The Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) had made several attempts to promote the national language, Dzongkha. The latest initiative, the Dzongkha Standard Testing System, Dzongjug, the commission is trying out could provide a solution.
Dzongjug is a simple assessment tool to test speaking, writing, listening and reading Dzongkha skills. In short, it is like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) that tests language proficiency and is popular among Bhutanese. If the system proves successful, it will take over a lot of work from the commission besides having a formal system to test Dzongkha competency.
How will a testing system help promote Dzongkha?
The DDC is suggesting using the testing tool in areas where Dzongkha competency is required. It is a good idea, but it could expand beyond institutions or organisations that need to assess Dzongkha competencies.
As the national language, competency in the four skills identified is a minimum requirement. The perception that Dzongkha is a difficult language to learn is because we are complicating it. In our effort to promote the national language, there is more confusion created than clarity. In trying to standardise or professionalise Dzongkha, the key objective of making it practical and simple is lost. Language experts say that there is no headway so far because in trying to standardise or professionalise, experts are themselves in disagreement.
The idea is not to master the language. That can be left to individual interests. Keeping it simple and practical would be easier to fulfil the intentions and reaching out to the young who are increasingly getting detached from Dzongkha.
What is important is the ability to read, write and speak Dzongkha especially with the focus of communication more in Dzongkha than English. From our experience with promoting Dzongkha, nothing seems to be working. There had been several initiatives, including signing annual performance agreements, issuing orders and circulars to promote the national language. Some orders date back to the 7th Plan. We are still talking about the same issue.
Becoming reasonably proficient in Dzongkha alone could be a huge success. Like the IELTS that many Bhutanese try hard to get through, making Dzongjug an equivalent to IELTS for job seekers, whether in government or private, entry into higher secondary schools could encourage people to hone their Dzongkha skills.
Dzongkha, especially spoken, has already made great progress. The major boost it got was not from making correspondence mandatory in Dzongkha, one of the many initiatives, but from the film industry, the parliament deliberations and dzongkhag and gewog forums. We are not talking about Dzongkha proverbs and terminologies that are being used or misused in such forums, but we are talking about simple Dzongkha and the ability to read, write and speak.
Dzongkha is a beautiful language if we can master it, but the idea here is keeping it simple and interesting to learn. We need a standard to even go into the Dzongjug to assess the ability. Keeping it simple and practical could generate interest among the young who are finding Dzongkha too difficult and picking up other languages through films, television and the internet.