Although most tour guides are now conversant in several languages, including English, most Tibetans speak only their native tongue, with a smattering of Mandarin. A few words of Tibetan from a foreigner will always be greeted enthusiastically, and the further off the beaten track you get, the more useful they’ll be.

Tibetan belongs to the small Tibeto-Burmese group of languages and has no similarity at all to Mandarin. Tibetan script was developed in the seventh century and has thirty consonants and five vowels, which are placed either beside, above or below other letters when written down. There are obvious inaccuracies when trying to render this into the Roman alphabet, and the situation is further complicated by the many dialects across the region; the Lhasa dialect is used in the vocabulary here. Word order is back-to-front relative to English, and verbs are placed at the ends of sentences – “this noodle soup is delicious” becomes “tukpa dee shimbo doo”, literally “noodle soup this delicious is”. The only sound you are likely to have trouble with is “ng” at the beginning of words – it is pronounced as in “sang”.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The ‘roof of the world’ has exerted a magnetic pull over travellers and adventurers for centuries. This vast, high altitude desert has spawned myths and leg…

10 Nov 2016 • Stuart Butler insert_drive_file Article
Video: 10 Taiwanese street foods you need to try

Video: 10 Taiwanese street foods you need to try

Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can't match. There's a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glo…

24 Oct 2016 • Colt St. George videocam Video
Beyond the Jade Dragon mountain: stunning pictures of Yunnan, China

Beyond the Jade Dragon mountain: stunning pictures of Yunnan, China

After a few weeks exploring the region, Rough Guides travel writer and photographer David Abram shares some of his favourite images of Yunnan Province, China. …

18 Oct 2016 • David Abram insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month