More Than A Language – Dzongkha Is A Vital Element Of Bhutan’s National Unity, Soul And Identity

Email

Dzongkha is our national language – one of the binding forces that will ultimately define our destiny as a nation.

Monks learning at a monastic school in Bhutan. (Source: Markus Wild)

  

By Dorji Wangchuk Kuensel

 

Dorji Wangchuk (PhD Fellow and Researcher), University of Macau

Language is not only a medium of communication – in that you do not learn a language just to be able to communicate with someone. Language is a bearer of culture and cultural values, it is a conveyor of feelings and belief systems.

It also provides the key to unlock the social world around us. Simply put, if you do not speak the language or speak well, you cannot fully appreciate the intrinsic aspects of a particular society. Your understanding remains shallow at best – and culturally alienated at worst.

Above all, to draw from the famous Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, language shapes our thoughts. And thoughts eventually dictate our actions. What this means is that the way a native English speaker thinks is different from someone who speaks Italian as his/her mother tongue, who in turn will think differently from the ones who grew up with Dzongkha. In other words, the mind-sets of different native speakers differ – as per this theory. 

Lack of trained Dzongkha teachers is a cause of concern

Therefore, it is quite worrisome that Bhutanese children – our children are deprived of a good grounding in Dzongkha because of the ‘shortage’ of trained Dzongkha teachers in primary schools.

This is perhaps the tragedy facing our national language – whereby an issue such as this does not raise any sense of alarm or unease. I am a native Sharchopkha speaker and I learnt to speak Dzongkha in school. The role of schools in language education, therefore, cannot be overstated. 

In my current position as a communication scholar, one of the areas that I specialise in is socio-linguistics – a branch of communication that looks at how language shapes a society.

The important roles that Dzongkha plays in nation-building

My concern, therefore, grows out of a deeper understanding of the role that a national language plays in the process of nation-building and the sense of nationhood. 

Photo: RA Online

Our goal of national unity and sovereignty will be severely compromised if the national language is accorded a second-language status or if Bhutanese people do not speak well enough or take pride in appreciating the richness of our culture.

It could also undermine the importance of our social traditions or the ‘taste’ for age-old folktales, stories and timeless wisdom. Both nation-building and sovereignty are a work in progress or a dynamic process – or both.

So, what can we do? What are the possible solutions? The following are what comes to my mind. Other social thinkers and commentators may have more or are free to add or diverge from mine.

Some solutions proposed

First, this is not an issue to be left to the Education Ministry or the Dzongkha Development Commission. Although these agencies are at the forefront and can do more than what they are doing now.

To start with, we need to move beyond the problems, mediocrities or blame-game and get down to some serious business. The issue warrants nothing less than a Parliamentary deliberation and perhaps an Act to protect and promote the national language – if there is not one already.

The Act should, above all, require the Government to pour resources to this area and must not be limited to mere tokenism such as requiring the use of Dzongkha on vehicle number-plates or shop signboards.

Rather, workable plans, programs and strategies to strengthen it should be formulated whereby we get to a point where Dzongkha is used widely with pride and pleasure. Only then will we be moving beyond the current state of affairs.

Second, the promotion of the national language could expand to a certification system whereby anyone with the required skills and knowledge could become a certified Dzongkha language teacher.

Everyone knows about the TESOL and IELTS certifications. The Dzongkha Development Commission could develop basic, intermediate and advanced Dzongkha Language Teacher’s Certification (DLTC) courses, which could be then delivered by public and private institutions.

Anyone thereafter who is certified can teach Dzongkha in schools or anywhere in the world. Similarly, a basic DLTC certification could be a requirement for certain jobs requiring a public interface. 

Such a system could open up an industry of its own, which will then go a long way into popularising the language. Private language centres will mushroom and some people might even venture into foreign soils to teach Dzongkha to the Bhutanese diaspora.

English, which is one of the most difficult languages with complex syntax, grammar and even pronunciation has become the most popular language in the world – thanks mainly to such aggressive campaigns. It did not happen just ‘like that’ or out of the blues.

Third, systematic research needs to be done in earnest to further develop different pedagogical approaches to teaching Dzongkha. The existing rote-memorization-and-reprimand method may work within the monastic walls but not in a liberal education system.

Photo: Great Himalayan Trail

 

Besides, different native speakers have different ways to comprehend a new language and Dzongkha-teaching should factor in these cognitive and linguistic realities.

Fourth, the two agencies that have contributed immensely to popularising Dzongkha (besides the school education system) are the Bhutanese film industry and the Bhutanese Broadcasting Service.

Could we inject more resources and recognition into these two institutions? Could we take a leaf out of the Korean wave, where over US$ 200 million is injected annually into the K-pop industry by their government? Why don’t we push what works instead of lamenting what is not working?

Lastly, Dzongkha should be seen as more than a subject. It should be viewed as an education in itself – by integrating and expanding it to other skills and aspects of society such as art, music, history, culture, folktales and values education. Some of these are imparted as extra-curricular already, which is not enough. It is high time we develop further and move them into the mainstream.

In conclusion, let me also point out that in the past any public discourse on the promotion of Dzongkha has been countered with the argument to do it at the expense of English – our current medium of instruction in schools.

To me, these arguments are lame excuses or non-starters. The Dzongkha-English debate is not an either or case. I know many friends and colleagues who are perfect in both. Some are perfect in three or even four languages (Dzongkha, English, Sharchopkha and Bumtap).

The Swiss are, for example, fluent in all three official languages – German, French and Italian with many even in English.

Some of the best Dzongkha speakers of my generation are from Mongar, Lhuentse, Bumthang or Trongsa. English is the language that we need to engage with the world at a political level as well as through participation in a globalised economy. 

The call for protection and promotion of Dzongkha, therefore, should not be equated to cosmetic jingoism or ultra-nationalism but as a genuine concern to retain an important element of our national unity, identity and stability. For, Dzongkha is more than a language. It is our national language – one of the binding forces that will ultimately define our destiny as a nation.

  

This article first appeared in kuensel and has been edited for the Daily Bhutan.

 


Related Posts

Promoting the Use of Dzongkha in Bhutan

The royal decree stated that the government placed the highest importance to preserve and promote Dzongkha since it is...

Mar 01, 2018 12:41

73 Year Old Non-Formal Education Instructor Wants To Continue...

At 73, Serchung is one of the oldest non-formal education (NFE) instructors in Bhutan today.

Dec 16, 2018 01:09

My Green School – Book By Bhutanese Educator Thakur S Powdyel,...

Professor Miwako Hosoda believes that ‘My Green School’ will be of much interest to students, educators and researchers.

Dec 02, 2018 09:31

Asian Development Bank Provides USD 35m To Develop Bhutan’s...

The grant agreements were signed between the Finance Minister and ADB’s Country Director on 29 November at the Ministry...

Dec 01, 2018 05:48

Emulating Singapore And Japan, Bhutan Aims To Do Away With Exams...

Instead of using the traditional mode of gauging a student’s performance through tests and exams, the Education Ministry...

Dec 21, 2018 23:57

Inspiring Students At Wangsel Institute For The Deaf In Bhutan To...

Hiroko Masuda, a Japanese volunteer teaches art to deaf children.

Dec 10, 2018 23:36

Latest

News

Employment opportunities amid crisis - Tour guides opts farming

A tour guide could earn a minimum of Nu 30,000 per month during the peak tourist season in Bhutan. The income made was sufficient to support...

May 19, 2020 19:53

Covid-19 response must address gender-based violence, other rights of women and girls

“The social and economic stress that Covid-19 pandemic brings upon households places women and girls in vulnerable positions, burdening them...

May 12, 2020 16:46

Features

Haa- Home of Ap Chundu, the omnipresent local guardian deity

Haa is one of the smallest districts in the country and is highlighted by the Wang chu Lo Dzong which is the administrative centre of the...

May 20, 2020 18:24

Convertible currency earnings hit

Bhutan was set to have one of the best years in tourism after the Lonely Planet in October 2019 recognised Bhutan as the number one travel...

May 19, 2020 08:32

Sports

Karma – Female Archer From Bhutan Qualified For Tokyo 2020 Olympic Quota

Karma has been specialising in Olympics-style archery since 2009.

Nov 30, 2019 13:18

Bhutan’s Pelden Wangchuk Wins 10th Edition Of Tour 0f Dragon Mountain Bike Race

This year, the race also saw the highest number of female participants compared to past years.

Sep 10, 2019 01:08

Business

Celebrating Bhutan’s Entrepreneurs: Namkhar Gyaltshen Of Transcend Artisan

This story is part of an exclusive feature by Yeewong Magazine in Dec 2018 on celebrating entrepreneurship in Bhutan.

Mar 06, 2020 11:48

Centre Of Excellence For Software Engineering Launched By Bhutan’s Thimphu Techpark

The purpose of establishing this centre is to fulfil His Majesty the King’s vision of using technology to solve problems.

Feb 24, 2020 23:58

Travel

Wangdue Phodrang - The gateway to the far-flung corners of Bhutan

Known as Sha or east to the Bhutanese, Wangduephodrang district is an important gateway to the far-flung corners of Bhutan. The region, the...

May 27, 2020 08:47

Reasons Why Dagala Trek is Every Trekkers Dream

May 13, 2020 11:30

Lifestyle

Food on Wheels- First of its kind in Bhutan

The World's Largest Fast Food Restaurant Chains doesn't exist in Bhutan.

Mar 04, 2020 09:39

Amazing Stories from the Eastern Part of Bhutan

You can't say you have visited the eastern part of Bhutan unless you have experienced the following bizarre things.

Mar 02, 2020 19:02

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!