How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

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How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby Jhana4 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:03 pm

How hard is it to learn Pali?

Is it difficult to find in person classes, textbooks and educational materials? Are those things expensive?

Is the difficulty level of learning Pali closer to the difficulty level of learning Chinese, closer to the difficulty level of learning Spanish or somewhere in between?

Are the sounds difficult to pronounce and hear for a native English speaker as is the case with Chinese?

Would learning the alphabet and then the words in a frequently chanted suttas like Metta sutta be useful for building up a more thorough understanding later or would it retard that?

Is it possible to find speaking partners via a skpe system on the internet?

Is there software to enable typing in it?
Last edited by Jhana4 on Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:42 pm

Jhana4 wrote:How hard is it to learn Pali?


Very, I'm still pluggin' away as a beginner.

Is it difficult to find in person classes, textbooks and educational materials? Are those things expensive?


Books and materials are inexpensive and you can also find many items free online.

Is the difficulty level of learning Pali closer to the difficulty level of learning Chinese, closer to the difficulty level of learning Spanish or somewhere in between?


I think harder than any of them, at least for me. When you live in a country and are forced to speak and understand, for example, Hebrew and Arabic when I lived in Israel, it is easier to pick up the languages. When you are not immersed in the area where the language is spoken and it is more of a scholarly study, I think it is much more difficult.

Are the sounds difficult to pronounce and hear for a native English speaker as is the case with Chinese?


No, the sounds are pretty easy to pick up.

Would learning the alphabet and the words in a short and frequently used sutta like Metta sutta chanted at many viharas be useful for building upon a more thorough understanding later or would it retard that?


Definitely helpful.

Is it possible to find speaking partners via a skpe system on the internet?


I don't know, if yes, that would be helpful, although it is rarely a spoken and conversational language, from what I understand.

Is there software to enable typing in it?


See the Pali resources threads in the Announcements section of this sub-forum.
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby Jhana4 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:28 pm

Thanks for the information David!
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Location: U.S.A., Northeast

Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby daverupa » Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:48 pm

Books like this are fairly helpful as well.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:33 pm

I don't think it is nearly as hard as learning Chinese, Thai, or Burmese. For a start, you don't need to learn a new alphabet as all lessons and texts are available in Roman script, though there are a few new accented characters.

More like learning Latin I would say. If you have learned Latin at school, that will give you a head start in mastering the conjugations and declensions used in Pāḷi.

Learning correct pronunciation is not very critical either, as the aim is not to speak it, but just to be able to understand it. Mastering pronunciation and intonation is the hardest part of learning a new spoken language. In Burmese, for example, one word that sounds like "bear" has several variations that sound the same to my cloth ears, but mean entirely different things — where, lentils, duck, left, etc.

Start by memorising a few short Pāli texts like the Mangala Sutta, or the Introduction to the Satipatthāna Sutta, and then start studying the grammar from Lily de Silva's books or elsewhere. I used Buddhadatta's New Pali Course, which is aimed at Sri Lankan school children. Venerable Balangoda Ānanda Maitreyya also wrote a very good Pali course for beginners.

John Bullit's Guide to Learning the Pali Language
AIM WebsitePāli FontsIn This Very LifeBuddhist ChroniclesSoftware (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby daverupa » Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:39 pm

I would like to note that it can be much easier to focus on reading comprehension instead of the verbal component, at first.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby beeblebrox » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:19 pm

Jhana4 wrote:Is there software to enable typing in it?


I think "dead key" is the best way to type Pāli characters. I basically hit alt+` and then shift+n to produce Ñ. (The ` key, right on the top left, has ~ above it on the U.S. keyboard, so this is logical.)

I think Ven. Pesala has some keyboard maps that you can download to do that, but I had some problems with the U.S. version... so I just made my own with Microsoft's Keyboard Creator (this is for Windows).

I only set the right-alt key (not left-alt) for the following: ` - . and '
and set the letters for each of the needed accents: a i u t d n m l (including the capitals)
to produce the following: ā ī ū ṭ ḍ ṅ ñ ṇ ṃ ḷ (and their capital versions).

Ven. Pesala's maps are more comprehensive, and I think it includes other letters which are not used in Pāli... such as in Dōgen (which for some reason I still haven't entered for my map... it's easy to do). If you want to learn more about the "dead keys" you can google it, using that as search terms.

:anjali:
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby cooran » Sat Jun 11, 2011 9:08 pm

Hello J.,

I think the major thing is to consistenly, regularly, keep at it. I did three semesters of Pali at Uni some years ago, and got high results in the exam. BUT, life issues intervened, I put the Pali aside for a few years, and I really need to start again. Particularly with the conjugations of verbs and grammar.

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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Re: How Hard Is It To Learn Pali?

Postby BKh » Sat Jun 11, 2011 9:44 pm

I used my own dead-key keyboard layout for several years but then ran into some software that would not accept the keystrokes. Also, XP can be kind of fussy about using different keyboards(don't know if that is fixed in Win7) Now I recommend an Autohotkey script written by Bhante Anandajoti that you can find here:

http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/d ... /index.htm

Just scroll down to the bottom and look for "Unicode input-programme." Unzip it and put it in your startup folder. It does not use dead keys, just alt and for one alt+ctrl. Right click on the icon in your tray and select About and it will give you the list of keys.

I highly recommend using the Digital Pali Reader. 1.0 is stable and very useable.
http://pali.sirimangalo.org/
Read the help page in the reader itself, and read it again after having used it for a few weeks. It's packed full of features.

If you already know Latin and Sanskrit, Pali will be a breeze. :smile: If you have never learned a language that declines nouns, then it can be tough. If you memorize the alphabetical order it will cut down on the stress of looking up words in the dictionary/glossary. So that is really a must.

If you are not familiar with basic concepts of grammar even in English, then an excellent book is Pali Grammar for Students by Steven Collins. It's not a text book, though. The first section explains all the relevant grammar concepts as they pertain to English. The second section explains them in regards to Pali, and the third (I think) uses excerpts from the ancient grammars. He wrote the book because he found that his University students didn't even know English grammar.

I had given up on learning Pali grammar after several attempts and switched exclusively to learning vocabulary. Now, several years later, I have given the grammar learning one last shot. The time I spent gathering vocabulary has smoothed the learning curve. So if you don't have luck with the grammar, you could always spend a few years learning vocab using Spaced Repetition software like Mnemosyne or Anki.

Something else I realized is that the grammar explanations in the text books are sometimes incomprehensible. It was very heartening when listening to Bhante Bodhi's Pali recordings to hear him say sometimes, basically, that he has no idea what the explanation means. He would then go on to explain the point using the sutta text and it would make more sense. In defense of textbook writers, Pali grammar can be complicated and hard to explain.

So the conceit is that these text books will tell you everything you need to know as you move through, step by step. That is not the case. You just have to expect not to grasp some concepts the first pass through. And for sure don't stop with a text book just because you don't understand something.

Personally, eventhough I had learned German in high school, understand the basic Pali grammar concepts, even things like sandhi, it has still been very tough going. So I would say expect it to be hard work from the outset. And even if you give up, don't be afraid to try again later.
http://www.readingfaithfully.org Daily Practice with the Suttas
http://www.audtip.org Audio Sutta Recordings
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