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Successful Thai Language Learner: Aaron Le Boutillier

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learner: Aaron Le Boutillier

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learner: Aaron Le Boutillier…

Name: Aaron Le Boutillier
Nationality: British
Age: 40
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Security Consultant
Website: Le Boutillier Group
Products: Women’s Self Defense, Hijack Management, Disruptive Passenger Management and Law Enforcement Training

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate.

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

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

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Absolute passion. I am never happier than when I have learnt a new word in the morning and then use it with ease in the afternoon. Magic!

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

I first arrived in Thailand in 1991 and this was the beginning of my fascination with Thai. I did not really take is seriously until I moved here again from Singapore 3 years ago. The past 3 years I have been immersing myself in study.

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

From 1991 to 2007 I was interested and reached a level of basic proficiency but was only conversant in certain basic situations. When I moved back here in 2007-2008 I realized I needed to knuckle down if I was ever to move from this basic level I had found myself in for so many years.

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

Many pronged, but now there is direction. With advent of FB, Twitter etc learning has become so much easier in the way of resources at hand. I don’t think I learnt it the right way in the beginning, although I did learn how to read early on which I think is a huge bonus.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not so much a study schedule but I am disciplined enough to leave a dictionary in the bathroom, a Thai comic next to my bed, Thai twitter on my BB and surround myself with as many opportunities as possible to practice.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I spent some time at Jentanna and Associates in Soi 31 and that was great. They really helped, now I am going at it alone.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Helping as a translator at the Local Police Station was the wake up call. There you sink and die if your Thai is not up to speed and the added embarrassment of looking silly in front of a group of tourists and police is enough incentive to study harder.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Early early! And I am a great advocate of this method. Throw away the phonetics and go crazy with all those lovely consonants and vowel sounds.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

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.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

There is an “ah hah!” moment? I look forward to it.

How do you learn languages?

By stress, word association coupled with mind-numbing pure memory.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Having a vocabulary of obscure words that make Thai people laugh as they tell me I speak like their Grandfather and my weakness would be colloquial off the cuff Thai.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That tones are not important. I have heard people say that you should not worry too much as the context of the sentence will be enough. I have never seen evidence of this. The best thing I was ever told that has helped me on my path is “find your Thai voice”.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

NO!

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

No!

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

No!

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

NO!

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

Well, I still consider myself very much a student, however, my advice would be

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

Aaron Le Boutillier
Le Boutillier Group

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

10 Comments

  1. Good interview. I like Aarons advice that if Thais don’t understand you it is because you are not speaking clearly. I’m not sure that I’d agree with this 100% though. I think sometimes Thai people can decide that they don’t understand what you are saying even before you’ve opened your mouth. This is why I have found that you have to jump right in and convince them that you can speak some Thai before they switch off. I think a similar thing happens with native speakers of any language when they meet people who they know are foreigners – we expect listening to them is going to be a headache so we don’t really listen.

    On the hand, it is better to assume that the problem is with you rather than the native speaker – most of the time it will be.

  2. Paul, I understand what you are saying. I have met some Thais who are not ready to hear me speak Thai. But after I persist, they brighten up quite lovely (and sometimes correct me :-)

  3. It is always funny when I pull into a garage I’ve never been before. There is often an alarmed look on the face of the gas attendant and they start looking frantically for someone who can speak English. I haven’t even got my window down and they’ve already decided that I can’t speak Thai. It is like they are afraid that if I speak to them their head will explode.

  4. Being a bit of a hermit, I look forward to those times. I just smile and they smile back, no words exchanged. I know… I know… I need the practice… But… I stayed at a spa awhile back and the girl taking care of my room didn’t know I spoke any Thai. I do that a lot. Because sometimes I just need quiet.

  5. I know what you mean Catherine. I have certain hermit type qualities as well; that is why I prefer to write. Sometimes I do have to force myself to talk to people. I’ve found that once you do convince a Thai that you can understand them it can be hard to get away from the conversation :-)

  6. Exactly. Which is great for practice, but not of you are craving time in your own head.

  7. Catherine and Aaron, a great interview and one which has answers in what I’d call street English. I don’t mean any offence by that just that I found Aaron’s answers hit the right spot in my head and were absorbed easily through the walnut’s shell.

    Picking up on Paul’s comments I also have similar ” Oh my Buddha a bloody farang is going to ask me something” moments. Once I walked into an empty rural town bank and the three female cashiers froze rigid before my eyes. You’d have thought I was armed to the teeth but I only wanted change of a 1,000 baht note. I like those moments too.

    Back to the interview….I have started to study (a loose term) reading and writing Thai and can now write a couple of Thai words, well there’s only so much information a walnut can hold. I have come to the conclusion that whilst phonetic script has its uses, learning to read and write in Thai is a much more obvious route to getting the tonal side of the language right.

    On my forthcoming trip I intend writing four or five Thai words before Wilai’s very eyes, that should shock her to her boots. Wellington’s that is and not those fancy designer one’s you and the gals probably pose in at the shopping malls.

    Best wishes from a warmish UK with a very cold front on its way in.

  8. Martyn, congrats on learning how to write in Thai! Even if only a couple of words, it’s a fabulous start and is how we learned in school so it can’t be wrong. And Wilai will be proud :-)

    On a different note, did you know that Aaron is the author of And Then One Morning? What an experience… And since it’s that time again, I’ll be reviewing his book on the day.

  9. Catherine,

    Aaron must have one hell of a story to tell. I followed the ‘And Then One Morning’ link as I was inquisitive as to what it was about.

    “And Then One Morning encapsulates the expat life on a small tropical island and introduces the reader to the main characters who either survived or perished in the tsunami.”

    Like I said one hell of a story.

  10. Martyn, Aaron does indeed tell one hell of a story. In places his book is difficult to read (I can only imagine it was equally difficult to write) but I recommend it to everyone (adults, anyway). I’m a huge believer in ‘lest we forget’. It happened. It was tragic. Let us continue to remember those who lost their lives, as well as those who struggle even today.

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