I have no statistics to show how many students in schools are excelling in Dzongkha or otherwise, and how many Dzongkha teachers are satisfied or concerned knowing their students’ levels of proficiency in Dzongkha. I do not have an iota of scientific data to prove or disprove that parents are concerned, or proud, or indifferent about their children’s Dzongkha skills or the paucity in it.

What I have penned here is only based on my cursory observations, but something rooted in genuine concern, which I have adverted in my previous articles too.

All along ever since my childhood and studenthood, I have been instilled and firmly believing that our national language is our identity. Never have I doubted its meaning and power in my entire life thus far. I believe it is a timeless wisdom and will be a key value for all Bhutanese going forward for sovereignty, unity and progress. However, my observations are grim and it gives me pain and regrets that we are not like citizens of many other countries, where they are first conversant in their own language while also learning and mastering foreign languages. The situation I find is increasingly becoming a little different at home.

Every time I visit children’s park or restaurants, two places where parents and children frequent together, I hear most toddlers and young children speak only English. And the tone and accent, are evidently influenced by cartoon shows on television, and other games they play on phones and tabs, which I do not think is proper English. In the past, English as a regular medium of communication was encouraged in schools and it was the right thing to do since most of our teachers were from outside. It’s not the case today.

Kids picking up English is not my concern. It is good and we need our kids to be multi-skilled. What concerns me is the subtle pride in the faces of parents which they apparently derive from their kids’ foreign fluency. I wonder since when we have forgotten that English is only our second language at the least and official language at most. It can never be our identity. Going by the little that I know, the English that most of us use is quite far away from being called English. It is full of mistakes and quite often, much ostentatious. Again, this is not my problem.

I fully understand that we can never be perfect in a foreign language and I have absolutely no problem with my fellow citizens learning and trying English or any other foreign language. It is completely acceptable and forgivable.

My problem, or rather fear is that an old Bhutanese maxim རོགས་ཁ་མ་ཤེས་ རང་ཁ་འབྱང་ which roughly translates as we ‘lose our own while not becoming skillful at another language’ may hence be proved true sooner rather than later.

This is something we must at all cost prevent from happening by preserving and promoting our language for posterity and forever. For this, each one becoming reasonably conversant is paramount. I see a general lack of shame and hesitation in being weak in the national language and I see this as a huge step in the wrong direction. I often notice that there is not only a lack of regrets, but people are quite proud and satisfied that they are weak in Dzongkha. This is a double giant step backwards. We must all be concerned. Then, the general perception that Dzongkha is difficult to learn is another wrong belief which we should at least try and not pass on to the younger generation. In psychology, there is a term called ‘limiting beliefs’ and this is one we could be fallaciously sticking to and spreading around.

As a student, I had quite a neutral disposition towards Dzongkha. It was neither easy nor difficult and my examination scores used to be in the region of moderate zone. I was never a bright boy in any subject anyway. However, with age and experience, fueled by my concern about the dwindling proficiency in our national language, I have begun to realize that it may not be difficult after all. For example, let’s ask this question. Who are our Dzongkha teachers? It is people like us. They do not possess any additional or special brain or a divine power for Dzongkha.

We have also seen and heard some non-national individuals who learnt and spoke fluent Dzongkha. Many Bhutanese are avid readers. How many of them read Dzongkha books is questionable. If we read as many Dzongkha books as we read English, would we not improve?

What this points to us is that we should have an interest in it. For us, the interest for Dzongkha should be indispensable. It cannot be offset by anything else.

According to an American Psychologist, there are as many as nine intelligences in people. Linguistic intelligence is one of nine, and unless one is mute or lisp, we all have it. When it comes to the national language, such intelligence should be natural and easy. But if we dump it in the quiet and dark corner, then that’s when our brain also starts to abandon it and that is how we lose our intelligence for something. This is what neuroscience has shown. If people can regularly go to gym and put on muscles on their bodies which were non-existent, if people can become doctors and engineers, etc. learning the national language should be comparatively a lot easier.

I have an idea to make it easier for us. A bit of concern and long-term aspiration for this small Kingdom to exist as a sovereign nation should definitely boost our motivation and interest to learn and use Dzongkha. Let’s look at our Tibetan friends all over the world. They may be in different lands, but they still have kept their language and culture intact wherever they are. I am told that they are well-spoken in the tongue of their adopted land, but at home, they only use Tibetan.

Look at Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, etc. They are serious with their language.

They hardly use any English words when they are in the mode of their own language. However, their English is also extremely good as can be witnessed on their television news and shows.

Yet, the future may not be as bleak as I think. It is still not late and our children do possess a huge capacity to carry on the heritage. Our children are multi-intelligent and with the right guidance, they can move mountains. We are talking about AI, robotics, etc. which is about creating something new altogether.

Learning and mastering Dzongkha seems like child’s play because it is already there for us to learn and we are born into this rather than it being imposed on us.

One form of right guidance would be to show some remorse by those of us who are weak in our own national language to our children instead of attaching too much vain pride in our imperfect English as we stress how important and essential it is for our existence as a sovereign entity. Our children would automatically understand that it is not only important but essential that they knew Dzongkha well, and pick up sufficiently.

DDC has a huge and imperative role as it is rightly formed. They should plan and budget activities for Dzongkha promotion such as contests on spellings, speaking and articulation, essay writing, etc. in schools at various levels. Schools themselves can and should initiate such programmes besides regular examinations. Our Dzongkha teachers have a huge part to play. Our movie and entertainment industry should ensure they use the right Dzongkha because even with my rudimentary knowledge, I see a lot of mistakes in their Dzongkha. For example, they very often mix regular terms and honorific terms in the same context (such as ནཱ་གི་མིང). Vegetable vendors and buyers alike should stop saying sabji for ཚོད་བསྲེ which they do as they often come on the national television giving interviews. In this regard, I have my appreciation for the BBS for their programmes to promote Dzongkha. I hope they would continue it for all times to come.

Let’s not be a country where her citizens are proud about being fluent in a foreign language, but absolutely and shamelessly unconcerned about the declining proficiency in our own. Let’s avoid the path where we would be learning our own language from foreign experts. We talk a lot about loving our King and country.

It would be hypocrisy if we did not care for our identity which is the national language. His Majesty’s national day addresses are in full and complete Dzongkha.

The Royal addresses are so articulate and classy showing everything our national language is about – eloquence, depth of meaning, euphony, spiritualism, and emotionally relevant. Why can’t we take it as a Royal message that it is important!

I for one feel the pain of witnessing the disappearance of even local dialects. Losing the national language is unfathomable.

Contributed by 

Namgay Wangchuk,