Thai Language Thai Culture: Fluency Practice Through Symbols

Language as Symbols… We start with an idea in our heads. In order to get this idea into another person’s head...

Thai Language Thai Culture: Fluency Practice Through Symbols

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!… I want to state this now and for the record that after studying...

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

You have my apologies… Over a month ago I started housecleaning on WLT and I thought I’d be done by now. Apologies. I should have...

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess
Thai Language Thai Culture: Fluency Practice Through Symbols

Thai Language Thai Culture: Fluency Practice Through Symbols

Language as Symbols… We start with an idea in our heads. In order to get this idea into another person’s head we use the magic of language. When we use language we turn the idea in our heads into a symbol, a symbolic noise that our mouths make that we usually call “words”. The other […]

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!… I want to state this now and for the record that after studying Thai for 7+ years: If you don’t understand Thai culture, you will NEVER EVER understand the nuances of the the language. Period. End of story. I know that’s a 180 degree flip-flop […]

Book Review: ๕,๐๐๐ สำนวนไทย (5000 Thai Idioms)

Book Review: ๕,๐๐๐ สำนวนไทย (5000 Thai Idioms)

Review: 5000 Thai Idioms… Title: ๕,๐๐๐ สำนวนไทย (นับแต่อดีตจวบจนปัจุบัน) 5000 Thai idioms; from the past right on up to now! [paraphrased] Author: เอกรัตน์ อุดมพร ISBN: 978-974521855-0 First off I wanna say that “5000 Thai Idioms” was recommended by David Rubin who is DavidandBui from the Thai Language dot com dictionary/forum website. They have a great website! […]

Top 100 Language Lovers Competition: 2014 Results

Top 100 Language Lovers Competition: 2014 Results

The Top 100 Language Lovers Competition for 2014 has ended… Here’s a huge THANK YOU from me, to everyone who voted this year. I also want to thank guest writers Hugh Leong and Tod Daniels, who balance out the articles on WLT (sorely needed). I also want to thank the teams at bab.la and Lexiophiles […]

Thai Language Thai Culture: The Why? Series

Thai Language Thai Culture: The Why? Series

Thai Language Thai Culture: Book Review – The Why? Series… To many people, the search for the holy grail of learning to read Thai is finding a book that fulfils a number of requirements. It is at the appropriate reading level for the learner. It is written in straight forward language, and if possible, more […]

Thai Language School Review: Duke Thai Language School

Thai Language School Review: Duke Thai Language School

First, a bit of a ramble about Union schools… Preamble: I haven’t written any reviews in quite awhile. Mostly because there are so few schools coming into the “teach Thai to adult foreigners” niche market. In addition, my somewhat skewed opinion about what I call “Union Clone” schools is too well known. Don’t get me […]

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 […]

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 […]

Successful Thai Language Learner: Michel Boismard

Successful Thai Language Learner: Michel Boismard

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners… Name: Michel Boismard Nationality: French Age range: 67 Sex: Male Location: Thailand What is your Thai level? My Thai level is advanced. I learnt some rudiments on my 2nd visit in 1983 (1st in 1979) but really took off in 1987 where I was lucky to stay in a Thai […]

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

You have my apologies… Over a month ago I started housecleaning on WLT and I thought I’d be done by now. Apologies. I should have warned you sooner. The site is over six years old and there’s 600 plus posts to make right. This is my to-do list so far: Remove dead links. Remove links […]

Please Help STOP the Grand Palace SCAMS

Please Help STOP the Grand Palace SCAMS

Please help STOP the Grand Palace SCAMS… The Grand Palace complex in Bangkok is stunning. For most tourists to Thailand, it’s a must on their list of places to see in this country. But because of the scams, too many go home without experiencing the inspiring beauty of the glorious Thai buildings decked out in […]

In Search of a Thai Clock

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In Search of a Thai Clock… This week I got it into my head that I just had to have a Thai clock. I didn’t want anything fancy, but I did want a clock I could use for years, preferably in wood, but I’d take a metal of some sort. I started looking in an […]

Amazing Thailand: ThailandOnly SongkranThailand?

Amazing Thailand: ThailandOnly SongkranThailand?

Amazing Thailand: ThailandOnly SongkranThailand?… I don’t know what to think about the Songkran marketing push from TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand): Amazing Thailand: #ThailandOnly #SongkranThailand. Google+ Community Official Community from Tourism Authority of Thailand ร่วมแชร์ภาพสงกรานต์ทั่วไทย ด้วย #SongkranThailand #ThailandOnly Official Community from Tourism Authority of Thailand Share Songkran Festival of Thailand to the world with #SongkranThailand […]

Thai Language Thai Culture: Fluency Practice Through Symbols

Thai Language

Language as Symbols…

We start with an idea in our heads. In order to get this idea into another person’s head we use the magic of language. When we use language we turn the idea in our heads into a symbol, a symbolic noise that our mouths make that we usually call “words”. The other person catches these “words” with their ears at which point their brains interpret them. If they are using the same set of audio symbols as we use (i.e. the same language) then the idea which was in our heads, or at least an approximation of it, is now in the listening person’s head. I have always thought that was pretty magical.

With this idea of language being symbols I wanted to try and use symbols in teaching my English conversation classes at Chiang Mai University. It worked quite well and I later turned the idea into a formal paper that was presented at the 1980 International TESOL Convention called “Symbol Stories”.

When the questions recently started coming up on the Facebook group “Farang Learn Thai” about developing fluency in Thai I thought about how using symbols is a great way to practice getting an idea from our heads, using vocabulary and grammar we already know, and turning it into a fluent utterance.

The following are a few examples of how a teacher of Thai, or even someone learning Thai on their own, can use symbols to help create complete sentences from ideas that are in the learners’ heads.

There will be no “listen and repeat” here and no grammar lessons. All the language that you will be creating will come from your own heads. This will be just a way to put stuff you already know into fluently spoken words and sentences.

The symbol stories method is not used to teach new vocabulary (although you may look stuff up that you would like to say) nor is it for teaching grammar, word order, or sentence structure. That should be done with a teacher and/or in a classroom. Symbols will allow you to combine all the stuff you already know and help you to put it all together into fluent coherent Thai.

Note that this method can be used with learners at any level, whether you have a vocabulary of only a few dozen words, or you are an advanced learner.

Defining our Symbols…

Let’s start with the symbol below.

Thai Language

I’ll ask you to give me a word (in reality an audio symbol) for what you see. In this case, the symbol looks like a person to me. People words are nouns. Since we are talking about the Thai language, all the nouns we come up with should be in Thai.

Look at the symbol and think of a Thai word (not a word in your native language). This should get you started thinking in the target language.

I’ll start with some Thai words that I think of when I see the above symbol.

คน /kon/ – person
ผู้ชาย /pûu-​chaai/ – man, boy
ผู้หญิง /pûu-​yǐng/ – woman, girl
ฉัน /chǎn/ – I
ดิฉัน /dì-chǎn/ – I
ผม pǒm – I

Then we can get fancier.

มนุษย์ /má-nút/ – human
ครู /kruu/ – teacher
ตำรวจ /dtam-​rùuat/ – policeman
คุณพ่อ /kun-​pôr/ – father
คุณแม่ /kun-​mâe/ – mother

And of course the symbol below could be the plural of all the above.

Thai Language

เพื่อน /pêuan/ – friend, friends
นักเรียน /nák-​rian/ – student, students

At this point the learner can come up with more words depending on his/her Thai vocabulary. If you have an idea in your head, and you know the Thai word for it, then it will work.

If you have an idea and don’t know the Thai word for it, use that magic of a dictionary to find one that works for you. For instance, you have the idea that the symbol represents “President Obama”. This will be a great opportunity to add the word “president” to your vocabulary in a meaningful way.

ประธานาธิบดี Obama /bprà-taa-​naa-​tí-​bor-​dee Obama/ – President Obama

Thai LanguageNow that we have a noun, let’s try adding a verb.

What comes into your mind seeing this symbol? Here are a few I think of.

ไป /bpai/ – go
เดิน (ไป) /dern (bpai)/ – walk
วิ่ง (ไป) /wîng (bpai)/ – run
เดินทาง (ไป) /dern-​taang (bpai) / – travelled (to)
กลับ (จาก) /glàp (jàak)/ – return (from)

Turning symbols for verbs into Thai is easier than with other languages since we don’t need to worry about tense or person.

Tense:

ไป /bpai/ – go, went, will go, has gone

Person:

ไป /bpai/ – go, goes, has gone, have gone

I am sure you can come up with some more.

Now for a destination symbol.

Thai Language

What do you see? Here is what I see.
บ้าน /bâan/ – house, home
โรงเรียน /rohng-​rian/ – school
ตลาด /dtà-làat/ – market

Or something more fancy.

บ้านเพื่อน /bâan pêuan / – my friend’s house
ตลาดนัด /dtà-làat nát/ – farmers’ market
ทำเนียบขาว /tam-​nîap-​kǎao/ – The White House

Forming Sentences…

Thai LanguageNow let’s put this together into a more complete idea. Look at the symbols below and tell me in Thai what ideas come into your head. Use the symbol meanings we have listed above to build your Thai sentence. Then try some new ideas from symbol meanings that you come up with on your own.

Here are a few examples using the above Thai words.

คน ไป ตลาด
kon bpai dtà-làat
The person went to the market.

ครู วิ่งไป บ้านเพื่อน
kroo wing bpai bâan pêuan
The teacher ran to her friend’s house.

ประธานาธิบดี Obama เดินทางไป ทำเนียบขาว
/bprà-taa-naa-tí-bor-dee Obama dern taang bpai tam-nîap kăao/
President Obama travelled to the White House.

And depending on your level of Thai you can expand the sentences.

ผม กลับ บ้าน
pŏm glàp bâan
I returned home.

ผม จะ กลับ บ้าน
pŏm jà glàp bâan
I will return home.

ผม กลับ บ้าน แล้ว
pŏm glàp bâan láew
I have already returned home.

Asking Questions…

Thai LanguageMost of our time spent studying a language is used making statements. Less time is usually spent in learning to ask questions. If we look at a statement as basically an answer to a question then we can use our symbols to help us produce questions.

All we have to do is add a symbol we are all familiar with to our set. Use the question patterns that you are already familiar with.

Now we can generate questions from our symbols.

คุณแม่ไปไหน
kun-mâe bpai năi
Where did Mom go? or Where are you going, Mom?

คุณแม่ไปตลาดมั้ย
kun-mâe bpai dtà-làat máai
Did Mom go to the market? or Mom, do you want to go to the market?

คุณแม่กลับจากตลาดหรือยัง
kun-mâe gulp jàak dtà-làat rĕu yang
Did Mom return from the market yet? or Has Mom returned from the market yet?

And the final step in fluency is to develop both parts of a question and answer dialog.

A: คุณแม่ไปไหน
kun-mâe bpai năi
Where did Mom go?

B: คุณแม่ไปตลาด
kun-mâe bpai dtà-làat
Mom went to the market.

A: คุณแม่กลับจากตลาดหรือยัง
kun-mâe glàp jàak dtà-làat rĕu yang
Did Mom return from the market yet?

B: คุณแม่กลับจากตลาดแล้ว
kun-mâe glàp jàak dtà-làat láew
Mom returned from the market already.

Now let’s see what you come up with.

I think you will find that at the end of this exercise if you have used the Thai you already know you will have created a number of Thai sentences rather fluently, and mostly without errors.

Create your own Symbol Stories…

Thai LanguageHere are three more symbol sentences. See what you can come up with. If you want to have a bit more fun leave a comment with your results (in written Thai or phonetic transcription).

And when you have done that then try adding the final symbol.

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.

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!…

I want to state this now and for the record that after studying Thai for 7+ years: If you don’t understand Thai culture, you will NEVER EVER understand the nuances of the the language. Period. End of story.

I know that’s a 180 degree flip-flop from my earlier stance back when I started learning Thai. Believe you me, I’m as stubborn as the day is long, but I’m not too stupid to admit it. As far as my saying that Thai culture isn’t important to learning the language, I was 1000% off the scales!

Cross-cultureIf you can read Thai and want to wrap your head around the restrictions Thais operate within culturally, versus the restrictions most foreigners use, then buy Cross Culture ฝรั่งไม่เข้าใจ คนไทยไม่เก็ท by Christopher Wright (aka Chris Delivery). Out of all the books on Thailand and Thai culture I’ve read, it alone taught me how to realistically interact with Thais. It taught me how to put myself ‘in their noses’.

เอาจมูกคนอื่นมาหายใจ
Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
(use someone else’s nose to breathe thru).

When I undertook to learn the Thai language I didn’t put much effort into studying their culture. And needless to say, there were many facets of the language which eluded my understanding. There were a ton of things which were hard for me to work out, that I just plain ไม่เก็ท (didn’t get) about Thai. The first was the rigid and often inflexible way Thais interact in semi-official settings (offices, meetings, with any officialdom) versus the relatively restriction-free interaction they have in informal or intimate social settings.

Another thing that threw me for a loop was the incredibly blunt (and intrusively nosy) questions Thais would ask after first meeting.

“Do you own or rent you room?”
“What do you pay for rent?”
“How much money do you make each month?”
“Do you have a college degree?”
“Where did you go to college?”
“Do you own your own car?”

These questions just plain flabbergasted me. In the US I’da said, “that’s nunya beeswax!” The slang term for none of your business! I couldn’t figure out why it was important for Thais to know all this stuff about me. And needless to say, my Thai spoken language skills stagnated at a mediocre level.

It wasn’t until I started learning about the Thai culture thru reading Cross Culture (ฝรั่งไม่เข้าใจ คนไทยไม่เก็ท) that some of the idiosyncratic things Thais do started to make sense. Better yet, what Thais were doing was making sense in relation to their use of the Thai language.

In regards to an imaginary socio-economic ladder ‘o success, Thais as a rule are far more caught up with the concept of what rung people are standing on than we as westerners are, and that’s why Thais ask blunt questions of people they don’t know. They need to know if you are standing on the same rung as them, or the rung above or below. The answers immediately clues BOTH sides into who’s the superior (พี่) and who’s the subordinate (น้อง). From then on in it’s reflected in the conversation. Effortless (to them) one person then becomes the superior and the other the subordinate.

Thais are also pretty caught up in image, both on how they appear to others and how others appear to them. Now, I’ve met more than my fair share of real honest-to-goodness millionaires in Thailand, foreigners ultra-successful in their own right. It would seem to me that a way lot dress pretty darn casual. So casual in fact, that most Thais wouldn’t give them a second glance and more than a few Thais probably wouldn’t even give them the time of day, if asked. Conversely, EVERY single Thai I’ve met who either has real money or who pretends to have it, dresses to the nines.

I know a Thai guy who lives in a shoe-box Thai apartment and could get to work via the BTS in minutes, yet he drives an entry-level BMW to work. He takes an hour each way, just so he can be seen by his coworkers. It would seem that Thais took that old Canon camera commercial with Andre Agassi using the catch phrase “image is everything” to a new, heretofore unheard of level!

The thing I found interesting was that the more I researched the Thai culture, the more I understood the “whyz” as far as Thaiz behaving in a particular way during the conversations I’d have, and in conversations I’d eavesdrop on when they thought I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I’m now at the point where I think the language and the culture are inextricably woven together. In fact, I believe they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s like you can’t learn language to its full extent without having to stomach a very healthy dose of culture too.

Everyone states that the Thai language has several registers, varying from official speak (ภาษาราชการ, ภาษาราทางการ) and going right down in descending order to market language (ภาษาตลาด). I concur wholeheartedly. There are a multitude of registers available to speak Thai with. However, I am of the mind that as foreign speakers of Thai, we just need a good mid register. You know, one that isn’t so sugary sweet and over the top in politeness that we come off sounding like we’re kowtowing to the Thais, yet not so coarse that it curls a Thais hair.

Disclaimer: I freely admit that Todz-Thai might be a little on the rough side for some. I don’t speak that way to be rude to Thais on porpoise, err on purpose. It’s just that I didn’t want to lose who/what I am about simply because I’m a foreigner who happens to speak Thai with Thais. I am not compelled to embrace, acknowledge or follow the cultural restrictions Thais operate within, but a foreign speaker of Thai I am 100% compelled to understand them.

I speak really blunt, terse, coarse and to the point Thai. I don’t mince words. I don’t dance around the point. And I ask repeatedly if they understand (เก็ทมั้ย). Remember, Thais will feign understanding just to interact politely with someone. It’s almost as if the overriding component in verbal communication is that everyone’s polite, and whether anything gets accomplished or not seems a very distant second place. And I just won’t accept those pat, knee jerk answers Thais give like ไม่มี, ไม่ได้ as valid answers to the questions I pose.

It is my experience that a Thai who says ไม่ได้ or even worse spits out the English “cannot” isn’t saying that it can’t be done. What they’re really saying is they don’t know how to do it. So to understand what’s going on you need to breathe thru the nose of that Thai. You need to understand the invisible cultural restrictions which come into play during these types of interactions.

Example: you ask a Thai if something can be done. Now, the Thai you asked can’t say, “I don’t know”, because they’d lose face. They can’t say, “wow, that’s a good question, let me go check”, because once again, they’d lose face. In fact, due to the overpowering need in the subconscious mind of every Thai to save, give, gain and/or not lose face, the only right answer for them when they don’t know the answer, or don’t know how to go about doing something, is to say “cannot”.

It’s vexing, but there are workarounds to this. But, it takes an understanding of how Thais operate within their cultural restrictions, along with a fair command of Thai, to be able to back a Thai into a corner where the only face-saving option for them is to do what you want or go find someone who knows the answer to your request.

What I’m trying to say is that you, as a foreigner speaking Thai, do not have to adopt to any of the Thai cultural norms to interact with Thais. There is a huge difference between understanding the mythical beast known as Thai culture, and mimicking how Thais interact culturally.

When interacting with Thais, the very fact we are Thai speaking foreigners should be exploited to the n-th degree. Clearly, we don’t fit neatly into their tidy cubby-holes like the other Thais do.

We are free to interact with a CEO of a business just as easily and seamlessly, as we can interact with the lady who’s mopping the floors, or the guy who opens the door for us. It’s something foreigners here ไม่เก็ท (don’t get).

In the way they speak Thai and the way they behave, I see foreigners wandering around trying to mimic the Thais. Honestly, most do a really piss poor job of pulling it off! They act more like an over-the-top caricature than someone who is genuinely embracing the Thai culture. From my perspective, it’s not that they aren’t genuine towards the Thais, it’s just how they are coming across to me.

I am not suggesting to be rude or unkind. As a boy I was taught (had it beaten into my backside with a willow switch) that “courtesy doesn’t take a college degree”. I’m saying to be polite, be firm, stand your ground, and don’t take the first answer a Thai gives you as the real answer to your problem. On so many occasions I’ve had Thais tell me “no” and then after further discourse, I’ve had them either do what I requested, or go and get someone else.

Individual Thais are ultra-afraid to make a wrong decision and thereby bear the brunt of the responsibility. They’re much more collective decision makers than foreigners are. It’s one of the most limiting factors when foreigners work with Thais. A foreign boss gives a Thai a project and it progresses along just fine until the point where the Thai has to make a decision which can affect the outcome. It’s then that they go into a safe mode, afraid to make the wrong decision. So what happens is that the project languishes on their desk until the foreign boss is forced to decide for them. This high uncertainty avoidance trait is a limiting cultural aspect amongst the Thais. And I predict that there’s a very good chance that with the opening of the AEC, it will become even more apparent to everyone.

I’ve said over and over that I’ve never wai’d a single Thai and most likely never will. In fact, I have two t-shirts made up eons ago. One says “Why wai? R U Thai?” and the other one says “Silly foreigner. Wai’z R 4 Thais”. Now, I totally understand the intricacies involved in the various levels of respect that wai’ing in Thailand encompasses. Because I’m not Thai, I just don’t want to wai. In the 10+ years I’ve been here, interacting with Thais on every rung of their ladder ‘o success, I’ve never not wai’ing be an impediment to talkin’ to, doing business with, or getting things done with ANY Thai. Not a single time.

I did finally break down and get a couple sets of those clickers pasted on the inside heels of my shoes, just like the Thai police and military. It was my compromise for never wai’ing. If I feel I owe a Thai acknowledgement for doing their job (which BTW is something I find strange any way you wanna try to explain it) I’ll nod my head and click my shoes. That’s about the best they can expect outta me.

Get that book I recommended – Cross Culture ฝรั่งไม่เข้าใจ คนไทยไม่เก็ท by Christopher Wright – it totally rocks!! It’d be even better translated into English. Because even though it’s written from the perspective of helping Thais understand foreigners, it’d be a bestseller as it’d help foreigners understand Thais too.

Good Luck,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

You have my apologies…

Over a month ago I started housecleaning on WLT and I thought I’d be done by now. Apologies. I should have warned you sooner. The site is over six years old and there’s 600 plus posts to make right. This is my to-do list so far:

  • Remove dead links.
  • Remove links that go to smut sites.
  • Remove links that go to parked pages.
  • Create a proper automatic archives.
  • And update that darn audio player.

The Broken Link Checker WP plugin was a huge help with dead links. WHY I waited so long to add it, I’ll never know. Fixing six years of broken links all at once was a pain.

Broken Link Checker isn’t a miracle worker as it doesn’t tell me about links that no longer go where they are supposed to. The sneaky buggers are going to smut sites, parked sites, and China. Unless someone here knows some magic, errant links can only be discovered by clicking on link after link.

The main problem you might experience personally is the editing of audio players. My previous plugin didn’t work with iStuff so I stripped off the code and went with the new WordPress player. Problem is, it’s butt ugly (if you poke around today, that’s mostly what you’ll see).

For weeks I played around with audio players and finally settled on one. But, after recoding a part of the site, iOS 8 came out today and it no longer works. Back to the beginning. Again!

I’m now recoding the audio links using the Haiku minimalist audio player. When you have as many audio files per page as WLT has, the design for Haiku is overwhelming. CSS tweaks will need to be made (and hopefully you won’t notice).

Anyway, as there are other fixes in the wings, I don’t know how long it’ll take to make everything right. Apologies. I’ll get it done as fast as I can.

Oh. And if you come across links acting badly, please do drop me a line. Thanks in advance!

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

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 more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

Both street and professional.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I came as a missionary with OMF International, and after only 1yr (10 modules) of Thai studies was immersed in a small country town to do church planting [our co-workers were the only other foreigners around]. There was no church within 40-50 kilometers, and 5 scattered believers that we knew of to follow up. I quickly learned Thai out of necessity to cope and to bond with people around me, and be able to speak their heart language so that I could do the job of helping, teaching them and bringing them to Christ.

Successful Thai Language Learner: Ruth Curtis FamilyDo you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I currently live in Bangkok Thailand suburbs [a little over 1yr.] I spent 30+years before that -1980-2012 – up country in Central Thailand; this was in either small towns or smaller cities… Lamnarai 6yrs, Angthong 3yrs, Lopburi 1.5yrs, Koksamrong 3yrs and Saraburi 13yrs.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

August 1980 – till currently. I’m always learning and finding new ways of saying things. The first 4yrs had formal language studies completing the OMF 3yrs of 10 modules each year, with comprehensive exams at the end of 2nd and 3rd years.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I learned Thai right away in OMFs language learning program which was based in Bangkok, Bangrak area at the time. This language course was meant to be comprehensive covering comprehension, pronunciation in, speaking, listening, reading, writing. When we moved up-country after the 1st year, it was jump right in; I was definitely immersed!! We had no senior missionaries, we were it. I learned Thai to a deep level because had so many Thai people in and out of our home all the time.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

My 1st year of study I could keep a morning schedule of teacher hours and study hours on my own, because there was child-care. Then had the afternoons to take care of my toddler, or be out to practice speaking with people. 2nd and 3rd yrs I stuck to a schedule of trying to complete 1 module per month [just 10 per year], but the hours were hit and miss because I was giving my time to people more and more and the bonding and interacting with them made me learn more and more Thai anyway. By my 3rd year I was learning it mostly by relationship and experiences, instead of formal book learning, but I completed each module check, making sure I understood all content and vocab. of the module book before each time.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I tried LAMP, and “barefoot” short memorized dialogs to accomplish some specific task. The books I used were the OMF language school module books many of which were developed by Herb Purnell.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Out of the above named methods, the OMF language school modules probably stand out more than the others. They provided the actual language needed for daily life, and allowed for diversifying following actual interests. It’s very hard to remember words that one has not much interest in actually communicating. I believe language is a matter of the heart, not academics; the heart needs to be engaged for language to stick.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

In the 4th month.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

No, it was a relief to finally be able to read words on signs around me instead of depending on phonetics. I loved it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

The first time I used a few words I’d learned to try to buy something in the market and found that it worked! Also when I “sang” the sentences of my bare-foot dialogue to myself and found I could remember the sentences and tones that way. Learning language tones actually uses the side of our brain that sings or remembers music.

How do you learn languages?

I’m not sure how language learning “styles” are labeled, but I would say I learn the best in relationships with actual communication and not just from books or formal lessons. I also learn from reading in Thai, as I put myself into the story.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I would say my strengths are in getting to know people at the heart level, thus comprehension and pronunciation go along with this. I do read/write/type in Thai, but would be weaker in writing and typing than in reading, speaking or comprehension.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That it can be learned from a lot of time pouring over books. To be learned the best, it must be learned in relationships with people.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Maybe a little Spanish. I learned it in high-school and university, and lived in southern California for many years.

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

No, other than that we lived in an area where the locals spoke the NE Thai dialect, so we had to learn to understand that dialect as well as we studied Central Thai.

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

Find Thai friends to bond with, learning to communicate with them as well as having lesson books to guide you. Natural experiences of communicating from your own heart to someone else’s is one of the most effective things to learning a language well.

regards,
Ruth Curtis

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

My personal thanks for this series goes to: Ruth Curtis , Michel Boismard, Bettina Friedrich, Daniel Whitehouse, Luke Bauer, Ruedi Seiler, David Fahey, Harlan Wolff, Philip Lattimore, Antonio Graceffo, Mark Kent, Dr. Larry Dinkins, Don Sena, Scott Earle, John Boegehold, Justin Travis Mair, Stephen Thomas, James (Jim) Higbie, Mark Hollow, Marc Spiegel, Daniel B Fraser, Rick Bradford, Adam Bradshaw, Fabian Blandford, Luke Cassady-Dorion, Nils Bastedo, Grace Robinson, Aaron Le Boutillier, Ryan Zander, Joe Cummings, Hamish Chalmers, Andrew Biggs, Ian Fereday, Doug, Gareth Marshall, Martin Clutterbuck, Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj, Herb Purnell, Celia Chessin-Yudin, Stickman, Thomas Lamosse, Vern Lovic, Colin Cotterill, Jonathan Thames, Hardie Karges, Peter Montalbano, Jonas Anderson and Christy Gibson, Paul Garrigan, Marcel Barang, Larry Daks, Chris Baker, Hugh Leong, Terry Fredrickson, Glenn Slayden, Rikker Dockum, David Smyth, Tom Parker, David Long, Aaron Handel, and Chris Pirazzi.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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