More time-efficient way to learn Pāli?

I’ve been working my way through “A New Course in Reading Pāli,” the past few months, and while I am a big fan of its presentation and the option to start reading actual sutta quotations right off the bat, I’m probably approaching it the wrong way.

I’ve been using Anki to do flash cards of all the terms given in each unit. Memorizing a handful a day, I am progressing VERY slowly through the book since there are so many terms. Thus, my progress through the lessons has been at a snail’s pace. As much as I want to memorize the terminology, at this rate I’ll be dead (and unenlightened) by the time I get to the end of the book. The thought of reading Warder’s book after this is terrifying :joy:

I imagine that this is not the intended approach.

My goal is to be able to sit down with the suttas and more or less be able to read fluently without having to look up too many words. If this is rather ambitious or just plain impractical, do let me know how you’d suggest I proceed learning instead. Sooner is better in terms of getting to be able to read actual suttas in full. Thank you!


I have a similar aspiration. I have studied online with Aleix Falques Ruiz PhD on the Yogic Studies Online platform and completed 10 months of study of elementary grammar. There will a reading course soon. In the meantime I am taking the Pali course of Oxford Center for Buddhist Studies to maintain or increase my skills. It is quite user friendly and the only caveat is that you need to download Pali diacritics keyboard software. I would encourage anyone interested to use it. It is done by Richard Gombrich’s team. For translation practice I use Bodhi’s Reading the Buddha’s Discourses in Pali. Wish you success.


I have had this question in mind for years and am slowly working on a ‘thing’ based on word and phrase frequency. It’ll be a fair while until it’s available publicly though.
As part of my research, I discovered Learning with Texts, which might be a useful progression for those who have done A New Course in Reading Pali. You can import your own text in any language, in this case Pali, and practice reading the words in context. It highlights words you are less familiar with and you can rate them as you work through the text.

I also created this deck with anki-web (there are 2 ankis!) which has the top 200 most frequently used pali words. It includes audio. I’m happy to receive feedback on this deck.

Edited to add an image from LWT





I remember at least one study that concluded one of the best ways to learn a language is the reading time of the target language. With quite a number of grammatical analyses, good digital dictionaries which recognize even complex compounds, and handy reference grammars out there, this can be accomplished right from the get-go. I think this approach is also more fun and less of a headache than using most grammars that contain lessons. Below is a link to a short summary of that approach.

I also attached here a further grammatical analysis, in case of interest (A Grammatical Parsing of Basic Recitations.pdf). Alongside Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s grammar guide Reading the Buddha’s Discourses in Pali already mentioned, Anuruddha’s A Guide to study of Pali: the language of Theravada Buddhism is also very handy and a bit more detailed with the grammatical analyses, as far as I remember (

Wish you all the best with your Pāḷi studies!


I never did formal word memorization for Pali. Too boring! :smiley: And not time-effective for me either. I just learned vocabulary through usage, which is what I was advised by my teacher. Now I’m able to read a lot of Pāli quite fluently.

Vocabulary is my weakest point still, but that is exactly what dictionaries are perfect for. But dictionaries can not tell us how the grammar of a sentence works, that’s all up to us. So that’s where you want to focus, in my opinion, if you want to be effective.

My advice is, once you have a good understanding of the grammar, start translating passages and short suttas that inspire you. Then reread, recite, and, as you learn, retranslate those passages to see if you got any of the grammar wrong earlier. This way you hit many birds with one stone: you learn grammar, you learn vocabulary, you get inspired, and you get a dose of dhamma every time. This will also make it more likely you’ll stick with it, because you see more beneficial results.

Because we don’t want to be time-effective in studying Pali, we want to be time effective in letting Pali guide our path. At least, that’s what I’m assuming your actual goal is.

The aspiration to sit down and read every sutta in Pali practically without a dictionary is honorable, but I can’t do it. A more reasonable expectation would be to be able to read most central doctrinal passages without a dictionary, and when you encounter rarer passages, not have to think about the grammar too much, since it has become automatic. Then your main problem is looking up unknown words, which, as I said, is just knowing how to use a dictionary.



I don’t know how to say this without sounding condescending, but…

This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard :-).

As a learner and teacher of English, I totally agree with Venerable @Sunyo. Lack of good knowledge of grammar hinders understanding. Dictionaries and the skill to guess the meaning of a word in a context can be employed to help us deal with lexical issues of a sentence within seconds, but we can’t say the same about a good grammar book and a grammar issue.

When my friends and I were studying ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad, we compiled a glossary of lexical items that we didn’t know. For such a small book, there were over 1,000 words that we hadn’t seen before! After that, I learnt when to consult a dictionary and when to guess the meaning of a word. :smiley:

But perhaps reading a sutta is different from reading secular literature?