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Thai Time: Thai Sentence Expansion Drills

Bingo Lingo

Thai Sentence Expansion Drills…

The idea for this brief post came from Aaron Myers’ handy Language Learning Tip: Sentence Expansion Drills (see his post for further explanation). For sure, it’s a quick way to increase your Thai skills!

How It Works: You can do sentence expansion drills in a lot of different ways. The simplest is to just have these sorts of conversations with yourself about the things you see around you. You could also do this drill on paper. Another great way to do these sorts of drills is to do them with a native speaker.

Using this method, below are sample sentences. Added words have been underlined.

–>> And please don’t panic. Pdf files with and without transliteration are in the downloads below. Audio downloads are included.

I go to school.

I like going to school.

I like going to study at school.

I like going to study Thai at school

I like riding a bicycle to go to study Thai at school.

My friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school.

My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school.

My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every morning.

My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every Saturday and Sunday morning.

My Chinese friend and I don’t like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every Saturday and Sunday morning


Tips and rules…

1. Thai is an SVO language; the word order is subject-verb-object.

2. In Thai, adjectives come after nouns, e.g. เพื่อนคนจีน (friend human-China) “a Chinese friend”.

3. When using multiple verbs in one sentence, you can often just “stack” them up without using any connector, e.g. ฉันชอบไปเรียน (I like go study) “I like to go to study”.

4. When doing sentence expansion drill in Thai, it’s easier start from the core components first (nouns & verbs) and then use descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs (time, place & manner) to expand sentences.

Downloads: Thai Sentence Expansion Drills…

Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (pdf with transliteration): 174kb
Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (pdf without transliteration): 170kb
Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (audio): 796kb

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place them on other websites).

Until next time!

(Bingo) Arthit Juyaso
Principal of Duke Language School
My book on reading Thai fast: Read Thai in 10 Days

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Successful Thai Language Learner: John Bugden

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: John Bugden
Nationality: British
Age range: 20-30
Sex: Male
Location: London
Profession: Self employed decorator

What is your Thai level?


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

Street Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

After an initial quick holiday to Thailand, I knew for a fact I would be going back so thought it would be useful to learn some phrases. Seeing the huge positive response for my efforts made me hungry to keep going with the learning.

Do you live in Thailand?


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


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

I self studied for a couple of years and had some tuition with Thai style. After that I just used the language in everyday life.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Yes everyday in the evenings. Also any spare time during the day.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

Self study using Youtube, Facebook and websites. Various Smartphone apps. Books. Tutoring with Thai style. Podcasts. Writing down everything and keeping notes. A lot of practicing with Thai people. 

Did one method stand out over all others?

I found the combination of all of them was how I became successful in learning the language. However, depending on what stage of the language I was at, I may have used some methods more than others. For example, at the beginning I was writing down a lot of information from websites and youtube, then as I was progressing using podcasts, and when I reached the plateaux stage, tutoring pushed me going forwards.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

After one year.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?


What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Trying out my Thai that I had been practicing by myself in my local Thai restaurant and seeing the joy and surprise by the staff. It felt fantastic and all I wanted to do was learn more.

How do you learn languages?

More self taught using a lot of repetition and then practical use.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • Strengths – Confident using the language and very much enjoy speaking to people.
  • Weaknesses – Because I learnt 99% of my Thai outside of Thailand I feel sometimes even though it sounds like I have a good grip of the language. I have missed out on a lot of exposure and may not communicate in exactly the same way a native Thai person would.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

You don’t have to learn the Thai alphabet to be able to speak fluently.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I used to go to France a lot and got an A at GCSE level. However these days I can’t perform when put on the spot.

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


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

Study hard using all the spare time you have and enjoy yourself. Being able to speak to friends family or even friendly locals in their native tongue is such an incredible feeling. If you put in the hard work now you will reap the rewards for the rest of your life. Good luck!

John Bugden

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

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.

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Translating Thai Song Lyrics: How I Do It, and You Can Too!

Translating Thai Song Lyrics

Translating Thai Song Lyrics: How I Do It, and You Can Too!…

Hi, It’s Ann Norman of CarabaoinEnglish.com. I’ve made it a project to translate as many Carabao คาราบาว and Aed Carabao แอ๊ด คาราบาว songs into English as I can before I die or get bored, whichever comes first.

I’ve finished about 150 songs out 1,000+ existing songs (more are being written each week). I’m having lots of fun and I’ve decided to share my translating secrets with you, so you can have just as much fun translating your favorite Thai songs into English.

Step 1A: Google for lyrics and plug everything into Thai2English.com…

Note: please download the T2E Software (a wonderful resource) if you have Windows.

Goggle for lyrics using the song title and name of the band, which you have copied and pasted from a YouTube + “เนื้อเพลง” (lyrics). The band I follow is famous, and the lyrics are almost always online.

Next plug your lyrics into Thai2English. This word-by-word translation program is WONDERFUL and the only reason I can do any of this. It is also very glitchy.

Read the output and be prepared to mentally override half of what comes out, especially homonyms. For instance, my Thai2English guesses that each instance of ตา (“dtaa”) probably means “grandmother.” (In song lyrics, it almost always means “eye.”) The program is also easily confused by the word ได้ /dai/ when it does not mean “get or receive” but instead plays a grammatical role in the sentence–as it so often does.

So plug in your lyrics and read the Thai2English output with your brain in gear, combining their huge hints with your existing knowledge of the language.

Step 1B: Re-divide the words in the Thai2English box…

When output is nonsensical, help the program by breaking up the words yourself, and try again. Run the words through in different groups.

Words that sound alliterative probably go together. If you have a combined word that sounds like “bliap-blong” (a made-up example) it’s a good bet that the “blong” part just adds flavor to the meaning of “bliap,” and vice versa. The meaning of “bliap-blong” will be probably be similar to the meaning of the two one-syllable words separately. (The word เปรียบเทียบ /bpriap-tiap/ is a real life example. Each part means “compare” and so does the whole word.)

Unfortunately it can also work the other way. Two words you totally understand as separate words can go together to make a new word or meaning that you don’t know. Just recently, I discovered that ก็ /gor/ and ตาม /dtaam/ (“also” and “follow”) go together (ก็ตาม) to mean “no matter.” Thai2English will make wild guesses about which sets of words go together. Redivide the words into different sets and see if that gets you a more sensible answer from Thai2English.

And watch out for tricky divisions like “mai bliap mai blong” used to mean “mai bliapblong” (I am using my made-up word in this example). Below are some examples of this pattern from actual song lyrics:

สักวี่สักวัน /sak wee sak wan/ = สักวี่วัน sak weewan (even one day)
ตามเหตุตามผล /dtam hayt dtaam pon/ = ตามเหตุผล (dtaam hayt-pon) (according to the reasons)
ไม่อดไม่ทน /mai ot mai ton/ = ไม่อดทน (not bear up [under pressure])

Throughout, keep in mind this is POETRY; the songwriter will be playing with words—to make a joke, to be alliterative, to surprise.

Step 2: Google Translate…

Google translate is notoriously horrible at translating Thai sentences. However, it is actually REALLY good at translating individual words and sometimes phrases of up to 3 words. Take your problem words and phrases to google translate, and look at the suggestions there.

Step throughout: Decipher any English loanwords…

A long word that doesn’t sound very Thai probably isn’t. And it might be English. Close your eyes and relax; the answer might come to you. My favorite example: In a song titled “Santana Carabao” (referring to the bands Santana and Carabao): I had the mystery line:

ฮูสสต๊อกได้บอกเล่าเรื่องราว ถนนสายดนตรี ฮิปปี้ร๊อคแอนด์โรล
hoo satook dâai bòk lâo rêuang raao tà-nŏn săai don-dtree híp-bpêe rók aen rohn.

The English loan words “hippie” and “rock and roll” were easy to hear, and I quickly got: “Hoo-satook” told the story of the path of music: Hippie, rock and roll.

But who or what is “hoo-satook”? The answer came to me days later as I watched a tribute to Carlos Santana on a music awards show. I learned that he had achieved stardom playing at the famous music festival … (I’ve written it here backwards): “kcotsdooW”.

Step 3: Use Google images…

Translating Thai Song LyricsThis is a really slick TRICK. Take your mystery words and phrases to google images and see hundreds of pictures of what your string of letters might mean. And prepare yourself for anything. Because maybe Thai2English hid the meaning of these words from you for a reason. I have unwittingly requested images of “shot in the head,” “trampled,” and “crotch itch” in the process of translating Carabao songs.

And yes, the word “crotch itch” (สังคัง /sang-kang/) appears in several Carabao songs, probably because it is alliterative with the word “society” (สังคม /sang-kom/). So these words can be paired to good effect in a protest song: “อนาถหนาสังคมสังคัง” “Pitiful diseased society!” (Or something . . . I am open to suggestions!)

Googling images is the only way to go when your song mentions an exotic tree, flower, or food that English speakers have no name for. Even if you can’t explain your findings to the next person, at least you will know that that tree in this song has bright orange flowers, or that the snacks Aed Carabao is singing about his mother making are those Chinese kanom with mung beans in the middle.

Google images is the only way to match proper names to faces or brand names to products.

My favorite google image translation story: I was translating the lyrics of a brand new, song—a gorgeous melody with just voice and piano, called “Yaak Daiyin” ([What Words Would You] Like to Hear?]:

The verse was falling out beautifully:

“We have mountains, rivers, and oceans. We have all kinds of animals sharing the habitat. There are humans, there is you and me. Here is paradise: the one and only world right here. They say that our world is equal to the tip of the mustache of a shelled slug . . . . “

YIKES! It seemed all the poetry had come to a screeching halt with the mention of the mustached slug. But, then I thought, “He says ‘They say . . .” so it’s a saying. There WILL be pictures.” I googled “tip of the mustache of a shelled slug”: ปลายหนวดหอยทาก.


LOOK AT THOSE little translucent balls on the tip of the antennae of the snail! And, no, they are not really antennae. A mouth is in the middle, so why not call it a mustache? And so, like magic, the rest of the verse falls out:

“They say that our world amounts to the tip of the antennae of a snail, that life is cheaply tossed away like a cigarette butt. We must learn about our hearts and minds; release the spirit to cross the bridge to freedom.”

Step 4: Google the meaning of a word IN THAI and read the answer in Thai..

Note: if necessary, use Thai2English.

Plug your word into google search. My untranslatable word is “แว่บ”. When I plug that into google search, the helpful search suggestions includes “แว่บ แปลว่า” (“’weip’ translates as”). Other suggestions may be “BLANK คืออะไร” (“What is BLANK?”) or “BLANK หมายถึงอะไร” (“What does BLANK mean?”) click on one of those.

In this case the Thai dictionary online says: “ปรากฏให้เห็นชั่วประเดี๋ยวหนึ่งก็หายไป เช่น แสงไฟจากรถดับเพลิงแวบเข้าตามาเดี๋ยวเดียวแว็บไปแล้ว. ว. อาการที่ปรากฏให้เห็นชั่วประเดี๋ยวหนึ่ง เช่น ไปแวบเดียวกลับมาแล้ว เพิ่งมาได้แว็บเดียวจะกลับแล้วหรือ.” Running that through Thai2English (and my brain), we get: “To appear for just a moment and then disappear, for instance the light from a fire engine ‘waep’s’ into the eye for just a moment and then ‘waep’s’ away.”

There! Aren’t you glad we did this like a Thai, and got the full definition? (And if you are really ambitious, search Thai Wikipedia for whole articles relating to your song or its theme.)

Step 5: Beg help from your friends…

Be humble. You are never going to get to the end of this foreign language learning. This is especially the case with proverbs and sayings. There is too much context and history that you are missing out on. There are random-sounding expressions that come to mean a thing for reasons no one can remember. Why does “putting on airs” mean “pretending to be higher class” in English? I don’t know and it’s my language. So go check your translation with the experts, and be prepared for the possibility that your best guess was wrong. And don’t feel bad. It is already very satisfying to just get 85% or 90% of the way to understanding the songwriter’s intentions.

Step 6: Your mystery word might not mean anything, and the odd metaphor is open to interpretation…

A Thai friend recently told me, “In your translating, you might see that many words you can’t find because they are just put in without meaning, but it makes a beautiful sentence!” This is music, this is poetry. There are pretty-sounding words thrown in. There are vocalizations: the ooo’s and ahh’s and la, la, la’s.

Ponder the metaphors but don’t get frustrated with not knowing. Neil Young was searching for a “Heart of Gold.” Aed Carabao famously loves that song. In a recent concert at Khun Aed’s home in Chaing Mai, in the patter between songs, he mentions that although he is a big admirer of Neil Young, he never got to meet him. And if he were to meet him, he’d love to ask him one question: “’Heart of Gold,’ is the meaning like a person is searching for the value of the heart, or something like this?”*

(No, I don’t think it is . . .)

Then he launches into a perfect cover of “Heart of Gold.” When I first watched the concert DVD, I was stunned: Did pondering this question provide Khun Aed inspiration for his even better song “ทะเลใจ” /Telay Jai/ (Ocean Heart), which IS about a person coming to terms with their own heart so they can be happy?!

At that moment I decided never again to apologize for only halfway understanding a song.

In turn, I’m not sure I completely understand Aed Carabao when he sings about the little bird drifting and bobbing, blown by the wind, till it unfortunately falls into the center of the ทะเลใจ.” But I LOVE IT!

Step 7: Stop fussing!…

You are close enough. Don’t overanalyze. Play the song. Listen closely, hum, bounce, and sing along, and let the movie play out inside you.

*The concert is “วันวานไม่มีเขา” /Waan Wan Mai Mi Kow/, the Exclusive Concert at Aed Carabao’s home in Chiang mai. You can listen for yourself at 1:16:4 of this video:

Ann Norman

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Ann Norman

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Ann Norman
Nationality: American
Age range: 50-60
Sex: Female
Location: Pittsburgh
Profession: Editor
Website: CarabaoinEnglish.com

What is your Thai level?

Advanced Intermediate.

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

I learned to speak standard Thai while living in the Issan region, so I speak standard Thai but am not thrown by the word “bor” “บ่”.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Successful Thai Language LearnerRight after college, 30 years ago, I joined the organization Food for the Hungry and they sent me to work in BanVinai Refugee Camp with Hmong refugees in Loei Province. Of course I needed to speak Thai (and also Hmong) to be effective and, importantly, to have friends, so I did it.

While in Thailand I became a fan of the band Carabao (I was an instant fan the moment I heard the first song) and was a huge fan at that time. After returning home, about 20 years later, once the Internet was invented, I realized I could look for Carabao on YouTube. I was astounded to find the band was still together and had been making music nonstop the entire time I had been gone. I had to get caught up on 20+ years of music! I set out to relearn the language.

After my kids left home and went to college, I also hosted two Thai foreign exchange students, which was another motivation to relearn the language.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I lived in Thailand for a little over two years around 1985 and 1986. I never went back.

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

1985-86, 2010 to present.

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

I jumped into learning to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, my organization did not send me to formal training, but they did pay for books and cassette tapes and anything I set up informally, such as paying a friend to come sit with me and help me learn. At that time there were some American Embassy language learning tapes and books, which I used, and the other method I used was to have a friend come over and make tapes of the exact phrases I felt I needed. I would state a sentence in English and they would repeat it in Thai into a tape recorder. I would use the tape to memorize the sentences.

The other Americans I was working with seemed fluent in Thai, so it was a good example for me. Much of our social circle was Thai, so I needed to speak Thai in order to have friends. After a year they went home and new people arrived, and I was the expert. I regret that at that time I did not learn to read Thai. It would have been really useful.

Fast forward to the later period: I thought my Thai might just come back to me if I exposed myself to the language again. I had never entirely forgotten it because of the music I brought home. At first I just randomly watched YouTubes of Thai music that had English subtitles. This is how I discovered Palmy, Bodyslam, Be Peerapat, and Scrubb.

I made Thai friends on facebook who had similar musical tastes and listened to anything they posted. Sometimes we skyped. These things were fun, but of course not very efficient for language learning.

My first foreign exchange student brought me a Thai alphabet book, so I had already learned the Thai alphabet when I finally decided to get serious and take a class online.

It was a Thai facebook friend who gave me the link to Learn2SpeakThai.net. Khru Mia assessed me and said, “This will be easy. From this point, you will be able to read in 11 one hour lessons.” She was right! It was amazing. The classes were very systematic, each building on the previous lesson in a logical way. Of course, I had to study 2 or 3 hours for each lesson. She even told me that further lessons would not be strictly necessary because I could just go out there and start reading, using Thai2English to help me along, and I would learn grammar from reading.

I also bought Thai for Intermediate Readers and Thai for Advanced Readers books and several Speak Like a Thai series CDs from Benjawan Poomsan Becker, and those were extremely valuable.

With a whole lot of help from the two foreign exchange students and Thai2English, I was already beginning to translate Carabao songs into English. The second student was especially helpful, helping me with many songs. On the last night he was here, he helped me with an “emergency” translation of a Sek Loso song that I needed to impress Sek Loso who (I really believe this happened) had just said hello on one of the facebook pages. On this night, I said, “Oh no. What will I do without you?” And he said, “You are about 85% correct without me. You will be 85% correct.” And with that attitude, I soldiered on, translating songs and begging friends to check them until today when I am about 95% correct without help. You can see the results at CarabaoinEnglish.com.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule? What Thai language learning methods did you try?

No, sadly . . . but the obsessiveness with the music perhaps makes up for it. At least there is no problem with motivation. I am constantly involved with the language and learning new things. I forgot to mention that the music also leads me to listen to interviews and TV shows related to the music where I can also hear a lot of spoken Thai. Also, I read the posts in Thai of my Thai facebook friends and learn that way.

Did one method stand out over all others?

The formal classes from Learn2SpeakThai.net were probably most valuable. Khru Nok was my actual teacher (Khru Mia runs the program). Next would be Benjawan Poomsan’s books.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Very late in the game! (See above)

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?


What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

My ‘ah hah’ moment was when I realized I could read Thai with my mouth shut. It seemed like magic that I could stop sounding out words and still “hear” them in my head. I had a flashback to when I was 5, lol!

How do you learn languages?

I repeat things out loud and memorize. I feel I need to be able to say it in order to internalize the meaning of the words.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I have a hard time distinguishing the different vowels. I have been told I’m pretty good with the tones. I used to be better at speaking than listening, but after so long with no one to speak with, that has probably changed.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

There are two common misconceptions:

  • 1) That it is impossible to learn Thai because of the tones (the tones are conquerable within 6 months).
  • And 2) that the language is easy to master because there is no grammar. (There is in fact a rich grammar that I can’t hope to ever fully understand.)

Can you make your way around any other languages?

No. Just English and Thai.

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

Yes, Hmong, and long ago I spoke Hmong and Thai equally well. I could also read Hmong, which uses an English alphabet. However, now I’ve forgotten Hmong.

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

Check out the band Carabao! Aed Carabao is a poet and a living legend. He is probably the greatest singer/songwriter in the world. Go to CarabaoinEnglish.com to listen to Carabao YouTubes while reading translations and transliterations of the lyrics. Learn Thai by singing amazing music! ☺

Ann Norman,

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

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.

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Call for English Speakers Learning Thai: Junyawan’s Linguistics Research Project at Chula

Junyawan's Linguistics Research Project at Chula

Junyawan’s Research Project…

If you are a native English speaker learning Thai, Junyawan Suwannarat, a PhD candidate at Chula, needs your help.

Please take part in my research. Upon completion of the study, participants would receive a renumeration of THB 500, and a tentative evaluation report of your Thai language proficiency.

The tasks consist of 4 sections:

  1. Be pared up to have a conversation in Thai [60 minutes].
  2. Tell a story in Thai from a picture book [20 minutes].
  3. Fill out the language history questionnaire.
  4. Translate 60 sentences in English into Thai [no time limit to complete – you can take it back home].

*In the 1st and 2nd section, your verbal responses will be recorded.

Facebook: Junyawan Suwannarat
Tel: 086 915 1074

Chula University

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Steve Stubbs

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Steve Stubbs
Nationality: British
Age range: 20-30
Sex: Male
Location: London, UK
Profession: Management Consultant / Teacher
Twitter: @SteveAStubbs

What is your Thai level?

Upper Intermediate.

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

Street Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

To be able to speak with locals, to make people laugh and smile and so that I could read menus and signs! Wherever I ended up with my teaching abroad, I was always going to give the language a go.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I lived there for 11 months during 2012/2013 but am now in the UK. I’m looking to move back over if I can find the right job!

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

I’d say from the summer of 2012 onwards.

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

I was eager to start learning the language as soon as I had booked my place on a teaching course over on Koh Kood. In the UK we have long summer holidays so I spent a lot of my time learning the foundations at home.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

I wouldn’t say it was a planned schedule but I tried to do a bit every day in the past. Now its harder working around a job and living in a non-Thai speaking country.. but I try to expose myself to the language each day.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I started using Youtube with channels like Kru Mod / Kru Wee / Kru Mia. They were all very useful and I cannot praise them enough. I then used the Thai for Beginners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker (a great series for anyone starting out) and the rest in the series. During my time in Southern Thailand, I lived in the sticks with a home stay family.. certainly this was true immersion and was really beneficial to my progression!

Did one method stand out over all others?

YouTube is great in my opinion. You can tell the teacher to pause and to go back as many times as you want! And it’s free. Also you are fully engaged visually and through sound. I find that if I am listening to just the audio, my eyes will wander.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

After a few weeks of learning some speaking and listening, I was curious to know how this was represented using the Thai alphabet. I knew that if I wanted to truly learn this language, relying on a non-standardised transliteration script wouldn’t be the right approach.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Initially I found it fine. It is an artistic language and fun to practise. I also had a system for memorising the three different classes. I also like that each letter is named after an object / person / animal – another boost to the vocabulary and it makes some imagery. The parts I found hard were: Learning the ending sounds for consonants, memorising the tone rules, the different fonts!

What was your first “ah hah!” moment?

Certainly when I first showed up at Suvarnibhumi airport. I had learnt a language for 3 months or so without even practising it with anyone! I started speaking to ask someone where the Taxis were and I had that ‘ah hah!’ moment when I realised he could understand me.

How do you learn languages?

I’m a visual learner, I like using mindmaps and pictures where I can. At the moment I am using flashcards on my phone which I can flick through during tube/train journeys. I also like to watch videos in Thai on Youtube.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: Confidence in speaking foreign languages with others, being able to pick up accents quickly, motivation to learn and try new methods.

Weaknesses: It used to be fonts but I am now more confident after practice. Now my biggest weakness is listening (especially that colloquial teenage tongue)! I need to get back to Thailand to practise this…

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Many people are scared of the tones and the alphabet. The tones are actually not as hard as you may believe and once you crack them, they are fun to practise and to explain to fellow Westerners! They also make for a few funny mistakes down the road (Hee Maa = Snow or something else?). I believe that the Grammar in Thai is what makes picking up the basics quite simple. Once you know a verb, it stays like that for all plurals, genders, tenses – no conjugation! (I find Asian languages easier than European!) As for the alphabet, take it step by step. Perhaps learning a few new characters a day.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Everywhere I go I like to learn the language. This has left me with a little bit of knowledge in things like Turkish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Italian etc. I studied French in high school but it was seen as a subject in my teenage head rather than an interest and hence I haven’t been able to keep it up.

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

I tried to learn a bit of Chinese at the time just out of curiosity. I didn’t pursue it in the end because I wanted to focus fully on one language.

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

Try and find a method that you enjoy. Overall I think mine is utilising videos as much as possible as this is what I have found most effective and engaging. Be confident! Go out there and speak with anyone and everyone. The first 5 minutes of speaking with a Thai person usually have the same questions in (I was going to put a ‘same same but different’ line in there). So if you are prepared for these and they understand, this will boost your confidence for the rest of the conversation! In my opinion, making the effort to learn the writing system really will pay off in the long run. Of course transliteration is a good starting point, but don’t rely on it for too long because you will soon encounter pronunciation issues (Transliterated karaoke lyrics look horrible to me).

Steve Stubbs,
Twitter: @SteveAStubbs

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

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.

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Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Buddhist Vocabulary by the Numbers

Thai Language

Thai Buddhist Vocabulary by the Numbers…

It wasn’t until about 300 years after the Buddha’s death that his teachings were put down in writing. Before then the teachings were organized in an oral tradition. One of the ways that the early teachers organized complicated ideas was to make lists. So in Buddhism you have The Three…, The Four…, The Five…, The Eight …, and many more.

Other religions have done similar things. There are the Ten Commandments, even though when we take a closer look at the Bible there are lots more than ten. But ten is a nice round number and easy to remember.

Giving numbers is a great way to teach complex ideas, especially with an illiterate audience as it was in the beginning. The early Buddhists made great use of lists. And those lists have come down to us and are still used today.

Thai LanguageMany foreign visitors and residents of Thailand take an interest in Buddhism. We have presented here some vocabulary that might help you understand, discuss, and even ask questions if you are so interested. And because much of the teaching is in list form it makes learning the vocabulary that much easier.

The Buddhism in Thailand is riddled with influences from other belief systems, Animism, Hinduism, and Mysticism. We have concentrated here on very basic Buddhist vocabulary.

This is not a thesis on the Buddhist religion. You’ll have to look into that yourself. But it will get you started on the vocabulary of Buddhism. You’ll find lots of lists in different books and websites, some will have the original Pali words, others might have Chinese, Japanese, Korean words, or a slightly different Thai Translation. In the spirit of language learning and not religious doctrine, we have tried to stick with the easier to remember vocabulary words.

NOTE: For those needing transliteration, there’s a pdf download at the end of the post.

Buddhism: The basics…

The following are some everyday vocabulary words that one hears often when discussing Buddhism.

Buddha: พระพุทธเจ้า
พระ: venerable (title for a monk or other religions figure, eg. Jesus = พระเยซู)
พุทธ: Buddha
เจ้า: lord

(It can easily be seen how the Thai word พุทธ could be changed to the English “Buddha”)

Religion: ศาสนา
Buddhism: พุทธศาสนา or ศาสนาพุทธ
Buddhist image: พระพุทธรูป or simply พระ
Monk: พระ or พระสงฆ์
Monk’s bowl (alms bowl): บาตร
Alms round, seeking alms (food): บิณฑบาต
Present food to the monks: ใส่บาตร
Novice: เณร or สามเณร
Nun: นางชี or แม่ชี
Meditate: ทำสมาธิ or นั่งสมาธิ
Chant: บทสวดมนต์
Karma: กรรม

By the way, the classifier for monk and novice is รูป (the same word for “picture”) and sometimes องค์, for Buddhist image it is also องค์, but for nun it is คน.

In speaking about Buddhism, there are both specifically religious words and also common Thai words which have the same meaning. The common words are used by most people when talking about Buddhism. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone use the religious words except a monk. So they are here just in case that is someone you find yourself talking to.

We have given the religious words first, and below, the common Thai.

Three (The Three Characteristics of Existence)…

Buddhism describes “existence” as having three characteristics. These are characteristics that are shared by all sentient beings

The Three Characteristics of Existence are:

  1. Impermanence: All conditioned things are constantly changing.
  2. Suffering: All things are subject to dissatisfaction and because of this, suffering.
  3. Soullessness or non-self: There is no such thing as a personal self or soul that we alone own.

ไตรลักษณ์:The Three Characteristics of Existence
ไตร: three (similar and maybe related to the English prefix “tri”)
ลักษณ์: characteristic

  1. อนิจจัง: impermanence
  2. ทุกข์ขัง or ทุกข์: suffering
  3. อนัตตา: non-self

อ…: is a prefix meaning “not” (similar and maybe related to the English prefix “a…”)
อัตตา: ego (state of being an individual)

Four (The Four Noble Truths)…

These “truths” contain the heart of Buddhist teaching. By understanding them we will be able to understand what Buddhists believe.

The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Suffering (is real).
  2. Cause of suffering (there is a cause to it).
  3. Cessation of suffering (suffering can be ended).
  4. Eight-Fold Path (can lead to the cessation of suffering).

อริยสัจสี่: The Four Noble Truths
อริยสัจ: Noble Truth
สี่: four

  1. ทุกข์: suffer, ความทุกข์ suffering; hardship
  2. สมุทัย: cause, มูลเหตุ the cause
  3. นิโรธ: the cessation of, extinction of suffering, การหยุด = cessation; ending
  4. มรรค: way; path, ทาง direction, way or path

Eight (The Noble Eightfold Path)…

Thai LanguageThis is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. It is taught that by following this path we can bring about the cessation to suffering.

The following is an English interpretation of the components of the Noble Eightfold Path. Lots of books and websites can be overly philosophical and difficult to read and understand when discussing this concept. Interestingly, Buddhism for Dummies (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-eightfold-path-of-buddhism.html), where this list comes from, has one of the clearest presentations.

The Eightfold Path is:

  1. Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble Truths are noble and true.
  2. Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice Buddhist faith.
  3. Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of untrue and abusive speech.
  4. Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa), as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual impropriety.
  5. Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or working at jobs that force you to violate others.
  6. Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
  7. Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of one’s mental state and bodily health and feelings.
  8. Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest level of enlightenment.

And this is how the Noble Eightfold Path is presented in Thai. From the translations we can see why different listings in English of The Eightfold Path can be slightly different.

อริยมรรคแปด: The Noble Eightfold Path
อริยะ: sanctified
มรรค: Buddhist path
แปด: eight

The terms สัมมา before the noun, and ถูกต้อง after the noun mean “correct” or “right”.

  1. สัมมาทิฐิ: Right Understanding
    ความเข้าใจ: understanding
  2. สัมมาสังกัปปะ: Right Thought
    ความใฝ่ใจ: taking an interest
  3. สัมมาวาจา: Right speech
    การพูดจา: speaking
  4. สัมมากัมมันตะ: Right Action
    การกระทำ: action
  5. สัมมาอาชีวะ: Right livelihood
    การดำรงชีพ: earning a living
  6. สัมมาวายามะ: Right Effort
    ความพากเพียร: perseverance
  7. สัมมาสติ: Right mindfulness
    การระลึกประจำใจ: recall
  8. สัมมาสมาธิ: Right concentration
    การตั้งใจมั่น: intention

Five (The Five Precepts)…

The Five Precepts are sometimes defined as “commandments” like the “10 Commandments”. But instead of “Thou shalt not …” these are seen more like something we should strive to abstain or refrain from doing. More like “Thou shalt try not to …”

Commandments and precepts are different and even though the Thai word for precept is sometimes translated as “commandment” they are quite different in purpose. The breaking of the commandments is a sin, against God. The breaking of a precept will cause you or others suffering, therefore it is something we should avoid doing. So this is a list of things to abstain from in order to limit our own suffering and our possibly causing suffering in others.

The Five Precepts are:

  1. Abstain from killing.
  2. Abstain from taking what is not given.
  3. Avoid sensual misconduct.
  4. Abstain from false speech.
  5. Abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

ศีลห้า: The Five Precepts
ศีล: precept (moral precepts)
ห้า: five

The term เว้นจาก is used in front of each of the precepts.
เว้น: abstain
จาก: from

Instead of เว้นจาก we could just as easily said ห้าม (prohibit).

  1. เว้นจากทำลายชีวิต: Abstain from the destruction of life.
    ทำลาย: destroy
    ชีวิต: life
  2. เว้นจากถือเอาของที่เขามิได้ให้
    Abstain from taking things that were not given.
    ถือเอา: assume
    ของ: things
    ที่: that
    เขา: he, she, etc.
    มิได้: not
    ให้: give, offer
  3. เว้นจากประพฤติผิดในกาม: Sexual misconduct
    ประพฤติผิด: misbehave
    ใน: in
    กาม: sexual desire
  4. เว้นจากพูดเท็จ: Telling a falsehood
    พูด: speak
    เท็จ: lie, falsehood
  5. เว้นจากของเมา
    ของเมา: liquor, that which makes you intoxicated

To finish…

Thai Language

This was a simple vocabulary lesson, not an invitation to become a Buddhist. I believe that we are all ultimately responsible in finding what works for us. The Buddha’s last remarks summarize all of his teaching and basically say that it is now all up to you.

“Behold, O monks, this is my advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.”

Reference: I have found that the best on-line dictionary source for Buddhist vocabulary is thai2english.com. Other dictionaries bypass most of the religious words. Someone at thai2english.com must be into this topic. I made liberal use of this dictionary in this post and would like to thank thai2english.com for their hard work.

Post Script: I don’t drink alcohol. This is not because of any religious belief. But when I go out with Thai friends and I tell them I don’t drink they are usually taken aback. That is until I tell them in Thai ฉันถือศีลห้า “I observe the 5 (Buddhist) precepts”, one of which of course is abstaining from alcohol. They usually all shake their heads knowingly and say ไม่เป็นไร, “No Problem”.

PDF Download (includes transliteration): Thai Buddhist Vocabulary by the Numbers

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

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Alex Martin

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Alex Martin
Nationality: American
Age: 29
Sex: Male
Location: Thailand
Profession: Study Abroad, Grad Student, and soon to be PhD student!

What is your Thai level?

I find it hard to label fluency, even in my own native language of English. I also hate rating things, so I’ll just say that I feel very comfortable speaking and reading Thai. My writing could improve.

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

This is a hard one to answer. I speak depending on what situation I’m in. Sometimes it’s more “street Thai”, while other times it’s more formal. I prefer speaking formally and politely unless I’m with close friends. A lot of my pronunciation is influenced by the Northern dialect and I can understand many of them quite well (there are lots of dialects). I don’t speak it as much as I should unless I’m with my wife’s family, so my colloquial Central Thai is better than my Northern.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I wanted to live in Thailand and figured that it would feel strange to live in a country where I couldn’t speak the language.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

Yes. I visited Thailand for the first time in 2005, fell in love, and moved there shortly after in 2006. I convinced my university of Prescott College to allow me to finish my studies in Thailand independently.

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

June of 2005 till the present day.

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

Yes. My first experience in Thailand was a homestay in a village about two hours outside of Bangkok and none of my host family spoke English. I loved it and actually used being in places where I had to speak Thai or not be understood as my method for learning.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Yes and no. When you live in Thailand, every moment is an opportunity to “study”. I’m a very hands on person, so I just went out and talked to people, made a fool of myself, and learned new words in the process.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I took a course at AUA in Chiang Mai to get the basics down, then switched to a private tutor to learn the alphabet. I made my own study materials and did not use other products.

Did one method stand out over all others?

For me, the best way to learn Thai was to speak it. I didn’t feel the need to get caught up in finding the best product. Instead, I put myself in situations where I had to speak Thai. I didn’t get stuck in the expat bubble where everyone speaks English and instead made friends with locals. I’d have a few beers with friends and get creative and try to construct my own sentences. I made mistakes, learned from them, and my language abilities grew.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I got the basics down in the first year, but did not really go past reading a restaurant menu till about 8 years in when I decided I wanted to go to grad school and focus on Southeast Asian Studies and primarily Thailand. At that point, I connected with Easy Study Thai in Chiang Mai and arranged private tutoring. They were great as they allowed me to develop my own “curriculum” and helped me achieve goals I had set for myself.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

No. It was a lot of fun and put a lot of what I already knew in the spoken language in context. It gets a bit more difficult once you start reading things like Ramakien and Khun Chang Khun Paen (ok, Ramakien is extremely difficult), but it’s just another challenge. I still am learning more and more every day.

The most important aspect of getting better at reading for me was to read things that I found interesting. I love folklore, so I bought a bunch of Thai folktales and read them. Now, I read things like Poolputhya’s articles on Ramakien because I enjoy it and it’s relevant to what I’m studying.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I can’t remember. The latest ‘ah hah!’ moment happened when I realized I was skimming a dissertation written in Thai and was able to pick out keywords that I was looking for.

How do you learn languages?


What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my strengths are that I’m not nervous to speak Thai or afraid of making mistakes. Also, I don’t try to rate myself as fluent, intermediate, B1, A8, or whatever other ways people try to create standards for the language. I understand that it is a diverse language and there are many different ways of speaking, reading, writing, and understanding it. I just keep learning because it’s fun.

I should speak Northern Thai more, but it’s so easy to speak central Thai and then just let people answer me back in their dialect. I’m sure my wife’s family would be more happy if I spoke to them in Northern Thai.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

There is a “best” way to do it.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I learned Hebrew as a kid, but forgot it. I can say a lot of useless stuff in a variety of languages, though I really do want to start learning Khmer.

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


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

There isn’t one way to do anything, so do what works for you.

Alex Martin,
Soon to be PhD student!

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

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.

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Thai Style: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy

Thai Style

Feeling Like a Thai…

A month ago, Catherine asked how would I feel writing a post about a list of emotion/feeling words. She got the idea from a post at Mental Floss, Improve Your Vocabulary With the “Wheel of Feelings”.

I said to her ‘Great! I am willing to do it and I feel excited and enthusiastic to complete it.’

When I learnt English I used a similar system to help me understand English emotion/feeling words so I can see how it would benefit Thai learners as well. I was confident and determined to finish the post within a week or two, however, when I started the work I realised this is going to be a long project.

Not only do we, Thais, have our own perceptions about emotion and feeling, but the language we use to indicate emotions/feelings is also so different to English both grammatically and in meaning. Therefore I decided to create a series of posts called ‘Feeling like a Thai’. There are going to be six posts in total; ‘Be happy’, ‘Don’t be Sad’, ‘Oh no! A Thai is angry!’, ‘So scary!’, ‘I’m confused. What have I done wrong?’ and lastly, ‘Wheel of Feelings’.

These posts will help you to use correct words to indicate your feeling in Thai language as well as explanations on how and when to use them.

Today, I proudly present to you the first post ‘Be Happy’. I would love to hear how this post helps you. Please provide some feedback describing how you feel about the post. Are you happy with it? Do you feel encouraged to try it out with your Thai friends? Are you more confident to how to express feelings in Thai? I would be grateful if you could take a moment to write a comment below.

Now, I feel relieved and relaxed that my first post of this series is done as well as feeling gratified that this post is going to help Thai learners. I am so happy! :)

Note to beginners: Transliteration along with Thai script is in the explanation of the pdf download at the end of the post (tables are Thai only).

Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy…

Before learning the emotion/feeling words, let’s learn about the grammar as it is very important for you to construct a sentence correctly in order to indicate your emotion/feeling in Thai language.

First of all, I would like us to understand the definitions of ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’.

[definition] a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

1. an emotional state or reaction.
2. senses detecting what you feel through your 11 inputs; Hearing, Taste, Sight, Smell, Heat, Cool, Pain, Pleasure, Sense of balance (vestibular), Pressure, Motion (kinaesthetic).

As you can see, emotion and feeling, although different, have a very similar definition and are often interchangeable. In my series, I am writing about feelings as ‘an emotional state or reaction’ and I would like to explain in detail how to construct a sentence to indicate our feelings.

When indicating emotion or feeling in Thai the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel (mentally and physically)’, is used as a verb, yet the word ‘รู้สึก to feel’, is commonly omitted from a sentence if the explanation word that comes after is an emotion/feeling word.

In Thai, we view emotions as they happen in our heart, so the word ‘ใจ [Noun] heart [Noun] mind ; disposition ; spirit’ is used to make up many compound words to denote different types of emotions/feelings. For example, ดีใจ [feeling verb] feel delight / be delighted / be happy, is a compound word combined from the word ‘ดี means [quality modifier] be good, be nice’ and the word ‘ใจ’.

Some modifier (adjective/adverb) words can also be used after the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel’ to describe someone’s emotion or feeling. For example, กระชุ่มกระชวย is [modifier] be hale and hearty, be full of vitality, be energetic, and รู้สึกกระชุ่มกระชวย is feel energised.

Sentence structure:

Subject + (รู้สึก, to feel) + feeling word/explanation.

For example:

I feel delight/happy.

I am delighted/happy.

I feel good.

‘ดี means [quality modifier] be good, be nice’ which is not a feeling word therefore when you are not using the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel’ before the word ‘ดี’, without context the sentence ‘ผมดี would be interpreted as ‘I am nice.’

When you want to connect the emotion/feeling with the causes, you should use the link word ‘ที่, [relative pronoun] … that …’

Sentence structure:

Subject 1 + (รู้สึก, to feel) + Feeling word/Explanation + ที่ + (Subject 1) or Subject 2 + Explanation.

For example:

I feel delight/happy that I receive the reward. / I feel delight/happy to have received the reward.

I feel delight/happy that mum comes to see me.

When someone makes or causes someone to feel something, we use the word ‘ทำให้’.

Sentence structure:

Subject 1 + ทำให้ + Subject 2 + (รู้สึก to feel) + Feeling word/Explanation.

For example:

Mum makes me feel happy.

The prefix ‘ความ’ is an element placed at the beginning of a verb or adjective to adjust or qualify the verb’s or adjective’s function and meaning to an abstract noun.

Examples: ดี [quality modifier] be good/nice, ความดี [noun] goodness, รัก [feeling verb] to love, ความรัก [noun] love, จริง [quality modifier] true, real, ความจริง [noun] truth, สบาย [feeling verb/modifier] be comfortable, be relax, be cozy, ความสบาย [noun] comfortableness.

Example sentences:

I truly love him.

I would like to know the truth.

He is comfortably sitting (the place, space and time is comfortable for him).

He likes comfortableness.

The prefix ‘อย่าง+’ is an element placed in front of a modifier (adverb or adjective) or a noun to adjust or qualify the modifier’s function to an adverb and the meaning to ‘having a particular quality’, ‘… in that type of quality’, ‘… in the way of …’. It is similar to the use of the suffix -ly in English e.g. brotherly, quickly.

Examples: ดี [quality modifier] be good/nice, อย่างดี [adverb] nicely, สบาย [feeling verb/modifier] be comfortable, be relax, be cozy, ความสบาย [adverb] comfortably, เร็ว [speed modifier] be quick, อย่างเร็ว = [adverb] quickly.

Example sentences:

I do the work nicely.

He is comfortably sitting down (he bends down and sits in a comfortable way).

He is quickly sitting down (he bends down and sits quickly).


  1. Words in brackets can be omitted.
  2. The level of intensity of the English feeling words is copied from a research article. I tried my best to explain the intensity of Thai feeling words within the descriptions however I still feel every feeling is unique and words cannot describe our feelings exactly as well as the intensity can be subjective.

Downloads: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy…

As this resource is enormous (20+ pages filled with examples and tables, plus audio files to boot) we’ve created downloads for you. Enjoy!

Pdf: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy: 269kb
Audio: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy: 5.2mg

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place on other websites).

By ครูเจี๊ยบ: Kru Jiab
Thai Style

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Tobias Foreman

Successful Thai Language Learner

Name: Tobias Foreman
Nationality: British
Age range: 20-30
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Manager, Language Express

What is your Thai level?

I would say that I am fluent in some aspects such as conversing at work and with friends but advanced in others, such as idioms and cultural relevance.

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

I speak street with my friends, Issan with people from Issan, professional with colleagues and respected people and also the Sukhothai dialect with my family.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I had learnt French and German from a young age in school, and I had always been interested in language and the way people communicate. One teacher asked me “do you communicate to live, or live to communicate” and I felt that language was very much my passion and interest – it has been ever since.

I chose to learn Thai at degree level at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and I was very lucky to learn with Ajarn David Smyth! I need to add that I knew nothing about Thailand or the language before I enrolled to study – I had never been to Thailand before either! So I actually ended up literate and able to speak at an intermediate level before I had even set foot in Thailand. The first day I arrived here was quite an experience, being able to read Thai and speak to real Thais in Thailand – as soon as I got off the plane!!

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I do live in Thailand. I arrived here as an exchange student at Thammasat University in the summer of 2011. I returned back to the UK to complete my degree and moved back to Thailand, where I have now worked since late 2013.

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

I have studied Thai since September 2009 – present.

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

As mentioned above, Thai was the core of my Bachelor’s Degree and we started learning by becoming literate first. We spent around 3 weeks learning the alphabet and vowels before learning/acknowledging the meaning of the words we were reading. I would say that this method was tough to begin with as you are constantly facing the unknown, however, I honestly believe that this method is the best way to tackle Thai for any serious learner.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

I studied Thai in London for 8 hours per week, and 4 hours per day in Thailand. I also practiced my spoken Thai early on with the staff in a little Thai cafe in King’s Cross, London. Nowadays, I have become slightly lazy and only learn new words that I pick out of the newspaper or that I hear spoken that I have not encountered before. However, I still love listening to songs to draw descriptive vocabulary out.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I guess I learnt by the ‘David Smyth’ method in London – read first, speak later. In my exchange year I attended UTL in Asoke, and the method was quite rigorous. Towards the end of my formal education in London, we were analysing newspaper articles covering law, politics and social problems. The method used was to read and understand, translate into English or into Thai (depending on the article) and then form a debate over the issues raised. We would get through 2 full length articles in around 6-8 hours.

Once I had completed my degree and moved back to Thailand, I focused more on learning what I call day-to-day vocabulary. I am really talking about objects and things that we encounter in the workplace and at home – tiles, stapler, etc (some more straight forward than others). These ‘easy’ words were not included in the syllabus at SOAS, as they can be learnt easily on one’s own.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Yes, read first – speak later. I think this is perhaps the most difficult method from the beginning, however it really pays off after a month or two. It fully ensures that the students have the tools to type or write a word that they have not come across and still be able to look up the meaning and learn it and be able to use it themselves. The method gave me a certain freedom when it came to self study.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

As mentioned above, from day 1. No Sawatdee Krup, but Gor, Kor etc. Speaking and learning definitions of words came after about 1 and a half months.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I personally felt like I was in the deep end as almost all of my classmates had some foundation in Thai language (being half Thai or had previously spent time in Thailand). However, It was not particularly difficult as I had had a go with the Russian alphabet during secondary school, so learning a new writing system was fun, not daunting.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

This is difficult for me to remember as I have had a couple now!! I do remember that I had a dream in Thai (probably fuelled by my Thai cinema module) during my second year of study at SOAS, when I woke up I remember that everything seemed more in place and organised, so perhaps that was it?

How do you learn languages?

I love to learn languages by writing and reading, followed by speaking. This is the method that was used for almost all of the non-roman scripted languages taught at SOAS. I became attached to this method, it works really well for intensive study.

Whenever I learn a new word, I remember the spelling and I will make as many excuses as possible to say that word as many times as I can until it is a useful and memorable part of my vocabulary. It isn’t uncommon to hear me say the same new word every other hour for a week or so. It gives me the opportunity to experiment with context and usage. This method also works well when you are struggling with the pronunciation of a word – just keep saying it until you get it right.

I still am not afraid to make mistakes, they guide us to what is correct.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths for me are reading speed and being able to really deconstruct a piece of writing, especially official documents and news articles. I also love to play with the language when talking to my friends and colleagues, by making small jokes. I love the playfulness of Thai, you can really have fun by mixing things up.

Right now, my weaknesses are regarding subject specific vocabulary. For instance I could describe a political or economic theory well, but I can’t describe how to fix my motorbike over the phone. So, at the moment with those situations, I take them as they come and learn the words where necessary.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That tones are the be all and end all. “I must pronounce this word with a falling tone or no one will understand anything I say!!!”

Tones are important, that is true, and in the wrong context a sentence can be completely misunderstood if the wrong tone is used. However, in 6 years of learning and 3 years of living here, I can only count a handful of times that this has had any major effect for me.

I think that tones are tackled in the wrong way. The actual pronunciation and speaking all comes with time. Even the most proficient language learners get the accent down last. Nevertheless, tones are important when it comes to speaking as much as they are when reading, but they will not kill you if you get them wrong.

I would tell any new learner of Thai, to make sure that they are literate, and understand the tone rules. However, why don’t a large number of native speakers know the rules?

I feel I have come to a point where I do not know the rules any more (they are not necessary for me to remember), I do not know what class this consonant is or what this short vowel does to it – I just know how it is read and pronounced, and consequently the tone of the word.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I can, but my other languages are nowhere near the level of my Thai. I have studied French, German, Spanish, Indonesian and Khmer.

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

I was learning Indonesian and Khmer alongside Thai. It was difficult! Khmer, however, was a fantastic insight into Royal Thai and some etymology of contemporary Thai.

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

I would say, get out there, make mistakes, laugh at yourself and learn from it!

Tobias Foreman
Manager, Language Express

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

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.

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