Ben Bradshaw is getting by in Thai…
Name: Ben Bradshaw
Age range: 25-30
What is your Thai level?
What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?
About 80%. I can follow most conversations and fill in the final 20% with just guesses based on context and experience.
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?
I speak mainly street Thai mixed with some professional Thai that is used in English instruction.
What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?
I have a brother that is an amazing Thai speaker. I see Thailand as a land of opportunity for foreigners willing to learn about the culture and master the language.
When did you become a student of the Thai language?
How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?
About 30 minutes per day reading a Thai grammar and language book. Then I speak and use Thai and learn new phrases at least 5-6 other times throughout every day.
Do you stick to a regular study schedule?
No. I just pick up my Thai book when I have the time.
What Thai language learning methods are you using?
I rely on English speaking friends to explain phrases and concepts, a pocket dictionary, google translate, and a Thai grammar book.
Does one method stand out over all others?
Yes. The most effective method for me is to speak and make mistakes. Then I will be corrected and I will then be able to remember how to say it correctly the next time. Half the battle is just remembering the new words and phrases when you want to say them.
Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?
Yes. I can read at a very basic level but I can recognize all letters but when reading a block of Thai text then I struggle.
If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
I think it’s difficult how there are no spaces between words. Also, so many of the characters look so similar to the others that I often confuse one for the other. I think through time and more practice this will be less and less true.
How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?
I started speaking the first day I was taught. I was never scared to try to speak Thai.
How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?
I could be understood within about the first week. I have experience in other Asian languages so putting together basic thoughts and phrases for simple communication came easy to me when I had established a basic vocab and a sense for the tones.
What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?
I am always scared that if I say something incorrectly, with either the wrong vowel or wrong tone that it is going to have some reference to male or female parts. It’s like this always in language learning so I’ve learned to just laugh at the times when I might get close to saying something incorrectly and hopefully the person listening knows that I am a student in the language.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
That speaking is hard. I think, in fact, that Thai is quite simple to speak. I think the script makes people feel like the language is going to be so difficult but when you really get down to it, thoughts are simple, grammar is basic, and the tones are doable.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
When I realized that the tones are relative to each other. Just because you have a lower voice doesn’t mean you need to go to great lengths to make your voice sound higher or more “Thai”. You simply need to change your tone in relation to your other tones. It was difficult at first to so many consecutive words with different or similar tones but once I realized it as just in direct relation to your previously said tone, then it started to become much easier.
How do you learn languages?
I learn a few phrases, build a vocab, start speaking to people, carry a pocket dictionary, carry a small notebook, and always ask questions like “how do you say ‘to go’ in Thai?” It really helps to have a person explain things in your native language at the beginning.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strength is being willing to talk to anyone. My weakness is not wanting to talk to people sometimes out of sheer laziness.
Can you make your way around any other languages?
Yes. I am fluent in Malay and Indonesian. I can “get by” in Mandarin.
Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?
Yes. Thai being a tonal language, often times start to come first to my mind when I am speaking Chinese. I’ll try to think of the Chinese word but the Thai word will come first. My Thai has actually overtaken my Chinese skills now.
How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?
At least 4 different foreign languages. 1. Malay. 2. Indonesian. 3. Thai. 4. Mandarin Chinese.
Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
No. Although I am always trying to improve my Malay and Chinese, I am not actively studying these languages at the same time as learning Thai.
Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?
Yes. I am currently living in Bangkok.
Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?
Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?
Yes. I love listening to music and almost always want it to be playing in the background of whatever I am doing. I grew up learning to play the violin and was quite advanced as just an elementary school student. I moved then into the trumpet and later into piano. Nowadays I don’t actively play any instrument but sometimes do get a feeling like I should get back into playing and making music.
What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?
Get out there and speak. Be confused. Be frustrated. Make mistakes. Write things down. Don’t worry if you forget something you learned 3 minutes ago. Look it up again. Use what you’ve learned and it will finally be cemented into your mind. Oh and of course, try to mimic Thai people, not your Thai-speaking, native English speaking friends.
What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?
I plan to continue on the same course that I am on now, that is, read a little of my grammar book, ask questions to my friends, and then try to practice and speak with Thai people as I go about my daily life.
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!