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Category: Interviews (page 2 of 13)

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…

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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.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Jeff Volling

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Jeff Volling
Nationality: American
Age: 31
Sex: Male 
Location: The Philippines
Profession: Translator/Content Creator
Website: 24translate.de

What is your Thai level?

I’d have to go with a combo of all three. It really depends on the topic of discussion. I would say that for my daily needs and what I needed language for while I lived in Thailand, I was fluent.

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

What I speak probably leans more towards professional Thai, but there are elements of street Thai as well. I can only string together a few sentences/phrases in Issan.

What were your reasons for learning Thai? 

My main reason for learning was survival. I didn’t have the patience to try explaining things to Thais who can’t understand English (and where I lived, nobody spoke English ). I realize the irony in learning an entire language because of not wanting to constantly make hand gestures.

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

No. I was in Thailand from 2009-2015.

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

2009-2015

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

I dove right in after an initial period (maybe a couple weeks or so) of traveling. There were some periods during my 6 years in Thailand when I would study for several hours in a day and times when I wouldn’t study at all of weeks (even months) on end.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, I did not.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I combined textbook study with full-on immersion. When I was first starting out, I was more or less a hermit, studying Thai via various books – in particular, the Thai for __ series by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. I’d then use whatever I learned in real life situations whenever the opportunity arose. I also learned Thai by “necessity.” If there was a particular phrase I needed to say and couldn’t – I’d learn it.

Did one method stand out over all others? 

For me, all the methods worked well. However, I do like the “needs-based” learning approach in that it is a good way to quickly learn what is most important.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai? 

Immediately. I don’t believe in being illiterate.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult? 

Yes. I’m probably a bit slower than some others in this series in that it took me about 2 solid months of studying at least 2 hours per day to come to terms with it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment? 

Realizing that I could say just about anything in Thai that I’d normally talk about in English.

How do you learn languages? 

Textbook study combined with immersion (actual or virtual). If the immersion option is not available, I talk to myself.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

Strengths: grammar and vocabulary; weakness: not sure, but I found pronunciation and tones quite difficult.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai? 

Tones matter. I realize a lot of people will disagree with me here – but the fact is that in 6 years of living in Thailand, if I got a tone wrong, I never had any problem being understood and conversation was never halted. More important than tones is stress. Besides, in conversation, words often just carry the middle tone anyhow, with the most important word(s) getting their natural tone.

Can you make your way around any other languages? 

English (native speaker)
German (fluent; near-native fluency in reading)
French (upper-intermediate/advanced)
Tagalog (advanced basic/low intermediate)
Norwegian – an online test said I read it at a B2 level, but I would say basic. It is rather easy to read, though.
Spanish – a bit rusty, but I’m conversational enough and can read with little problem
Croatian – just enough to get by if I ever get there.

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

Yes, several. I dabble a lot – but was focused mainly on Tagalog, Norwegian, and Croatian.

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

Find what works for you. Use the language as often as possible and try to not think of it as studying. Language is a vehicle for communicating ideas – so just talk about whatever you like. Being “fluent” isn’t knowing every word or being able to talk about anything – it’s being able to comfortably express your own thoughts and ideas and to understand others in the topics that are relevant to you.

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.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Joshua Hyland

Successful Thai Language Learner

Name: Joshua Hyland
Nationality: Australian
Age range: 20-30
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Business consultant
Facebook: JustJoshTH

What is your Thai level?

Fluent in speaking, advanced in reading and intermediate in writing.

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

I speak conversational Thai and have learned a lot of slang from my student days and office colleagues.

What were your reasons for learning Thai? 

I first came to Thailand on an exchange program to Mahidol University and had Elementary Thai as a compulsory subject. I fell in love with the language and wanted to improve. For my degree I undertook a work placement in a hotel in Phuket shortly after the tsunami. I was in a kitchen with 15 Thais who spoke little English and obviously enjoyed talking about me. My main motivation to learn Thai at this time was so that I could communicate with them.

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

I first arrived in 2005 and still live here.

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

I have been studying Thai in some way ever I came here: 2005-ongoing.

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

I personally learn fastest in real-life situations. When I first came over I had lots of opportunity to use my Thai at markets, in taxis and with friends, but also had classes which provided theory which was essential in getting me to where I am now.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

After my study at Mahidol was complete it was up to me to further my learning. During my work placement at a resort in Phuket, I studied after work religiously almost every day and practiced in the kitchen during work hours. Since then, my learning has been less formal and consists mainly of speaking Thai with friends and work colleagues.

What Thai language learning methods did you try? 

My teacher at Mahidol created course material herself which I think was very good. I had several books which were the only ones available in bookstores back then however can’t recall the names as it was over ten years ago.

Did one method stand out over all others? 

Practical use of Thai language accelerated my learning more than anything else. Watching movies with subtitles is also great in developing a better understanding of how the language is used. The five tones and ต, ง and ป are some of the major differences to the English language. I learned to pronounce these correctly through painful drilling exercises which were executed by one of my first Thai friends. To encourage others that have been frustrated in learning thai – I was almost brought to tears one day when I couldn’t differentiate บ, พ and ป!

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai? 

This was a part of my learning from day 1. I believe it really helps improve your speaking ability and wish I was better at reading and writing.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult? 

Yes. The ending consonants and class of characters particularly confused me! After long enough, I found that I forgot the rules and reading became more instinctive.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment? 

For me learning Thai definitely improved in leaps after long periods of no development. I recall having an ‘ah hah!’ moment when I realised that I could carry on substantially-long (albeit not very meaningful) conversations by speaking the few sentences I’d learned clearly and then saying ครับ a lot. This can get you into all sorts of trouble but can also be useful while you’re getting to the next level.

How do you learn languages? 

For me I would say initially at least 50% theory and the rest forcing yourself to use what you have learned in real life situations. Later I reduced the amount of theory I was doing, though I think it’s always good to jot down questions that you have and find the answers to them. Immersion learning is fantastic if you’re lucky enough to be able to be in such a situation.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

My best strength is definitely my pronunciation. Second to that would be my ability in conversational Thai. Reading and writing are definitely my weaknesses. I am also finding that as I pass the 30-years-old mark, my vocabulary of new words is slowing.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai? 

I believe that there is often not enough emphasis put on pronunciation. When I was able to differentiate between the five tones it greatly improved my overall ability to communicate in Thai. It’s one of the more difficult lessons to learn but I think very worthwhile.

Can you make your way around any other languages? 

I studied Japanese for seven years in primary and secondary school. I can still read two of the three alphabets, but can barely string the most simple sentence together! I sometimes imagine what life would have been like if I had gone on exchange to Japan instead of Thailand.

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

I was only studying Thai when I came to Thailand. When I went home after nine months here, I had to re-learn English though! My grammar was shot and I had great difficulty communicating for some time!

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

There is no one-way that works best for everyone to learn a second language. If you’re able to figure out what works best for you, that will really help you along. Try different classes, studying with movies, find some good friends to help you, shop at the markets, read lots of books and try the various mobile apps. Keep going until you find something that really works for you!

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.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Dan Halloran

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Dan Halloran
Nationality: Australian
Age: 28
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok (and Melbourne)
Profession: Research Economist and Web/App Developer

What is your Thai level?

Somewhere near upper intermediate at the moment (varies daily).

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

I would call it just your standard Bangkok street Thai… but I really enjoy learning and trying to use professional Thai to keep things suave.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Survival… but before long my reason was that I was just completely engrossed in the language, its nuances and day to day applicability.

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

For the most, yes. I arrived in July 2011.

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

July 2011 – Present.

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

After first arriving to the Kingdom it took me a month or two to get serious about learning Thai… but I completely immersed myself from then on for a year and my skills developed quite fast in that time.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

For the first year, yes. I made sure I was doing something with Thai every day. I would spend hours in cafes in Chiang Mai, trawling through dictionaries, reading various materials and constantly listening to audio files. I was absorbed by it.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

For me, my brain retains words and associates meanings best when I’m enjoying myself and relaxed. A key takeaway from the process of learning Thai would be to just enjoy it and don’t get strung up on any one particular method… just put the hours in to whatever brings enjoyment on each given day and the results will come.

Having said that, the general approach I adopted was ‘complete immersion’… for my first year in Thailand I did everything I could through the Thai language, at every possible chance. I was aided by my trusty little pocket notebook and miniature pencil which I carried around everywhere for noting down new words and phrases. I’d then go home and put those words into the automated flashcard program called Anki so I wouldn’t forget them.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Hmm, this is a helpful question… but can also be secretly and severely detrimental to one’s progress in language learning among others… There are plenty of terrific methods out there on the internet but I would put a disclaimer on each saying be very careful not to get stuck on looking for the best method… a method is often only one means to internalising the language and, sorry to burst your bubble, but each method will get stale after a while – this leads to procrastination and a feeling of not really “getting anywhere with the language” if you’re stuck focussing on the method.

Your default method should be simple: surround yourself by real Thai (input through the ears and eyes constantly), then get out there and USE it, speak it and make mistakes. Get confused (confusion exists outside the boundaries of your comfort zone… be brave enough to force yourself out there) and you’ll get fluent.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Almost immediately. Best thing I ever did.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Nope, it was very enjoyable and thus easy.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

My first small ‘ah hah’ was after a week of studying Thai and seeing the word ยา on a shop front. I got a real kick from bringing what was then just theory and study into the real world.

Several big ‘ah hah’ moments have come to me just after a conversation I’ve had, or an article I’ve read, and realise after the fact that it was actually all in Thai. When you start thinking in meanings and stop worrying about the language you’re using, things really take off!

Note: ‘reverse ah-hah’ moments are also positive indicators you’re making progress. They go something like: “I know everything now…” Then a few days later, “Oh crap, I actually know nothing.” Repeat.

How do you learn languages?

Late nights, laughter and an insatiable appetite to learn more words and concepts.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strength: would probably be my passion for languages and desire to learn/ go deeper into them. I also enjoy parroting, so I do a lot of mimicking the local’s pronunciation and accents.

Weakness: I don’t speak as much as I should and tend to listen too much. While my comprehension is good and my pronunciation has held up okay, a lack of actively challenging myself through speaking has certainly slowed down the path to fluency… Another weakness is that when I do speak I often try to speak too fast and make things too complex – I’m always telling myself to keep it simple, stupid.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

“Learning Thai is hard”, “There are too many consonants and vowels to remember”, “I’m tone deaf”, ”I’m too old”, “I don’t have enough time”, “It’s too expensive to study”… All these are rubbish and lame excuses.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Not as well as Thai, but working on Japanese at the moment and Burmese when I can (as well as programming languages which I find very interesting).

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

Yes, I couldn’t help myself even knowing it may slow down the progression of my Thai. I studied Japanese (and still do) and Burmese when I can. Having said that, I feel there might be synergies where we dip our toes in other languages while going full steam ahead with another… It spiced things up and I found some Thai words just stuck for me when I used other languages to translate or attach meanings to them (when the English meaning wasn’t hooking anything).

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

  • Do something (ANYTHING) in Thai at least every day – but do yourself a favour and make sure you’re enjoying yourself.
  • Learn how to read and write. Just spend the time and do it. You’ll never regret it and it’ll be your best friend in this beautiful country.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously, Thai’s generally have a wicked sense of humour and you’ll get much more out of conversation when you can laugh at yourself and poke fun back at them.
  • If you get the chance, surround yourself by people above your skill level. Here I mean non-native Thai’s…this is a great source of motivation (and humility!) and provides a good stepping stone through the language, especially early on. But obviously, and most importantly, make sure you surround yourself by Thais!
  • Befriend a little pocket notebook and pencil, and keep it with you everywhere you go like your life depends on it. Write down everything new that comes your way and make the time to revise any new things you’ve picked up.

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.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Ryan McGovern

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Ryan McGovern
Nationality: British
Age range: 34
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Freelance web designer and WordPress developer
Website: pixelers.net

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate.

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

I speak mostly central Thai though I can understand some Isaan dialect and Laos language.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Because I lived in Thailand and my girlfriend is Thai. It seemed like the right thing to do. I also have a passion for learning new things.

Do you live in Thailand?

Yes.

If so, when did you arrive?

June 22, 2009.

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

I suppose you could say since I arrived in 2009, though I did start learning a few basics before that from books. My interest has waxed and waned over the years though so I have been more an “absorber” of Thai than an actual student.

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

I don’t think anyone learned Thai right away. Even babies take 2-3 years to begin speaking their native tongue. If you mean “did I set to the task of learning Thai right away?” then the answer is yes.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, but in my first few years in Thailand I practiced a lot.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I learned by listening to other people speaking Thai, asking questions, using language books, internet resources, and any other materials that came my way. I guess you could say I was an opportunist learner; if I saw something or heard something I would try to found out what it meant.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I think after a year or two.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Not really, in fact I found it easier than speaking as it didn’t matter so much about the tones. People are scared of Thai curly letters but it’s actually quite easy once you learn the basics and phonetically more accurate than English.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Oh! I think I’ve had a lot of those, not sure if I can remember the first. I’d say a big aha moment for me though was when I realized that the tones are not fixed. The high tone mystified me for years because I was always listening for a “high” tone. Eventually I realized that there is a shape to the high tone. I now find it more accurate to call it stressed rising tone with a sudden dip at the top.

How do you learn languages?

I guess by a mixture of immersion and observation.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I would say my strength is I’m a quick learner but my weakness is that I don’t have a desire to perfect it. I have reached a status quo where I’m happy to be able to read a menu or tell Thai people where I come from but I don’t really feel the need to go beyond that.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

People try to justify or rationalize the language based on their own. We must always remember languages are finite and therefore there isn’t really a right or wrong way to express yourself. Just different systems that evolved in their own ways. So in short, the misconception is that the grammar will follow the same pattern as your own language.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I used to study Spanish and I can get the gist of it while listening though I tend to confuse it with Thai these days. I find myself wanting to say “Hablas Espanol, mai?”

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

No.

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

Perfect the basics before you try to the more complex stuff. Learn all five tones so you can use them on command and practice drawing (not writing) the letters of the alphabet over and over until you can recognize them. Oh, and learn that “Gor Oey Gor Gai” song, just so you can remember we all have to start from humble beginnings :D

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.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Soulawynne

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Soulawynne (Portmanteau)
Nationality: Thai-American
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Male
Location: Phuket, Thailand hailing from Colorado, USA
Profession: Editor-Writer-Thinker
Blog: Siamerican

What is your Thai level?

Fluent.

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

Central Thai, and sometimes, unintentionally, Southern Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Initially to explore my roots, though the learning is continuous as I use Thai to sustain and propel my social and professional obligations and contracts.

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

Off and on for 14 years, first time in summer of 2001.

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

2001-Date.

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

Learning is ongoing; 2-feet in from the start though.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

For me, I did not view it as formal study discipline, and thus Thai has been a 24-hour learning experience; as for intentionally hitting the books to improve reading comprehension, at least in the early years, I probably put in 2-3 hours a day on average, but again, not by any formal ‘study schedule’ or ‘learning regime’ per say, but rather setting a side time to do something I’m passionate about, like reading, or playing music.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

Engaging and embracing direct/group communication contexts/conversations; music media – Thai pop/country songs, karaoke (with&without other Thais at the same time) A Thai friend or 10, etc et al.)

Did one method stand out over all others? 

Learning to sing Thai songs via karaoke and pop songs from guitar chordbooks helped with learning to listen to tones, consonants and invariably pronunciation thereof; and also in the early years, having the Thai telly on regularly, and watching Thai movies at the cinema also helped to improve my listening and comprehension. In summary, for me it was informal learning, immersing myself in the language and culture at every opportunity.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

1-2 year mark one benchmark, 2-5 years another; 6-9 the next and plateauing somewhere along the line.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult? 

No, as long as I always had motivation, and I always did. Learning to read and write has been part of learning to speak; I did not view them as different discipline, but rather different dynamics of the same discipline.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment? 

Depending on whether ‘ah hah’ refers to an epiphany or finally achieving a pre-set benchmark, there’s been a few such moments. First cracking a paragraph in the Ramkien; or a Thai newspaper headline in a conversation with another Thai; realizing I had been singing a particular word at the wrong tone, and then subsequently adjusting my attempt based on feedback; hearing other farang say it ‘better’ than I could, to name a few.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

Strength, Ability to meet Thai speakers in the middle, able to adapt to their level of Thai and English, and honing in on a mutual middle ground…

Challenge: rolling Rs, I’ve just got what Thais call, a firm tongue…

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

You don’t need to learn Thai script to become a ‘good speaker’.

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

Find/define your personal motivations and inspirations, and make the learning process central to your daily routine, creating and conforming to regular contexts, situations and interactions in which you need to use Thai, be it taking the time to order a coffee or snack engaging in some small talk with the smiling merchant or frowning policeman…small talk is as good as it gets. 

Most importantly, like every sage and guru in history has ever concluded about communication, take the time every now and then, to shut up and listen.

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.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Tamber

Successful Thai Language Learner

Name: Tamber
Nationality: American
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Female
Location: Bangkok
Profession: NGO worker (Human rights and refugees)

What is your Thai level?

For most practical purposes, people call me fluent. That’s a fraught term, though, and I’m all too aware of my shortcomings. I tested in July 2014 with the CUTFL offered by Chulalongkorn, and ranked Advanced in all except writing, which I got high elementary if I remember correctly (I think because my spelling was/is horrible). However, after that I did six months of intensive Thai and I have definitely improved since then, with greater understanding of complex vocabulary, including royal language. On the CEFR proficiency scale, I am sure at this point I would rate about B2, pushing into C1 territory on some things. That would be for all except writing, where I might still rate somewhat lower.

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

Professional Bangkok Thai, for sure. I know a good bit of social media slang and swear words, but my Thai is overall very formal and polite. It doesn’t slip much lower than “business casual”, for better or for worse.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I knew I was going to be here awhile, and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a new language. I love learning languages, and being able to talk to and understand the people around me is very important. I felt like I’d always be left out of something if I couldn’t speak Thai.


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

I do live here. I’ve been here since May 2011.


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

I started the week I arrived, so since May 2011. I’ve always taken classes of some kind at least once a week, but from October 2014-April 2015, I was studying 15 hours a week.

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

I did. I took classes right from the beginning, and stuck with it. However, I changed schools about every six months to a year, so sometimes there were interruptions. But I’d say it’s been a consistent dogged effort, even if some months it was more of a limp than a sprint.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

For the first six months, I took classes, and I studied reading and writing by myself for a couple hours a week. After the first six months, outside of classes, I didn’t formally set aside time to study, and barely did any homework (not least because teachers rarely assigned anything). I just didn’t have the time or the motivation, though I’d pursue things that were “fun”, like trying to read a magazine or chat to people around me as the opportunity arose.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I started with Thai Language House, which used Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s books at the time. They didn’t really work for me for whatever reason, so I asked my teacher to try and teach me using David Smyth’s Teach yourself Thai. I like that book a lot and would recommend it, especially to self-study learners. Meanwhile, I taught myself to read with Rungrat Luanwararat’s Introduction to Thai Reading. I made it through to the end of that book and Teach Yourself, and then switched to Jentana, and worked with two of her teachers for about six to nine months. After that, I went to Language Express, and studied two or three days per week in their highest level for about one year. After I felt I had maxed out on what I could get out of classes at Language Express, I went to Sumaa, which was much more expensive, so I only took 90 minutes a week. Their teachers are top-notch, though. I stayed there for a year, I think.

At about the three-year mark, I changed over to Rak Thai Language school, and took their evening intensive class, Social Problems, at ten hours per week, and then newspaper reading, for two months. That was where I made my quickest strides, and really learned how to write and spell. I continued with them for another month after I quit my job, I think taking newspaper reading again. Then I started at Chulalongkorn, and did their Thai 8 and Thai 9 courses (15 hours/week), which helped a lot with formal vocabulary and listening comprehension. I went back to Rak Thai after that for another two months, doing a course that the head instructor put together especially for myself and some other students who were interested in looking at Thai literature and some special topics in professional writing.

I’ve also had conversation partners, watched series from time to time, and I try to read recreationally at least a few pages a week of a novel I’ve been working on for awhile.

Did one method stand out over all others?

I think Rak Thai language school really has something going for it. My writing skills were going nowhere before I started there. Their trick is making students do written homework everyday. It seems obvious, but it’s rare to find teachers that assign homework and then actually make you feel a little bad if you don’t do it.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Immediately. I think being able to read has been absolutely key to my progress. The world is my textbook: I read signs and learn words just by walking down the street. I also lock tone and vowel length into my memory by knowing how a word is spelled. Just hearing a word and then recalling all of its elements is, for me, terribly difficult unless I know how it’s written.

Furthermore, many Thai words actually do sound exactly the same, down to tone and vowel length. However, the spelling of the words is often different, and the spelling frequently makes a difference to my understanding of it. If nothing else, though, it helps with vocabulary building just to know, in the case of absolute homophones, that I’m really dealing with two different words.

In sum, I can’t imagine not learning how to read and write Thai. Not only does literacy make you a more sophisticated user of any language, but also, if you’re any kind of language buff at all, Thai is so much more interesting when you start to realize how much other languages have contributed to even its most basic collection of vocabulary words. This foreign influence is only apparent when you know how to read and can then investigate the etymologies of certain spellings.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Not really. I barely remember that part-it only took a few weeks to get the idea. Proficiency, of course, took much longer, but the basic idea takes no time at all. Several hours of flash-carding to begin with, then lots of practice to familiarize yourself with exceptional words, and that’s really it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I can’t remember. I do remember feeling exceptionally proud one day early on when I was able to read a basic sentence out loud to a Thai friend of mine. Or maybe when I figured out what the different BTS announcements were saying in Thai when the train arrived at the station, left the station, had a problem, etc.

How do you learn languages? 

I’ve always learned language through formalized study plus immersion. I focus on sentence structure and grammar, usually, and I always work hard on reading, as that’s where I feel my vocabulary grows the quickest. My most successful learning experiences have always come, though, when I have been able to stay with a family and speak my target language 24/7 in a variety of day-to-day experiences.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Speaking, conversation, and reading are my strengths. I’m weaker in listening comprehension, as it is still hard for me to catch all the details in films and TV shows. Writing is my weakest skill, as my spelling is still shaky, meaning I have to have a dictionary at hand when I compose anything at all.


What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai? 


That there is no grammar in Thai. There is; just not as we know it from European languages. A lot of nuanced meaning is communicated with particles and word order, and I would call that grammar. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers and students have this idea there is no grammar in Thai, and therefore nothing to learn or teach in that department. I think most students pick up the structure organically in the end, but it’d be good to focus on sentence structure and call it Thai grammar, so students understand how it relates to grammar as they know it.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes, I speak Spanish (C1), French (B2), and Mandarin (B1 now; though I used to be at B2).

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

At the beginning, for about two years, I was studying Thai while taking lessons to maintain my Mandarin, but I dropped the Mandarin eventually. I picked up French in July 2014, which has been a massively quicker learning experience, no doubt due to its similarity to English and Spanish.

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

Just don’t stop trying. Definitely learn to read. Always look for opportunities to practice all four skills.

It might take longer than you hope to reach a useful proficiency level, but stick with it. It pays off when your friends start telling you you’re not just geng (skillful), not just chat (clear), but khlong (fluent) and don’t always switch to English when they talk to you. It’s also a real boon to be able to navigate any situation at all in Thai, from dealings with authorities to company customer services reps. In fact, by speaking and reading Thai, you can access Thai-market services that are much cheaper than their farang-targeted versions with English websites and customer service reps. Basically, it’s worth it to start right away and keep going, especially if there’s any chance at all you’ll remain in the Kingdom for longer than a year.

Tamber,
NGO worker (Human rights and refugees)

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.

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Interview: Francesco is Getting By in Thai

Getting By in Thai

Getting by in Thai…

Name: Francesco
Nationality: Italian
Age range: 30
Sex: Male
Location: London, UK
Profession: Supermarket assistant

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

10%.

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

I’d say quite formal.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I wanted to learn Japanese in my teen years as I was in love with mangas and animes, but I was never applied myself. When I moved to London I met many people that were able to speak 3 or 4 languages and I always find it fascinating; that made me want to learn languages again.

However, it wasn’t until I started training in Muay Thai and organised a trip to Thailand with some of my friends that I decided to pick up Thai. I loved it, and I continued to study it.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

September 2013, a couple of months before my first trip to Thailand.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

About 20 to 30 minutes a day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

I try to. Having a regular schedule is one of the most important practice to do when study a language.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I tried many methods. Originally I had a private teacher, then I moved to some iPhone Apps and flashcards, and recently spaced repetition sentences in audio format.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes and no. Languages are too complex and one method cannot cover all the various aspects. There are all sorts of skills that are needed to be trained: listening, speaking, reading. However, I’d say spaced repetitions of both vocabulary and sentences is the most helpful.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

I made a choice to focus on reading and writing from the beginning. In fact I can read and write better than I can converse. I thought that would be extremely helpful to chat on the internet and look up words on the dictionary.

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

Thai is particularly difficult when comes to their writing system. There are a lot of rules and a lot of exceptions, but reading per se is not about remembering all these rules, is about recognising words and remember its pronunciation. It’s a memory game.

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

Although I’m quite shy when I try speak Thai, when I went to Thailand I was quite eager to take my Thai for a spin, and having friends that do not speak English helps a lot!

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

Not too long really. Common phrases such as “did you eat yet?” are not too difficult to learn and you can use them every day.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I don’t recall any, but I’m sure I made a fool of myself at times.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I suppose for westerners would be the writing system, but probably tones even more.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I was reading signs around Thailand.

How do you learn languages?

I learn vocabulary and phrases with flashcards and audio material.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • My weakness is that I still thinking English before I speak Thai.
  • Reading is definitely my strength.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Considering that I’m Italian and now I’m fluent in English I think I can. :)

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

Yes, because languages evolved in different ways especially between Asia and Europe and you can notice similarities and differences. Sometimes you can see how culture is tied in with the language.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

Unfortunately I don’t travel a lot. Thailand was my first experience.

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

I recently started with Mandarin Chinese.

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

I lived there only for two months, but it was really a long holiday.

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

I’m not a programmer by profession although I majored in Software Engineering. Yes I have programming experience.

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

I used to play the bass guitar back in Italy, but after I moved to London in 2007 I stopped completely.

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

Set some goals. Make a realistic daily/weekly schedule to learn vocabulary. It doesn’t matter if you can’t stick to it at times, just do your best.

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

Increase vocabulary and converse more.

regards,
Francesco

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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Interview: Daniel Styles is Getting By in Thai

Getting By in Thai

Getting by in Thai…

Name: Daniel Styles

Nationality: Australian

Age range: 30-ish

Sex: Male

Location: Chiang Mai

Profession: Teacher

Web: Language Exchange Chiang Mai (website pending)

What is your Thai level?

I guess intermediate but a lot still depends on situation and where I am and what we are talking about. I can still be quickly reduced to a startled rabbit in the headlights if a conversation takes a wrong turn. But still I can chat.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Again depends mostly on what we are talking about. I can follow the plot (if there is one) of many comedy movies although many jokes won’t make sense.

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

Much to my teacher’s disappoint I have to admit that I mostly speak street Thai. I have been really keen to learn more Northern Thai as I am often surprised to find out that I already know many words.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

Opportunity. I am here so what better thing to do then learn the language. I have always wanted to learn another language so after living here for a while it just seemed natural. I just wish someone had have told me how hard it is. But then if it was easy I would have lost interest. I’m sick like that.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

Well it probably happened 2 times. First when I came here and was exposed to the language and culture. And then second over 2 and a half years later when I decided that I was actually going to learn Thai.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I study 2 times a week for an hour and a half a time. I’d like to say I spend a lot of time in the week studying but my teacher will probably call me out on that saying I always hand in homework late, if at all. It’s one thing I really am trying to find more time for. But I am lucky enough to have lots of opportunities to practice. For example, twice every week at the Language Exchange I organize that continues to become more and more successful.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Study? Schedule? What are they? I’m basically the worst student you can imagine. I gave my text book away to my friend’s son the other day because he was interested in it. Wasn’t a productive thing to do for my next lesson, but he enjoyed it.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I have started procrastinating about using ANKI although I do really do like it. One of the things I have really enjoyed lately is telling ghost stories in Thai and learning more. It relates to learning through interests. I have always been a story teller in English. So being able to retell stories in Thai is really natural and enjoyable for me hence I make an effort to learn more.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes! The method that you enjoy and take an interest in. For me I like challenges and tests more than study. I need to interact with things more than read about them. So knowing how you learn is important. My teacher gave me 1 week to learn to write the Thai alphabet. She bet me 2 beers I couldn’t do it. That’s my learning style. Needless to say they were 2 of the best beers I have ever had.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, and I strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn Thai. It will make your life so much easier. Plus it’s a beautiful written language. Can I even go so far as to say artistic?

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

Of course it’s hard. But it’s not impossible.

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

I think I was using it as I was learning it. Living in Chiang Mai gives me lots of chances. And of course everything is just a test. Can I say that word correctly? Can I use it correctly?

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai?

Actually it was not being able to be understood that prompted me into learning Thai seriously. I was playing badminton and going to dinner with some teachers from the school I taught at often. Only 1 of them spoke English well, so usually the conversation was in Thai. At one point they told me that even though I could follow a lot of the conversation and join in, many of them struggled to understand me because of my tone, vowel pronunciation and grammar were so bad! So that was a big motivator for me to invest time learning instead of just picking things up.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

Many Thai words have closely pronounced words with awkwardly embarrassing meanings and care needs to be taken that you don’t mispronounce the wrong one at the wrong time. For example, it’s crucial to get the ด sound and not the ต sound when talking about the heat of the sunshine. And the more Thai you can speak the more people will assume that you meant to say the thing you said!

One story I can actually repeat without changing the family rating of your website happened when I’d just been here for a little while. I had learnt the Thai word of ice and confidently went to 7-11 and ask for some ice. The young girl looked at me, oddly walked off, and come back with a sausage in hand! Turns out I had asked for แหนมแข็ง and not น้ำแข็ง.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

After running the Language Exchange for over a year and a half now, 2 things stand out as common mistakes. 1) Ignoring the tones and saying that they aren’t important or Thai people speak to fast to hear them therefor they aren’t there. And 2) trying to translate everything or find an equivalent word or series of words. Sometimes in Thai it just doesn’t work like that. One friend of mine whom I admire and is fluent in both Thai and Northern Thai said to me that sometimes you just have to feel what something means rather than translate it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Realizing that before you can speak you have to listen. And I mean really listen. And look at how the sounds are made with the mouth and tongue.

How do you learn languages?

This is the only language I’ve learnt… Umm that sounds wrong obviously I learnt English, somehow.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Weaknesses; I’m lazy and too good at procrastinating. I don’t like being wrong, which I turn around and use as a strength that I will go and learn something and when I do I really try to understand it so I can avoid being wrong.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Nope.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

NA.

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

Nope and no way. Thai is hard enough.

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

I’ve been living in northern Thailand for over 5 years now.

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

I struggled using my computer to write this.

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

I love Flamenco and play it poorly on the guitar. But love is deaf also so it’s ok.

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

I guess the first and most important thing you should understand is how you learn. And find a teacher who is flexible and understands how you learn. There is an ever growing number of resources available to us – thanks to the amazing work of people like Catherine from Women Learn Thai they’re easy to find. Try as much as you can. Use what you like and discard what doesn’t feel right. Listen to native speakers and really listen.

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

I plan to dedicate 2 hours a day to improving my vocabulary grammar structure and another 1 hour working on my tone and pronunciation. Of course that’s what I plan to do. What I will actually do will surely vary.

Daniel Styles,
Language Exchange Chiang Mai

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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