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Successful Thai Language Learner: Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Andrew Biggs
Nationality: Australian
Age range: Mid-twenties. Oh allright, 47.
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Writer, TV producer, Tv and radio emcee, school owner … you name it
Website/blog: www.andrewbiggs.com
Products (books, courses etc): Too many to mention

What is your Thai level?

That depends on how much sleep I’ve had. I can sound incredibly fluent with the aid of a script, or Khaosan Road-ish with the aid of a hangover.

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

In a bad mood I’m excellent at street Thai, but I think I veer towards professional (for the first time in my life).

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I wanted to learn how Thais tick. I figured knowing their language would explain their nuances, personalities and habits, and I was right.

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

I arrived on Valentine’s Day, 1989. Recently I spent three months in the USA, the longest I’ve ever been away from Thailand since then.

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

Since the day I arrived.

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

Right away. It was a good decision of mine, too. I got right into it the moment I arrived.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Yes I did. I was incredibly disciplined. I learnt the alphabet, then the tone rules, and then ten new words a day for at least a year. Then I went to Ramkhamhaeng University to study a degree in Thai. All the time I was working a full time job – sometimes two full time jobs.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I started off by learning how to read and write the language, and I think this is the way to do it. The tone rules gave me lots of headaches but once I understood them I felt as though I’d made a major breakthrough. I went to a school very early on but they laughed at me when I told them I wanted to do the Education Ministry’s Grade 6 exam in three months time. They said if I didn’t take their five-day-a-week expensive course I’d fail it for sure. I walked out of that school and got to work by myself with the help of a lovely Thai teacher. I ended up coming first in that exam three months later.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Immersion, immersion, immersion. Read the newspaper. Watch the hideous Thai soapies. Listen to Thai pop music. Sit quietly with your Thai friends as they open a bottle of whiskey and solve the world’s problems in three hours before passing out. This all helps.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

One millisecond after I started learning the language. It’s the ONLY real way to learn Thai. This phonetic rubbish with the squiggles for tones just makes you sound like a farang sputtering through the language. You will never get fluent doing it that way.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

No. I love it, actually.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I was in Kanchanaburi one year after arriving here, doing a story for The Nation when all my stuff got stolen. I raced into the nearest police station and blurted out, in Thai, that all my stuff had been stolen. I screamed for about five minutes. At the end of it I realized it was the first time I’d been fluent.

How do you learn languages?

With Tylenol and Xanax.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Catherine, are you serious? My strengths are I am creative and manic obsessive so when I put myself into a task I stick with it. My weaknesses … you simply don’t have enough room in your column to list them all. Kate Bush is my greatest weakness.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That you can do it without reading and writing it.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I used to be good at French. The last time I went to Paris, everytime I wanted to speak French, Thai came out! “Je voudrais kin khao.”

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

No. I’m not clever enough for that.

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

No! Why would you ask that?

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

Yes. I play the piano and I have a great passion for music.

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

60 million Thais can speak it. You’re no different. Ditch the excuses and get on with it.

Again, thank you so much for reading.
(fingers cross and crossed again… and once more for double measure)

Andrew Biggs,
www.andrewbiggs.com

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.

22 Comments

  1. Interesting guy. Interesting interview!

  2. Richard, Andrew indeed is! Whenever I get the chance, I read his articles in the paper. Sometimes the articles are funny, sometimes not. But they are guaranteed to be thought-provoking.

  3. Amy Praphantanathorn

    July 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

    AWESOME!!!!! You finally got Andrew’s interview!!! He is SUCH an inspiration that we westerners can actually learn this language with a degree of reasonable fluency. Andrew sounds so GOOD when he speaks Thai. He’s so right that the language is the key to understanding the people… and when you’re living in Thailand, so much more the reason.

    When I’m ready to devote the time needed, I will take his advice and buckle down with the reading and writing. It’s my goal to be able to seriouly study once my online businesses take off.

    I hope you can get him to do more. He’s the cream of the crop of Successful Thai Learneres, in my opinion – maybe cause he’s famous though…. :)

  4. Amy, that’s exactly how I felt when I saw Andrew’s interview come over. I had one huge smile on my face this morning, for sure. And a few laughs as well (obviously!)

    And like you said, what an inspiration! Learning ten new words a day for a year is an impressive feat, and an excellent idea. I know it’s easier the bigger your vocabulary is, so I’m going to give it a try with the top 500-3000 Thai vocabulary list I’ve been compiling. Ok, already knowing a chunk is cheating… but hey…

    And what a relief to finally see his interview this morning. Andrew sent his answers on Monday (Tuesday?) via Facebook, only FB was messing up. So while I could see that Andrew had replied to my query, I didn’t find out if he was joining in on the series until today. Wednesday.

    Talk about frustration! I kept mashing those little FB buttons and cussing up a blue streak (as you know, FB is not known for having a decent help section – and I’m not known for my patience).

    As for Andrew doing more with WLT, I would love it as well. But I realise how gracious he is at answering on FB and twitter, so I can’t imagine what free time he’d have left over. So yes, I’d be doubly honoured if he would consider it…

  5. Catherine, Andrew comes over in the interview as a fun guy with a big chunk of determination mixed in with it.

    The overriding thing that came over to me throughout this interview was Andrew’s sticking point of learning to read and write Thai literally from day one. It’s a something which most of your interviewees recommend too.

    Ten words a day doesn’t sound a lot but after one month that’s 300 you need to recall. Good luck.

    I may have asked this question to you recently (alcohol and long work hours makes me forgetful):

    Is Andrew the chap who used to appear (might still do) on Thai TV on a Sunday morning on some kind of Thai topical discussion show. The chap I am thinking of had a similar hairstyle (cough and apologies) and jabbered away to his fellow Thai TV presenters in what could have only been extremely fluent Thai.

    The gentleman looked quite tall but I can’t tell that in your header photo.

  6. Martyn, I agree. Learning to read Thai has pretty much been a constant in the interviews (except for a few). And when I compile the data into a handful of easy to skim posts, we’ll be able to see what the percentages are.

    Andrew has had a long and fruitful history with Thai TV, so I imagine you are right in thinking it was him. And a post from Issan Style mentions that Andrew is 186cms tall. That’s tall.

    Btw, also linked are these two interesting articles from Andrew, where he shares his Thai education experience with Bangkok Post readers :-)

    Ramkhamhaeng Secrets (part one)
    Ramkhamhaeng Secrets (part two)

    Ten new words a day does add up, so perhaps take Saturday and Sunday off for good behaviour? I’m into learning new vocabulary with sentences to go with, so injecting them into sentence patterns might help the process (more on this later).

  7. Are the ten words a day (weekends off) going to be both written and vocal ones. I mean are you going to learn to write the word as well as pronounce it. Best get some Sa-Ra if it’s both.

  8. Martyn, to get Thai words into my head, I do write them out. But as for learning how to spell Thai 100%, I seriously doubt that after all these years I’m going to come up smelling roses in spelling. Thai, or English.

  9. Andrew Biggs probably speaks Thai better than me. He’s awesome. I’m following him on his twitter. And yeah..why did you ask if he’s a computer programmer? That’s so amusing. :D

  10. Hi Jessi, Why programming? Well, we started to see a number of programmers and musicians come through the series so I thought I’d ask. Programming is a language as well, so it made sense. Other than that, it was a moment of pure insanity :-)

  11. Great coup with this interview Cat.

    I think Andrew’s responses reinforces a number of key requirements of learning Thai, namely: ditch the roman script and learn in Thai, tackle the tones, be determined (10 words a day!), make time and don’t give up.

    Also I love the “60 million Thais can speak it. You’re no different. Ditch the excuses and get on with it” advice – very true.

  12. Some of your recent interviews with successful Thai learners have been very inspirational and this one continues that theme. Your questions about music are very understandable as there seems to be a close relationship between language (especially a tonal language like Thai) and music, e.g. tonality and melodic recognition. Also the ability to read music must help in reading and understanding a tonal language. I guess the same applies to your questions about computer programming, there is probably some correlation there with linguistic skills. I’m no expert but I am thoroughly enjoying these interviews. Thanks!

  13. Hi Jon. I wonder if Andrew’s Thai course books are laid out similar (reading, writing + ten words a day). Tod is the only one I know who’s cruised through the books, and he was impressed.

    ‘Ditch the excuses and get on with it’- I agree, it’s powerful common sense. Andrew ran a marathon in Bangkok – just think of the heat! – so having a ‘creative and manic obsessive’ soul helps as well.

  14. Welcome Peter :-) That’s what I thought as well. Speaking Thai is indeed just like singing (going up and down scales). To help understand tones, I read somewhere that if a beginner starts out humming Thai instead of speaking, then they can kick the habit of adding western inflections sometimes tagged on to the end of sentences.

    I’m hopeless at anything but the basics of programming, but my design world is saturated with clever people who can manipulate software and website code in their sleep. Coding is certainly a language, logical to them (but not to me – CSS is a bane out of the handful in my life).

    Glenn Slayden and Chris Pirazzi are amazing coders, and Stu Jay Raj dips into coding as well. Stu is a professional standard musician (he performed in a Bangkok Jazz band when I first met him) and I believe Glenn and Chris dabble too. There are many more in the interviews, so when I compile my yearly report, all should become clear.

  15. One of my favorite interviews Cat. Andrew certainly comes over as a genuine and very funny guy. Ten words a day does seem a little tough for me though…it does sound small but as Martyn pointed out that’s 300 words a month. But if you do as Andrew says and immerse yourself I guess it could be done.

    I’ll be starting the immersion later next month and I really hope to be at least half as successful as Andrew

  16. Talen, Do you know what type of Thai language school you are attracted to? I mean, do you want to sit in class five days a week, or as little as two? If you go to a Thai school in Bangkok full-time, you’ll be learning new words at a rapid pace. But you already have a vocabulary so it won’t be too overwhelming.

  17. Great interveiew indeed. I do have a problem myself. I am a fairly new student to this language, having been learning for 3 months, learning by myself through the net. I do have many vocabs under my belt, but the problem for me now is to string those words into a sentence(speaking). Its still a big hurdle for me, I do not have a direction now. I do not have the luxury of staying in the country to immerse myself in the culture/language, so all I can do is to listen to Thai News on the net everyday and surround myself as much as possible around this language(I live in Singapore). Any tips?

  18. Yong, Seems to me you need to locate Thais in Singapore.

    This site is a good start: language-school-teachers.com

    NUS (National University of Singapore) has a Thai program: http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/cls/lang_th1.htm

    Have you contacted the Thai Embassy to locate a teacher or a Thai conversation group? This section looks interesting: http://www.thaiembassy.sg/friends-of-thailand

    Another possibility for contact is the Singapore Thai Chamber of Commerce: http://www.singaporethaicc.or.th/

    Hiring a Thai student is doable (as a student, I was always in need of money). Contact NUS, or check out this website for a list of unis: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/admissions/international-students/

    If you cannot arrange a Thai teacher or student to help you with conversation, then a Skype teacher is another option. Next week I’ll have a series on learning Thai via Skype. Can you check back then?

  19. I’m Thai. I like Andrew’s English and Thai on tv very much. He is a funny man and brilliant.

  20. Welcome thaismile :-) I too like Andrew. And I especially enjoy reading his articles and twitters.

  21. I would like to buy Andrews book to learn Thai Tones and consonant.
    Can you help thru Andrew Biggs?

  22. Edward, have you checked his website?

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