Pāli Level 1
Start to learn Pāli with this Beginner course that covers all the basics!
Would you like to read and understand the Pāli canon for yourself? Do you want to be able to check translations instead of blindly relying on them? Did you ever ask yourself: “Is that really what the Buddha and his disciples teach in the Pāli canon?”
This course is the first step to your mastery of Pāli! It contains 24 lessons, each with one lecture, several exercises and further materials such as factsheets and vocabulary lists. All this enables you to learn whenever and wherever you want, fitting the learning into your individual schedule.
The course is cumulative, meaning that the lessons build upon each other but you are free to navigate through the course as you like. You can skip all exercises and just do the lessons if you want. You can view Lecture 1, then jump to Lesson 17, then do the exercise of Lesson 3 – whichever way you want to do it. However, a completion rate of 80% for all exercises of the entire course is necessary if you want to receive a certificate. Don’t worry: you have an unlimited number of attempts for all the exercises.
Access to a Pāli dictionary is helpful throughout the course – luckily, one of the best complete dictionaries is available for free online, as a searchable database: The Pāli Text Society’s Pāli English Dictionary
A few facts about the course:
Content: 24 Lectures, amounting to 3.5 hours + 24 Factsheets + 13 Vocabulary Lists + many Exercises
Duration: 4-5 weeks based on 3-4 hours of self-study per week
Difficulty: Absolute Beginner (no previous knowledge required)
Note that once bought, your access to the course does not expire. When we update the course – for example by adding material or exercises – you will automatically have access to the new version.
This course is the first Level of our 3-Level Pāli instruction. Level 2 and Level 3 are already available.
Learning Objectives for Pāli Level 1:
- Understand the early history of Pāli, including the reasons why Pāli can be considered to be the language of the Buddha
- Develop proficiency in the Pāli alphabet and sound system: you will learn how to read and pronounce Pāli correctly
- Build up a foundational level of Pāli vocabulary
- Nouns: Become adept in the system of nominal inflection
- Verbs: Receive a comprehensive overview of the Pāli verbal system, and gain an advanced knowledge of present tense conjugations
- Pronouns: Learn how to use the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns
- Learn how the principle of concord works: how nouns/pronouns, adjectives and verbs connect to create meaning
- Get introduced to difficult aspects of Pāli syntax, including various uses of the verb to be: the copula, its omission, apposition, statements of possession etc.
- Be able to form and translate complex Pāli sentences
- Understand the grammar of two important Pāli chants: homage to the Buddha, and going for refuge
The course does a great job of breaking things down into bite size chunks. Progressing through the lessons, one is struck by how compact each one is, but at the same time they’re presented in a way that one will naturally come to understand more than just the sum of the lessons. It makes the underlying web visible so that one sees both the content and how each section ties together. My only complaint, if it can be called such, is that occasionally I run across a certain concept and the lesson doesn’t give it quite enough attention so that I’m left not quite understanding the how or the why. This is undoubtedly more an issue with the difference between how I learn and how the course is taught.
I’m halfway through the course material and am already convinced I’ll be signing up for Level 2. It may seem to get started slowly, but the introductory lessons provide good context as well as a foundation for translating Pali. If you already speak/read an inflected language, this portion will be relatively easy.
The fact that printed resources are included is a big plus. I like being able to refer to a piece of paper with my charts on it as I’m going through the exercises online.
I know the course will continue to get more challenging, but the material seems to be presented in a fashion that is manageable.
I’m glad that this is work at your own pace, so I can work on it as my schedule allows (morning, noon, or night).
I’ve tried to learn Pāli on my own several times, but have always found the memorization of declensions and conjugations and my lack of knowledge of the grammar overcame my enthusiasm for learning the language. I’m about halfway through level 1 of the course and am feeling that OCBS has done a very good job of breaking things down into manageable components and explaining the details of how the language functions quite clearly. Perhaps best of all, the focus of the course is teaching us to read the language without first memorizing all of the grammar tables! Doing the modules has felt fun to me.
Carlos / bibliothecabuddhica –
I have just completed Pāli Level 1 and I cannot but recommend it to all those interested in Pāli and in Buddhism in general.
It is ideal for those who are new to the language as no previous knowledge of it is required, but also for those who have been exposed to it at any level and would like to revise it systematically.
Despite some minor technical and editorial issues which are being quickly addressed and corrected, its format is both concise and flexible, which allows learners to come back to the material provided and to the instructional videos for clearly delivered explanations. I find the advice provided on how to study the language totally spot on and the pace of the lesson both achievable and motivating.
I encourage all to take this course and hopefully enjoy it as much as I have. I look forward to doing Level 2 and Level 3.
Previously i was studying myself by reading some of the Primer books, but didn’t have much progress since it was too boring for me to do the exercises after each chapter.
The scheme this course provided is very suitable for an adult to progress in learning the Pali, especially it encourages reading by looking up the grammar tables and vocabulary indexes.
This is an excellent, no nonsense, Pali course. The video explanations are clear, while fact sheets for each lesson are available for review. I find learning Pali a bit of a struggle since I’m not naturally inclined to learning languages much as I enjoy it. This course makes learning Pali a pleasure. I am especially grateful for the comments sections of each lesson. All my questions have been answered by the Pali team at Oxford in the most helpful way. All required resources are provided: grammar tables, vocabulary lists and indexes. Further, this course bounces us right into the Pali canon. This is wonderful since the Pali Canon is the point. I’m in the middle of the course and already feel more confident in my reading of the tipitika even read in English. Great work. Looking forward to moving through all three levels, the long haul.
Megha Tayade –
Thank you Prof. Alex for this wonderful Pali course. Got exposure to so many minute details required for correct Pali translation. This course is really a treasure for all those who are learning and who want to learn Pali language. The lectures along with the factsheets are very helpful. Thankyou for this excellent course.
Marjan Ossebaard –
This course is absolutely wonderful. I very much enjoyed it (level 1). Didactically it is excellent. Whenever it got difficult, my questions have been answered by the team in a very helpful way (always quick responses!). What I really like is that you can go at your own pace, and repeat lessons as often as you like. But most important: I never thought learning Pali would be so much fun!
Jeffrey Loree –
Excellent introductory course. The design, content, and delivery of the course was top notch!!!!
Rahul Ravi Rao –
I am thankful to the entire core team of OCBS for designing such a valuable online Pali course, so that we can learn all the minute details, with the help of questions and answers. Content taken for level 1 is incredibly educative for learning Pali language. Certainly helped me in understanding and applying the grammar appropriately.
Steven Schoonover –
Just completed the Pali level 1 course. I am extremely grateful for the clear and concise teaching content. Pali grammar was elucidated for me and presented in very digestible lessons. This is a Great course and I will certainly be taking more. Thank You!
Steffen Vienhues –
I was looking for a way to become equipped with the tools to read and understand the Pāli texts. So I started this course and I can say that I got what I was looking for. The videos, sheets and tables are concise without any noise, so I didn’t get bored or frustrated. I guess as a German native speaker I have some advantage here, because some concepts are similar. However, I’m planning to do some repetition for a couple of days and I’m looking forward to start level 2. The Pāli texts already look less frightening. Thank You!
Niels Schoubben –
Having had in mind to study Pali for some years now, but never really having had a chance to do so, this online course is the best way to get started on your own with the language. Having studied Sanskrit for a couple of years, I had of course quite some advantage, but still, the course was never boring. I am sure levels 2 and 3 will be even more rewarding. Thank you very much for organizing this dr. Wynne and prof. Gombrich!
Brett Chandler –
This course far exceeded my expectations. I had reservations at the beginning as there were only a few hours of video in total for the course, and I wasn’t sure that the amount of material would be large enough to give a solid foundation. I was completely wrong. I’ve finished the first course and have already gone in for the other two as I am sure they will be equally valuable. The videos are succinct, but packed with quality information. You’ll pick up a surprising amount of vocabulary throughout the course, and will walk away with a strong understanding of the basic mechanics of Pāli. The translation exercises can be taxing as you only know that a translation as a whole is wrong rather than a specific part, but there is a great sense of accomplishment if you stick with it to the end. Also, there’s a “fun fact” in the last lesson of the course that should be enjoyable for anyone familiar with Pāli through other encounters with Buddhism. There may be another Pāli course out there of equal value, but I sincerely doubt it. If you have any interest at all in learning Pali then I can not recommend this course more.
I agree with many other reviewers that this Pāli course (level 1) offers an excellent pathway to learning the basics of Pāli. The clear and systematic presentation, the exercises that allowed me to check my progress, the possibility of going through the material at my own pace and to repeat it as often as I wanted, made the learning much, much more enjoyable than back in the days when I went to school. What I appreciate most is that knowing even just a little Pāli brings the discourses of the Buddha closer – they seem to speak more directly to me when I try to read them in Pāli. If I may just express one wish: I would have profited from a few more exercises to make the learning more sustainable. But anyway, it was a great experience: Thank you, Dr. Wynne and Prof. Gombrich and the whole team at OCBS, for putting this together.
Neekee Chaturvedi –
Pali level 1 has been quite a find. I have some previous knowledge of Sanskrit and some familiarity with Pali, I was looking at ways to brush up my knowledge . This course is very helpful as it deals with Pali not as an artificial language but as it has been used in the Pali scriptures. In that sense, it facilitates reading scriptures in a big way. DR Wynn’s lectures are compact and encompassing. The study material provided is very good and I immenesely enjoyed navigating the excercises. The first level rekindled my passion for Pali. Though this has been easy, I am definitely taking up the challenge of level 2.
Will recommend this course to all beginners with no prior knowledge as it painstakingly clarifies basic concepts.
Matyáš Smetana –
All informations in Pāli Level 1 are made accessible for absolute beginners. One section of the course always follows from the previous one. Just completed the Pali Level 1 course and even though I did not have much time to go through it, i slowly managed to do so and learn a lot. Information that is presented to you in this course is soo well put together, that if you were to finish one lesson every other day or even every third day, (for me sometimes even once a week), you would remember everything or almost everything important you have learned before. As online learning this is absolutely amazing!
To all who contributed to making of this course, Thank you!
Thank you for offering this systematic Pali course. It was most helpful to learn Pali grammar with the sentences extracted from Pali canon. Sometimes, I thought the PPT material and fact sheets could be more learners-friendly in a way that fact sheets include all the example sentences that appear on the video and that it can have more example sentences that enable learners fully to assimilate certain sentence structure. Despite these wishes, I think this is the best Pali course one can take, for it is so systematic and succinct. Thank you so much! May all the teaching faculty and technicians be happy and attain full liberation through this great merits of offering wonderful Pali courses.
Marian Busoi –
Loved it, great work putting together this course. I’ve already gone through the first two levels and looking forward to starting Level 3. Thank you!
Surabhi Agarwal –
I found this course to be a wonderful introduction to Pali. I especially appreciated the systematic and organised way in which the information was presented. The pace of every lesson felt just right and the exercises that followed were very helpful in reinforcing the concepts taught. By the end of every lesson, just by going through all the provided material and completing the exercise, I would feel very confident in my understanding of that day’s concepts and ready to take on the next lesson. I have tried to learn Pali on my own in the past but have felt overwhelmed by the large number of grammatical cases, and the numerous variations in noun and verb inflections depending on gender, voice, number and stem ending. This course made it all feel so simple and easy. A big thank you to Dr Alexander Wynne and Dr Richard Gombrich for this amazing course!
Catalin Iosif –
I think this is the best introduction to Pāli course you could get right now. I really enjoyed the approach (doing exercises to hammer in the concepts with no need to take notes on paper). I have a small gripe with some different approaches to forming structures that are not given enough time in the lessons, resulting in a surprise during the translation exercises – but these were just a few exceptions.
Really enjoyed the course and retained a lot after it. It’s totally worth the money. I’d recommend going with this rather than a free offering if you can afford it. I bought level 2 of the course and will be going through it soon.
Adrian Diethelm –
Congratulations on a terrific course, very user friendly and indeed most enjoyable. I already had a background in inflected languages, Latin and Greek, but the introductory grammar lessons cut to the essentials admirably. The vocabulary is introduced at a steady trot and the exercises are appropriate and non-threatening! I’m looking forward to Level 2.
Nick Taylor –
Pali Level One is a really good introduction to Pali, with clear and accessible material. No assumptions are made about prior language learning (luckily for me as i only have English) and grammatical terms are clearly and patiently explained. It’s difficult to imagine a better introduction to the language. I will certainly be enrolling on Level 2.
Jonson Miller –
This is the best introduction to Pali that I’ve tried. I’ve unsuccessfully tried learning from several books, but they either had too much information and I couldn’t figure out what to do with it or it provided too little information to successfully do the exercises in it. I always gave up. The OCBS course is the perfect “middle way.” I’ve stuck with it and even picked my way through some short passages in some sutta. I’m carrying on with Level Two.
If I could ask for one more thing out of this course, it would be a set of more extensive exercises for each lesson, something along the lines of de Silva’s Pali Primer. I need some more opportunities to develop familiarity with the vocabulary and grammar.
Marco Guarna –
I would like to thank Prof. Gombrich and Prof. Wynne for designing and providing this wonderful course. This is very well organised and practical, so that it is possible to improve ones knowledge of Pāli even for a not full time student. I will go ahead for the following course.
Chris Mahoney –
Simply put, this is the best Pali course on the Internet.
I am extremely satisfied with the course, and I think that the cost is appropriate.
I am planning to complete all of the courses in the sequence.
Could you offer a Buddhist Sanskrit course in this format?
That would be great.
Fabio Casula –
I have studied Pāli before at beginner and intermediate level with the American Association of a Buddhist Studies online through their YouTube lessons. My previous courses focussed mainly on translating Pāli to a English only so translating the other way round was at times a challenge. Nevertheless I appreciated the need to fully understand how sentences are constructed in Pāli for a fuller exposure to the language and appreciation of grammatical functions, tenses, declinations etc. I found the system did not always allow alternative forms, eg. Only accepting The instead of the. Also, I would argue that literal translations are not always the best, but rather one ought to convey the meaning in modern English and what people would actually say nowadays. The course is very well structured and as I intend to become a serious translator of Pāli as a second career, I would be proceeding to level 2.
Noé Ismet –
I just completed Level 1 and I really had a good time. I find the content and the structure of the course really well done. I transferred the vocabulary to Quizlet to help me learn and combined all the PDF files into one document, adding bookmarks to help me navigate. I will now go over Level 1 again and look forward to starting level 2.
Malcolm Rustom Printer –
This is an excellent course. The approach is quite refreshing. As someone who has “learnt” Pali earlier, the biggest difference is that there is no insistence on learning declensions right from the beginning. The way in which Pali was taught to me in India, was unfortunately quite the obverse. There are shortcomings in this course offered by OCBS, too. These are: 1. Some queries addressed to Dr. Wynne were not answered yet; 2. You have to give exactly the same answer as is in the one given by OCBS. This is factually wrong, as more than one answer is technically possible. I trust that OCBS will address these glaring anomalies promptly.
Overall, this is an outstanding course which I recommend unreservedly to all those intending to make a meaningful interpretation of the Buddha’s priceless canon.
Thank you, Professors Gombrich and Wynne and the entire team at OCBS.
Bhavattu sabba mangalam! May all be happy!