FAQ: How long does it take to learn Tibetan?

The closer a language is to your own—in vocabulary, grammar, and culture—the easier it is to learn. Correspondingly, the further a language is by these measures, the more difficult it is. For many students, then, Tibetan is a very difficult language to learn.

The FSI (Foreign Service Institute), for example, categorizes languages by difficulty for English speakers. A language like Danish—very similar to English—is a Category I language. They estimate 600-750 class hours to reach ILR level 3 (C1 by CEFR according to ).

At the other end of the spectrum are Category IV Languages—languages that are “super hard” because of how different and completely unfamiliar they are. For English speakers, that means languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. These languages require 2,200 class hours.

Tibetan languages is classified as Category III Languages, “hard languages” for which reaching ILR-3/CEFR-C1 takes Approximately 44 weeks (1100 class hours).

The time it takes to complete each level is different, it steadily increases the higher you get.

Based on numbers like these from researchers, organizations, and language-teaching experts, along with our own experience teaching Tibetan, we have compiled some guidelines for the progress we expect learners to be able to make in our programs.

Please note that these are just a guideline, not an ultimate truth. Individual progress depends on so many variables—the approach the student takes, the work they put in outside class, their own native language, and so on—that each learner’s progress will vary. We plan to do more research on the topic and provide more finalized figures when we can.

When it comes to class size, we’re big believers in small class sizes. For languages, it’s very important that each person gets time to produce language—speaking time. The smaller the class size is, the more speaking time each student gets. While we estimate that it takes 20%-30% more time to study in groups vs 1:1, this is also not scientifically founded, and needs more research.

Guideline I

CEFR Level Vocab
No. of
Courses offered
pre-A1 200 40 40 0 8 A0 Jongdeb(སྐད་ཡིག་སྦྱོང་དེབ། སྔོན་འགྲོ)
A1 500 80 120 0 24 A1 བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག གནས་ཚད་དང་པོ།
A2 90 210 0 26 A2 བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག གནས་ཚད་གཉིས་པ།
A2+ 100 310 1 30 རྒྱལ་སྲས་ལག་ལེན་སོ་བདུན་མ། སྟོད། 三十七佛子行 (上)
B1 120 430 1 32 རྒྱལ་སྲས་ལག་ལེན་སོ་བདུན་མ། སྨད། 三十七佛子行 (下)
B1+ 140 570 2 30 ཤེས་བྱ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ། 所知寶藏
B2 150 720 2 32 ཤེས་བྱ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ། 知寶藏
B2+ 180 900 3 19 + 60 བརྡ་སྤྲོད། སུམ་ཅུ་པ། 語法 100hrs
ཤེས་བྱ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ། 所知寶藏 (2) 400hrs
C1 200 1100 4 tbd ཡན་ལག 200 hrs
ཤེས་བྱ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ། 所知寶藏 400hrs
C1+ 250 1350 5 tbd ཡན་ལག 200hrs
ཤེས་བྱ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ། 所知寶藏 400hrs

* doesn’t include self-study/e-learning hours
** Kumarajiva Project’s TTP which started with a 4 months introductory course. Might vary for other programs.

Guideline II

CEFR Level Vocab level (total) Cumulative Hrs Year
A0 200 40 1
A1 500 290 1
A1+ 1,200 660 1
A2 1,500 990 2
A2+ 1,950 1,320 2
B1 2,400 1,650 3
B1 3,000 1,980 3
B1+ 3,750 2,310 4
B1+ 4,500 2,640 4
B2 5,250 2,970 5
B2 6,000 3,300 5
B2+ 9,000 6
C1 12,000 6+
C1+ 18,000
C2 24,000
C2+ 30,000


Milton, James & Alexiou, Thomaï (2009). Vocabulary size and the common European framework of reference for languages. 10.1057/9780230242258.

FSI Foreign Service Institute. 2020. “Foreign Language Training”. US Department of State.

Francis, W.N. and H. Kucera. 1982. Frequency Analysis of English Usage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

1 Like