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Learn Thai by Speaking Your Language

Learn Thai by Speaking Your Language…

Over a decade ago I learned Thai by using a method called Speak Your Language. I wrote a post on what Speak Your Language is, but to summarize: I learned to speak Thai by starting with what I knew about English, slowly converting it into Thai one word and one grammar point at a time. By using the Thai I knew, filling in any gaps with English, I was able to communicate right away, and at the same time focus on what I needed to know next.

Times have changed over the last 10 years and so have I. I am now a father of four children living on the opposite side of the world (at least as far as time zones go). I am not living in a fully immersed atmosphere of Thai language 24/7. Despite that, I can still perfect my Thai. And I do that by using the Speak Your Language method.

Don’t you already know Thai?…

Let me ask that question another way. Despite being a native English speaker, do I know all there is to know about the English language? The answer is no. I have gaps in the lingo of lawyers, doctors, politics, cars, and the list goes on. My ability to talk incomprehensibly about any of those subjects vary considerably. And while I might be able to hold conversations in Thai, depending on the subject they are talking about, keeping up on the news is hit and miss. So there is always room for improvement.

When I learned Thai, I was a missionary. As missionaries we sacrifice many outside pleasures. One of those pleasures is watching TV or reading anything that is not related to the church. We got to go to an Internet Cafe once a week to send an email home and that was it. Now speed up 10 years and I am no longer living as a missionary. I have the new challenges of being a full-time working father with four children.

Ten years ago high-speed internet in the home was a novelty. It was the swimming pool in the back yard. We all know someone who had one, but never had one ourselves. There are now many advances in technology that I would never have dreamed possible when I first learned to speak Thai. Logically, to take advantage of these useful tools, I upgraded how I use Speaking Your Language.

Record yourself speaking to the wall…

The wall is such a nice conversational partner. It never talks back. It will listen to you ramble on and on. I’ve been told that steering wheels have a similar personality. Don’t just talk to the wall, record yourself while you talk. Digital recorders are fantastic upgrades from the tape recorders of old. They are not only smaller, but let you separate the recordings into individual files that can be kept independent from each other.

With digital recorders, you can record yourself talking about any subject you want. And as you fill in the gaps with English, you can figure out more words and phrases you want to learn. You can also record yourself translating TV, Radio, or whatever.

Use Anki to practice the words you need to learn…

Now that you have these words and phrases you need to learn, what do you do with them? Back in the day I would have made a list or flash cards. It’s not a bad method but flash cards are so old-fashioned. If you want to be hip and with the times you use a spaced repetition system, known as SRS. There are many on the web for free; the one I like the best is Anki.

Why is SRS better? It’s like flash cards on steroids. SRS gives you a new list of words to review every day based upon how successful you were in the past. Words you need to work on more come up more frequently. On the flip side, those you know better appear less often, but are not taken out entirely, so you still get a chance for a review. It’s like having a tutor pick which words and phrases you should review that day.

Post your Thai online using social media…

Just because you are not sitting in a street vendor’s fold up chair waiting for a plate of kài jieow mŏo sàp, doesn’t mean you can’t have the benefit of having a native correct you. There are many websites like lang-8.com or thai-language.com that let you post something online for others to correct. Twitter and Facebook have also proven to be useful tools. The great part is that you can continue to use English to fill in the gaps, while getting instant feedback from native speakers on how to say what you want to say.

The point I’m making is that it’s not the tools that improve your Thai, it’s how you use them. The point is that with Speaking Your Language, you need to speak as much Thai as possible, while using English to bridge the gap. And the more you speak Thai, the better you will become.

Justin Travis Mair
I Want To Speak Thai
Successful Thai Language Learner: Justin Travis Mair

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the post. The teacher at my school pretty much uses the same method that you describe. She will have us speak in Thai as best that we can, filling in any unknown words for English. She will immediately show us the Thai equivalent to those words so we can then repeat the entire thing in Thai.

  2. That’s fantastic, Lawrence. It lets you start thinking in Thai right away. As the post shows, you can do this on your own. The benefits of the teacher right there to correct you right away are great, but even by yourself you can do this. How often do we sit day dreaming to ourselves while we do some task or another. Who says your day dreams can’t be in Thai? Just use what you know and fill in the gaps with English. Keep up the great work learning Thai.

  3. Thanx for your valuable insights into acquiring more proficiency in Thai. The suggestion to record yourself speaking Thai I’d imagine is a totally under used resource for most learners of the language.

    Often times in our heads we “think” we’re saying something which is perfectly comprehensible in Thai. Mostly because we already KNOW what we’re tryin’ to say, so to us it’s perfectly understandable. It’s not until you hear a recording of yourself speaking Thai that you realize just how poorly enunciated your spoken Thai really is.

    My Thai teacher says I speak Thai like a dog barking. Sort of a; woof-woof, woof, woof-woof-woof, etc. In other words I speak “choppy” Thai, filled with starts and stops. That’s because I speak faster than my brain can feed my mouth words and I’ve gotta pause and let them sync up again. I tell the Thais it’s because I’m old and have a “slow chip” in my head, not a Pentium. Still I’m getting better. . .

    Remember what we perceive we’re saying is often a far cry from what’s really comin’ outta our mouths. Record yourself and see!!

    Thanx again for the good advice. ..

  4. Thanks Tod for reading it. You are so right about what we think we sound like and what we actually sound like can be miles apart. In fact in may be a good idea to listen to the audio long after you record it, even a day or two later. That way what your WANTED to say is not still fresh on your mind.

    I know what you mean by the choppiness. Your brain has already thought three or four words ahead of what you wanted to say, but your mouth hasn’t caught up. Just keep practicing and you will begin to get a natural rhythm.

    Good on ya for learning Thai and not being afraid to speak it!

  5. Nice article Justin, thanks for sharing. I think I can use this, it’s really useful to hear how others managed to learn Thai. That combination of speaking practice, even to a wall, reviewing and refining, using a mix of Thai and English as an interim prompt all makes sense. I’ve spent too much time on theory and not enough time doing the very things that will improve me (-:

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