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?


I hope you have progressed well in these few months.

I am now doing many pāḷi-english books together.

Let me just list and comment on them a bit.

  1. Pali primer, de silva - best for the extensive practise on super basics, really gets the basic vocab down due to the super a lot of exercises per amount of new things learnt.

  2. Comprehensive pali course, buddharakkhita - exercises has dhamma content, but disadvantage is very user unfriendly, not recommended as first book. It doesn’t label the gender of the noun, one has to find it in dictionary to know how to decline them, the exercises can use words in future exercises, and I have to find a lot of dictionary to do them. And they are super long instead of bite sized so it’s hard to do one chapter per day, but I just finished book 1, should finish book 2 in 25 more days, but I will spread it with another book.

  3. Introduction to Pali, warner - Looks nice, but the content jumps all over and it expects you to really remember all the words it scatters here and there. The texts makes it a bit harder to focus on the vocab list and new grammar, but if one has a basic from other books, this shouldn’t be a problem to go through. Also some exercises are dhammic in content, so good overall, especially first few chapters before the super long chapters. I am doing the slowest on this one.

  4. New Pali course part 1, 2, 3, Buddhadatta - the main grammar book of the SBS pali course, but we use different vocab for our course. Overall ok. Quite systematic in introduction of grammar and reasonable amount of exercises, unlike pali primer which is too much. So spreading this and pali primer would be good.

  5. A graduated Pali course, sumangala - one of the very nice graduated grammar introduction. Too bad I cannot find an answer sheet to compare my exercises to, but overall a nice presentation, and very short sentences but a lot of exercises, which is fast to finish.

  6. An elementary Pali course, narada- one of the easiest, similar to pali primer, but exercises are not as gruelling. I would recommend this as a first book, alongside pali primer.

  7. Pali Made Easy, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya- very different presentation of grammar compared to other books, the verbs are done first and then nouns declensions. Very good for getting into the thing without having to memorize so many things up front. A nice pairing as one of the first books.

I calculated that it would take a year and a bit to finish them all and two more books, the one you are doing and the B. Bodhi’s book, just one chapter per day. But I also try to do 10 pali primer questions per day, given that it’s 60 questions per chapter for a lot of their chapters. It’s not too hard when one just go from one book to another and sometimes learn new things when a book is further ahead compared to the rest and the rest of the time relax and enjoy familiar grammar with ever stronger vocab. I rarely had to use dictionary for pali primer’s book, but also thanks to it’s anki.

For anki, I recommend the sbs produced decks.

Find the other items shared by the same user, especially sbs pali English vocab, vocab pali class and pātimokkha word by word. These should be enough to start off. And it might take 1 or 2 years to finish them at a leisurely rate. There’s example sentences, so I often just guess the meaning based on context. As my vocab grows, I can get more of the example sentences and guess better.

Sbs pali English vocab is meant to be done with chanting book memorizing, so those vocab would be totally in as a basis. SBS Pāḷi-English Vocab - Anki Deck | SBS DhammaVinaya Learning Tools

Those chantings are commonly used and would really benefit any monastics for travelling a lot of places, some suttas would come up in common.

Overall I am getting better at scanning for words, although I don’t do reading pali as an exercise, anki and the pali exercises are a lot already. I am doing a lot of decks together.

Don’t despair at the rate of progress. I started pali in 2012 doing diploma in buddhism, but totally didn’t learn much by the end in 2016, and started anki properly about 2 years ago, on and off, but now my pali improved a lot in just a few months.

The advantage of using so many books is that when one is bored with this book, one can switch, spice up the learning. And we get all the other books revising the same thing so it’s not that hard to learn them.

I don’t consider a new course in reading pali and b. bodhi’s book are for beginners, at least finish one of the grammar books first.

For anki, maybe expect a 5 year or so length for more and more vocab, so that it doesn’t take up too much time, 20-40 new cards per day is nice, or less if it takes up too much time. I searched pali in the anki web deck and got almost all of them and making some on my own. I spend way too much time in anki.

Also, to be able to estimate the rate of progress, see the total cards to be done divided by new cards per day. I have an excel to keep track of the pali books I am doing and calculated total chapters at 1 chapter per day. It’s a snail’s pace for that book because I don’t think it’s meant for total beginners, get some vocab and grammar from other books first where one can do 1 chapter per day, then motivation can go up.


Hi @vivittagiri

I just noticed you posted this around 8 months ago. I am curious how you have progressed since then, which advice worked for you, and what your thoughts are now.

I am in the process of writing a Pali textbook, so I am interested in how others experience the learning process.