Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Ben Crowder
Age range: 30–40
Location: Utah, USA
Profession: Web developer/designer
Website: Ben Crowder
What is your Thai level?
Do you speak more street Thai, Isaan Thai, or professional Thai?
Professional Thai with a smattering of Isaan, and I’d bet that the street Thai I know is now dated and obsolete.
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
I was a Mormon missionary in Thailand for two years.
Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
I lived in Thailand from 2002 to 2004.
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
2002+, though I haven’t done a great job at continuing my study since returning home in 2004, other than occasional chats with Thai friends on Facebook.
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
I learned it right away, with twelve weeks of intensive Thai training for missionaries followed by moving to Thailand, with the expectation that I would speak Thai daily during my time there.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
Yes, an hour a day. And I talked with Thai people all day, every day, which helped a lot, naturally.
What Thai language learning methods did you try?
Speaking with Thais every day was the most regular and important method. When words I didn’t know came up in conversation (a frequent occurrence), I wrote them down and studied them later. And I bought dictionaries and grammars and tried to work my way through those, too. Also, I spent six months in the mission office and there learned how to type Thai, which helped a lot as well.
Did one method stand out over all others?
Speaking Thai all the time, without a doubt.
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
During the initial twelve weeks I used the Mary Haas romanization scheme, only starting with the script near the end of that time. Once I arrived in Thailand, though, learning to read and write Thai script was one of my top priorities. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to start with the script sooner than I did.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
I don’t think so, but it’s been a while and my memory isn’t spectacular. I do remember it taking a little while to get the hang of which script features were significant (the loops seemed so significant at first, but then weren’t), and getting used to reading without spaces between words was tricky. And handwriting can still be hard to decipher, though that’s true of handwriting in most languages.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
My first day in country, I was sitting in an apartment with my missionary companion, teaching a Thai couple about Jesus Christ and eternal families. Most of what the Thais said was unintelligible to me, but there was a point during the discussion where I actually understood what they said. It was amazing! (I didn’t understand the rest of the conversation after that, but within a month or two I was usually able to keep up with the gist of each conversation.)
How do you learn languages (learning styles)?
My language learning experience with Thai has been the outlier; most of the languages I’ve learned (Latin, Greek, Coptic, Middle Egyptian) have been dead, studied in a university setting, with a focus on reading. With all of the languages I’ve studied, there has been a fair amount of rote memorization of vocabulary and forms, though in retrospect I think I do better with inductive methods. Speaking/reading the actual language as soon as possible helps me the most.
I occasionally dip into Duolingo (for a number of different languages — I really need to stick with just one) and for the most part I like the style they use there.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths: I seem to learn languages fairly easily. I can never remember what I did the week before, but grammar and vocab stick in my head for some reason. (I pick up programming languages easily as well, which may or may not be related.)
Weaknesses: my accent, definitely. And my lack of resolve in sticking with a Thai study regimen after I finished my mission back in 2004.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
That Thai is spoken in Taiwan. No, but really, probably that it’s insurmountably difficult. It’s not.
Can you make your way around any other languages?
I studied Latin, Greek, Middle Egyptian, Coptic, and Welsh at BYU, though Latin is the only one I can still read at all. I can read/write a fair amount of Spanish, some French, and a little German. And I once (very slowly) read the first paragraph of Crime & Punishment in Russian, dictionary in hand, figuring out the grammar as I went along. (Okay, that doesn’t really count. But it was fun!)
Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
No, just Thai.
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
Hang in there, and try to speak/read/write as much Thai as you can.
Ben Crowder | Ben Crowder
The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: 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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