Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting By in Thai

Interview: Ben Bradshaw is getting by in Thai… Name: Ben Bradshaw Nationality: American Age range: 25-30 Sex: Male Location:...

Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting By in Thai

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking Down and Building Up

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking down and building up… As a follow up to our previous post here on WLT, a reader...

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking Down and Building Up

Data Survey Part Two: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell

Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell… This is part two discussing the survey data I compiled about Thai Studentz-From-Hell....

Data Survey Part Two: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell
Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting By in Thai

Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting By in Thai

Interview: Ben Bradshaw is getting by in Thai… Name: Ben Bradshaw Nationality: American Age range: 25-30 Sex: Male Location: Bangkok Profession: Entrepreneur Web: CikguBen.com What is your Thai level? Intermediate. What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand? About 80%. I can follow most conversations and fill in the final 20% with just guesses based […]

Successful Thai Language Learner: Ruth Curtis

Successful Thai Language Learner: Ruth Curtis

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners… Name: Ruth Curtis Nationality: American Age range: 62 Sex: Female Location: Bangkok Thailand Profession: Missionary [church planter] currently work together with my husband in personnel management for Thailand field member care of OMF Intl. What is your Thai level? Fluent nearly native: speaking, reading, writing, typing, teaching. Do you speak […]

uTalk Thai iOS App Review and Xmas Giveaway

uTalk Thai iOS App Review and Xmas Giveaway

uTalk Thai iOS app Xmas giveaway… Three iOS apps have been kindly donated to WLT by uTalk, a language learning company who designs some of the classiest iOS apps on the market. I totally fell in love with uTalk’s first Thai app, and generations later, this one is better still. NOTE: As many Android users […]

Review: English Thai iOS App Dictionaries: iPhone and iPad

Review: English Thai iOS App Dictionaries: iPhone and iPad

Reviewing iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch Apps: Thai dictionaries… The Thai Dictionary iOS app series is in four parts: English-Thai dictionaries specifically for the English market, English-Thai Dictionaries using the LEXiTRON dataset and/or databases created for Thais, Thai-English dictionaries, and special dictionaries using photos, sign language, etc. At the time of this review there are […]

A Quest to Fluency: Thai and Italian. Italian?

A Quest to Fluency: Thai and Italian. Italian?

Paul’s Quest to Fluency… A little over a month ago Paul Garrigan launched his quest to become fluent in the Thai language. Impressed with the obvious dedication shown, Stu Jay Raj (jcademy.com) took Paul under his wing: 6 Months to Thai Fluency – Paul Garrigan Week One – Thai Bites. From day one I was […]

Taking Private Lessons? Who Should Your Teacher Be?

Taking Private Lessons? Who Should Your Teacher Be?

Taking Private Lessons? Who Should Your Teacher Be?… After noticing a survey that declared that Swedes are the best learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Catherine asked me for my perspective on why Swedes are so successful. Though there are many points to consider, one aspect of EFL in Sweden and other countries […]

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking Down and Building Up

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking Down and Building Up

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking down and building up… As a follow up to our previous post here on WLT, a reader has asked us to translate a list of medical terms that are important to her. But instead of simply giving a one-to-one English/Thai translation I thought it would be better to show how […]

Thai Teachers Teaching Thai Twisted English

Thai Teachers Teaching Thai Twisted English

Thai Teachers teaching Thai twisted English… There’s a hilarious video about Thais teaching English to Thais being shared around Facebook. I got it from Maarten Tummers (isn’t he talented?) who got it from Kruu Jiab (Learn Thai Style). I don’t know where Kruu Jiab got it from, but it was created by the new (to […]

Adam and Ben Bradshaw: Farang Rian Thai ฝรั่งเรียนไทย

Adam and Ben Bradshaw: Farang Rian Thai ฝรั่งเรียนไทย

Adam and Ben Bradshaw: Farang Rian Thai… Being a fan of Adam Bradshaw for years, I finally interviewed him in 2011. When it comes to speaking Thai, Adam is one of the best out of the many talented expats I’ve come across. Since breaking into the business, Adam has been involved in many projects involving […]

Kru CAN: Going Beyond Basic Thai

Kru CAN: Going Beyond Basic Thai

Kru CAN: For those who want to go beyond the basics… Kru CAN is a Thai Skype teacher with three years experience under his belt. And while I do promote Thai teachers on WLT (one-on-one and Skype) that’s not why I’m sharing his site. I’m doing so because of his growing collection of posts to […]

It's Cherry Blossom Time in Khun Chang Khian, Chiang mai

It’s Cherry Blossom Time in Khun Chang Khian, Chiang mai

Cherry trees are blooming in Thailand – hurry if you can… Depending upon traffic, an hour from Chiang mai is the Khun Chang Kian Highland Agriculture Research Center. Around this time of year (Jan/Feb) visitors squeeze up a hairy one lane road to see the Center’s cherry trees in bloom. Siam and Beyond: The variety […]

Wishing You a Very Merry SET Christmas

Wishing You a Very Merry SET Christmas

Here’s wishing you all a very Merry SET Christmas… It’s now been six years since I discovered The SET Foundation, and five years since I turned over WLT’s ad revenue to SET as well. What’s the SET Foundation? The SET Foundation has a very specific aim: to make a difference. That difference is between a […]

Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting By in Thai

Interview: Ben Bradshaw

Interview: Ben Bradshaw is getting by in Thai…

Name: Ben Bradshaw
Nationality: American
Age range: 25-30
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Entrepreneur
Web: CikguBen.com

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

About 80%. I can follow most conversations and fill in the final 20% with just guesses based on context and experience.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I speak mainly street Thai mixed with some professional Thai that is used in English instruction.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I have a brother that is an amazing Thai speaker. I see Thailand as a land of opportunity for foreigners willing to learn about the culture and master the language.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

May 2014.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

About 30 minutes per day reading a Thai grammar and language book. Then I speak and use Thai and learn new phrases at least 5-6 other times throughout every day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

No. I just pick up my Thai book when I have the time.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I rely on English speaking friends to explain phrases and concepts, a pocket dictionary, google translate, and a Thai grammar book.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes. The most effective method for me is to speak and make mistakes. Then I will be corrected and I will then be able to remember how to say it correctly the next time. Half the battle is just remembering the new words and phrases when you want to say them.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes. I can read at a very basic level but I can recognize all letters but when reading a block of Thai text then I struggle.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I think it’s difficult how there are no spaces between words. Also, so many of the characters look so similar to the others that I often confuse one for the other. I think through time and more practice this will be less and less true.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I started speaking the first day I was taught. I was never scared to try to speak Thai.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

I could be understood within about the first week. I have experience in other Asian languages so putting together basic thoughts and phrases for simple communication came easy to me when I had established a basic vocab and a sense for the tones.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I am always scared that if I say something incorrectly, with either the wrong vowel or wrong tone that it is going to have some reference to male or female parts. It’s like this always in language learning so I’ve learned to just laugh at the times when I might get close to saying something incorrectly and hopefully the person listening knows that I am a student in the language.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That speaking is hard. I think, in fact, that Thai is quite simple to speak. I think the script makes people feel like the language is going to be so difficult but when you really get down to it, thoughts are simple, grammar is basic, and the tones are doable.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I realized that the tones are relative to each other. Just because you have a lower voice doesn’t mean you need to go to great lengths to make your voice sound higher or more “Thai”. You simply need to change your tone in relation to your other tones. It was difficult at first to so many consecutive words with different or similar tones but once I realized it as just in direct relation to your previously said tone, then it started to become much easier.

How do you learn languages?

I learn a few phrases, build a vocab, start speaking to people, carry a pocket dictionary, carry a small notebook, and always ask questions like “how do you say ‘to go’ in Thai?” It really helps to have a person explain things in your native language at the beginning.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strength is being willing to talk to anyone. My weakness is not wanting to talk to people sometimes out of sheer laziness.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes. I am fluent in Malay and Indonesian. I can “get by” in Mandarin.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Yes. Thai being a tonal language, often times start to come first to my mind when I am speaking Chinese. I’ll try to think of the Chinese word but the Thai word will come first. My Thai has actually overtaken my Chinese skills now.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

At least 4 different foreign languages. 1. Malay. 2. Indonesian. 3. Thai. 4. Mandarin Chinese.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No. Although I am always trying to improve my Malay and Chinese, I am not actively studying these languages at the same time as learning Thai.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yes. I am currently living in Bangkok.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Yes. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and have experience programming in a few different languages like C, MatLab, JavaScript, and Arduino.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

Yes. I love listening to music and almost always want it to be playing in the background of whatever I am doing. I grew up learning to play the violin and was quite advanced as just an elementary school student. I moved then into the trumpet and later into piano. Nowadays I don’t actively play any instrument but sometimes do get a feeling like I should get back into playing and making music.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Get out there and speak. Be confused. Be frustrated. Make mistakes. Write things down. Don’t worry if you forget something you learned 3 minutes ago. Look it up again. Use what you’ve learned and it will finally be cemented into your mind. Oh and of course, try to mimic Thai people, not your Thai-speaking, native English speaking friends.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I plan to continue on the same course that I am on now, that is, read a little of my grammar book, ask questions to my friends, and then try to practice and speak with Thai people as I go about my daily life.

Ben Bradshaw,
CikguBen.com

Do you have questions about the quirks of the Thai language?
Send them over and we’ll do our best.

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking Down and Building Up

Thai Language

Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking down and building up…

As a follow up to our previous post here on WLT, a reader has asked us to translate a list of medical terms that are important to her. But instead of simply giving a one-to-one English/Thai translation I thought it would be better to show how we can go about breaking down the English term and seeing if we can build a Thai term that can be used to discuss these medical conditions.

Many Thai technical terms and vocabulary that describe complicated ideas are made up of a compound of simpler Thai words. The list we have here contains terms in English but they are basically concepts. We start with breaking down the concept first, then finding the Thai word for each constituent part, and then reconstructing the concept in Thai. This technique can be used with most complex concepts to understand, read, and finally produce Thai compound words.

Note that the terms we come up with will be polite, and/or technical terms that would be appropriate to discuss with a doctor or professional but would be understood by any Thai speaker.

List of medical terms: Abdominal pain, stomach ache, gastritis
 bleeding from the digestive tract,
cancers of the stomach or esophagus
, chronic heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion
, diagnosis and removal of stomach polyps, 
dilatation of esophageal strictures, 
trouble swallowing, 
ulcers of the esophagus, stomach duodenum, unexplained chest pain.

Note: Many of these conditions in Thai can be prefixed with โรค /rôhk/ = disease, or อาการ /aa-​gaan/ = symptom. We’ll drop most of these for brevity.

Abdominal pain (Stomach Ache, Gastritis)…

Breakdown:
Ache, Pain: ปวด /bpùat/

The following words can be used to refer to the stomach and abdomen:

กระเพาะ /grà-pór/ (stomach, abdomen)
กระเพาะอาหาร /grà-pór ​aa-​hǎan/ (กระเพาะ = stomach, abdomen; อาหาร = food)
ท้อง /tóng/ (stomach, abdomen)
พุง /pung/ (this is more like “belly”; พุงใหญ่ = big belly, beer belly)
ช่องท้อง /chông-​tóng/ (usually referring to the abdomen); ช่อง = cavity

Answers:

Abdominal pain: ปวดช่องท้อง, ปวดกระเพาะ

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Stomach ache: ปวดท้อง

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Gastritis: โรคกระเพาะ

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Bleeding of the Digestive tract…

Breakdown:
To digest: ย่อยอาหาร /gaan-​yôi ​aa-​hǎan/ (ย่อย = digest, อาหาร = food)
Tube: ท่อ /tôr/; หลอด /lòt/
Track, walkway: ทางเดิน /taang-​dern/
Esophagus (digestive tract, pathway of the food): ท่อทางเดินอาหาร /tôr taang dern aa-hăan/; หลอดอาหาร /lòt aa-hăan/
To bleed: เลือดไหล /lêuat-​lǎi/; เลือดออก /lêuat-​òk/ (เลือด = blood, ไหล = to flow, ออก = come out)

Answers:

Bleeding in the esophagus.
เลือดไหล (เลือดออก) ใน ท่อทางเดินอาหาร
เลือดไหล (เลือดออก) ใน หลอดอาหาร

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Bleeding in the digestive tract (includes the stomach).
เลือดไหล (เลือดออก) ใน ท่อทางเดินย่อยอาหาร

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Cancer of the stomach or esophagus…

Breakdown:
Cancer: มะเร็ง /má-reng/; โรคมะเร็ง /rôhk má-reng/

Answers:

Cancer of the stomach.
โรคมะเร็งกระเพาะอาหาร

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Cancer of the esophagus
โรคมะเร็งหลอดอาหาร

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Chronic heartburn…

Breakdown:
Burning sensation: แสบร้อน /sàep rón/ (แสบ = to sting, burn; ร้อน = hot)
Breast: ทรวง /suang/
Chest: อก /òk/
Chronic illness: โรคเรื้อรัง /rôhk réua-rang/

Answers:

Heart burn
แสบร้อนในทรวงอก
จุกเสียดท้อง

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Chronic heartburn
โรคเรื้อรัง แสบร้อนในทรวงอก
โรคเรื้อรัง จุกเสียดท้อง

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Acid Reflux…

Breakdown:
Acid: กรด /gròt/
Flow: ไหล /lǎi/
To return: ย้อน /yón/
Reflux (meaning to flow back or return): ไหลย้อน /lăi yón/

Answers:

Acid reflux
กรดไหลย้อน

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Indigestion…

Inability to digest food: อาหารไม่ย่อย /aa hăan mâi yôi/

Diagnosis and removal of stomach polyps:

Breakdown:

To diagnose: วินิจฉัย ​/wí-​nít-​chǎi/
To remove: ลบ ออก /lóp-​òk/
Polyp: โพลิป /poh-​líp/ (English loan word); ติ่ง /dtìng/

Answers:

Diagnosis stomach polyps
วินิจฉัยติ่งกระเพาะอาหาร

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Remove stomach polyps
ลบติ่งกระเพาะอาหารออก

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Dilatation of esophageal strictures…

Breakdown:
To dilate (enlarge): ขยาย /kà-yǎai/; ทำให้ กว้างขึ้น /tam-​hâi ​yài-​kêun/
Strictures (a narrowing or constriction): แคบ /kâep/

Answers:

Dilatation of esophageal strictures
ขยายหลอดอาหารแคบ
ทำให้ หลอดอาหารแคบ กว้างขึ้น

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Trouble swallowing…

Breakdown:
Trouble: ปัญหา /bpan-​hǎa/
To swallow: กลืน /gleun/


Answers:

Trouble swallowing
ปัญหาการกลืน

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Ulcers of the esophagus, stomach, duodenum…


Breakdown:
Ulcer: แผลเปื่อย /plǎe-​bpèuay/ (แผล = wound; เปื่อย – decayed)
Bowel, intestine: ลำไส้ /lam-​sâi/
Small: เล็ก /lék/
Part: ส่วน /sùan/
Beginning (part): ต้น /dtôn/
Duodenum: ลำไส้เล็กส่วนต้น /lam sâi lék sùan dtôn/ (literally: beginning of the small intestines)

Answers:

Ulcers of the esophagus
แผลเปื่อยที่หลอดอาหาร

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Ulcers of the stomach
แผลเปื่อยที่กระเพาะ

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Ulcers of the duodenum
แผลเปื่อยที่ลำไส้เล็กส่วนต้น

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Unexplained chest pain…

Breakdown:
Pain: เจ็บ /jèp/; (ปวด /bpùat/ is more like an ache)
Chest: หน้าอก /nâa-​òk/ (Aside: อกหัก /òk-​hàk/ literally means broken chest but it is the translation of the English “heartbroken” or “broken heart”)
Unknown: ไม่รู้ /mâi-​róo/
Cause: สาเหตุ /sǎa-​hàyt/

Answer:

Unexplained chest pain
เจ็บหน้าอกที่ไม่รู้สาเหตุ

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The secret to learning Thai complex vocabulary…

Whether technical or not, Thai complex vocabulary very often tells the story of exactly what it is. If you know the individual words that make up the story you are pretty much on your way to knowing the meaning of a complex word that you have never seen before. This is not so easy in English.

Example: The English sentence “She had plastic surgery” tells us that a woman had an operation but unless we had heard the term before we really don’t know what kind. The Thai term is ศัลยกรรมตกแต่ง. It’s a big word, made of ศัลยกรรม = “surgery” and ตกแต่ง = “to beautify” or “to embellish”.

So the English word is “surgery using plastic”; not very descriptive and in fact misleading. The Thai word is “surgery to beautify or embellish”. If you know the constituent Thai words then you will know the meaning of the complex word without ever having seen it before.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand
Thai Vocabulary in the News

Do you have questions about the quirks of the Thai language?
Send them over and we’ll do our best.

Thai Teachers Teaching Thai Twisted English

Thai Teachers Teaching Thai Twisted English

Thai Teachers teaching Thai twisted English…

There’s a hilarious video about Thais teaching English to Thais being shared around Facebook. I got it from Maarten Tummers (isn’t he talented?) who got it from Kruu Jiab (Learn Thai Style). I don’t know where Kruu Jiab got it from, but it was created by the new (to me) comedians at WorkPointOfficial.

This Thai way of teaching English to Thais is oh so common in Thailand. I too have been on a weird receiving end of discussions about what’s right or not as far as English pronunciation goes (tedious). But when it comes to grammar, I’ve been known to bow out because my Thai friends are sometimes better informed about English grammar than I am. I do know what sounds right (but it sometimes isn’t).

Expats with kids in the Thai school system will recognise this scenario. Teachers in Thailand demand respect no matter what. And from what I’ve read, expat parents are having to advise their kids to ignore incorrect teaching the best they can. It’s either that, or receive bad grades from teachers who know best. Difficult.

Do you have questions about the quirks of the Thai language?
Send them over and we’ll do our best.

Data Survey Part Two: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell

Say it Like a Thai Would

Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell…

This is part two discussing the survey data I compiled about Thai Studentz-From-Hell. If you haven’t read the first post, go to Data Survey Part One: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell.

Below, where I talk about the data I’ve mined, I’m going to use some specific terms. I’ll use Westerners for people from the west and Asians for people from the east, okay? If I use the word students or foreigners, I’m talking about everyone learning Thai. Also, in an effort to be a kinder-gentler (not so blatantly racist) Tod Daniels, I’m not gonna use the term white people like I usually do. Honestly, I don’t like the hate mail it garners!

Btw: I’ve included a What can you do? section at the end of each category. That’s where I offer wisdom and information to hopefully help you overcome possible limitations in your learning Thai experience.

But before I get to the survey compilation, I just want to say this one thing.

The teaching Thai language to Westerners system is broken…

I know this will ruffle a lot of feathers, but the system (method, text books, etc.) used in the teach Thai to non-native speakers (and Westerners especially) is badly broken. It has stagnated for years with schools popping up all over the city using nothing more than copied textbooks from the original Union Thai Language School. Sometimes the only difference is the cover of the book!

I’m not saying the Union Method doesn’t work. Time and time again I’ve pointed out that their methodology turns out more proficient foreign speakers of Thai than any other method out there, period, end of story. Even the illustrious uni known as Chula teaches Thai that way. Sadly (for us learners of Thai) there’s been no total overhaul of the materials for years. The vocabulary is antiquated, the lessons don’t build on each other, and the advanced materials come from the Stone Age.

In saying that … I will speak up in the defence of several schools: Rak Thai Language and Duke Language especially. They took the tired material and re-worked it, putting it head and shoulders above the old stuff. But, it’s only a matter of time before contemporary Thai study material appears on the market. The new method will use the technology of today, in a way that revolutionises how Thai is taught. It’s coming soon. I know that for a fact. I’ve personally seen some of the material in the development stage.

What can you do? Unfortunately what’s out there is what’s out there and that’s that. So you’re either gonna use what’s available or you’re gonna come up with your own way to learn Thai. And that’s what some of the advice in this post is all about: Using what’s available in this day and time.

Finally, here we go!

Age and sex of students…

One of the most interesting things found in the data was that neither age nor sex seemed to play any role in a student’s ability to learn Thai. There was a good make-up of males and females and a broad age range of people from their early 20’s to their late 60’s (even older) of both Westerners and Asians. From what the teachers told me, age doesn’t affect anyone’s ability to learn the language at all. That at every school included in this data review, old people seemed to learn as easily as the younger students.

My personal experience: The b/s excuses you read on every forum concerning learning Thai where Westerners parrot out “I’m too old”, “I’m not good at languages”, “I can’t hear the tones”, blah-blah-blah were just plain and simple not represented in the feedback from teachers at ANY school.

What can you do? Stop using your advanced age and (supposed) inability to learn languages as excuses and start learning Thai already! And of course, if you are deaf, there’s obviously going to be a problem. But for the rest of you, get off your butts and ramp up your listening time!

Hemispherical origin (a polite way of saying ethnicity!)…

What started to come to light was, hands down, Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc) learned the Thai language far better than Westerners. ANY Westerners!

On further reflection of this conundrum, in the data I did come to a conclusion of sorts. Asians as a rule are less question driven in their education systems and lean more towards rote learning. Also, Asians accept any teaching methodology without question. But, due to our question driven education system, Westerners sometimes try to buck the methods (especially rote) that are often used here to teach Thai.

What can you do? Face it. If you aren’t Asian, you’re unlikely to be able to change your learning mindset overnight. So when you do go to take in the material presented, be as open-minded as you can. Try and adopt a less question driven strategy and go for rote. Go with the flow. If just for now.

Speaking multiple languages…

Another interesting point made was that the more languages a Westerner knows that use a Latin based alphabet, the harder it is for them to get Thai to click. Now, I know some of you will come out in force against this, but again, that’s what I got from talking to the teachers. I don’t know why the data shows this but it clearly did.

I do think it’s possible that studying a multitude of Latin languages gets in the way with learning Thai somehow. It’s not so bad in the early speak via karaoke part of learning Thai (like is taught in 99.99% of the schools) because they use transliteration (karaoke), which is mostly legible to English speakers. It only becomes an impediment when a Westerner makes the leap from learning to speak Thai via karaoke, to actually reading the Thai script. The teachers mentioned that at this point Westerners come off the rails, learning far slower than their Asian counterparts.

From my study, the best Western learners are those who only speak their mother tongue, or at most another language closely related to English. The best Asian learners mostly know their mother tongue, although they oftentimes possess fairly proficient English language skills too. Compared to Westerners knowing more than one Western language, Asians who knew other Asian languages didn’t have a problem.

What can you do? Perhaps you speak more than one language that uses the Latin alphabet, and good on you if you do. BUT, do note that learning the Thai script will take a slightly different mindset than what is needed for French, Spanish, Polish, etc. So when you do enter a classroom to learn Thai, be prepared ahead of time for differences. Don’t fight it.

Impediments to learning…

The anecdotal data I gleaned in the meetings with teachers hands down showed that there were two big impediments to Westerners learning Thai. One is that Westerners often over-sold or completely overestimated their ability in Thai. Meaning, they went into the school saying, “I’m not a beginner!” “I can read Thai already!” “I want Thai script only textbooks!” Yet when the teachers tested these students, turns out the students couldn’t speak or read Thai to the level needed to keep up in their chosen class. Asians, on the other hand, had no trouble admitting they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Also, some Westerners were adamant that they weren’t beginner level students, to the point they became confrontational, even when they could see from the informal interview they were basic Thai speakers (and that, only when under spoon-fed conditions).

The Thai teachers said that even when they tried to sell beginner courses as a refresher/review, few Westerners would go for it. Conversely, Asian beginners of Thai bought right into the premise that you start learning things at the beginning, not partway thru. When Westerners forced schools to let them into the intermediate classes, they were left in the dust because they just didn’t have the foundation they should have. Rather than suck it up and admit the truth, more than a few Western students turned the blame away from themselves by putting down the methodology, the school, the teacher, and even other students.

What can you do? Obviously, don’t overestimate your ability in Thai, period. If you can’t keep up, face the truth. Instead of pretending, start on book one page one and don’t progress into the next level until you really get it. Because believe you me, you ain’t fooling anyone!

The second really big impediment was that Westerners, to a person, thought they knew how Thai should be taught to Westerners. It is true that as adults we are fairly locked into the way we acquire new information. Some people are visual learners, some are tactile learners, some are aural learners, and some use all those avenues to learn new stuff. And equally important, rote learning goes against the Western grain.

What can you do? Sometimes the rules just plain don’t apply and this is one of those times. Attempt to be open to how the information is being presented, even if you think it’s not the right way. Give it a chance, a real chance.

I’m NOT saying to sign up at the first Thai language school you wander into. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the teaching Thai as a second language system is broken, or at least in a terrible state of disrepair and neglect. What I am saying is be open to the methodology used at a particular school and see if it jibes enough with the way you learn things. Do your due diligence, but don’t discount a school’s methodology right outta the gate. Well, you can discount one school’s methodology as total b/s, but at least give the rest of the schools out there a decent chance. Because seriously, until the changes come, that’s all there is.

Education level…

In regards to Westerners and their ability to get Thai to click, education levels seem to play a VERY important role. The reverse doesn’t appear to be true for Asians because no matter what education Asians have acquired, they learn Thai just fine. The data shows that where Westerners are concerned it’s almost an inverse proportion. The more education a person from the West has had, the less they take to Thai as it’s taught in schools. Westerners with a high school education or a bachelor’s degree learn Thai far easier than those with a Master’s or PhD. It also appears that foreigners with a ‘teaching anything’ background have more difficulties with learning Thai via the methodology available in today’s marketplace, than Westerners with degrees in non-teaching fields.

My personal experience: On the topic of education and Westerners learning Thai I have to agree with the teacher’s perceptions. I’ve ran into more than my fair share of Westerners with a high level of edu-ma-cation. In talking to some (not all of course) it’s clear they think they know best on how Thai should be taught to Westerners. And rather than taking personal responsibility for their failures, that it’s possible to be their own worst enemy, they instead blame the school, the teacher, the methodology, other students, or any distraction they can think up on why they can’t learn Thai. They even meet with the teacher or manager of the school between classes to offer suggestions on how teachers can improve how they teach. They also whine and cry about this or that on breaks with other students. Now, it’s fine for students to commiserate with one another on the difficulty of learning Thai, because for one, it can build classroom cohesiveness. It’s just that this particular demographic of student has often tried many schools, all the while not learning Thai. These kinda people are the bouncers I mentioned in Part One of Studentz-From-Hell.

What can you do? As with the discussion about Impediments to Learning listed above, even if you think it’s not the right way to learn, be open to how the information is being presented. Give it a chance. Remember, if you aim to learn Thai in a classroom setting, what other choice do you have?

Group versus private…

I looked at the subject of private versus group lessons using the same methodology, but there just wasn’t a big enough sampling of annoying students in the private section. This is because at most schools, in private classes students can tailor the lessons to the way they learn. While in groups, students are dragged along with the rest of the class and are more likely to kick up a fuss.

What can you do? If you do find yourself failing in a classroom setting, then do give everyone a rest (yourself included) by signing up for one-on-one lessons. The solution can’t get simpler than that.

Thai teachers…

Another complaint from the Thai teachers (ALL of them) was that some foreigners think that the reason they weren’t learning Thai is the teacher’s fault. There certainly are marginal and even extremely poor Thai teachers out there. But clearly, not every single foreigner who fails to learn Thai can point their finger at their teacher’s lack of skills.

What can you do? If you gave it the old college try with a teacher and it just plain ain’t working, switch teachers or schools even! You’ll certainly find out right away if your problem was the teacher, or you. Either way, a change of scenery is better than sitting thru an entire module seething.

Class size…

One thing I tried to pin the teachers down on was class size versus efficacy in their methodology. This was a touchy subject, especially when talking to the owners of the schools. Most schools employ teachers on a fixed monthly salary so whether they’re teaching a handful of foreigners or a group of 15, the hard cost to the school is the same. It was no surprise to me that the owners thought there was nothing wrong with cramming in as many students as there were chairs in every classroom. Because face it, the more students per class, the more their profit margin.

The teachers, on the other hand, totally disagreed with this premise. It had nothing to do with what the teachers are being paid and everything to do with the pride they take having students become proficient in the language. They all said that the best size for a group of students (Westerners and Asians) was between six to eight people at most. Group lessons are conversation or dialog based and they incorporate practice with other students or with teachers, and large classes fall way short of the mark as far as having enough useful practice time for each student.

My personal experience: I have witnessed the detriment a large class size (more than 10 people) can be to students. There’s just not enough of the teacher to go around and they’re pulled six ways from Sunday. In those early levels of learning it is crucial that the teacher has adequate coverage to correct pronunciation and structural errors EVERY time! With too many students in a class they just can’t do it. The teachers also can’t effectively keep that many students on topic either, so it becomes more like herding cats than teaching Thai.

What can you do? If you enrol in a group class (especially an intensive one) and there’s more than seven or eight people in the class, bail out! DON’T waste your money and your time! March right up to the front desk and inform them you’ll wait until either a new class starts or the next term rolls around. Again, stand up for yourself in this regard because it’s way important early on.

In summary…

I’ve tried to present the information from the data and the feedback I got from the teachers as accurately as I could. However, as is my penchant to do, I did ride some of my hobby horses as far as what I think works acquiring the Thai language. I am nothing if not opinionated, and that my opinion differs from yours is fine by me. I had more fun going to the schools, interacting with the staff, getting this information than I’ve had here in Thailand in ages!

Remember, Tod Daniels is NOT affiliated with ANY Thai language school. I’m about learning Thai by whatever means works for you.

Good Luck,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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