scholars and researchers of Tibetan, or just out of general interest in the fascinating language and culture of Tibet.

As the founder and executive director of the Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy, Trikāya Translation Services and the Trikāya Translation Committee, Eric Tsiknopoulos strives to fulfill the credo of the Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy:

Humbly serve the Tibetan language, genuinely study the Tibetan language, and sincerely teach the Tibetan language to the people of this world.

– The Credo of the Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy

Our mission is to help dedicated students of Tibetan around the world attain their learning goals, spread awareness about Tibetan culture and literature, and promote Tibetan language around the world.

Eric Tsiknopoulos lived for 11 years in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal among the Tibetan community, from 2008 to 2019.

There he studied Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy intensively in a culturally immersive environment.

After many years of diligence in his studies of Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary Tibetan, Eric Tsiknopoulos mastered the art of Tibetan translation.

In India he studied Tibetan language, literature and Buddhism at various institutions of Tibetan learning. These include:

  • The Manjushree Center for Tibetan Culture (Darjeeling)
  • Thosam Ling Institute (Sidhpur)
  • Dzongsar Shedra (Chauntra)
  • The Tibetan Library of Works and Archives (Dharamsala)
  • Esukhia (McLeod Ganj)
  • Namgyal Monastery (McLeod Ganj)
  • The Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (public classes in McLeod Ganj)

Eric Tsiknopoulos has been working professionally as an Tibetan-English translator and interpreter since 2009. Since then he has produced English translations of several hundred Tibetan texts.

Many of his translations have been published in electronic and printed book form, and some are available for purchase on Amazon.com. Most of his translated works are planned for release in future publications.

His works have been cited in numerous academic papers and publications, and referenced on many websites.

He is a regular contributor to the Dharma Dictionary (rywiki.tsadra.org), where he has written over 2100 English definitions for Tibetan terms.

From a young age, Eric Tsiknopoulos has always been fascinated by languages, and has therefore studied many languages to varying degrees. These include, primarily, Tibetan, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin and Classical), Pāḷi, Sanskrit, Hindi (Hindustani), Romanian (Daco-Romanian) and Greek; but also, to a lesser extent, Spanish, Russian, Nepali (Gorkhali), Thai, Bulgarian, Persian (Farsi) and Latin. He also occasionally studies Arabic, Turkish, Indonesian (Malay), Dzongkha (Bhutanese), German, Esperanto and Old English (Anglo-Saxon).

He utilizes his knowledge of these languages in his Tibetan classes, in order to supplement the overall linguistic frame of reference. In this context, the student is able to relate Tibetan to other languages, and gain clarity on certain points of grammar and pronunciation.

His level of aptitude in literary and classical Tibetan language is immense; and his spoken Tibetan language and powers of expression are excellent. In particular, he has trained and continues to train in a profound and deep research of the Buddhist teachings.

He is a resourceful young man of strong intelligence, who holds an aspiration to spread and promulgate Buddhism in a far-reaching way. And he is someone who has vast future ambitions to accomplish great service for the Buddhist teachings in their entirety; due to the fact that he has the aim of helping to establish peace and happiness in the world.”

– Gen Lobzang Gyatso, Tibetan scholar and language teacher, former monk from Drepung Loseling Monastery and teacher at Esukhia, in his recommendation letter for Eric Tsiknopoulos (2013).

Eric Tsiknopoulos feeding the pigeons in front of the Great Stūpa of Jarungkhashor in Boudhanath, Nepal (February 2014).

Letter of Invitation to Study Tibetan from Eric Tsiknopoulos,
Founder of the Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy

Eric Tsiknopoulos at the Tian Tan Big Buddha, a large bronze statue of Buddha Amoghasiddhi, in Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. October 2014.

Dear Tibetan Enthusiasts,

I’m an extensively experienced, highly qualified linguistic specialist, translator, interpreter, author, Buddhist scholar-practitioner and language teacher, with deep expertise in the fields of Tibetan translation, Buddhist studies and Tibetan language education.

I have a well-rounded understanding and intimate familiarity with all three main forms of the language — Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary Tibetan. Based on this I teach the best strategies and tips for learning these three forms of Tibetan fast and effectively.

I’ve been practicing Buddhism since 1999, studying Tibetan language since 2004, translating and interpreting professionally since 2008 (mostly translations of Buddhist texts), and teaching Tibetan language online since 2011.

I lived in the Tibetan communities of the Himalayan region of South Asia for 11 years from 2008 to 2019, where I engaged in a deep and immersive study of Tibetan Buddhism, language, culture and philosophy.

Tibetan is one of the most fascinating, beautiful, inventive, poetic and expressive languages in the world, and boasts some of the most important ancient and modern literature ever known.

Students of Tibetan often find that learning Tibetan is one of the best things they ever did in their lives.

Very few people regret studying Tibetan!

Having worked as a Tibetan language teacher since 2008, I’ve had the great honor of helping numerous students realize their own potential, as I watched with joy how quickly they could learn how to communicate and read in Tibetan.

Over the years, some of my students have gone on to become Tibetan translators and language teachers themselves.

Fluency in multiple languages is becoming increasingly crucial throughout the world, and has multiple benefits on several levels.

Tibetan is one of the most remarkable and captivating languages in the world, and has been studied in recent decades by thousands of eager students.

But Tibetan is too often misunderstood of underestimated. It is still largely wrongly viewed as too “exotic” or “foreign” for most people to pick up.

Many students, and even some teachers of the language, do not appreciate the paramount importance of having a general familiarity with all three main forms of the language (Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary) — and ideally a deep study of all three of them.

Even many of those working in the various sub-fields of Tibetan Studies – scholars, translators and language teachers, as well as professors and academics – so often have only a rudimentary understanding of extremely important aspects of the language, whether with respect to Classical, Colloquial or Modern Literary Tibetan.

In brief, there is a very serious issue of a general lack of knowledge regarding Tibetan language within the communities connected to Tibetans; a serious problem which is unfortunately rather pervasive.

As Tibetan could be considered an endangered language, the resolution of this issue through effective language education becomes all the more pressing.

Tibetan needs to be taught in a way which actually enables students to reach fluency and literacy, in order to preserve and sustain the language for the future.

The systematic study of Colloquial (and Modern Literary) Tibetan, in general, and teaching it as a foreign language, in particular, are very new fields. Quality educational material in Colloquial Tibetan did not exist at all until the 1990s, and finding a truly good textbook in the subject was quite difficult even in the 2000s — most of them were subpar. And it was not until the early 2010s that more thorough research began to be undertaken and better research into educational methodology got underway.

Before the year 2010 (if not 2015), very few foreigners could speak Tibetan, at least to a level of fluency — including the vast majority of translators. Many of those who spent significant time in India or Nepal studying Colloquial Tibetan in the 2000s and early 2010s (such as myself) were in fact trailblazers in the field, and have gone on to contribute to the ongoing project of teaching Colloquial Tibetan to others — and improving the way it’s taught.

Therefore, even within the relatively knowledgeable domains of the Tibetan Studies field and the international Tibetan Buddhist community, it is still fairly rare to meet non-Tibetans who can truly speak Tibetan fluently and/or read Tibetan literately.

This is an unfortunate situation, but one which I dedicate much of my time toward fixing.

There are many good reasons for learning Tibetan, whether Classical, Colloquial, Modern Literary or some combination. At the very least, Tibetan opens the door to an endless treasure trove of history, philosophy and civilization, with an extensive literature stretching back 1400 years.

Studying this incredible language introduces one to the eminently unique Tibetan culture, which is rich, ancient and profound, yet vibrant, alive and modernizing. Though small in native population (about 7 million people), Tibetan culture wields considerable influence over East, South and Southeast Asia. Beyond that, it holds global significance to people all over the world.

Learning Tibetan is also empowering, as it gives direct access to the vast wealth of Tibetan literature, religion, culture, arts, public discourse, media and society.

But learning Tibetan language can be a long and frustrating process. Many students don’t know how to learn Tibetan properly – and quickly. As a result, they waste hours, days, months or even years struggling to improve their Tibetan language skills. Unfortunately, their progress is often slow and painful.

I’ve even seen many students who spent several months or years learning Tibetan language in India or Nepal, but eventually gave up on their studies completely. This is a sad state of affairs.

This is what I intend to remedy through my Tibetan classes.

What is clear is that a genuinely holistic and integrated, but also modernized and streamlined, approach to the study of Tibetan is not being taught at most institutions, whether Western universities or South Asian language schools.

To some extent this is also related to the educational level of the language teachers themselves, in particular with regard to their study background in the three main forms of Tibetan (Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary). Other factors are their English language skills, translation experience and Buddhist education.

Overall, I think the main reason for these problems is an issue of educational methodology.

In other words, the learning techniques being used by students of Tibetan language, and the teaching methods used by their instructors.

Therefore, in my Tibetan courses, there is a strong focus on developing innovative and effective instructional strategies, in order to keep my students motivated and actively involved.

Whatever your need or interest in studying Tibetan may be, I feel confident in my skills as a Tibetan language teacher.

And I can likewise confidently suggest that you will enjoy and appreciate my ideas and methods, and find them useful for your own learning process.

  • I present example sentences and vocabulary in Tibetan. This ensures student comprehension through repetition and etymological analysis of each word.
  • The next step is reinforcing the structures of the language, by asking questions about the sentences and vocabulary. I solicit student responses by asking Why, Who, When, Where and How questions. In this way, vocabulary and grammar is continually recycled.
  • Finally, the same vocabulary and grammar structures are used in readings of Tibetan texts, in order to verify students’ comprehension. Sometimes I may refer to grammar briefly with rapid or more in-depth explanation, but the stress is always on meaning and comprehension.

I enjoy teaching students of all ages. Age should never be an obstacle to learning. Many of my best students have been in the 55 to 70 age range, and some have been even older. Life experience, especially experience with other foreign languages, and even writing and reading in your own language, proves to be a great help when learning Tibetan. If you are over 50, please do not hesitate to learn Tibetan, or to continue to build on your previous Tibetan studies.

There is also significant evidence that language learners over age 40 have quite substantial and powerful advantages over younger students, for various reasons. Times have changed and fortunately society has become more appreciative of the value of life experience. Thus the concept of continuing education for older adults has become more widely accepted.

I try to ensure that working with me as your personal Tibetan language teacher is a thoroughly pleasant educational experience. Each student has their own unique talents and abilities, but every student also has the potential to learn, given the right motivation and encouragement.

Students generally do not have any difficulty understanding the materials I use. They just need to find their own most efficient learning style, and also develop a strong personal motivation for studying Tibetan – both of which I try to help them discover in the context of my courses.

I look forward to hearing from you. I’m always happy to help guide you in your Tibetan language studies. My duty is to enable you to achieve success in your Tibetan language studies — as well as in all your endeavors related to Tibetan and the study of Buddhist texts.

Best Regards and Countless Tashi Deleks!

Eric Tsiknopoulos
Founder, Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy
July 2021

Eric Tsiknopoulos on the roof of the temple at the Norbulingka Institute, near Dharamsala, India. October 2018.
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