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Dzongkha: No readers
When was the last time you read a book written in Dzongkha? For most people it is the Dzongkha textbooks that they read in school or college to prepare for examinations. If Bhutanese, in general, have poor reading habits, there are literally only a few people who read publications in Dzongkha.
"I don't remember the last time I read a Dzongkha book to the last page," says a corporate employee, Ugyen. "After the Namthar (biography) I read in college, I never read any other Dzongkha publications," he said.

Apart from limited Dzongkha readers, reading materials in the national language are even fewer. The few that are available are lying covered in dust in the bookstalls and libraries.

The only public library in the capital does not have any Dzongkha books for its members.

According to librarian Chandra Gurung, the public library has 62 adults and 89 children as its members and none of them read Dzongkha, hence the library did not have any Dzongkha books.

The National Library does have a sizable collection of Dzongkha publications, mostly in Choekey, which very few people can read.

"Very few people buy Dzongkha books", said the salesman of DSB publication, a bookshop in Thimphu. "It takes more than three years to sell about 500 copies of books published in Dzongkha," he added.

Kezang Choden of the KMT bookshop, which mostly sells Dzongkha publications, said that most of the customers were gelongs (monks), anims (nuns), and gomchens (laymonks).

The sales girl does not remember selling any book to a student.

"Unless the Ministry of Education buys the books, customers are very limited," said another bookshop owner

Many people said that it was difficult to read anything written in Dzongkha leave alone writing.

"I am sure many would have forgotten to write their names correctly in Dzongkha," said a civil servant reasoning that the language was 'very complex' compared with English language.

According to teachers, the poor interest in Dzongkha was because students studied the language not out of interest but just to get through their examinations.

Researchers at the Dzongkha Development Authority (DDA) attribute the lack of interest to the lack of literature in Dzongkha.

A researcher said that while there was not much literature, the poor knowledge in Dzongkha grammar is also an impediment.

"To develop interest in Dzongkha, grammar books need to be revised and spellings should be simplified," said researcher Pema Wangdi of the DDA .

Many students also considered reading and speaking Dzongkha as 'unfashionable' among themselves. "Speaking English is a matter of pride," said a class IX student of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School. "If you fail in Dzongkha it is not embarrassing, but if you fail in English, it is shameful," he said.

DDA Dzongkha experts are writing short stories, comics and translating Choekey into simplified Dzongkha.

The Public Library is also conducting reading classes among its student members where Dzongkha reading is one of the activities.

Meanwhile, DSB publications will be conducting a book fair by the end of this month at Jigme Sherubling High School in Khaling, Trashigang.

The revised Dzongkha curriculum from pre primary (PP) to Class XII, which is to be implemented in three phases from next year, rates reading skills as a priority among the students.

By Jamyang Phuntsho, first published by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006
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