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My 30 Day Thai Language Trial: Week One

New Years resolution

Week one of my 30 day Thai language trial…

Ok, here I am (waving at you all). It’s official. I made it through week one of my New Year’s resolution. Yeah! I’m chuffed.

emk: The first 30 days were hard: I wanted to skip a day, here and there. But I knew that if I skipped a day, I could skip two, and that if I could skip two days, I could skip a week. (And after that, the project would be doomed.)

Don't Break the ChainGetting through the first WEEK was hard for me.

When I went to write this post, the first draft came out with a heavy focus on my struggles to keep to the 30 day resolution while suffering from a severe lack of sleep. I did consider deleting the sleep comments, but as the solutions might help someone else, I left most in.

So here you have it, warts and all.

Week one of my 30 day Thai language trial…

My 30 day Thai language trial began after celebrating the Christmas holidays in the UK.

Long-haul = jet lag.

Timely, my jet lag flew slap into a week’s worth of insomnia.

In fact, most of my time learning Thai has been spent battling insomnia. But now, with advice from emk, Jerry, Steve, and Luca, I am committed to work around the insomnia and stick with my Thai lessons.

Btw – If you don’t know about emk, Jerry, Steve, and Luca, swing by these posts:

Friday, January 1 (day one)…

Goal: For one hour minimum, listen, read, and repeat.

Starting a New Year’s Resolution the day after New Years is… well… guaranteed to start off slow. And knowing that my intentions are to study first thing each morning (before email even), you will soon realize just how slow it has been!

The first day of my Thai studies kicked off reluctantly (I didn’t get settled in until after 11am), but the hour went quite quickly (a surprise). With firm plans to go sightseeing in the afternoon, having a tight time-frame to get my lessons over and done with turned out rather well.

As intended, I read Thai script along with the audio; sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head.

I am a bit worried about the boredom level of my chosen materials. And I guess that boredom is yet another reason for students of Thai to attend to the chore of reading and writing from the very beginning. Because if they don’t, they will find themselves revisiting the bare basics (see Pookie run…). Yup, it is a consideration…

Personal tip for the day: No matter how reluctant you are to study, just start.

Saturday, January 2 (day two)…

Day two was not as easy as day one.

  1. Still jet lagged.
  2. Being tired, I kept losing my concentration.
  3. Jet lagged = tired = loss of concentration = procrastination.
  4. I allowed myself to get sidetracked by email.
  5. It was a weekend, meaning no alone time.

Forget getting down to lessons before attending to email (or anything else), I procrastinated most of the morning and into the afternoon. Getting up from a short nap, I skimmed through a book that just happened to be on my bed: 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself.

Perform Your Little Rituals caught my fancy.

Make up a ritual that is yours and yours alone – a ritual that will be your own shortcut to self-motivation. As you read through these various ways to motivate yourself, you might have noticed that action is often the key. Doing something is often what leads to doing something. It’s the law of the universe. An object in motion stays in motion.

Action or no, Thai lessons require reading. This meant that I needed to find a ritual to suit partial inactivity (further down in this post you will see why I added the word partial).

Music. That works. Baroque music is supposed to help the brain learn, and I need help in the brain department. Lots of help.

I also added a second ritual – a lovely pot of mint tea.

Brewing the pot of tea was easy. Finding dedicated music took a little longer (and gave me more time to procrastinate). Opening iTunes, I selected Relax With the Classics to set the mood, and then started my search.

Yes. I know. Relax With the Classics is Baroque. But you see, I had that procrastination thing going on…

When Googling (a favourite pastime of mine), I found an interesting site: The Mozart Effect. Skimming through what Don Campbell had on offer, I chose Vol 4 – Focus and Clarity Music for Projects & Study (Don, apologies for misspelling Devon ;-)

I found the comments on amazon.com most useful, and you might too.

For those interested in the Mozart Effect:

So I had music dedicated to the Mozart Effect. I had a pot of mint tea. And I had my Thai studies. Finally. But now, at nearly dinner time, I had to think of what to have for dinner too.

Using the concept of a tight time-line, and with this being the weekend (no cooking), I ordered pizza via phone before getting down to work asap.

My studies lasted 30 minutes before the pizza man rang the doorbell. Drat. He was 30 minutes early.

After dinner I prayed for anything with a sports theme on the TV, but with no luck (women reading this will know what I’m on about). Several hours later a boring (to me) movie came on and I was in business. Excellent.

Dragging my computer and a cup of cold mint tea into the back room, I finished up the final half hour of my studies.

Personal tip for the day: Drink mint tea. Listen to Mozart. Kill the email alerts. Change pizza companies. In preparation for weekends, tape the sports channel.

Sunday, January 3 (day three)…

Goal: For one hour minimum, listen, read, and repeat.

And here we have it, the inevitable. I am not only jet lagged, but last night was sleep challenged.

As an insomniac, I know that there will be times when my Thai trial will be more of a… trial. I just didn’t expect to face it this soon.

Bad nights = brain soggy days = times where all I want to do is lay around on the sofa and talk to cats.

Previously when insomnia struck, I’d pass on any pretence of studying Thai. But now I have this 30 days challenge… and… sigh… My eyes are burning, the world is shimmering like my own personal version of Max Headroom, and I just want to play dead. But I can’t.

Because if I DO quit my 30 day trial (now, or any time within the next 30 days), I lose face with you all. And with myself. No thanks.

Yes, I do tend to whine when I’m tired.

I finally got to my lessons in the late afternoon, when the house was quieter.

My listening and reading stint lasted 20 minutes (I was interrupted by a message on my phone, then took the opportunity to wander off). I studied for a second lot of 20 minutes while waiting for dinner to cook. Note to self: Double-tasking lessons and cooking does not always work (I got so involved in my lessons, I forgot to turn on the broccoli). The last part of my studies started after dinner, but turned into a marathon of reading and typing.

Extending my lessons to that extent was not intentional, but I was having fun so I let the Thai flow. Also, I could see how typing out the lessons earlier would help with retention, so I was enthused about putting the time in now rather than later.

Personal tip for the day: If tired, break the hour into 20 minute lots. Remember to turn off the phone. If bored, switch to reading and typing. If cooking, set up a veg alert.

Monday, January 4 (day four)…

Goal: For one hour minimum, listen, read, and repeat.

Grrrrrrrr… Yet another bad night of sleep.

Tired and fed up with being tired, I put off my studies for a spot of house cleaning (a ritual I used years ago when stressed and overtired). By the time I was finished, I had also unpacked the luggage from the UK trip (yeah, I’m bad), put veg and chicken bones into a pot for soup, cleaned the kitty litter, and changed out the water bottles. Pleased with myself (and now ready to study), I looked at the clock. Ouch.

Lunchtime was coming up fast and my Thai teacher was arriving at 1pm. Darn! So at 12.00 (and out of mint tea), and with my lunch fighting for lap space with my computer, I tuned into my lessons to force myself to listen and read for 20 minutes. And it was forced. It was a real effort to stop myself from doing anything but those lessons.

My Thai class went from 1pm to 3pm (not too shabby, yea?) And the class was excellent! After actually studying Thai for three days straight, I was prepared to participate. A plus, I barely noticed how tired I was.

PS: My Thai teacher is indeed happy with me too :-)

Personal tip for the day: If tired, go ahead and procrastinate (it is not the end of the world). If tired, listening while listlessly reading is better than doing nothing at all. If tired, anything is possible. Even success.

Tuesday, January 5 (day five)…

Goal: For one hour minimum, listen, read, and repeat.

If I want to keep to a reasonable Thai study schedule, insomnia is a hurdle I need to work around. I need to continue to find ways that will enable me to study, no matter what.

I usually wait until night three after two nights of not sleeping to take pills, and last night was the night. With the help of pill I slept 8 hours straight through, but I am now groggy (just one of the reasons I try to avoid this ‘fix’).

As a long-time insomniac, I have a collection of methods to get to sleep, but they continuously need to be adjusted. My favourite audio for my iPod no longer does its thing, so I searched for a possible replacement. There are literally hundreds of products online to help with sleep, and this time I went with the relatively inexpensive Sleep Sound Insomnia Remedy (sadly, no longer online).

I also found this hilarious post from Letters From a Broad: A foreign language is best learned in the bedroom.

And while I am not considering a Thai boyfriend anytime soon, her post gave me the idea to combine a relaxing audio with my Thai homework. Ten minutes was all the time it took to create a combined sleep/Thai audio for nights with an iPod. Nice.

Being both tired and unmotivated, the morning (again) was mostly a wash. Day 1 taught me how having a deadline is beneficial, so I aimed for a 11-12 push.

Tired, I made it ten minutes, took a break, and then worked for another ten minutes. Pathetic. I then took another break, followed by working for thirty minutes. Getting close to evening, I threw a chicken into the steamer oven and climbed on my Airwalker to see if Shadowing would help.

Explanation: I figured that since I was tired, I needed to keep awake. And seems to me, keeping awake suggests some sort of movement (and not only the grey matter). I came across Shadowing last year and as it seemed to fit what I needed to get past being tired, off I went.

If you are interested in Shadowing…

(Shadowing) = …listening to and simultaneously echoing a recording of foreign language audio…

…15 minute sessions are probably ideal, though you may want to start with only 5 or 10 and you may work up to 30…

When you shadow properly, you put the correct resonance of a new speech form directly into your auditory system and simultaneously seek to match that resonance with your vocal output. To whatever degree you are not tone deaf, you will organically perceive any mismatch as the equivalent of a musical note out of tune and, to the degree that you have talent, you will naturally and instinctively seek to correct this mismatch upon repetition by changing your output. If you get into the physical habit of reciting entire dialogues aloud and correctly, how can this fail to improve your fluency?

Wow. I climbed off that Airwalker invigorated AND a few minutes smarter! After my (albeit brief) experience, I can easily say that adding Shadowing to your language learning arsenal is something to consider.

Personal tip for the day: For musical energy, start with Toccata And Fugue In D Minor before moving on to the Mozart Effect. If falling asleep during the day, get on the Airwalker and practice Shadowing.

Wednesday, January 6 (day six)…

Goal: For one hour minimum, listen, read, and repeat. Translate the first Thai dialogue into English.

Today was… totally amazing, even with yet another night of craziness (no sleep).

When I finally settled into translating the source files from my Thai lessons into English, it was a WOW session. Luca’s method really is powerful!

Full circle: Thai (source files) => English => Thai

Excited at how Luca’s method is turning out, I managed a full 45 minutes straight through. No pauses. No fussing. No fighting. And after cooking dinner, I finished the rest of the hour.

Side note: I know that I have been working through this week like it is the most difficult of chores. And with the lack of sleep, it has been a chore. But I also know that, in reality, this is just a teensy snibbet out of what I hope to become a lifetime habit of language learning. A minor health problem (lack of sleep), can become a huge obstacle. But… only if I let it. And I won’t. I am fighting back.

Personal tip for the day: Do not give up. Fuss. Whine. Do whatever to stick it out. But do not give up.

Thursday, January 7 (day seven)…

Goal: Review. For one hour minimum, listen, read, and repeat.

I made it to day seven. Yeah! But here I go again with the insomnia…

Frustrated at not sleeping the night before (and with no guarantees of sleeping through the night), last night I pulled out my final trick – a half bottle of wine. It worked. I slept from 11pm something to shortly before 5am. The total hours were not great, but for me, not terrible either.

I worked on my lessons for one hour before my eyes starting getting heavy. It was a productive hour, one that gave me ideas on how to progress during the second week.

During the review part of my goal, I also went back over the agenda for day six: Translate the first Thai dialogue into English.

I redid day six for a good reason. It came to me while I was translating Thai-English, that in order to translate my English back to Thai, I needed to be more exact in my translations. In Thai, I find it easy to translate with a general idea of the meaning. But I do not believe that will work when translating the Thai conversation to English, then my English translation back into Thai. I realize that it is early days… so… I will just have to see how this works out.

A plus, using Luca’s method, I was able to catch mistakes coming and going. Fabulous.

Personal tip for the day: If needed, go ahead and repeat a day.

A recap of what I learned on week one…

  • Find a ritual that works for you.
  • No matter how reluctant you are to study, just start.
  • Get rid of distractions (kill the email alerts, turn off the phone).
  • If needed, break the hour into 20 minute sections.
  • If bored, switch to something more interesting (reading and typing).
  • If tired, go ahead and procrastinate (it is not the end of the world).
  • If tired, listening while listlessly reading is better than doing nothing at all.
  • If falling asleep during lessons, practice Shadowing.
  • If needed, go ahead and repeat a day.
  • To get your heart pumping, listen to energetic music.
  • Schedule your studies around a set engagement.
  • Put the Mozart Effect to good use.
  • Do not give up. Fuss. Whine even. Do whatever you need to do to stick it out.

And above all… enjoy… ;-)

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

6 Comments

  1. I think you hit on some very good points in your post Cat. Finding that sweet spot is important…the right time of day and the right surroundings can make all the difference in the world and after time it all will become something that is second nature and something you look forward to.

    The first week is always hard with something like this but I think you’ll find in a month or so that the routine will be much easier no matter if you are tired or have other things going on.

    I still don’t have a routine set up but I plan to get my act together sometime this month and get to it.

    I think if I can couple my learning with my trusty sleeping dictionary at some point then I’ll be way ahead of the game.

  2. Talen, I believe my sweet spot for learning Thai is in the mornings, but I have not been able to manage that yet. I honestly did not realise how difficult sticking to a schedule would be.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your routine as you are sure to have many tips for me too.

    Cat (who has no trusty sleeping dictionary…)

  3. Cat! Congratulations on getting through the first week, albeit with the added challenge of jet lag.

    I found the introduction to shadowing to be very interesting. I followed one of the links you gave and it led to a YouTube video, and then another one and others. With a Thai husband at home to shadow, I need to take advantage of that! I’ve been more inquiring lately of what he’s saying to my son, but I need to speak more often. My listening is going fine, but the wiring in the brain is different for the output – the speaking – and i find it’s far more difficult to say something.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading about your month long journey.

    Amy

  4. Hi Amy, thanks! The week has certainly been enlightening. I am going to continue with shadowing, and I now wish I’d started it sooner. Shadowing always came off interesting, but it was just one of those things that stuck at the back of my mind to do later.

    I’m sticking with an Airwalker though… so I seriously doubt that you will see me walking the streets of Bangkok shadowing… :-D

  5. On 14 th march I just discovered your site for 3 monthes;;;too late
    Is it a possibility for me to try same beginning january
    I’m living in Thailand

  6. Hi Michel (welcome :-) You can start off anytime you want. Mid-month (March), no matter.

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