Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Dan Halloran
Location: Bangkok (and Melbourne)
Profession: Research Economist and Web/App Developer
What is your Thai level?
Somewhere near upper intermediate at the moment (varies daily).
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
I would call it just your standard Bangkok street Thai… but I really enjoy learning and trying to use professional Thai to keep things suave.
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
Survival… but before long my reason was that I was just completely engrossed in the language, its nuances and day to day applicability.
Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
For the most, yes. I arrived in July 2011.
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
July 2011 – Present.
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
After first arriving to the Kingdom it took me a month or two to get serious about learning Thai… but I completely immersed myself from then on for a year and my skills developed quite fast in that time.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
For the first year, yes. I made sure I was doing something with Thai every day. I would spend hours in cafes in Chiang Mai, trawling through dictionaries, reading various materials and constantly listening to audio files. I was absorbed by it.
What Thai language learning methods did you try?
For me, my brain retains words and associates meanings best when I’m enjoying myself and relaxed. A key takeaway from the process of learning Thai would be to just enjoy it and don’t get strung up on any one particular method… just put the hours in to whatever brings enjoyment on each given day and the results will come.
Having said that, the general approach I adopted was ‘complete immersion’… for my first year in Thailand I did everything I could through the Thai language, at every possible chance. I was aided by my trusty little pocket notebook and miniature pencil which I carried around everywhere for noting down new words and phrases. I’d then go home and put those words into the automated flashcard program called Anki so I wouldn’t forget them.
Did one method stand out over all others?
Hmm, this is a helpful question… but can also be secretly and severely detrimental to one’s progress in language learning among others… There are plenty of terrific methods out there on the internet but I would put a disclaimer on each saying be very careful not to get stuck on looking for the best method… a method is often only one means to internalising the language and, sorry to burst your bubble, but each method will get stale after a while – this leads to procrastination and a feeling of not really “getting anywhere with the language” if you’re stuck focussing on the method.
Your default method should be simple: surround yourself by real Thai (input through the ears and eyes constantly), then get out there and USE it, speak it and make mistakes. Get confused (confusion exists outside the boundaries of your comfort zone… be brave enough to force yourself out there) and you’ll get fluent.
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
Almost immediately. Best thing I ever did.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
Nope, it was very enjoyable and thus easy.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
My first small ‘ah hah’ was after a week of studying Thai and seeing the word ยา on a shop front. I got a real kick from bringing what was then just theory and study into the real world.
Several big ‘ah hah’ moments have come to me just after a conversation I’ve had, or an article I’ve read, and realise after the fact that it was actually all in Thai. When you start thinking in meanings and stop worrying about the language you’re using, things really take off!
Note: ‘reverse ah-hah’ moments are also positive indicators you’re making progress. They go something like: “I know everything now…” Then a few days later, “Oh crap, I actually know nothing.” Repeat.
How do you learn languages?
Late nights, laughter and an insatiable appetite to learn more words and concepts.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Strength: would probably be my passion for languages and desire to learn/ go deeper into them. I also enjoy parroting, so I do a lot of mimicking the local’s pronunciation and accents.
Weakness: I don’t speak as much as I should and tend to listen too much. While my comprehension is good and my pronunciation has held up okay, a lack of actively challenging myself through speaking has certainly slowed down the path to fluency… Another weakness is that when I do speak I often try to speak too fast and make things too complex – I’m always telling myself to keep it simple, stupid.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
“Learning Thai is hard”, “There are too many consonants and vowels to remember”, “I’m tone deaf”, ”I’m too old”, “I don’t have enough time”, “It’s too expensive to study”… All these are rubbish and lame excuses.
Can you make your way around any other languages?
Not as well as Thai, but working on Japanese at the moment and Burmese when I can (as well as programming languages which I find very interesting).
Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
Yes, I couldn’t help myself even knowing it may slow down the progression of my Thai. I studied Japanese (and still do) and Burmese when I can. Having said that, I feel there might be synergies where we dip our toes in other languages while going full steam ahead with another… It spiced things up and I found some Thai words just stuck for me when I used other languages to translate or attach meanings to them (when the English meaning wasn’t hooking anything).
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
- Do something (ANYTHING) in Thai at least every day – but do yourself a favour and make sure you’re enjoying yourself.
- Learn how to read and write. Just spend the time and do it. You’ll never regret it and it’ll be your best friend in this beautiful country.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously, Thai’s generally have a wicked sense of humour and you’ll get much more out of conversation when you can laugh at yourself and poke fun back at them.
- If you get the chance, surround yourself by people above your skill level. Here I mean non-native Thai’s…this is a great source of motivation (and humility!) and provides a good stepping stone through the language, especially early on. But obviously, and most importantly, make sure you surround yourself by Thais!
- Befriend a little pocket notebook and pencil, and keep it with you everywhere you go like your life depends on it. Write down everything new that comes your way and make the time to revise any new things you’ve picked up.
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.