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Author: Andrej

Andrej: How I’m learning Isaan


Isaan is a catch phrase for Lao varieties spoken by about 20 million people in North-Eastern Thailand. These languages are closer to Lao than to Thai, but due to Isaan being part of Thailand the influence of Standard Thai is substantial and sets Isaan apart from the Lao spoken across the border. Isaan, Lao and Thai itself are closely related and have split off and developed from one common ancestor language in the past.

Isaan has always been my favourite part of Thailand, both in terms of people and food. I’ve been learning Thai for several years and initially didn’t want to mix things up, but my Thai is now at a level where I feel comfortable, and I’m ready for something new. I was fortunate to find a speaker of Isaan (Ton) willing to work with me long-term, and so it started.

Initial challenges…

There is no *one* Isaan language, there is no standard which could serve as a reference. Actually, there are several varieties/dialects which have different tones and vocabulary. Currently, there is also no established writing system for Isaan dialects, and the Thai writing system, without adaptions, is not suited to represent Isaan pronunciation faithfully. Isaan and Thai tones have different contours, and Isaan varieties can have more than five tones.

There are a few books (in English) and webpages (mostly in Thai) for learners of Isaan. I’ve looked at the books but as I’m not a fan of textbooks, I haven’t worked with them. The Thai websites are pretty useless to me as a primary source because I can’t figure out the correct tone from the approximative Thai spelling. Learning a tonal language without getting the tones right doesn’t work for me.



So I started out making my own language learning materials. I’ve developed a set of illustrations for basic vocabulary and communicative functions, and I got Ton to record descriptions or questions and answers for these pictures. In the beginning, I only listened to the recordings, trying to understand what’s going on and getting a feel for the tones without analysing anything. Many Isaan words have Thai cognates, so I usually had enough context to guess and learn those words which were different.

After a few months, I added some pictures stories which were a lot of fun but also showed me that many basic words and the language used in real communication can be very different from Thai. There’s a lot I don’t understand at all. The listening phase was pretty casual, I didn’t spend too much time on it, but it was important to get a feel for the tones and learn to recognise some vocabulary.


Getting serious…

End of last year, after about ten months of casual listening, I decided to take a stab at the tonal system of Ton’s language. As mentioned before, there are various Lao dialects in Isaan which differ in at least their tonal systems. Ton is from Khon Kaen province, and that’s the variety I’m learning.

There’s actually a pretty neat way to determine the tonal system of Tai languages (like Lao, Thai and other related languages). Due to their common ancestor and how the tonal system developed, all native Tai words fall into one of 20 categories. Words in each category have the same tone, and many categories share the same tone as well (so that Thai ends up with five tones, not 20). In order to figure out the tones of a new dialect, one only has to go through these 20 categories. This approach has been developed by Gedney and is sometimes called ‘Gedney tone chart’ or ‘Gedney tone box’. A corresponding illustration with 80 words which can be used to elicit these 20 categories is on my website.

I went through the Gedney tone chart with Ton. After a bit of back and forth, and also consulting with Luke who knows both Thai and Lao, I distinguish now six tones. They are all pretty different from Thai, and two of them may actually be just one underlying tone with a lot of variability. I’ve recorded the Gedney words and documented the analysis on my website; whoever wants to learn another variety can follow the same approach.

Once I’d figured out the tones, I realised that it’s actually possible to write the language with Thai characters by reinterpreting the tone rules. This is due to the conservatism of Thai spelling which makes learners’ lives difficult but is a huge boon for learning Isaan. For instance, words with ไม้เอก always carry a high tone (which, by the way, sounds different from the Thai high tone): ไก่ ไข่ ด่า พ่อ are all pronounced with a high tone in Ton’s Isaan. I worked through the Gedney chart and wrote down the tone rules, and so far I haven’t found a word I can’t spell with proper Isaan tones.

The writing system is obviously a private one which nobody else uses. I don’t even use it myself consistently when I text-chat with Ton and drop some Isaan because I know that he is more used to approximating Isaan tones with Thai tone marks instead of reinterpreting the rules. But for my learning it’s super useful because I can write all words with their correct tone. For 90% of the cognates, the Thai spelling already gives away the correct Isaan tone, and for the rest I can often figure out the tone from the Lao spelling. It’s a huge boost.


Second phase…

Now that I have a writing system, I can transcribe recordings. I love doing transcripts, I’m learning so much by doing this. When I’m just listening, I can gloss over words I don’t understand as long as I still understand the overall message, or even zone out a few seconds. When I’m writing a transcript, I need to catch every word.

This second phase in my Isaan learning journey consists of writing transcripts and seeing a lot of vocabulary and structures in context. I’m mixing slow and easy illustration-based recordings with much more challenging little stories à la ‘Thai Recordings’. Whenever I’ve worked through a recording, I put it on my website and integrate it into the little corpus I’m building up. It’s currently a lot of fun, and I’m seeing a lot of progress in my comprehension.

In order to keep track of the spellings and tones of the words I’m hearing and writing, I’ve started a little dictionary; it’s on the website. It’s a work in progress and constantly developing, but I hope that most of the entries have the right tones and are correctly translated. It’s currently pretty small and doesn’t live up to linguistic standards, but given the dearth of materials it might still be a useful reference, especially if it grows over time.


What’s next?…

Who knows. I’m in it for the fun of it. I love languages, and I enjoy experimenting with language learning materials. I have quite a few plans with Isaan, but in the end it all comes down to whether I enjoy what I’m doing or not. It’s clear that all these recordings and transcripts don’t magically turn me into a good speaker of Isaan — in order to develop speaking skills, I need to engage in speaking. What I’m doing now is laying the foundation: acquiring vocabulary, getting ample exposure to structures, getting the tones right.

Isaan page on aakanee: check out document on tones, the dictionary and the recordings.

Other Isaan dictionaries on the web:
Thai-Isan-Lao Phrasebook
Pantip: There are a lot of vocabulary lists on Pantip, not well structured but sometimes good to confirm a hunch.


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TPR: Total Physical Response Explained


Total Physical Response (TPR) is a language teaching method developed by James Asher and has been in use for several decades. There’s a large amount of information, including sample curricula, on the web, and Asher and his colleagues have also published various books, available for instance from tpr-world.

The main idea of TPR is to teach comprehension through actions: the instructor gives commands, and the student carries them out. It is mostly used with beginners. Usually, the student doesn’t speak during TPR sessions, but speaking can be integrated later by having students take on the role of the instructor.

A typical first TPR session…

The instructor and the student sit on a chair. The instructor says “stand up” (in the target language) and stands up, then “sit down” and sits down. He repeats this one or two more times and then invites the student to do the action with him (for instance, using a hand gesture) – “stand up” – both stand up, “sit down” – both sit down. This is repeated a few times. Finally, the instructor stays on his chair and just says the commands, and the student performs the actions. This is again repeated a few times.

Now the instructor adds a new phrase, for instance “point to the door”. In order to introduce the new phrase, the instructor demonstrates it a couple of times alone and then does it together with the student a few more times before the student does it alone. Such a sequence could look as follows:

Instructor demonstrates the new phrase alone: stand up – point to the door – sit down – point to the door – stand up – sit down – point to the door – stand up – point to the door.

Instructor and student together: stand up – point to the door – sit down – point to the door – stand up – sit down – stand up – point to the door – sit down – point to the door – point to the door.

Student alone: (random mix of commands).

After “point to the door”, the instructor could introduce “point to the window”, “point to the table”, “point to the ceiling” one by one. After having introduced the verb “to point” and the nouns “door”, “window”, “table”, “ceiling”, the instructor could teach a new verb, ”to go”, with the same nouns: “go to the door”, “go to the window”, “go to the table”. Next, this could be expanded with “look at”, “run to”, and other objects available in that particular room.

In TPR, it should be avoided to “test” the student, the goal is always to have 100% success with any command. If the student can’t respond correctly, then the instructor has made a mistake. There are three basic rules for the instructor to make this fun and help the student learn:

  1. New phrases need to be introduced one by one.
  2. New and old phrases need to be mixed in an unpredictable, random way, and.
  3. Newly introduced phrases need to be practiced until the student is really confident before moving on.

Another important rule, especially in the beginning, is to keep the form of the command and the introduced phrases fixed. Even small changes to familiar phrases are likely to cause confusion, and with confusion learning breaks down.

Nothing is translated in TPR – students learn to understand the new language through actions. Associating sounds and actions is a powerful and efficient way of learning, and it can also be a lot of fun for both sides. TPR in its basic form can be used to teach a lot of concrete vocabulary by making creative use of the objects available in the house or class room. Advanced TPR phrases could be “put the red pen next to the book… now take the cup and hold it for a moment… now put the cup on the plate… now take the blue pen and put it in the cup…”, or you could even teach advanced sentence structures like “if the blue pen is in the cup, then take the bottle” or “shut the door after you’ve put the book on the table”.

My own experience with TPR…

Earlier last year I did a few TPR sessions with three different instructors as a beginner student of Khmer. I prepared my own curriculum, and instead of the instructor demonstrating a new action, I did it myself and had the instructor say the corresponding Khmer command. After a few rounds of eliciting the new command, we would do the normal sequence: the instructor giving commands, I performing the action. It was an interesting and fun experience, and I certainly would have continued if I had stayed in the area.

In the very beginning, I couldn’t distinguish individual words, but as soon as several commands of the same type were introduced (“go to the door”, “go to the window”, “go to the chair”), some words became clear (“go to”). Later more and more words became clear (“door”: “go to the door”, “point to the door”, “open the door”, “close the door”), until full phrases were transparent. I struggled when I went too quickly with new words, or sometimes with words that sounded similar (I remember mixing up table and cupboard), but otherwise it was surprisingly efficient. It was an amazing feeling to see myself respond correctly to that alien new language almost from the get-go.

At the end of this post, I would like to suggest two TPR-inspired techniques which can be used with a (trained) native speaker friend: Dirty Dozen, and TPR with objects. Similar to TPR, these two techniques are based on the idea that comprehension comes first, speaking later. One night’s sleep before activating the new vocabulary seems to be a good general guidance.

Dirty Dozen…

Dirty Dozen is a stripped down version of TPR aimed at learning a set of new words (a dozen seems to be a good number, not too few and not too many). These words can be names of objects, but also verbs or other words shown in pictures. Instead of doing some action, the learner (and the instructor during the training phase) just points to the correct object or part of a picture. As in TPR, one starts with two or three words and then adds one after the other. Supporting phrases in Dirty Dozen are usually “This is X” – “Where is X?” or “Show me X!”. 

As an example, you could go with your instructor to a motorbike parked on the street and start learning the parts it’s made of.

TPR with objects…

This works with almost any object – chopsticks, a jar, your purse, a notepad etc. Take the object and start manipulating it Dirty Dozen style. There’s an amazing amount of language which can be practiced with simple objects. For example, with a paper cup you could learn: take, give, turn upside down, push, drop, fill, empty, drink, sip, hold, crush, perforate, put in, take out, stack (if you have more than one), spin, roll, balance on two fingers, etc etc. For a buck or two, you can buy bits and pieces to practice colors, comparisons, shapes etc. There are many, many possibilities.

The process is always the same: the instructor says the new phrase and demonstrates it a few times, and then lets you do it. New phrases are introduced one by one, and new and old phrases are mixed randomly. In the initial session, the student just does the action and doesn’t speak, but student and instructor can switch roles the next day if the student wants to activate the new vocabulary.

NOTE: The post, Total Physical Response 500+ Thai Word List Translated (pdf download included) is live. Sound files will come later (after I get suggestions).

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Introducing aakanee.com: Thai and Khmer Picture Supported Learning

Introducing aakanee.com

Introducing aakanee.com…

Recently, I’ve moved Thai Recordings to a new website, aakanee.com. This was necessary in order to make room for a couple of new projects I’m working on; I wanted to have them all under one roof, so “thairecordings.com” wasn’t the appropriate domain anymore. I’ve just launched two of these new projects… and there’s more to come!

Picture supported learning…

I’ve been learning Thai for a number of years already, but recently I’ve developed a broader interest in the languages of the region. I’m also passionate about language learning and enjoy thinking about how to work with the target language as it is, ideally in its spoken form, from the very start. When I took up Khmer seriously earlier this year, I implemented an approach which relies entirely on native speaker input, supported by visuals and picture stories. Visual context can really boost comprehension and make language which might otherwise be too advanced accessible at the early stages.

Illustrations for South-East Asia…

During this work, I’ve encountered two limitations: lack of copyright, preventing me from sharing, and a lack of culturally appropriate illustrations – most suitable wordless picture books and language learning illustrations are based on Western culture. So I decided to address both of these shortcomings and develop a set of illustrations for South-East Asian languages. Eventually, there will be around 50-60 topics, each consisting of 12-20 frames. It’s work in progress, but I’ve got a nice little stash already. As with Thai Recordings, all of this is self-funded and will be provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Introducing aakanee.com

These illustrations can be used in various ways, for instance with a tutor to learn basic vocabulary [beginner] or to stimulate speaking [intermediate] and maybe even discussion [advanced]. On my website, I will provide supplementary materials for various languages, starting with Thai and Khmer. For Khmer, I myself will be my best “customer”, and I’m planning to provide both spoken and written descriptions (also read out loud). For Thai, I’m working with Khun Pari, a long-time online tutor of mine, to do relatively easy but still natural descriptions aimed at intermediate learners. These descriptions will come with a basic list of key words and phrases used in the recording.

It would be nice to be able to offer more for Thai. If you want to contribute to the Thai project, please contact me via www.aakanee.com/contact-form.php – I’m willing to host materials if volunteers step forward to produce, for instance, transcripts, written descriptions or other types of recordings. (If I were to suggest a format, then I would recommend to do super slow, super basic and quite short descriptions aimed at beginners. I have a friend in mind who needs exactly that :))

Introducing aakanee.com

Beyond Thai…

I’m planning to exploit these illustrations shamelessly to satisfy my interest in various languages of the region. For the foreseeable future, I will focus on Standard Khmer, but I’m planning to work on Northern Khmer – the Khmer spoken in Thailand – next year. I’m also determined to put up something for Northern Thai, hopefully already very soon; while not exactly endangered, Northern Thai is clearly an underserved language. Besides that, I would be very supportive of any project related to minority languages, for instance Kuy, a Mon-Khmer language spoken in Thailand, or Shan, a Tai language from Eastern Myanmar, and also more mainstream languages like Lao; such projects will either happen (much) later or need to be driven by someone else.

Introducing aakanee.com

I hope you find this project worthwhile. Feel free to use the illustrations for your own learning, and don’t hold back with any feedback you might have, either here or directly through my website.

Thai: Thai Illustrations
Khmer: Khmer Illustrations
Follow me on Facebook for updates: aakaneedotcom

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Thai Snippets: Semantics, Spelling, and Sentence Construction

Thai Snippets

Introducing: Thai Snippets…

EDIT: Thai Snippets is now offline.

I’ve been learning Thai for about 5 years now and have advanced beyond the beginner stage. I used to have the “Bakunin learns Thai” blog describing the first two years of that journey, but recently decided to take it offline and delete the content which caused the owner of this blog to lament over the loss of my travels through ALG (Automatic Language Growth).

Another project of mine, Thai Recordings, however, is still accessible and will be kept online as long as I can afford to pay for the hosting and the site is not getting hacked. Thai Recordings has about ten hours of recordings of spoken Thai, together with fairly exact transcripts, on a wide variety of everyday topics, and is aimed at intermediate learners of Thai.

Recently, I’ve started another little project: Thai Snippets. It is actually not intended to be a blog where I broadcast something to the world and engage in social networking and the rest of it, but rather something like a notebook that happens to be online. I’m not good at keeping notes in real life because I can’t stand stuff cluttering up my desk, but I still have the desire to jot down and keep those small personal insights I (and we all) have when learning a second language. The files I’ve started have never really worked out either. Maybe the format of a blog is a better solution because it imposes some structure with regards to how I present the content.

Thai Snippets is 100% focussed on my own needs and learning journey, and admittedly pretty random, maybe even obscure. I love to investigate questions related to semantics, spelling, and sentence construction. Instead of just researching that stuff, I now research it and write it down. That’s all there is to it.

Time will tell whether Thai Snippets will add value to my learning experience. If it does, I’ll keep doing it, otherwise it’ll die without much ado. It is clearly a niche project, but maybe there are a few people out there who share my interest in semantic relationships, spelling and the like and enjoy stopping by, or others who might be inspired to start such a notebook-type blog of their own, whatever their level and interest is.

Since starting Thai Snippets I’ve been busily adding material, and I’ve got an even longer pipeline. Somehow having to write the stuff up forces me to dig a bit deeper, and this in turn increases my learning experience. It’s also good fun, I’m just that type of guy. So, I guess I’ll keep adding to Thai Snippets for some time to come.

Thai Recordings

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Free Podcasts in the Thai Language

Free Podcasts in the Thai Language

Free Thai podcasts to peruse…

For language learners who learn from abroad, podcasts can be a convenient way to access native media in the language they’re learning, directed at native speakers. If you’re learning French or a language of similar status, you’re spoilt for choice; there are scores of podcasts on offer, catering to every taste and interest. Unfortunately, the situation is very different for us Thai learners. This post summarizes the few podcasts I know that publish episodes on a regular basis (as of January 2013). If you know any other podcasts directed at native Thai speakers, please add them in the comments!

Voice of America’s daily news round-up: Monday to Friday, VoA publishes a 30 minute program with global, US and Asian news, and reports on health, science, entertainment, technology as well as the occasional interview. It has quite a good mix of topics, and Thai news are covered to some extent. It’s clearly the number one news podcast in Thai.

VoA has also a good website, and there are transcripts (or close transcripts) for many of the reports they broadcast. VoA also has a weekend program on iTunes, as well as an alternative version of its weekday program. Mike from Self Study Thai offers VoA audio and transcripts in a convenient format with English translations.

NHK Japan’s daily news program: NHK publishes a daily 14 minute (Monday to Friday) or 9 minute (Saturday, Sunday) news podcast in Thai. They bring almost exclusively news related to Japan, with very little coverage of world news and almost no coverage of Thai news. It’s very Japanese, formal and boring. The Thai they use is beautiful, though.

SBS Australia: SBS publishes short news clips on a regular basis, about 2-5 per week. The clips are directed at Thais living in Australia. A few of this year’s topics were: bush fires, rip current safety tips, natural gas development divides Queensland, Assad’s speech, coal industry. I spent some time working in Australia and enjoy listening to news from down under, but if you have no connection to Australia, their selection of topics might not mean much to you.

There are some more podcasts on iTunes to be found but they don’t add episodes anymore. There’s nothing from Thai broadcasters as far as I’m aware of.

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FLTR: The Foreign Language Text Reader

Foreign Language Text Reade

Intensive Reading vs. Extensive Reading…

Extensive reading is a language learning technique characterized by reading a lot, at or slightly below your current level of proficiency, without looking up unknown words. If the level of books or texts chosen is appropriate, unknown words or grammatical structures can be inferred from context. Extensive reading is basically reading for pleasure, but it is very beneficial in terms of solidifying existing knowledge, acquiring new vocabulary, increasing reading speed, and (depending on what you read) expanding cultural understanding. The nice thing about extensive reading is that it is fun (if you like reading, of course), with language learning being just a by-product. Focus is on meaning, not on language. Extensive reading is often neglected in language schools because it has to be done alone and can’t be assessed or tested.

Intensive reading, on the other hand, is slow, careful reading of a short text. Here, the focus is on understanding (almost) every word, every sentence. Often the text is beyond your current reading ability, but because you go slowly, you can tackle it. Intensive reading can be used to familiarize yourself with new vocabulary, to study vocabulary related to a specific topic, or to find information. It is certainly less fun than extensive reading, but it can have an important role in language learning. As a matter of fact, intensive reading is often the only reading activity used in classroom settings, and it is heavily used by self-learners as well.

I have seen recommendations to balance the amount of time spent on extensive reading vs. intensive reading at a ratio of about 4:1, which seems quite reasonable to me. In this blog post, however, instead of championing the extensive reading cause, I want to talk about intensive reading assisted by a freely available open-source software.

Intensive reading is quite time-consuming, most of which is spent looking up vocabulary, taking notes, searching for notes, and looking up the same words again. Unless you’re extremely well organized, you will find that you look up many words more than once when you encounter them again in a new text. Some time is also often spent on highlighting new words and expressions, or otherwise visually structuring the text. This has inspired some people to write software dealing with those more tedious tasks in order to make intensive reading easier. One of those software projects is the Foreign Language Text Reader (FLTR) which is open-source and can be installed and configured quite easily.

Foreign Language Text Reader…

FLTR basically works as follows: You load a text. The text is then displayed for reading, but words come color-coded. Words never seen before are blue, unknown words take shades between red and yellow/green, and known words are a pale green. While going through the text, you will mark new words as either known or unknown. If they are unknown, you can look them up in up to three online dictionaries with a single mouse click. Then you annotate the words (translations, explanations, pronunciation etc.), and this information is stored. When you encounter the word again, it will show up in its color code (there are five or six of them, from unknown to well known), and hovering over the word will reveal the notes you typed (or rather copied) in earlier. As time progresses, FLTR will learn which words you know and which you don’t, and will help you to focus on new and unknown words.

FLTR: The Foreign Language Text Reader

In this picture, the mouse is hovering over เครื่องกล.

What’s cool about this? Firstly, you look up words only once, and then you can review them by just hovering over those words. Secondly, instead of leafing through paper dictionaries, or typing words into an online search mask, a single mouse click will look them up. Thirdly, the color coding helps you to identify what’s new, what you’ve seen before but is still unfamiliar etc. Instead of reading over those words, they stand out a bit and remind you of their existence. The color coding is also a good visualization of how difficult the text is going to be. Lots of blue and red words means work ahead.

There are also testing options as well as the possibility to export terms to Anki, but I haven’t used those features and can’t comment on them.

xxxSetting up FLTR is pretty straight-forward, with simple and clear instructions. Language configuration is also simple, options include setting font and font size and specifying up to three dictionaries for automated look-up (if the website allows that). Below you’ll find a screen-shot of my settings. I link to the monolingual Royal Institute Dictionary (doesn’t support automated look-up), Google image search and a longdo dictionary containing many Thai-Thai definitions. (I don’t use translations, but if you do, you’ve got many more choices).

The only problem with Thai is the following: Thai doesn’t uses spaces to separate words. FLTR, however, relies on spaces to identify words. So, unlike with languages like French or Indonesian that use spaces to indicate word boundaries, we need to prepare (‘parse’) the text before uploading it to FLTR.

A Thai Parser…

I haven’t been able to find a Thai parser on the web. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to write my own parser, but a visitor to my website Thai Recordings told me that he wrote one, and that gave me the idea (thanks! :)). Coming up with a basic parser is actually quite simple – if you have some programming skills, you can do it yourself within a few hours. The parser requires a list of words (I use the FLTR vocabulary file for that), and inserts zero-width spaces into the Thai text. Zero-width spaces are invisible, but are recognized by FLTR. It was very important to me to find a space character that is invisible, because I’m so used to reading Thai without spaces that I get confused when I have to read spaced out Thai.

I use Python, which comes with my Mac, and have a terminal open to process texts:


Here’s what the parser does:

  1. Read in dictionary D (uses the FLTR vocabulary file, which is a tab separated text file)
  2. Read in the text
  3. For every ‘sentence’ S (set of Thai characters between two spaces) of the text, set i = j = 1 and do until i reaches the end of S:
  4. Define the snippet X = S(i, j), i.e., the characters in S between positions i and j
  5. If X is a word in D, note down this particular snippet
  6. If j has reached the end of S, go to 7, otherwise set j = j+1 and go to 4
  7. If snippets have been identified as words: choose the longest of those, insert zero-width spaces accordingly, set i to the index of the character right after that word, and start over at 4
  8. If no snippets have been identified as words, set i = j = i+1 and start over at 4

The parser finds the longest word, and then restarts on the remainder. If no words have been found, it starts with the second, then third, etc., character, and finds the first word in the middle of the ‘sentence’. The more words the parser has in its dictionary, the more likely it is that new words are isolated between known words. Those words then will show up in blue in FLTR and can be marked according to whether they are already known or still unknown. Once they have been marked, they’re in the database and increase parsing accuracy.

This parser is not perfect. It doesn’t work very well in the beginning: If new words come in chunks, a manual update of the database might be required to resolve that. It also can’t distinguish between มา-กลับ and มาก-ลับ. The first issue disappears over time, but the second stays (and would require semantic parsing to be resolved). If you have ideas on how to deal with those issues, please let me know in the comments!

Wrap up…

FLTR is a great little piece of software. It supports intensive reading and facilitates vocabulary work (whether monolingual or using translation). Look-ups are one click away, notes (or translations) are stored and show up when hovering over the word, and the color coding can be a useful visual aid. The only inconvenience is the necessity to have a parser, but a basic parser is not too difficult to write yourself.

Thai Recordings

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Thairecordings.com: Audio Clips for Intermediate Learners


A New Audio Resource…

I’ve been learning Thai for a bit more than three years now, some of you might remember my guest post here on WLT. I’ve been trying to learn Thai without using translation, text-book study or explicit vocabulary work, and I’m quite happy with the results so far. The resource I want to present in this post, however, is compatible with any learning style.

Thairecordings.com is a new project of mine, one that I hope to grow and maintain for some time into the future. Similar recordings to the ones I publish were quite useful in my own learning of Thai, and I thought, why not set up a website and see whether others like the idea. The website went live in July 2012, and as of now (Aug 2012) the content is still limited, but I hope to add to it on a regular basis.

Thairecordings.com is a free website for intermediate learners who already understand spoken Thai and are able to read. It is basically an archive of audio clips and corresponding transcripts. The audio clips are around 5 minutes each and contain unscripted, natural speech, 100% in Thai. Each recording has a topic, and there are usually 2-3 recordings per topic. Each recording comes with a short synopsis in English. The topics are intended to be accessible and useful, or at least interesting, for intermediate learners, and cover a wide range of issues, for example:

  • going to the dentist
  • ghosts
  • having diarrhea, or
  • beach vacation.

The recordings are not designed to teach anything in particular, and they don’t systematically cover vocabulary related to the respective topic. The intention is rather to provide examples of story telling and talking about experiences. Nonetheless, the vocabulary and structures covered are quite varied and should be useful to intermediate learners. New recordings are added on a regular basis.

The transcripts are done after recording the audio and are (so far) pretty accurate. They contain all spoken function words, which are rarely found in written texts.

How to use the recordings…

The recordings can be used in various ways: you can just listen to the recordings, maybe repeatedly, trying to understand what’s going on. You can practice guessing at unknown words. You can listen with the goal to pick up specific vocabulary or ways to say things, or you can use the recordings to supplement other Thai learning activities on those same topics. If it helps, you can read the transcripts before, during or after listening to the recordings, either assisting or verifying your comprehension. You can also use the audio and the transcripts for shadowing, or for dictation practice. Finally, you can upload the material to LWT (a reading-listening software).

All material is free and subject to a Creative Commons license. I hope the material proves useful to some learners, and I would be happy to get feedback on whether and how it’s used, or what I could do to make it more useful.


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FuKDuK.tv + ALG = Speed Metal Thai?!?!

FuKDuK tv

UPDATE: FuKDuK.tv is offline (for now)

Fancy your next Thai lesson on ‘Speed Metal Thai’? On how glass bottles are made? Fashion tips? A visit to the Bangkok Seashell Museum? Cooking sessions? Looking graffiti artists over the shoulder? Yes? Then stay put!

Automatic Language Growth…

The way children acquire their native tongue is perfect: it always results in fluency. Automatic Language Growth (ALG) is an approach to language learning based on the conviction that adults can achieve native-like fluency as well – by doing what children do. ALG believes that language is acquired naturally by having experiences in the language. Concrete happenings that involve objects or activities, maybe emotions, often interactions, sometimes smelling, tasting, or feeling. And language. But that’s not necessarily where the focus is. The focus is on the happenings in general, on the experience. Language is picked up naturally, as are social and cultural norms, and, more generally, knowledge about the world.

ALG also believes that most of the things adults usually do when they ‘study’ a language are counterproductive. Grammar, pronunciations drills, language analysis, memorizing word lists, translation, you name it. And, quite importantly, early speaking. Toddlers don’t do it, and ALG suggests adults shouldn’t do it either. Not for the first year or so, or the first 800 hours.

There’s a simple principle behind these ideas: you need to firmly establish language patterns before you can use them correctly. And you establish these patterns by observing them over and over again in different circumstances, not by producing them.

The ALG approach is used in the Thai program at AUA Ratchadamri.

Internet TV for REAL – FuKDuK.tv…

FuKDuK.tv is an internet TV project run by a group of young Thais. The company went live in October 2007 and offers currently 28 channels. Each channel has a theme and posts video clips on a regular basis. The clips are between a few and 30 minutes long and are offered in various media formats. You can download all current and previous episodes from their server. In April 2010, there are almost 1200 clips with more than 250 hours of footage.

Many clips on FuKDuK.tv are ideal from an ALG perspective: they present real experiences containing natural conversation, they offer a lot of visual clues that help you guessing what’s going on, and there’s no focus at all on anything related to ‘language study’. Just sit back, enjoy the stories, watch, guess, and let your subconscious do the learning!

In the remainder of this section, I’ll introduce most channels and suggest a few episodes to watch. The links provided take you to pages where you can choose your preferred format. On my mac, mp4 works fine (and these are the only ones I’ve checked out), but you might have to choose something else. I need to download the files first in order to watch them without interruption, but that might be just my internet connection.

Channel 3 is a good place to get started. Episodes in this channel explain how things work: a visit to a glass bottle factory and a Thai explanation of the Christmas tree. What happens in a tattoo studio? How does a printing press work? And, and, and… Channel 4 presents sights: the Bangkok Seashell Museum, a doll museum, or a visit to a shadow play performance. Channel 7 is on food and places to eat: watch the preparation of a specialty from Surin province, or check out the many restaurant reviews like this one.

Channels 3, 4 and 7 are really good for beginners.

Channel 8 is on Apple and Windows. Watch this hilarious iphone parody between minutes 2:20 and 5:20! Need some inspiration for taking pictures through windows and mirrors? Then check out channel 10 on digital photography for this and much more. Get fashion tips on channel 11, or just join the presenters shopping for bags and jackets at Bangsaen Walking Street.

Exercise when you’re pregnant? Get some advice on channel 12, which is on health related topics. Channel 13 is on ecology: visit a village on a reservoir lake or a biogas farm. In channel 15, the presenters visit private homes. Check out this guy’s taste (and pay special attention to his shoes!) – he must be some kind of star, or visit furniture show rooms (great for beginners).

Sick of sugar-sweet Thai pop? Give yourself a break with some serious head banging to Speed Metal Thai. That’s channel 16 on Rock and Metal. You wouldn’t expect it, but even this channel is a great resource for learning Thai. Watch an interview on American rock music history here (starting at minute 5:30). Channel 18 is on sports. Try a personal trainer in a fitness studio, or enjoy this cute episode on a ‘stacking’ competition.

Fancy fast cars? Check out channel 23 with documentaries on the Toyota racing school or the Bangkok international motor show. Channel 26 is on team activities, or something to this effect. There are episodes on the fire brigade (1 & 2, with 2 being the cooler one – you get to climb the big red car!), graffiti artists and a bowling place. Channel 28 is on everything design-related. Have a look at these lamps, or check out a bamboo-inspired architecture project.

Channel 2 has episodes on buddhism, the king, traffic regulation and drug laws. There are episodes on a collectible card game on channel 6, channel 9 is on Ubuntu, channel 14 on short films. Channel 17 discusses legal matters in a, let’s say, unusual way. If you’re not into ‘Speed Metal’, have a look at channel 19 covering traditional to folk to pop. Channel 20 is anime, channel 21 is on Muay Thai, channel 22 on business. Art is on channel 24, and pets are taken care of on channel 27.

Thai language, Thai culture…

You don’t need to believe in ALG or become a Metal convert to benefit from FuKDuK.tv in your Thai studies. FuKDuK.tv is a treasure trove full to the brim with authentic material on contemporary Thailand and it’s culture. Enjoy!

Learning Thai and experimenting with ALG for independent learners at ‘Bakunin Learns Thai’ (no longer live)

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