A Woman Learning Thai...and some men too ;)

Learn Thai Language & Thai Culture

Category: Interviews (page 1 of 13)

Successful Thai Language Learner: Karsten Aichholz

Karsten Aichholz

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Karsten Aichholz
Nationality: German
Age range: 35
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Aspiring writer. Actual entrepreneur.
Website: I run a website that provides people with free guides on living, working or starting a business in Thailand: Thailand Starter Kit

What is your Thai level?

Advanced.

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

Professional Thai. I can read and understand the fee structure of a an SET-traded fund, but for the life of it have no idea why the lady with the pancake makeup and the helmet haircut is angry at that other lady on some soap opera.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

My former business partner is a language prodigy. Unless I studied the language extensively I would come across as having learning-disability when sitting next to him in a meeting. I also didn’t want to be the guy who after 10 years in a country still doesn’t speak the language. Initially it was that and some curiosity.

Later on it was mostly for social reasons and some limited business benefits.

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

I have been living in Bangkok since 2006.

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

2006+

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

Back in 2006, the first year I arrived in Thailand, fiddled around with books and websites without making much progress beyond ‘turn right’, ‘vegetarian, please’ and ‘that’s not vegetarian’. I got serious when I first took an intensive Thai class at Chulalongkorn University in 2007. I wrote a review about that experience here: Thai Language School Review – Intensive Thai at Chulalongkorn University. I’ve been studying on and off ever since.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not as much as I’d like to have. Doing full-time intensive classes forced me to do it for a few weeks each and it helped a lot. In other years it was more of a ‘time permitting’ approach where I’d take up regular classes when my work schedule permitted.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I did some self-study (okay, to maintain current level), an intensive Thai class (very good to overcome roadblocks), and took private lessons (great if you can find a topic that interests you and combine it with dedicated self-study). 

Did one method stand out over all others?

One very labor intensive but effective way of self-study was to put entire sentences from Thai Grammar Books on Anki flash cards. It definitely helped with getting a more intuitive understanding of grammar. I would gladly pay good money for ready-made, sentence-based flash cards that can be purchased by topic. Finding topics that excite me (e.g. finance) was one of the biggest factors in making me more dedicated to self-study.

This said, the biggest improvements came from externally imposed schedules that force you to commit time and thought to learning the language.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

The first word I read in Thai was the transcription on the McDonald’s sign. That was a week after arriving. I picked up enough to ‘make out’ words reasonably quickly, but didn’t learn how to properly read and write until I took an intensive Thai class that taught me about a year after I arrived.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

It didn’t come naturally beyond some newbie gains, but I feel more at ease with written Thai than colloquial Thai.

How do you learn languages?

With dread and reluctance. I wish I was kidding. My work-around is to find a setup that forces me to study or provides a tangible reward in the near future (e.g. signing up for a class, learning the lyrics of a song, reviewing essential information for my business…).

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I have a hard time doing something for which I don’t see rewards in the near future. Though once I believe there’ll be a benefit, I can put up with a lot in order to reach it.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That reading is hard and grammar is easy.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I’m a native German speaker and picked up English on the internet. French I struggled with in school long enough to allow me some rudimentary communication while crossing a French-speaking country.

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

That would be pure horror to me. Nowadays when I try to speak French, Thai comes out. I can’t imagine how confusing it would be to learn two languages at once.

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

Find a very specific benefit you’ll want that requires speaking Thai. It’ll give you a lot of direction, motivation and you’ll have an easier time showing self-discipline. In my humble opinion, motivation alone won’t work: Stop Asking How to Get Motivated.

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: 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.

Share Button

Index: Successful Thai Language Interview Compilation

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

The First Fifty Successful Thai Language Learners…

Well, that’s a wrap. For now anyway. Below are the first 50 interviews in the Successful Thai Language Learners series. My thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute.

Just to let you know … I’m slowly making inroads into the second 50 interviews. So far there are 28 – that leaves only 22 to go. When the magic 100 interviews has been reached I’ll create an ebook to share.

If you’d like to be a part of the series please contact me.

Share Button

Interview Compilation: What Advice Would You Give to Students of the Thai Language?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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

This has got to be my favourite question in this series. As the advice given is many and varied, I won’t even attempt to summarise.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: You can learn to speak Thai. You don’t need to be a genius. You do need perseverance. For some, it helps to have a good teacher. Others learn with CDs and a good book. If you want to start by learning to write, all I can say is good luck! If you want to start by learning to speak, you will need a book with transliteration (Thai written with English letters or symbols). The transliteration must have tone marks. You must have sound that follows the book. There are many books to choose from. Frankly, I think it’s beneficial to have several books for learning Thai. You might prefer one transliteration system over another. Whatever tools you use, you will need to break the tonal barrier. It simply cannot be avoided. Put some effort into tone pronunciation right from the start.

Not everyone learns in the same way. Learn at your own pace. Seek quality, not quantity. Remember, the turtle reaches the finish line before the rabbit.

Dtòw mah tĕung sên chai gàwn gràdtàai
เต่า มา ถึง เส้น ชัย ก่อน กระต่าย
Literally: Turtle come arrive line victory before rabbit.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Well, I still consider myself very much a student, however, my advice would be:

  • Learn to read,
  • Find your Thai voice and…
  • Never ever ever think it’s the listener’s fault for not understanding. They don’t understand because you are saying it wrong, lose the ego and swallow hard and try again :)

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Make as many Thai friends as possible and be willing to teach them English in exchange for them helping you with your Thai.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: 60 million Thais can speak it. You’re no different. Ditch the excuses and get on with it.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: Get a speaking partner, who will correct you.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: One thing I’ve discovered is absolutely crucial but left out of nearly all “programs” of Thai study: on their very first day of learning Thai, students should sit down with the teacher and go over all the sounds of Thai (where “sounds” means consonants, vowels, and tones), independent of how the sounds are written in Thai script. The students should sit there and verbally drill the tricky sounds with the teacher until the students are able to make and understand all the sounds that differ between Thai and English.

The teacher should critique the sounds made by the students and refine the students’ pronunciation until the students can make each sound correctly (i.e. until the teacher, as a native Thai listener, can distinguish which sound the student is trying to make). So in some sense, the teacher is acting as a “voice trainer” for the students.

The teacher should then say words to the students and verify that the students can correctly recognize and distinguish each sound that they hear. If it takes 5 sessions to do this, so be it: it’s worth it.

The teacher must drill not only the 5 tones and all the Thai vowels including the tricky อื vowel, but also make sure that the students can correctly make and distinguish b/bp/p and d/dt/t and the other consonant contrasts that English lacks.

Note that it’s even important for the teacher to drill sounds that English already has, because many sounds have different distributions in Thai. For example, even though the b, bp, and p sounds occur in various English words, the English-native student is not used to thinking of them as three separate sounds instead of just two as in English.

But in Thai, unlike English, you can have 3 different words that differ only by b, bp, and p, like ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) and ภัย pai (danger).

In order to satisfy the students’ desire for instant gratification, the teacher can drill the consonant, vowel, and tone sounds using real words, as in these examples (from the intro of the 2009 Paiboon dic):

ดี dii (good) ตี dtii (hit) ที tii (turn)
เดา dao (guess) เตา dtao (stove) เทา tao (gray)
ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) ภัย pai (danger)
เบ็ด bèt (fishhook) เป็ด bpèt (duck) เผ็ด pèt (spicy)
นา naa (rice field) งา ngaa (sesame)
ถุง tǔng (bag) ถึง tʉ̌ng (arrive)
กลัว gluua (scared) เกลือ glʉʉa (salt)
ซี sii (letter C), สี่ sìi (four), สี sǐi (color)

But the focus of the instruction for both student and teacher during this period must be on the sounds, not the words or meanings or grammar. The student will naturally be itching to move on to whole phrases like “Where is the bar?” and “How much is that pad thai?” but the teacher must guide (force) the students to focus on sound first.

I discovered how important this was more or less by accident. The very first day I went to the Thai class at the California Thai temple, I happened to be the only student, so I sat down with the teacher and we drilled sounds because that’s what’s on the first page of “Thai for Beginners.” It has helped me immensely.

Most students want to “jump ahead” to learning whole words and phrases right away, but in most cases I have observed (and I’ve now observed hundreds of people learning Thai at the temple), this impatient behavior seriously damages their long-term ability to function in the Thai language. This is because the students spend the first few months of instruction learning words incorrectly: many students are not even aware that ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go), and ภัย pai (danger) are different words in Thai until long after they have supposedly “learned” these words. This makes it nearly impossible for them to understand a Thai person correctly or speak the words so that a Thai person can understand.

By the time they realize that they should have studied the sounds first, it’s already too late: they’ve accumulated a huge dictionary of incorrect Thai in their head! It takes much more work for a student to un-do damaged learning than it would have taken to learn the sounds correctly in the first place.

For students without access to native Thai speakers, it’s still worth spending a long initial period familiarizing themselves with the sounds via available websites and software. That’s part of the reason I made the pages about Thai sounds on my hobby site slice-of-thai.com.

As a side note, it does not matter what system of transcription the teacher uses during this initial period, as long as the system writes each different Thai sound using a different symbol (that is, as long as the transcription system is complete). The focus is on sound, not writing. The students should not obsess over the English(-like) spelling that the transcription system uses.

The teacher must tell the students right at the beginning not to rely on the transcription system as a guide for how to say each word: instead, they must use their ears as the sole guide, and regard each written transcription symbol as just that: a symbol representing the sound they just heard.

With this advice, the student will be able to avoid the enormous pitfalls and wastes of time that have plagued so many students who obsess over systems of transcription.

In theory, the teacher could even discard transcription altogether and start with Thai script during this initial period (in which case the student is guaranteed not to make comparisons with English spelling!) but of course the problem with this is that Thai script has so many ways to write the same sound, leading the student to unnecessary confusion while the focus is on learning the sounds of Thai.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: Speak, speak, speak. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Make mistakes and then keep trying until you get it right. Immerse yourself in the Thai language and culture as much as you can. Ask for help and ask questions when you don’t know or understand something. Accept from the beginning that it’s not an easy language to speak and don’t expect immediate results, but do work hard to make as much progress as you can. Don’t give up.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: Language is a living thing. Learning it in a lab in a foreign country is like putting gas in the car but not going anywhere. It needs Thai input from living people. If you can’t come here, find a Thai. Offer language exchange to foreign students. Find a Skypemate. You can’t speak Thai until you feel it breathe.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Don’t be intimidated – just get the basics and make a daily (thrice daily) effort to get out and engage with people at street level.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: I would advise students to spend as much time looking and listening, and as little time speaking as possible. It makes sense to me that the more we’re talking, the less we’re able to hear, and if we want to understand Thai, we need to be listening to Thais as much as we can.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: Become literate. Being able to read Thai makes it much easier to take responsibility for your own learning. It also shows Thais that you are serious about learning the language so they are more likely to want to help you to achieve your goals. Not being literate imposes severe limitations on your opportunities to make progress.

  • Make friends with Thais.
  • Use tv/radio/internet etc.
  • Accept mistakes as a natural part of language learning.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Everyone has good and bad days.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: Do not use transliteration. It is grossly inadequate to the features of Thai. Do use transcription – IPA style – as it is (at least) capable of revealing certain important features not visible in the Thai orthography. Use detailed written accounts of the language – the kind that require a lot of study. Make sure that when using a teacher, that the teacher is not offering some quick-fix approach. Reject any teacher that uses transliteration. Understand that learning a language is a major task, and that there is nothing more complex that human language – whether humanly devised or natural. Human language, unlike animal language, is capable of an infinite number of utterances. Machine translation from language to language is far short of perfection and may possibly be inherently incapable of ever achieving complete reliability.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Use (relatively) formal methods that ensure broad exposure to vocabulary. Don’t neglect grammar. Spend as much time on task as possible.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: Don’t give up.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: It’s probably been said before, and may fall on deaf ears, but: learn to read and write!

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Stick with it. Don’t be shy. The most important this about learning a language is really wanting to do it in the first place, having the right intention and determination are essential.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Don’t fear the tones, learn to read, and most important … Use it or lose it.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: Crack the book, crack a smile, and reduce your dependency on English-only Thais for your social interactions.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: Again, people are so varied that it’s hard to say something useful to everyone. But just to throw out a few ideas:

  1. Work on being accurate as well as fluent, particularly at the beginning when you’re laying a foundation for later learning. But live with mistakes. They’re part of life and part of everyone’s language learning. The key is to learn from them, get some feedback, and try to do a little better next time.
  2. Just about everything in Thai is learnable if you stick with it long enough. If you can learn to do something correctly, then take the time to do it right and take satisfaction in it. Don’t be sloppy in pronunciation if you can sound better. Learn to gradually sharpen your vocabulary by learning the finer distinctions between synonyms and other words within a similar range of meaning.
  3. Reading is really valuable for developing a good vocabulary and for getting information. But (for me at least) it can be a distraction early on from the work of learning how to converse well. However, once you have a good foundation in the spoken language, read, read, read.
  4. For me, learning Thai is for interacting with Thai people. If I go to class, I want to use the lesson by talking with a Thai person about the topic so I can use the vocabulary and structure I just learned. If I read something, I want to talk to a Thai person about what I read and get their opinion.
  5. Once proficiency starts to increase or employment requires that Thai be used, pay attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it. Don’t be afraid to back up and try again if you sense there was a mistake or feel that you could have said something in a better or more appropriate way. And sharpen your awareness of what you are saying and what others are saying to you or to one another. The better your awareness and the more you develop sharp listening, the more differences you will notice between your speech and native Thai speech. Take one or two of those noticed differences and work on them, putting them into your own speech. This all takes time and effort, but it provides a good way to continue to improve.
  6. Keep a sense of humor. I have made some hilarious gaffes in learning Thai, as have most of my friends, but I am able to laugh at myself, admit my ignorance and slowness in learning, and ask how I should have said it. I never turn down a correction. Once I was in the middle of giving a talk to a group of Mien people, and a lady interrupted me, calling out, “That’s not the way to say it.” I stopped, thanked her very much, asked what the correct way was, backed up and put the correction in, and then tried to regain my thoughts to go on with the talk. Later I thanked the lady and encouraged her to interrupt me any time I said something wrong. If I had frowned or disregarded her comment, I would not only have lost the opportunity to learn something but she would likely never again have offered another correction.
  7. Finally, in language learning, as in other types of skill development, time-on-task is very important. The more one sticks with the language consistently, talking with Thai people, making an effort to read, learn vocabulary, and learn Thai customs and how one should act in various situations, the greater will be the positive payoff.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: Work hard, every day. Don’t give up. And no matter how old you are you can still learn. If I thought I would go for just one day without learning something new then I would want to leave this life and go on to what ever comes next. Learning new stuff just becomes a little harder as we get older. But we should not get discouraged just because it is hard. In fact, if something were easy, then why do it in the first place? The fun comes when we try something difficult and we succeed. They say keeping your brain active is one way to stave off senility. Well, if you are studying Thai then you’ll have nothing to worry about.

The Thais have a saying “Phak chee loy naa”, literally meaning “the coriander floating on top”. It means that all you see here is the surface of things, the pretty adornments floating on top of the Thai soup. The basic meaning is “We are inscrutable. There is lots about us that we won’t show you.” If you want to know what the soup is really made of then you need to know the language that the recipe is in. When you do, you’ll see that there are lots of goodies in the soup that you would have never been aware of if all you saw was that floating green stuff.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan:

  • Never give up. If you feel you aren’t moving forwards, try a different approach or switch to something else (from conversation to reading or vice versa).
  • Don’t confuse learning to read with speaking or understanding. You learn to read to gain the tools you need for conversation. When you learn to read, you needn’t even worry about what the words mean – just as long as you can read them and know the sounds.
  • If the vocabulary is useful and relevant, by all means learn it. If it’s not, don’t bother because it will only slow you down.
  • Some people learn faster than others, so don’t be disheartened if classmates seem to be getting there faster than you. It’s not a race and it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I would say it’s important to learn how to say things exactly the way Thais say them. Don’t try to learn a lot of vocabulary then make up your own sentences. Also, don’t feel that using ka or krup is demeaning. Use it a lot, especially with older people and even at first when you talk to people your own age. People in Thailand really appreciate politeness. Don’t hang out with foreigners all the time.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: For Thai, I think it’s as important to study Sanskrit and Pali as it is for a student of English literature to study Greek and Latin, to get to the roots of a lot of the vocabulary. Plus you can have fun translating your Thai friends’ last names for them (the Thai interpretations are often incorrect)!

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: A few things. I know it can seem tedious, but back off on trying to learn a lot of vocabulary at the start and focus on reading and writing. Once you have a grasp on the consonants, vowels, tone marks, etc. learning vocabulary becomes a lot easier and you have a much better shot of nailing the pronunciations.

Also, wean yourself off of using English transliterations as soon as possible. While they may seem helpful in the beginning, they quickly become a crutch and will ultimately slow you down. Once you learn how to read Thai, you’ll realize how inadequate English transliterations are in capturing the actual pronunciation of many Thai words. Don’t get me started on the supremely annoying (to American English speakers, anyway) of using “r” in transliterations like larb, Sathorn, gor-gai, etc…

I know there are some notable exceptions, but when you start to learn Thai as an adult, I don’t believe you can be fluent and speak clearly without knowing how to read the language.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: The main advice I would give would be to not fear the “giants” of the language—the main “giants” being the tones, the written language, the sentence structure, and the fact that Thai is from a totally different language group with scarcely any similarities to Germanic or Romance languages that Westerners are familiar with.

I think that while many people are wrestling with these giants and trying to grasp the concepts to the point of giving up, other people are just out there talking to people, being attentive to speech patterns and usage and end up able to communicate even better “pit pit, took took” (sometimes right, sometimes wrong). It is not always as hard as it seems, you just have to “think you can”. If you can’t manage the tones, don’t worry about it right away. Most things are understood from context anyway.

After a certain amount of exposure to the language it is good to go back and try to put labels on some of the things you have learned through language books and courses and then you can progress a lot more quickly, but if you start out trying to dissect the language with theory and terminology it could be much more frustrating. Some people say learning new languages the way we learned our mother tongue is the best method, and I tend to agree—it’s called the immersive method—putting yourself in situations that force you to learn the language.

Oh, and don’t worry about if they laugh at you. In Thailand being laughed at is not an insult, but rather they would say they are laughing because it is “nah rak” (cute), and you can take heart in that you brought someone a smile!

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Make Thai friends and try to use it all the time.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: Don’t be afraid to fall on your face. The first day in Thailand I had a guy laugh at me every moment I talked. Every time I felt cocky about my Thai I would be reminded that I still have much to learn. Thai people can be very direct sometimes. You just need to brush it off and keep trying.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all do it.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: Study, study, study. Don’t give up, get as much exposure to the language as possible, learn to read, learn to write, talk to people, make friends, make enemies (if you can speak enough Thai to say something that pisses someone off, you’re doing great).

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Stick with it! It’s difficult in the beginning, but the more you practice and use the language the easier it gets.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: Are you committed? Then never despair: it all builds up somehow. If you are not, then mai pen rai, just have fun, they’ll like you anyway for trying and for being (to their ears) funny.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: Persist.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Remember, Thai, just like any other language, has correct and polite forms, and guidelines for good, “educated” style. If you are serious about staying in the place, a little depth will go a long way. Most Thais appreciate any effort to learn their language, so do it right and they will love you :)

  • Learn to read and write.
  • Get decent dictionaries, including a Thai-Thai dictionary like that of the Royal Institute.
  • When you have mastered the basics, have a look at the compendiums of grammar called “Lak Phasa Thai”.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: Learn basic questions and answers to begin with. Get out there and try to implement what you have as you are studying it. Doing a task or even helping others learn is a great way to achieve good retention. Roman script can be useful when learning Thai, but it can never fully portray Thai pronunciation as Thai writing, so dip into the Thai writing system right away starting with a few basic words, the alphabet, the consonants, the consonant classes and tonality.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: You need to realise that you will improve if you keep on practicing; there will always be improvements. It is like a journey, but some of us have further to travel. We will all make it to the end if we keep on going; the only thing that can stop us is the end of our lifespan. The fact is though, anyone who spends enough time learning Thai will become fluent.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Ya wanta know the way to Carnegie Hall, kid? Practice, practice, practice. Oh, and get a Thai girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, whatever your flavor, but don’t speak any English with ‘em. Take some classes, do all the things I suggested before. For about 10 years, then you’ll have a good start. Go for it. Don’t give up. Be humble and realize this isn’t for sissies.

If you only want to learn enough to get around by yourself, that shouldn’t be that hard, but in all cases, be clear about what your goal is, and how close you actually are to it.

And if you’re in Bangkok, seriously ambitious to learn, and can afford the time and money, you probably can’t do better than the Chula intensive Thai course, check it out.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: First, motivation is everything when it comes to learning Thai (learning anything, in fact). Keep your motivation alive. Motivation can often be stimulated when you can see visible progress.

Second, to be flexible and aware in all aspects of your study. For example, there is a lot of research which shows that we learn best if we study at a level just above our level of competence; not too easy and not too hard. So a complete novice would get nothing out of watching a ‘lakorn’ on TV, or reading the Thai translation of ‘Gorky Park’. Start with a Doraemon comic and the AUA videos.

But this also means we need to constantly adjust our studies as we improve; we need to keep challenging our level of competence.

Third, an incredibly powerful method of learning is to force yourself to *think* in Thai. It’s a bit like the visualisation process that elite sportsmen are trained to use. The brain cannot readily tell the difference between an imagined conversation and a real one, so that the Thai you are mouthing to yourself is more likely to be on tap when you are required to produce it. And, even if it feels a little weird, it’s less embarrassing than making a hash of a real conversation.

Fourth, have a variety of learning methods and recycle them. That is, you may have watched ‘lakorn’ shows and given up on them because they were too hard. After six months or so, try again, and you may be surprised to find how you have improved. There is a visible pointer to your progress. Same with someone whose conversation you used to struggle to understand, or a newspaper you had trouble with.

Fifth (although this is a very personal view): Don’t ‘passive listen’. You may think you’re passively absorbing Thai when you have the TV on in the background as you check your e-mail, but in my case, this kind of passive listening simply taught me to switch off and ignore spoken Thai as a meaningless background noise — exactly the opposite of what I needed.

If I listen now, I make an active effort to understand what is going on. Even better, at my current level, is to download an MP3 from VOA Thai News, stick the cans on and listen to it a few times, writing down what I think I have heard. (VOA has transcripts as well, so I can check how well I am doing).

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: If you’re serious about learning Thai, tackle the written language. It unlocks the world.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Learn to read right away. Start by learning all the sounds of the language. Then you won’t be fooled into poor pronunciation by bad transliteration schemes. Reading and writing ability in Thai will really help your speaking skills more than you’d think.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Do not give up. I know it sounds silly (and obvious), but the more you can practise, the better. Most importantly, do not get put off when people don’t understand a single word you say – Thai is a strictly tonal language, and people who are not used to speaking with foreigners will not understand anything you say if you aren’t using the exact right tones and intonation at exactly the right time. It’s not your ‘fault’ that you speak using the wrong tone, because you are not used to speaking a language where it is relevant – and it’s not their ‘fault’ for not understanding you, because their brain is not tuned to listen to their language spoken with the wrong tones. Remember that people brought up speaking Central Thai will usually not understand a thing that someone in Isaan is saying (because the tones are all shifted).

So whatever you do, try and try again to speak. As much as you can. Most Thais are very keen to help you speak their language, because so few foreigners can, and so many give up before their brain has had a chance to adjust to speaking a tonal language. (Also, remember that English is also a slightly tonal language, kind of – the words PROject and proJECT have two entirely different meanings).

When you go to the local noodle shop, try ordering in Thai. Try speaking to people you meet in shops. Whenever you have the chance to speak to someone, do.

Also be aware that if you hold a conversation with someone and they say how well you speak Thai, it means they can understand you but it’s still pretty terrible! When nobody comments on it, that’s when you know you’re doing well. And no, I am not quite there yet!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: Find people who don’t speak English and talk to them. I hear foreigners say in Bangkok they don’t have to use Thai. I’m not sure where they go, but I can easily go outside and find many people who can’t speak a word of English. Start out by buying your morning coffee from a street vendor instead of Starbucks. Strike up a simple conversation. It will be slow at first but after a month you’ll realise how much you improved and you will have met other people in the neighbourhood who will want to talk to you too.

Learning songs is also a great way to learn, and one that I haven’t been doing to be honest. The couple of times I have learned a song I’ve seen how much faster it sinks in. Again I think it’s to do with the evolutionary mechanisms of our brain. That’s why songs are so important to us and why you can still remember songs from your childhood from historical lessons to toy commercials!

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: Learn to read and write before you do anything – at least if you have any notions of reaching a decent level.

Consider studying at a language school in a classroom environment. You will be amazed at how much progress you will make in a short time.

I learned more in one month in a language school studying full-time – which meant 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, than I did in my first two years in Thailand conversing with the locals in various environments.

Given that many Westerners in Thailand are retired or taking time out – and so have a lot of time on their hands – studying the language formally really is a great way to spend your time, progress with the language and of course, make some new friends.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Don’t compare apples with oranges. Thai is not English… However, just because it looks different, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarities. Up to 60% of Modern Thai has roots in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language as is English. There are some amazing similarities that are ‘masked’ through the ‘different look’ of the language. Once you start to scratch the surface a little you’ll realize that the things that you thought were difficult – writing, tones etc, aren’t that difficult at all. They’re just different.

Don’t be put off learning Thai just because you’ve had a bad experience with Thai teachers. Just like many native speakers of English, many Thais don’t have a deep understanding of their own language. 

When learners of Thai ask a question like:

‘Why are there 3 consonant classes?’
or
‘Why does the high tone actually rise?’

the response is normally something like:

‘There are 3 consonant classes – High, Middle and Low. The High class has ‘x’ number of letters, the middle class has ‘x’ number of letters etc etc.
Or,
‘you are a Farang, you don’t need to know that’.

The fact is that for most of them, they’ve never learned ‘why’ themselves.

One good formula is to have several different people that you learn from. Learn something ‘advanced’ from one of them. Something that a normal learner wouldn’t normally know. After that, go and try it out by just dropping it into a conversation with another Thai that you consult with. They will be impressed and think that your level is higher than what it really is. Then ask them to teach you something new. Keep rotating around your ‘Thai Consultants’ with new terms, new words and slang until your proficiency catches up with their perceived proficiency for you. It’s a great way to get past the ‘farang’ Thai that farang get taught and sound more native-like, not to mention keep motivated and positive about learning after each positive impression you make.

Think LOUD … full of colours, sounds, emotions. Make crazy associations and then link them with a system that you can recall.

Know what ‘pushes your buttons’ then wrap the language up in whatever that is.

Excitement is the best memory technique.

What other advice do you give to students of the Thai language?
  
Have FUN with the language – learn as much as you can about the language as you learn to speak the language. 

Listen and observe – don’t use Thai as a vehicle to ‘say what you want to say’ to Thai people. Learn the stuff that they want to talk about and use the language to learn about them.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Speak confidently, even if you are not. Speaking tentatively will inevitably skew your tones. Get into reading as soon as possible so you can see how a word is really pronounced. Before that, find materials that use a real phonetic alphabet. Trying to represent Thai in English is hopeless. As someone else pointed out, vowel length is very important in Thai, ie., it’s not just the tones. Listen constantly, even if you don’t understand what is being said. Use the media. I learned to read the newspaper very quickly and I watch Thai TV everyday, especially news shows.

Learning Thai dialects: First, get your central Thai down solid. Then you should realise that the tone changes in Thai dialects are very systematic. For example, take words beginning with a mid consonant with a maithoo that don’t have stop finals, e.g. baan (house) and dai (can). They will both shift in tone from central Thai in exactly the same way. Somewhere there is a chart of about 15 representative words that will allow you to determine all the tone shifts in a particular dialect.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersThomas: If you really want to speak Thai then stop speaking English right now!

Make a list of everything that is absolutely essential to your daily vocabulary. Then go out and learn how to say those things perfectly.

Forget the rest for right now.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: DON’T get discouraged, don’t give up, and don’t put the idea in your mind that Thai is too hard for you to learn! It does take time, constant practice, and there is no magic method of learning Thai, no magic pill you can take and suddenly start speaking in tongues, err in Thai. The Thais have the same idiomatic expression we have in English; “Learn from your mistakes”, but theirs is ผิดเป็นครู (mistakes are your teacher).

You’re gonna make mistakes MANY many mistakes! You’re gonna say things which will make the Thais laugh out loud at you, but it’s part of the process. Get over yourself, laugh about the mistakes and take them in stride as its all part of the process in learning Thai.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: As has been advised in the previous interviews, dedicate a lot of time (preferably early on in the learning process) to learning the tones. Listen to examples of tone pronunciation over and over and over again. Drill them into your brain and practice them every day. Find a good language course with tone examples and listen to it in your car, on the bus, before you go to bed etc.

Communicate with Thais as much as possible. If you don’t live in Thailand, watch Thai films even if you can’t understand anything, the important thing is to immerse yourself in the language, eat, sleep and breathe it, especially at the outset. If you live in Thailand you are surrounded by possibilities, go out and chat with a noodle vendor, a taxi driver etc. make learning more interesting and fun.

Learn to read Thai. It is absolutely fundamental to successful Thai language learning. Do not be intimidated by those alien-looking squiggles. At first I thought learning how to read Thai would be impossible, but when it begins to make sense to you it is very rewarding. Be methodical, learn the consonants in their consonant classes; learn the simple vowels first etc etc. There are now many good Thai language courses that teach how to read and write effectively. If you live in Thailand and cannot read Thai you are surrounded by things that do not make sense: signs, posters, books etc. In my view learning to read Thai is the principal factor contributing to successful Thai language learning.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Patience is indicated. I don’t know many people that picked up Thai immediately. Actually I know one girl that really picked up conversational Thai in 18 months to a very high degree. For the rest of us it takes a few years of sustained effort. Speaking Thai everyday is the best thing you can do to progress faster.

There is a great ebook I just became aware of because he decided to let me help him sell it on one of my sites. Learning the Thai Alphabet in 60 Minutes is that ebook. Have a look, you won’t be disappointed – as crazy as it sounds, it really delivers. I’d call it maybe 2 hours though

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

Interview Compilation: Do You Speak Street Thai, Issan Thai, or Professional Thai?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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

Out of the 50 interviewed, 26 speak professional Thai, 14 speak street Thai, five speak Bangkok Thai (close to Central Thai), four speak Central Thai, and one speaks Tourist Thai. In addition, 11 speak street Thai as well.

Glenn Slayden: Tourist Thai, Chris Pirazzi: Street Thai, Daniel B Fraser: Street Thai, David Long: Street and Professional, Justin Travis Mair: Mostly street Thai with a bit of professional mixed in, Marcel Barang: Both street and professional. Isarn, bor pen, Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Professional when I’m working, street Thai on the street and Isaan when I’m in Isaan, David Smyth: Bangkok Thai, Gareth Marshall: Most of my Thai learned has been in Bangkok, Don Sena: Standard Thai (Central Plains dialect), Doug: Semi-pro, Marc Spiegel: Professional Thai, Christy Gibson: I use them all, depending on the situation, venue, and audience, Terry Fredrickson: Professional Thai, street Thai, Issan Thai and southern Thai (I enjoy dialects).

And now on to the rest of the interview…

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: The answer to this depends on which street you are referring to, as there are many Thai dialects and local nuances. I speak Central Thai. I’m quite comfortable with Bangkok Thai. My Thai is colloquial, but a bit more formal than ‘market Thai.’

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: I spend most of my time learning from Thai books at the Police Station so I need to spend more time on the street. Sometimes I feel like I can read about the Thai Criminal Code but struggle ordering some sticky rice and chicken! Too much reading and not enough speaking.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: I can speak Bangkok Thai the best, but I enjoy learning Isaan Thai as well. There’s something about Isaan Thai that’s just fun and charming.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: In a bad mood I’m excellent at street Thai, but I think I veer towards professional (for the first time in my life).

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: I speak professional Thai as I have been working at a Thai NGO and translating for the past year.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: Although I’m living in the south, I stick to central Thai. I get the feeling the southerners don’t necessarily appreciate our efforts to speak like them. Of course they all have TVs so they understand everything. But they answer in southern dialect so my ear’s getting better.

Fabian Blandford

Fabian Blandford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersFabian: Street Thai, but since I have spent nearly all the time in the north of Thailand I probably mix both Lanna Thai and Central Thai in my conversation.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Professional and informal Thai. I was taught Thai in an academic way so I have studied texts on Buddhism and politics in Thai and I do feel very comfortable speaking general conversational Thai, however street Thai or slang is still at times a mystery to me, so I am learning all the time!

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: It’s ‘day to day’ Thai, I guess. The influences on my Thai range from Karen villagers in Sangklaburi to cosmopolitan socialites in Bangkok, but most of the consolidation of my learning has happened in Bangkok, at work and at home.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: I don’t acknowledge the ‘street’ version of any language, merely correct or corrupt versions, though evolution and change is obvious and essential.

I mostly use modern standard central Thai, but also understand northern Thai–my wife’s native tongue–and can speak and read Lao (Isaan) at probably the intermediate level.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: I speak relatively more professional Thai since that’s been most of my experience. I’m comfortable speaking informally, but I don’t know much street slang.

Why specify just Issan? There are a lot of other regional people, such as Northern Thai or Southern Thai, in Bangkok too. I do speak Northern Thai, perhaps not as well as Thai, but it’s a lot of fun to speak it. My Northern Thai is much more informal than my Thai because I learned it in a farming village and use it primarily in informal contexts.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: I speak polite Thai. I can understand a lot of “Khum Muang” or Chiang Mai (Lanna) Thai but usually respond in Central Thai. Thailand is a very stratified country. If all you spoke were street Thai then it would be very difficult to communicate with professionals, academics, HiSos, politicos, monks, etc. You may or may not be interested in hanging out with any of these types but why limit yourself? Polite Thai works in all situations and with people at all levels of society whether they be the girl serving me noodles, the abbot of my local temple, or the governor of my province. Recently I had a nice conversation with the mayor of Chiang Mai. She spoke to me in Khum Muang and I spoke to her in Thai. That could not have happened if I had been speaking street Thai.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: Professional Thai and a bit of street Thai. I live in Phuket and we don’t get much Isaan Thai down here.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I try to speak both street and professional Thai depending on the situation. I lived in Laos for eight years and also speak Lao which is basically the same as Issan. At this point, though, I’ve been working in Africa for seven years so I’m not as fluent as I was when I lived in Thailand and Laos. I can still speak both languages when I go back but it would take some time to be as fluent in Thai as when I was writing Thai Reference Grammar.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: Professional Thai at work, street Thai with my friends, and Lao/Isan (Vientiane/Udon Thani dialect) when travelling in Isan or Laos.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: Probably somewhere in the middle of professional and street. I know a bit of Isaan, but not enough to throw in more than an occasional word or phrase.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: In my line of work I have to use all of these. I am often in professional situations that call for the appropriate communications, with Issan fans with whom I always love to embarrass yourself and give them a good laugh with attempts at that dialect; and dressed down or “market Thai” is often called for with our audiences too.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: I speak a mix, I’m sure. I have had a great deal of formal training for Professional Thai and I speak with relative ease in informal environments, as well. I also have picked up a smattering of Northern Thai from my time in Chiang Mai.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Professional Thai, but since I also speak a fair amount of Lao, I can converse in Issan and, to a lesser extent, Northern Thai dialect.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: Hmmm, what streets are you referring to? I can talk to my professors using full polite forms, I know way more gay-slang than is really appropriate and I feel at-ease working with the rural population when filming my show. The challenging thing with Thai is that it has all these layers of politeness; each sentence has to be a carefully crafted using verbs, pronouns and particles. Sure it’s fine as a foreigner to just use general Thai, but being able to use Thai that is situationally-appropriate will do a lot to impress on your listener that you understand his language.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: Professional/textbook Thai, I guess. I probably sound a bit “stiff” to locals as I’m likely missing some of the idioms and common sayings that a native speaker uses to make their speech sound truly natural.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Early on, I realised that the central dialect of Thai, as used by professionals, was well understood in all parts of the country, in every remote village with a TV. North, Northeast (Isan – why 2 “s”?) and South are the main dialects, I understand them mostly, South the best, having spent some time in Phuket, and each jangwat has its distinctive twang. I have a smattering of Lao, having learned some of the shifts and the Lao alphabet, which is how the Thai alphabet could be reformed in many ways.

Street Thai, well colloquial Thai, even as spoken by the upper echelons, is a huge challenge, but I will not curse, and there are many elephant traps for the unwary, so yeah, I avoid it, unless I’m feeling confident I won’t cause controversy.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: I have been lucky in that the Thais I have met have chosen to teach me nice language, and Thais often say that I phrase myself nicely. I do not speak Isan, but since the people I taught at Bumrungrad International represented very many different backgrounds and people from all over Thailand, I probably have a blend of ‘street talk’ and professional language.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I previously worked as an ESL teacher so would pick up a lot of Thai from the students as well as the Thai teachers. I also lived in a Thai village for almost 4 years where they spoke Issan. Now I live in Lopburi and as this is an army town you get a lot of people from all parts of Thailand with many accents. A lot of my Thai vocabulary has come from reading so it is a mixture of all of these influences. I suppose it is a mixture between professional and street Thai.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: I do them all with equal abandon. I spent two years in Isaan, and can get around in generic Lao, or northeastern dialect. I suppose “professional Thai” means “really good standard Thai,” and that’s what I work hardest on, although I like knowing and appropriately using slang as much as possible.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: Professional. The further things get from formal Thai, the worse I perform. I can pretty much understand a TV address by Abhisit, but not that of a cassava farmer complaining about the drought.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: I’d characterize what I speak as Bangkok Thai. I don’t try to be overly “correct” in ways that native Thais wouldn’t be — I don’t roll my r’s, and I generally simplify clusters and let my r’s become l’s. I do use Thai in more formal situations, which requires ‘polite Thai’. My wife is Bangkok born and raised, so I speak a lot of Bangkok Thai at home, and with her relatives. I can understand some but speak virtually no Issan or other regional flavor of Thai.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: I guess I speak more regular everyday Thai, but I keep it polite. I never learned much Isaan dialect, but I’ve picked up a little bit of the Thai-yai, or Shan, dialect because my wife is from Mae Hong Son, and that’s what her family uses at home.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: More ‘street’ Thai, although I also tend to speak Thai almost exclusively in the office. Partially to try to speak more politely! I also speak some Isaan, but it’s pretty much the same as regular Thai with the tones shifted and a few basic words changed.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: Probably more street Thai. Professional Thai has a lot more complicated and redundant grammar, though it can be useful if I am having trouble getting my point across. It’s important to know the proper rules of any language I think. I see and hear grammatical catastrophes in English all the time which people have just come to accept and don’t even know they are wrong. I don’t really want to sound like that in Thai but of course I’m late out of the gate and racing to catch up.

I do use some Isaan language. I have several Isaan friends and a lot of the vendors I go to regularly are Isaan or Lao. It’s also a good way to show that I’m not just a tourist who learned a few phrases, especially when going into touristy areas. It’s a fun and friendly dialect, and whenever people call me “Farang” I tell them I’m “Bak Seeda.”

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I consider myself lucky to have learned Thai “properly”, having learned to read and write right from the start in a very supportive classroom environment. This means that today my Thai is more formal than what you would hear from those who have learned in other “environments”.

I speak proper Thai or professional Thai as you call it, can understand a fair chunk of Isaan as well as some street Thai although my street Thai is actually not that good – but with that said, it is not something I am particularly concerned about.

My desire has always been to be able to speak proper Thai although there from time to time it might be advantageous to speak street Thai, or at the very least, understand it. Isaan Thai is probably more useful to me than street Thai per se as I have a lot of interaction with people from that region, especially those from less privileged, rural backgrounds for whom Isaan Thai is what they speak at home and with their friends.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: I try to gauge how I speak Thai to the people I’m speaking Thai to. Dealing with officials in the Police, governmental agencies, businesses I cone in contact with, etc, I try to speak ultra polite semi-professional Thai. With run-of-the-mill Thais, street sellers, my Thai friends, etc, I adjust how I speak to match what ever level they’re speaking. I found early on if you try to speak a higher level of Thai than is being spoken by everyone else, you can come across as pretentious.

Nope, I can’t speak more than a couple phrases in Issan Thai. Having spent time touring Issan it was my experience EVERYONE under about 50 y/o can understand and speak Bangkokian (Central) Thai just fine. I’ve got more than enough trouble keeping the Central Thai vocab stuck inside my head. I don’t need to throw a wrench in the gears of progress, no matter how slowly they’re turning.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: I studied Thai at university so I learnt mainly ‘Central Thai’. I also studied some ‘Royal Thai’ as my Thai language instructor was a descendent of a royal court family. I have forgotten most of that and since I now learn a lot of Thai from everyday conversation and pop-culture ‘street Thai’ is probably my forte.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: I learned Thai in Isaan but told everyone that helped me pronounce that I want to learn Bangkok Thai, not Isaan flavor. The result was that I don’t do all that well in Isaan or Patong Beach, but overall I think it was the right way to go since I wasn’t going to spend my whole life in Isaan.

The Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

Interview Compilation: What are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What are your strengths and weaknesses?…

It’s been said that if you are aware of both your strengths and weaknesses with learning languages you can shore up one with the other. But is that always true?

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: My pronunciation is pretty good. The Thai that I speak is fine for ordinary conversation. I have found it useful to use a little bit of Thai when teaching English. I speak some Thai for business. However, my vocabulary is limited to my experiences. Very fast teenager talk is a bit perplexing to me. When I hear the Southern dialect, I’m lost. It would be wonderful to study great works of Thai literature and poetry. I’m not there yet.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Having a vocabulary of obscure words that make Thai people laugh as they tell me I speak like their Grandfather and my weakness would be colloquial off the cuff Thai.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: My strength is my ability to have a conversation with anybody about anything. My weakness is sometimes saying something in say 5 words that could have been said in 3 words.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: Catherine, are you serious? My strengths are I am creative and manic obsessive so when I put myself into a task I stick with it. My weaknesses … you simply don’t have enough room in your column to list them all. Kate Bush is my greatest weakness.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: I “get” a language very quickly, but I am not good at paying attention to rules.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: I can analyze things well so I can get to understand grammar and certain spelling/pronunciation rules quickly. But I do not like to speak “off the cuff” or improvised so, unlike some learners who can learn huge amounts of Thai vocabulary by “winging it” in nearly-one-way conversations with Thai people, I learn most vocab much more slowly through self-study.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: I think reading is a strength for me and it’s something I really enjoy. Jonas is a better Thai speaker than I am, especially in regards to vocab and usage.

Pronunciation is more of a strength for me as well it seems. I’m nowhere near “there” yet, but I do work hard at trying to pronounce things correctly, and perhaps also being a singer and/or musical helps me somewhat in hearing and identifying the tones and sounds correctly (although I know many non-singer expats who speak Thai very well too).

On a more personal level, I would say a weakness is still sometimes not being brave enough to go ahead and try a new word or something I want to say that I’m not 100% sure of or haven’t said before. This has often held me back in my Thai speaking over the years, and definitely having improved in this area for the most part has been one of my greatest breakthroughs in learning the language.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: My greatest weakness is that I’m not prepared enough to admit when I don’t understand. I still bluff my way through conversations hoping that I pick up the facts I’ve misheard along the way. There are a lot of situations where it just doesn’t matter and it really isn’t worth going through the ‘Could you repeat that’, routine. But losing face really isn’t nearly as bad as grasping the wrong end of the stick and making dumb mistakes as a result. My strength is a sense of humour. People respond to humour in any language and there’s far less stress in a happy conversation than in a serious one.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Strengths are a good memory for difficult words or phrases. My tones are also quite good (for a Canadian!). But general structure and grammar is all very home-made for me, so I tend to not be so precise or clear with complicated dialogue.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: My strength in Thai is being able to use it without forethought- I simply use it like I do English. My weakness is in translation. When someone asks me what a phrase or word means, it’s often the case that I’ve never thought about what it might mean in any other language, so it’s very difficult sometimes.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: At first my hearing was not good. If I asked a Thai, ‘What was that word you just said?’ and they repeated the word in isolation, I had no idea what tone they had produced and therefore mispronounced it when I tried to repeat it. I had a farang friend who could not read Thai but could always repeat what he heard perfectly, much to the admiration of Thais. He made me feel inadequate. I eventually got round the problem by asking Thais to write the word down for me, and once I could see it on paper, I knew what the tone should be. Suddenly the roles were reversed. Thais saw that I could not only pronounce Thai correctly, but could read, too. Victory was mine! Happily, over time, my ears gradually got more attuned to what to listen out for; and I learned how to pass the blame – a bad telephone line, going slightly deaf, so-and-so not expressing themselves clearly.

In the end I think it is important to recognize that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses in language learning and that by working on the weaknesses we can always improve – if we want to.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: An analytical mind has been for me very useful. I still receive (the spoken language) with great difficulty.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Good ear; vocabulary retention could be better.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: My pronunciation is generally pretty good (although some friends say I sound a little Isaan at times – I put it down to me having a strong native English accent). My vocab is not what it should be for the length of time I have been here.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: I always tend to think about thinks spatially and related to the fact that, like English (and unlike, say, Chinese), Thai uses a phonemic alphabet. In fact, my fascination with reading and writing, combined with the nature of my work on thai-language.com, has put me in the unusual position for a student of knowing how to read and write Thai better than I can speak it. I have not had enough opportunity to practice and correct speaking with correct tone.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Weakness is definitely spelling in Thai and I also need to improve my typing. A strength is that I have built up confidence and try to speak even though it could be wrong.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Strengths: good pronunciation, motivation to learn (I live here, to not know the language would be disgraceful), and genuinely no fear of making a fool of myself.

Weaknesses: code switching with my wife (whose English is excellent) when I can’t find the Thai word, rather than trying to talk around the word or look it up.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: My strength is probably good visual memory and the mathematical aspects of language- e.g. alphabet as code, sentence structure as equation, and the connections between related languages.

My weakness is processing acoustic information, which is highly imprecise. This is how most languages mutate over time, of course.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: My strengths are in the areas of pronunciation and (until recent years) spelling. My linguistic background prepared me, through phonetics and a knowledge of how languages work, to get right into Thai sounds and structures. My applied linguistic background helped provide a framework for understanding second language acquisition and practical ways of learning a new language. So the academic background and some success in learning has provided motivation to continue and confidence that given the effort I can be reasonably successful.

One potential weakness is that I am generally more introverted than extroverted. I have two younger brothers who are very outgoing, and I’m not. But I loved learning Northern and Mien by visiting people and talking with them informally. It was low key, but it brought out that while I am naturally reserved, in one-on-one or small group situations I could be relaxed and communicative because I knew how to proceed independently. I have not kept up on reading and writing Thai to the extent that I should, perhaps due to a lapse in motivation now that I’m living in the States most of the time. Still I always pick up a manageable sized book (means relatively thin!) each time I come out here and read at least some of it while I’m in the States.

Perhaps a major weakness at my stage in life is that I either don’t notice the gaps (or differences) between what I’m saying and how Thai are saying similar things, or I notice something that I really should learn, but I forget to write it down or forget to actually take the time to learn it. Not noticing gaps is an indication that I could be on a plateau in my learning of Thai and that I’m not progressing. But trying to make progress in all three languages is becoming more difficult.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: Strength: Tenacity. I never give up. Weakness: It takes me about 100 repetitions to begin to remember a new word. Lucky for my tenacity.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: I am extremely determined and will never give up. My theory at the outset was that if Thais could read that crazy script, there was no good reason I couldn’t too. My weakness is I get bored if something doesn’t hold my interest. That’s really why I stopped regular classes, because they had become reading magazines, watching videos and doing translation.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I’m better at analyzing than at remembering vocabulary. Especially at first, I thought Thai words were hard to remember because they were mostly a single syllable and they all sounded the same to me. My ear wasn’t good enough to pick up tones just by hearing other people speak. I developed the visual transliteration system in my books at first to help myself visualize the sound of the words. It helped me learn to speak with the correct tones and vowel lengths.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: My Thai is strong in most fields of reference nowadays, but my best areas are probably politics, tourism, cuisine, music and Buddhism, all areas I’ve had a lot of experience researching in Thai. I’m weaker in medical and scientific Thai.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: I think my biggest strength is reading. My pronunciation of consonants, vowels, words, tones, etc. is usually pretty good. I can follow conversations fairly well, but I still have trouble following rapid-fire dialogue in TV shows, newscasts, etc.

My biggest weakness is thinking in English while trying to construct a sentence in Thai. My conversation is definitely not up-to-speed with my reading. A lot of that has to do with not living in Thailand and not being able to practice speaking Thai in everyday situations. Same with vocabulary. Words I don’t use consistently I tend to forget. It seems in my case that quantity time would be more beneficial than quality time at this point.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: By far my strength is speaking Thai and colloquial usage. I’m at kiddy levels with the written language.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Not sure. I think in general I’m a quick learner when it comes to languages; however I would say that even now I have good days and bad days. Comprehension is a tricky thing, and sometimes you’ll just not know a word or just not understand somebody. Usually context and more overt clueing can help one determine the meaning, but at times I simply have to get used to the way an individual speaks. In the end exposure to different registers, media, and dialects/sociolects is the best way to improve on those weak areas. At least, that’s what I believe.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: My strengths are that I love to learn new things and I am totally willing to admit I am not good at something. It does me no good to learn things if I think I already know everything.

I think a weakness would have to be follow through. I get so excited to do things that unless I have a responsibility partner or some sort, I would easily get distracted and start 10 projects and finish none.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: After working hard on this aspect of the Thai language, my pronunciation is pretty good. This leads people to believe I understand more than I do, which means they speak to me in a natural manner. I count this a strength, because in the course of these conversations, I can pick up new vocabulary and sentence structure through context.

I also speak and react quickly, another advantage, because again native Thai speakers also converse with me in a natural manner.

After forty years, getting basic grammar right remains a glaring weakness. For example, I still make mistakes on when to use “go” (ไป) and “come” (มา).

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: I’ve become quite good at just sitting and spending hours working on something, I think a big part of that is the focus and concentration that I have developed through my yoga practice. At the same time this can often be a downside as I’ll get so lost in the way that I think is correct, that I’ll fail to see the shortcomings.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: I have a natural knack for languages; however, as I am not the most patient person I am sometimes challenged by the speed in which I become conversant in a foreign language. I have a tendency to try and move too fast sometimes.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: As a speaker, when I’m tired or nervous, I make mistakes; I know too much slang for my own health. As a translator, you tell me.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: My enthusiasm for learning is probably my greatest strength. Weaknesses? Vocabulary retention especially those with irregular spellings such as loanwords.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Strengths: Big vocabulary, grammatical insight, depth in general, a good accent when concentrating.

Weaknesses: Sometimes, not bothering to make the correct pronunciation because I’m being lazy. I found, as a non-native speaker of this language, I’m using twice as much brain power to process a Thai text than an English text, so it gets tiring after a while.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: One strength is that I am good at mimicking sounds, though I must admit that tonality is still quite difficult. My basic programming, using tones for emotion and emphasis, is hard to disregard, and the habit of listening for tones in the way you need to when speaking a tonal language requires much practice. One major problem was that the word ‘tone’ mislead me for a long time. It was not until I looked at the relative length of the vowel sounds in the Thai tonality that my ear for tonality improved. Not starting by combining spoken and written Thai was also a mistake that hampered perfect learning. Sitting in a school bench and learning from scratch consonant classes, memorizing words, and building a varied vocabulary may sound boring, but it certainly is effective. besides, with a good teacher it can probably be a lot of fun.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: I’m good at producing the sounds accurately, and have a pretty good memory. At this point I’m finding, though, that when speaking fast I sometimes unwittingly use the wrong tones. I usually correct myself, but the mistake has been made. Also it’s surprising how hard it still is to catch fast conversation between other people. Final consonants p, t, k, are often hard to tell apart. In English we’ll pronounce those fully, with a release at the end, but in Thai the syllable will just end without a clear final sound, and there are other problems like that. Usually I have no problems one-on-one. But watching TV and catching most of the words is a big challenge. And I need a lot more vocabulary: working on that pretty hard now.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I never give up is my strength and my weakness is that I’m easily distracted.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: I am a systematic student that is able to take bits of information and create patterns of knowledge which stay with me. On the downside, I am not particularly confident about taking my spoken Thai out on the road — I tend to use it only when I need to.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: I’d say a strength of mine is that I have a good ear for mimicry. One “secret” to my success has been to carefully observe and internalize how and what native speakers say. This includes tones, stress patterns, vocabulary, idioms. And then reproduce what I hear.

One of my weaknesses is retention, especially taking the time to review and solidify my knowledge. I am not good at finding the time to go back over things I jot down, nor do I typically use things like flash cards. Generally for me it’s what sticks, sticks and what doesn’t, doesn’t. I guess this is why reading was so helpful to me, because the important words invariably show up repeatedly. But these days I feel like I don’t actively read as much as I’d like to, either, so my vocabulary stagnates.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Strengths are probably reading and writing. My biggest weakness is probably remembering new words if it isn’t a word that I’m actually going to use when I talk.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Strengths: I can pronounce the tones pretty well, and can make myself understood pretty much anywhere. Weaknesses: I am hopeless at ‘formal’ Thai – it’s like a whole nother language!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: I used to dread having to speak Thai on the telephone. It’s still more difficult, though not as bad as before. I have a hard time with telephones in general. After all this time you’d think they would improve the sound. I know it’s possible because when people talk on Viber it’s 1,000 times clearer. Even in English you can’t discern between S and Th or V and F on the telephone. You only know because of you know what the words are supposed to be, same as speaking to someone with a lisp or speaking in spoonerisms.

The lackadaisical habit of substituting ล for ร or dropping ล after ก has led to my confusion on more than one occasion. I love Joey Cheuancheun’s routine about Ror Reua is Ror Reua and Lor Ling is Lor Ling. But it’s the same as americans substituting D for T or the New York and London use of glottal stops or substituting N for Ng at the end of verbs. That’s why learning in the street is so important.

I hate forgetting vocabulary that I don’t use as often, but again this happens in English too, only you usually have another word to fall back on in that case.

As for strengths, the only strength I can really say is that I’m not afraid to make mistakes. I’ll try out a new way to say something or make a joke, and if it works great, if not then I learn from that.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I think one’s strengths and weaknesses when using a foreign language and inextricably related to their personality.

Probably my biggest strength is that I am gregarious. I talk a lot and am happy to talk with pretty much anyone about anything.

I can be a little impatient and when asking more modestly educated Thais for explanations of things related to language, I find their lack of knowledge frustrating – but with that said I learned a long time ago who to ask such questions to and who not to!

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Strengths – have passion about languages. Weakness – when learning, get obsessed by whatever it is I’m learning and won’t let it go until I can conquer it.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Strengths: Pronunciation, general vocabulary, humour, knowing what is appropriate in different situations.

Weaknesses: Making the same mistakes for 20 years. They become noticeable when dealing TV scripts. The sentences are not quite what I would normally say. Inability to communicate fluently in certain more technical subjects.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: My strengths are reading, understanding compound Thai words where the meaning isn’t always what the stand alone words would mean separately, knowing a TON of common idiomatic expressions. Typing Thai is another thing I feel is a strength, even though I can transcribe Thai quite fast (as in type something from a book into a document). My typing on the fly is far behind that due to my errant spelling, although MSN and other chat sites are bringing me up to speed on that.

My weaknesses are my erratic toning of words in my spoken Thai. I’m okay with vowel lengths now and my pronunciation of beginning/ending sounds are pretty clear. Unfortunately due to the way I taught myself to read (forgoing any consonant classes or learning the tone rules), I’m finding it’s way harder to ‘un-learn’ an improper pronunciation than it would have been learning it the right way first time outta the gate.

If I approach unfamiliar Thais who I need to talk to, I’ll use what I call the ‘Thai Language Dance’. In Thai I’ll say, “Hello, how are you, can you speak English, I can speak Thai a little bit, can you understand me?” This does two things, first it makes the Thai you’re engaging switch their ears from listening for English words, back into listening for Thai, and it lets them get a handle on how accented and poorly pronounced your spoken Thai is. Believe me EVERY foreigner here speaks Thai with a foreign accent, no matter how much the Thais praise your abilities.

(FWIW; take ANY praise about your Thai language skills from a Thai and discount it completely. If I had a baht every time a Thai praised my spoken Thai ability I’d be a billionaire here.)

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: My weakness is still my limited vocabulary, although I can hold a conversation in Thai on most topics a few words always trip me up and when Thais hear that you pronounce Thai well they do not hold back on speaking with rapidity! My strengths are my pronunciation, which still needs some tweaking, and my ability to read well, although I have still not achieved my aim of being able to read Matichon newspaper fluently.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: I seem to be good at getting my own message across! I can speak about what I want to speak about pretty well. I can direct the conversation well. My vocabulary is pretty good, I know a wide range of words.

Due to the variability in the way Thais speak across the country, and even between any two Thais – it can become difficult to understand some people at all and they get the tripping Red Bull look. Add to that the rate of speech that someone uses, and I can get lost easily with a fast speaker.

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

Successful Thai Language Learner: Ben Crowder

Ben Crowder

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Ben Crowder
Nationality: American
Age range: 30–40
Sex: Male
Location: Utah, USA
Profession: Web developer/designer
Website: Ben Crowder

What is your Thai level?

Advanced.

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

Professional Thai with a smattering of Isaan, and I’d bet that the street Thai I know is now dated and obsolete.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I was a Mormon missionary in Thailand for two years.

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

I lived in Thailand from 2002 to 2004.

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

2002+, though I haven’t done a great job at continuing my study since returning home in 2004, other than occasional chats with Thai friends on Facebook.

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

I learned it right away, with twelve weeks of intensive Thai training for missionaries followed by moving to Thailand, with the expectation that I would speak Thai daily during my time there.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Yes, an hour a day. And I talked with Thai people all day, every day, which helped a lot, naturally.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

Speaking with Thais every day was the most regular and important method. When words I didn’t know came up in conversation (a frequent occurrence), I wrote them down and studied them later. And I bought dictionaries and grammars and tried to work my way through those, too. Also, I spent six months in the mission office and there learned how to type Thai, which helped a lot as well.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Speaking Thai all the time, without a doubt.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

During the initial twelve weeks I used the Mary Haas romanization scheme, only starting with the script near the end of that time. Once I arrived in Thailand, though, learning to read and write Thai script was one of my top priorities. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to start with the script sooner than I did.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I don’t think so, but it’s been a while and my memory isn’t spectacular. I do remember it taking a little while to get the hang of which script features were significant (the loops seemed so significant at first, but then weren’t), and getting used to reading without spaces between words was tricky. And handwriting can still be hard to decipher, though that’s true of handwriting in most languages.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

My first day in country, I was sitting in an apartment with my missionary companion, teaching a Thai couple about Jesus Christ and eternal families. Most of what the Thais said was unintelligible to me, but there was a point during the discussion where I actually understood what they said. It was amazing! (I didn’t understand the rest of the conversation after that, but within a month or two I was usually able to keep up with the gist of each conversation.)

How do you learn languages (learning styles)?

My language learning experience with Thai has been the outlier; most of the languages I’ve learned (Latin, Greek, Coptic, Middle Egyptian) have been dead, studied in a university setting, with a focus on reading. With all of the languages I’ve studied, there has been a fair amount of rote memorization of vocabulary and forms, though in retrospect I think I do better with inductive methods. Speaking/reading the actual language as soon as possible helps me the most.

I occasionally dip into Duolingo (for a number of different languages — I really need to stick with just one) and for the most part I like the style they use there.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: I seem to learn languages fairly easily. I can never remember what I did the week before, but grammar and vocab stick in my head for some reason. (I pick up programming languages easily as well, which may or may not be related.)

Weaknesses: my accent, definitely. And my lack of resolve in sticking with a Thai study regimen after I finished my mission back in 2004.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That Thai is spoken in Taiwan. No, but really, probably that it’s insurmountably difficult. It’s not.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I studied Latin, Greek, Middle Egyptian, Coptic, and Welsh at BYU, though Latin is the only one I can still read at all. I can read/write a fair amount of Spanish, some French, and a little German. And I once (very slowly) read the first paragraph of Crime & Punishment in Russian, dictionary in hand, figuring out the grammar as I went along. (Okay, that doesn’t really count. But it was fun!)

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

No, just Thai.

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

Hang in there, and try to speak/read/write as much Thai as you can.

Ben Crowder | Ben Crowder

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: 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.

Share Button

Successful Thai Language Learner: Weston Hawkins

Weston Hawkins

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Weston Hawkins
Nationality: American
Age range: 20-30
Sex: Male
Location: Utah, USA
Profession: Operations Manager (Pearls By Laurel) and Interpreter/Translator (Global Translation Team and Asian Translation)
Youtube Channel: Vespa Hockey

What is your Thai level?

Advanced/Fluent: I’d lean toward saying I’m fluent, but I’m hesitant to be too confident since there’s still so much for me to learn. I did score a Superior rating on the ACTFL OPI.

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

My initial language training was focused on very professional, proper Thai. That’s still the Thai that I speak most frequently. I can understand and (awkwardly) use most street Thai, and I can make my way around basic Isaan Thai, but my true fluency is in professional Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

My initial reasons for learning Thai were the same as a few others who have been interviewed for this blog: I was a volunteer missionary that was called to teach in Thailand for two years. However, my reason for continuing to learn Thai after that service ended is (I hope) the same as every person who has been interviewed for this blog: I came to love Thailand and the Thai people. And the Thai language too! It’s a beautiful language. I know it sounds cliché to say that, but Thailand is magical and I fell for its spell.

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

I lived in Thailand in 2005 and 2006 and then again in 2010. I’ve traveled back there every year or two since then. I’d love to live in Thailand again if the opportunity presented itself.

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

Since 2005. Previous to that, I couldn’t even point out Thailand on a map. When I first got to Thailand I was living in Kalasin. I think that was a huge help to me because there are a lot fewer English speakers up there than in Bangkok so I was forced to practice and improve my broken Thai.

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

Learning Thai was pretty much sink-or-swim for me. I spent 12 weeks learning the language at a training center for missionaries before I flew to Thailand and was expected to use it on a daily basis. I left the training center feeling confident that I was an “advanced” beginner but quickly learned that I could only understand some Thai spoken by other Westerners and not a word of Thai from native speakers. It wasn’t until 3-4 months of daily (attempted) speaking and listening with native speakers that I started to feel I had a grasp of the basics.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

My schedule as a missionary afforded me an hour of language study every morning. I mostly used that time to learn new vocabulary and practice my reading. I felt I was most effective at learning the language when I was speaking with or listening to native speakers.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

The method I was taught for learning Thai and that was very successful for me was Speak Your Language (SYL). It emphasized speaking with native speakers as much and as often as possible. This gave me the opportunity to make many, many mistakes, and mistakes almost always turn into learning experiences.

Did one method stand out over all others?

I don’t think I really tried any methods other than SYL. Generally, real-world application was a more effective learning method for me that studying from a book.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

During my 12 weeks of language training, I used a Romanized version of Thai to learn the language. I wouldn’t recommend that for new learners if you can help it. Once I arrived in Thailand, I made the transition to learning the Thai script. This card [pdf download] was a lifesaver when it came to learning the alphabet and tone markers. Once you have the “code” memorized, reading becomes a fun game of putting it all together. That’s not to say that there aren’t any exceptions to the rule with Thai, but there are far fewer than with English.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

It was difficult, but it was also fun in a way because written Thai makes so much sense once you start to get the hang of it. The most difficult part of learning to write Thai is trying to make your handwriting legible. I have a hard enough time with that in English.

What was your first ah-hah! moment?

The first moment I can recall was when I was talking with some native friends in Kalasin after having lived there for 3-4 months. I realized I was both understanding and contributing to the conversation! It was a huge boost of confidence to keep learning so that those conversations could become longer and more in-depth.

How do you learn languages (learning styles)?

I learn languages through practicing speaking. And when practicing, I mostly focus on imitating the correct pronunciation (and in the case of Thai, tones). To me, it’s not worth speaking a language if I can’t speak it as naturally (or as close to possible) as a native speaker. That usually puts me behind my peers in terms of gaining fluency or building my vocabulary, but I’ve seen too many fellow students blow past me in terms of fluency only to be stuck with a crippled accent that can’t be unlearned.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My biggest strength when it comes to learning Thai is my willingness to ask questions when I don’t know the word or how to say something. My biggest weakness is that I get too complacent and comfortable in my language abilities. I need to be more disciplined in my efforts to study and improve if I expect to come close to approaching a mastery of the language.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I’d say the biggest misconception is that Westerners or speakers of non-tonal languages can’t learn how to speak with tones correctly. If you can speak English with inflection that imbues meaning then you can speak Thai with the right tones. Truth be told, it’s not actually Thai if the tones aren’t correct. It’s the same with Thai students of English who speak every word as if it’s a loanword. That’s not actually English.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I took a year of online Latin my sophomore year in high school. My fluency in Latin is nonexistent. I was an exchange student in Norway during my junior year in high school and learned fluent Norwegian. I forgot most of it when I began learning Thai, but the foundation is still there if I ever want to pick it back up again. My college degree is in Middle East Studies/Arabic, and I spent 4 months living in Jordan on a study abroad, but I never gained even close to the same level of fluency with Arabic as I did with Thai. The grammar is so much more complex, and that’s a weak spot for me. I’ve been using the DuoLingo app to try to learn Spanish, but I’m still just a beginner. Oh, and I’m determined to learn proper Lao.

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

No, my full attention was given to learning Thai at the beginning. My brain actually cleared out the Norwegian I’d learned a few years previous to make room for the Thai.

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

Immerse yourself. If you don’t live in Thailand, move there (if possible). If you do live in Thailand, limit your time speaking English as much as possible. In fact, limit your time being around any Westerners to as little as possible. When you’re with Thais, speak Thai, even if their English is far better than your Thai (frequently the case).

ครับ/ค่ะ
Weston Hawkins | Youtube Channel: Vespa Hockey

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: 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.

Share Button

Successful Thai Language Learner: Brett Whiteside

Brett Whiteside

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Brett Whiteside
Nationality: American
Sex: Male
Location: All over the place (Uluru when I started writing this and Queenstown, NZ when I finished it.)
Profession: Self Employed
Website: Learn Thai from a White Guy

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

As with any language, the manner in which you speak to a person depends on the situation and who you are talking to. I don’t completely identify with a particular dialect, but I’d guess a spectrum of central with Northern tendencies. I can pretend to know what I’m doing in other dialects and similar languages because I know about the sound changes, but I have never spent a significant amount of time in any of the regions other than Chiang Mai so my knowledge is limited.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I found myself in Thailand quite randomly and figured if I was going to hang out there for a minute, I’d like to be able to talk to other humans on occasion.

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

I arrived in Thailand in early 2003 and lived in Chiang Mai for about 13 years. It’s still a base for me now, but I’m a lot more nomadic these days and don’t usually stay anywhere very long.

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

I started with a Living Language CD, which was awful and a Lonely Planet phrasebook which I bought the same day I got on the plane in March, 2003. I think I managed to learn the numbers, how much and a few greetings before I landed. Naturally, I said them all very wrong.

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

When I started learning Thai, I didn’t know what I was doing. However, I found that double-fisting Chang beers and talking to girls at the night bazaar every night went a long way for making progress in the language and seemed like a great idea at the time. So, in the beginning, it was all restaurants and bars. I’m vegan so a lot of the early days my language learning focussed on figuring out how to stop people from putting fishy things into my food and then later, convincing them it could still taste good without them.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

I didn’t really know how to study at that point in my life. I just went out and tried to talk to people every day. I carried around a notepad and I’d review that when riding in song taews and lifts or when I was eating. I believe that played a huge part in me actually making progress. I probably went through a notepad every two or three months and before I’d start on a new one, I’d skim through and find I’d usually retained about half of what I wrote in there.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I never really tried any actual systems. I just kept trying to talk to people and gradually sounded less and less ridiculous over a long period of time. I briefly tried the “learn from your girlfriend©” method and found that it wasn’t very effective. I did a very brief stint at AUA in Chiang Mai. The “advanced” course was under way when I got there so I paid full price to sit in on the class for maybe a week and a half. It was pretty ridiculous so I swore off schools after that. Towards the end of the first year, a friend and I scouted out some of the schools in town hoping that we could find one willing to teach us “advanced Thai,” but that never panned out. I used Benjawan’s Advanced Thai book a bit in the early days since that’s all there was at the time. I liked the short newspaper articles.

Did one method stand out over all others?

I attribute my modest success in being able to speak a bit of Thai to the magical notepads and me actively using them over a long period of time. One other thing that made a huge difference was that during the first year, I didn’t really hang out with any foreigners. I would just roam around solo, get lost and find myself in pretty crazy (and sometimes scary) situations and I just kept on learning a bit at a time. I’d be among a group of Thai people and I’d try really hard to keep up until I was exhausted then zone out. It felt very much like exercise except for the sitting and drink whiskey part.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I tried right away, but I was just using the LP phrase book at that time and it wasn’t great for learning the alphabet. I definitely didn’t understand the vowel shapes and I ignored all the crazy letters for a while. As soon as I knew a few letters, I was constantly trying to figure out what all the signs around me were saying. I would just skip over anything I didn’t recognize. And, yes, the sign fonts were a pain in the ass at first, but you get used to it.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

At first, definitely, but that was really because I wasn’t sure how to go about learning it. It was all crazy squiggles and I had no idea about the tone rules or how the vowels worked. My phrase book didn’t mention any of that stuff and I didn’t yet understand how crippling romanization was. I know now that it isn’t that hard and the problem was that the average native speaker has no idea how to explain what’s happening and how it all comes together. This is how I ended up developing the system that I use for my online courses.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

The day I had finally internalized all the tone rules and could produce them at will. I actually remember the day when I realized I had it all down. Suddenly, I no longer mixed up similar sounding vowels, I could write down new words I heard phonetically even if I wasn’t sure how they were spelled. I could now start self-correcting all the words I had been saying wrong up until that point. I was pretty horrified to discover how badly I was butchering everything those first 9 months or so, but once you accept that you are pronouncing everything wrong, you can begin to fix it. It all fell into place pretty quickly.

How do you learn languages?

I spend a fair bit of time on the sound system in the beginning and then I jump in to learning full phrases immediately after and then just start talking to people. I usually skip a lot of basic vocabulary that people tend to study so it’s not uncommon for me to be having pretty limited conversations with people before I know how to say all the numbers or basic words like “sister.”

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I’ve gotten quite good at using mnemonics and other memory techniques that allow you to quickly retain things. Years of teaching Thai has given me the magical ability to quickly teach even the most thick-headed, frustrated “I’m not good at languages and I’m tone deaf” farang to actually learn the sounds and be able to speak Thai. This requires much patience, and beer.

I’m really bad at sticking to study routines and I have problems focusing on things for any length of time, but I find that very short bursts of study a few times a day can work fairly well. I’d also say my memory isn’t that great and I either need to be exposed to things many times or actively use mnemonics for them to stick.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That you can just “speak Thai” without learning to read the script.
Basic literacy is such a huge part of learning any language, but it’s particularly important with Thai. It’s extremely difficult to master all the different vowel sounds without some hook to help you separate all the new sounds.

You don’t have to read War and Peace in Russian if you don’t care about literature, but there’s no excuse for not being able to read the sign for the bathroom or know how to properly pronounce the name of the city you live in correctly. It’s not Pat-tai-ya people.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I’m conversational or better in four languages aside from English and I have some limited ability with a bunch more. Thai was the first language that I made real progress with.

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

Yes, I spent a few years taking classes in Japanese, Chinese and Korean. I went a bit language-crazy in the mid-2000s. It’s also worth noting that for all those years of lessons, Thai which I definitely did not learn in a school is the one I became most comfortable with. This really made me rethink the entire process.

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

Learn the script and master the tone rules. It doesn’t take that long and it’ll save you from heaps of frustration later.

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: 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.

Share Button

Interview Compilation: Did You Find Learning to Read and Write Thai Difficult?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?…

Scanning quickly through the results … 34 said reading and writing (combined) wasn’t difficult, 14 said it was, four found writing difficult, four didn’t attempt to learn how to write, and five found spelling difficult.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Learning to read and write was not too difficult, because I had already learned to speak. Spelling remains a challenge, because many consonants have the same sound (there are five letters that have the ‘s’ sound). At first, vowel position is a bit confusing. It helps to have a good book. I used Reading and Writing Thai, by Marie Helene Brown, 1988, DK Books.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: No, I enjoy it and it makes sense to me. That does not mean by any stretch that I understand everything and you will still find me scratching my head whilst trying to read the Thai newspaper. I suppose I would change the word difficult with challenging.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Not particularly considering Thai is a phonetic language and 95 percent of Thai words are read as written.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: No. I love it, actually.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: Reading isn’t difficult, but remembering how to spell is hard.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: Not so much but I am used to learning new “codes” from computer programming.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: I think that reading Thai is actually quite simple once you understand the basics of it. Once I’d memorized the alphabet and the general rules, after that it was just a matter of trying to read anything and everything I could.

This might not work for everyone, but one interesting tip that really helped me with my Thai reading was signboards. In a moving vehicle I would sit and stare out the window (not while driving of course ☺) and try to read the signs on buildings, advertisements and the like while travelling along. Although in the beginning the challenge was just to be able to read a certain word or phrase before I passed it by—and it was even a challenge in Bangkok traffic (just to show you how weak I was when I started out)—little by little I began catching on. I think the reason I found this helpful is because the wording on signs is often large and the reading is bite-sized—usually only short phrases and words. Obviously it wasn’t the only method I used for learning to read Thai:), but it’s something that worked for me and others may find it useful as well.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: I’m told it’s odd that someone can read and that skill doesn’t cross over to writing. But I guess I’ve never really had a need to write anything in Thai. I’d always be a long way from writing in Thai the way I’d hope to. Didn’t want to launch into a project I felt was doomed to failure.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Writing yes, as it is a slow process for me (and often incorrect). Reading less difficult, but the lack of character/word spacing was and still is a challenge.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: Not really. The only time it became difficult was when I was trying to learn to read words I didn’t already know.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: No. The script was presented in manageable chunks and progress was quick. We began by learning the most common low class consonants, and followed a similar order to that presented in Marvin Brown’s AUA Thai Course: Reading, Teach Yourself Thai and the Linguaphone Thai Course. Credit for first recognizing that learning consonants by class, rather than traditional alphabetic order, would enable the foreigner to learn to read more quickly, goes to Basil Osborn Cartwright, a teacher of English at the Royal Civil Service College in Bangkok, who introduced his system in his Elementary Handbook of the Siamese language, published in 1906. Yet 100 years later there are still teachers of Thai and authors of Thai language books for foreigners who expect their students to spend early lessons memorizing letters they will hardly ever encounter.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: It would have been difficult if hadn’t been so fascinating. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn more. I developed a handwriting that won the admiration of the Thais who saw it.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Only as expected.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: Tricky, but not impossible. Once you get your head round vowel placement and punctuation issues it all makes sense, somehow.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: Not particularly. Maybe as a computer programmer I’m used to working with symbols.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: No, not particularly, what was more difficult was getting the right tones and sentence structure.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: No! And this is the daft thing. I put off learning the tone rules because I kept being presented with baroque charts and overly complicated explanations, which were terribly off-putting. However, I hooked up with Brett from Learn Thai from a White Guy who had the rules drilled into me within, I kid you not, two hours. He stripped all the rubbish away and taught them to me in a logical, straightforward way. I guess it helped knowing the letters and consonant classes already, but still, it was much easier than I had imagined. Once I had them down it was just a question of practise, practise, practise to consolidate them. Here, Anki SRS cards are your friend.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: At first, since an alphabet has to be learned, one with much ‘junk DNA’, i.e. archaic obsolete letters. Lao is easier since it has purged much of that. Writing is more difficult than reading, of course, since you have to spell correctly.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: No. Once I had a good grasp of the pronunciation, the consonant and tone rules made a lot of sense, and I could make good progress. I still feel that that is a useful order in which to proceed, at least for me. Otherwise, I think that my pronunciation would have come along much slower. I would have been engrossed in making the lines and squiggles of the script instead of learning how to read clearly and accurately. But the issue of when to begin the Thai script is still a very live one, and the discussion is interesting and varied. I can just relate what worked for me.

For Northern Thai, I strongly feel that returning to a phonetic notation is essential for getting good pronunciation. That’s what worked for me and a few others who learned the language in the past. This may seem like a big step backwards when most learners of Northern will already have learned Thai. The important point is that the Thai script does not fit very well with Northern. And when Northern is written with Thai script, as in three recent major dictionaries, the sixth tone is not always marked regularly. Also, the High-Mid-Low consonants pattern differently in Northern and thus affect how tones are written. Since pronunciation (especially the tone system) is so important, and the sound of the tones and the relationship of tones to each other (in pitch height and direction of movement) is different in the two languages, using Thai script is a major disadvantage. However, once I got good pronunciation, and after I learned Meth’s system for using Thai letters (his dictionary was written specifically to help Central Thai forestry workers learn Northern), I became comfortable using Thai script for Northern, but only in Meth’s very clear and systematic way. The other ways of writing Northern are fine for native-speaking Northern Thais since they already know their mother tongue and can overcome inconsistencies, but learners would be at a disadvantage.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: I find everything about learning Thai difficult. I am not a really good language learner. I need to hear a word 20 times before I can remember it. I can’t spell in Thai. But I can’t really spell very well in English either so I don’t let it bother me. I figure that I was just born without the spelling lobe in my brain. So any achievement I have made is due to really really hard work and the fact that I just won’t give up until I get something right. Also, thank god for spell checkers. One thing I know that is true for me, if a Thai textbook or a Thai learning system has the words “Easy”, “Quick”, or “Simple” in its title then it is not for me. Thai is not easy, quick, or simple to learn.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: I found reading Thai very easy. Writing is not hard, but spelling is a bitch. Frankly, being able to write Thai is not a useful skill. If you need something written in Thai you ought to get a Thai person to write it – it will always be better than your own effort. The only useful thing about writing is to aid memory in learning the alphabet and vocabulary.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I thought writing Thai was difficult because of the spelling and I only got to the point where I could write a short letter. I thought reading was easier and I read mostly magazines – music and movie star magazines, love advice magazines and all the things they sell which are great for learning about Thai culture.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: I found the first month or so quite difficult, and although I could read simple signs on the street, and simple notes between friends, it wasn’t until I went to Berkeley that I properly learned to read long passages of text.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: I learned the mechanics of reading and writing consonants, vowels, tone rules, where words begin and end, etc., for the most part in about 10-12 months. I really didn’t find it difficult, just very, very time-consuming and tedious. For me, it was all in the repetition. I know there are a lot of mnemonic devices and tricks for learning all of that, but it seemed easiest to just plough through it.

The part of reading for me that’s a bit more difficult at this point is the vocabulary, especially in newspapers and books where you come across a lot of technical, political words and phrases, proper names, religious terms, etc. The difficulty for me in writing Thai isn’t physically writing or typing the characters, it’s forming a thought and writing it the way a Thai person would.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: I think once you “get over the hump” reading Thai is quite easy actually. Written Thai is much more phonetic than English. You don’t face “cough” vs. “through” situations in Thai—it reads as it is written, so it is just a matter of memorizing the sounds and the few exceptions.

Writing Thai is much more difficult because of the many consonants that have the same sounds, and the Sanskrit influences in the written language such as silent letters, vestigial endings to words and so on. There are many ways to phonetically spell words properly but only one correct spelling, so basically you have to memorize the proper spelling.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Many rules, some exceptions, but in the end just an alphabet-like writing system! I have found the Thai and Khmer scripts far less difficult and more intuitive than Chinese characters.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: I did find it hard to differentiate the words, due to the fact that Thai script is written with very few spaces. Eventually it just became normal. It’s kinda like having a conversation in a noisy room, at first it is hard to talk to your neighbors, but after awhile you adjust and it seems normal.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Learning to read was fun, because I found it easy to measure progress. In addition, because I had already built up a fair vocabulary in Thai, I could quickly read things that I found interesting or useful, such as newspaper stories and street and store signs.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: No.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Reading was not so difficult to learn once you master the alphabet, but writing is another story, especially when it comes to tone marks.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: Not really. To me, speaking good Thai with the proper accent is more difficult.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: I found learning the alphabet very difficult. Learning by rote and with no context is almost impossible for me so I made a story out of the alphabet to provide the context eg. ท thor tahaan (soldier) is a patriotic chap likes to stand next to ธ thor thong (flag), next to him is… etc.. it’s all silly stuff but through the story I could remember.

The tone rules were difficult too at first but I found similar ways to link them together as an aide to my memory. Applying them while reading was a slow progress too but over time it becomes more natural.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Yes, but I consoled myself, firstly with the thought that Thai kids pick it up in a only couple of years when they are very young, and secondly, with the idea that Chinese is a lot harder (44 Thai consonants vs. 40,000 Chinese ideograms to read a newspaper). I had the writing down pretty well in about six months. Compare that to the language – after 25 years, I am still picking up new vocabulary.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: Yes. Not having spaces between words, memorizing not only the extended alphabet but also consonant classes, adjusting to vowels being placed non-sequentially and in complex combinations makes written Thai difficult. Not that English is that much better, it is the only European language I know where the sound of a word can not be seen immediately from the writing. English vowel sounds vary greatly, which must be frustrating to Thais, whose vowel system leaves no room for doubt. The student of Thai needs to memorize individual word spelling since identical tones can be made with different combinations. Being raised seeing writing as a code for replicating spoken sounds, I was as frustrated with having to memorize the writing of individual Thai words as Thais must be having to memorize the pronunciation of individual words in English.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I have found learning to read Thai to be far easier than learning to speak it. This is probably because I much prefer dealing with written text than spoken language; even in English. I am quite satisfied with my ability to read and my vocabulary is quite large.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Yes, it is a monster. 44 consonants and 33 vowels, depending on how you count, plus all those tone marks and other miscellaneous signs, a lot of duplication, so that it’s usually impossible to tell how something is written from how it’s spoken, and then there are the exceptions! And the ambiguous spellings! And the alternate spellings, they’re like opinions, everybody has one! It takes a lot of memorization. Also, the words are all run-on together, you have to parse them out with your eye, and sometimes that gives ambiguous readings, too. Only after a lot of experience can you start to discern the patterns which begin to make things easier.

Reading Thai subtitles in English-language movies is a challenge, if they’re more than five or six words long. Thais can read them in the time they show on the screen. Reading karaoke doesn’t count, that’s slow and easy, even though it’s good practice. When I can read ninety percent of the subtitles as they come up we’ll break out the champagne—but I’m not there yet. And love that Chula course: writing essays, making a few presentations in class on news stories. T’ain’t easy, but there’s no giving up.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: Yes. But it had to be done. And the hard work I put in has paid off — I can read newspapers, magazines and books at close to full speed and understand most of what I read.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: Yes, but entirely doable. It was challenging, but it felt like a natural part of the language learning process for me. Being in Thailand provides constant reading opportunities, so the basics quickly became second nature.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Not really. The hardest thing about writing was to remember the spellings, like which “s” or which “th” to use. The lack of spaces between words gave me some frustration in the very beginning, but I found that the more you read the quicker you can instantly recognize words, and it’s not really a problem anymore.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Not particularly. I imagine it’s several orders of magnitude easier than learning Chinese or Japanese, for example.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: I seem to remember it being fairly quick to learn, though I’ve always been fond of alphabets anyway. It took me a few weeks before I started recognising Thai letters in different fonts and longer before I could read handwritten Thai.

I’ve built up my reading speed by trying to read the signs on buses to see where they go. Now sometimes when I’m at the movies my eyes will pick up the Thai subtitles. On a slower song I can sometimes read along the Thai words on a karaoke machine, but I wouldn’t put bets on it!

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: It is ridiculously easy! I learned to read and write the entire alphabet over 6 x 1.5 hour lessons and about the same amount of time at home practicing. So let’s call it 18 hours all up. The tone rules followed but they were not that hard.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: No.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Not really.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: I found learning to read Thai (the way I chose to teach myself) was FAR easier than speaking clearly. When I started teaching myself to read I didn’t try to learn the tones (and still suffer from that oversight) or the consonant classes. At first I didn’t even learn the words associated with the Thai letters. Instead I broke it down to things like: Thai has 6 letters which make close to a “T” sound in English, they are; ฐ, ฑ, ฒ, ท, ธ, ถ. So when ever I saw those characters I immediately associated it with a “T” sound. Same for the 5 “K” sounds and the 4 “S” sounds in Thai.

I found the vowels a little tough at first, especially the ones which change or morph appearance due to being followed by a consonant. However, once you get the vowels down fairly well as far as long and short duration, they’re pretty consistent throughout the Thai language. Unlike English where vowels have little consistency due to the hodge-podge of languages English is based on.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: Yes, but it is absolutely critical to long-term success, not just in reading and writing Thai, but speaking it too, because if you rely on transliterated Thai to learn new vocabulary the pronunciation will often be incorrect. Plus there are so many ways of transliterating the Thai script it can only lead to confusion for the student.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Yes, not because of the alphabet being so large or so strangely different from English, but because the sentence structure and reading backwards sometimes is a bit hard to get over. No breaks for words or sentences is also something that takes getting used to. As I insinuated, it was going to take a lot more effort than I realized it would – and I just didn’t have the time or motivation to keep pushing to learn it.

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

Successful Thai Language Learner: Mirko Martin

Mirko Martin

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Mirko Martin
Nationality: German
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Artist, Photographer
Website: mirkomartin.com

What is your Thai level?

I’d say probably intermediate to advanced.

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

Something in-between, I suppose. No Isaan, though.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

In my first year here, I was not focused on the language at all. Obviously, one can get by without speaking Thai and the initial hurdle is very high. But I became more and more embarrassed when, even after more than a year, I was limited to just a few basic words. I’d understand the culture only superficially. And I wanted to transcend the role of the typical Farang, who, apart from his girlfriend(s), only hangs out in Western circles and has somewhat of a joking-only relationship to Thais. Luckily, I have two Austrian friends here, who are fluent in Thai and who encouraged me to study the language, too. As I found it too hard to do it all by myself from the outset, I started going to school.

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

I currently live here and have been here for over two years.

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

For almost a year.

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

Ever since I started going to school, I stuck with it. What helped was that I had to pay the tuition fee for a year in advance. I wanted to get best results for my money.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

The schedule was determined by school hours and homework. Even though homework and self-study exceeded school hours, the school provided the necessary frame.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

To be honest, I don’t know much about different learning methods. At school, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on vocabulary, which is good, but there obviously can’t always be ample speaking time for every student, so I also focused on pronunciation at home. Other than that, usual things I guess – watching TV, reading texts from various sources, and of course speaking to Thais, which also includes questioning them about language related issues.

Did one method stand out over all others?

As pronunciation seems to be the most difficult thing for most Thai learners in terms of speaking, I focused on this a lot. At first, it felt kind of affected to push and pull the tones up and down, plus I needed (and still need) extra energy to constantly do it, to sort of have a second layer of awareness in the back of my mind while speaking. That’s probably why foreigners tend to speak the tones rather flat. So I do a lot of reading out loud at home. The tones started to feel more natural soon and now they are even kind of a fun aspect for me, too, even though I still get them wrong many times.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I had playfully started reading and writing a bit before I started going to school, so actually before speaking – mostly, because I was intrigued by the meticulousness of the alphabetic characters and the spelling rules.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

No. It took me a while to be able to understand the tone rules, but after that, it became a lot easier. Obviously, Thai has some difficult words with irregular spelling, but overall, I don’t find basic reading and writing difficult. When it comes to academic writing and building complex grammatical structures, however, I find that very difficult.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I was about to take the official Thai language test for foreigners, I became sick with a fever. Instead of preparing, I wasn’t able to do anything but sleep in the two weeks or so leading up to the test. It was my first serious break from studying Thai since I had started out eight months before. What a bad timing, I thought. But to my surprise, during the test and since, I was suddenly able to speak out much more freely than before, not always having to deliberately construct the sentences word for word anymore. While I’m still far from being fluent and much depends on the topic of a conversation and my daily form, becoming aware of the fluidity threshold was surprising and exciting.

How do you learn languages?

I’m not an expert. Thai is the first language that I started learning after being out of the school system, so I’m learning it in a much more condensed and speedy way than English, for example.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When working on something I am fascinated by, I can be quite obsessive. I’m a visual learner and have to see the words written out to be able to remember them, which is strength and weakness at the same time, I guess. What I enjoy most is speaking and reading, so I tend to neglect developing the other skills a bit. Especially listening to long, uninterrupted texts still gives me headaches.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Maybe that reading actual Thai instead of relying on a transliteration system is overly difficult?

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I’m fluent in English and speak a bit of French. Mixing English and Thai is not a problem, but with French and Thai I get confused, so I try to stay away from French now. No disrespect meant though.

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

No. I imagine that very difficult.

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

Be patient. It seems hard at first but will get easier after crossing some basic hurdles. Obviously, spending time with Thais is key, so to me, it only really makes sense to study Thai if one lives here. Try to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. Don’t get discouraged if your pronunciation creates amusement at first. Have the mindset of on ongoing student; try not to let your ego get in the way. Use the Thais’ readiness to express compliments, appreciation and advice as fuel to stay motivated.

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: 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.

Share Button
Older posts