Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Ryan McGovern
Age range: 34
Profession: Freelance web designer and WordPress developer
What is your Thai level?
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
I speak mostly central Thai though I can understand some Isaan dialect and Laos language.
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
Because I lived in Thailand and my girlfriend is Thai. It seemed like the right thing to do. I also have a passion for learning new things.
Do you live in Thailand?
If so, when did you arrive?
June 22, 2009.
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
I suppose you could say since I arrived in 2009, though I did start learning a few basics before that from books. My interest has waxed and waned over the years though so I have been more an “absorber” of Thai than an actual student.
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
I don’t think anyone learned Thai right away. Even babies take 2-3 years to begin speaking their native tongue. If you mean “did I set to the task of learning Thai right away?” then the answer is yes.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
No, but in my first few years in Thailand I practiced a lot.
What Thai language learning methods did you try?
I learned by listening to other people speaking Thai, asking questions, using language books, internet resources, and any other materials that came my way. I guess you could say I was an opportunist learner; if I saw something or heard something I would try to found out what it meant.
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
I think after a year or two.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
Not really, in fact I found it easier than speaking as it didn’t matter so much about the tones. People are scared of Thai curly letters but it’s actually quite easy once you learn the basics and phonetically more accurate than English.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
Oh! I think I’ve had a lot of those, not sure if I can remember the first. I’d say a big aha moment for me though was when I realized that the tones are not fixed. The high tone mystified me for years because I was always listening for a “high” tone. Eventually I realized that there is a shape to the high tone. I now find it more accurate to call it stressed rising tone with a sudden dip at the top.
How do you learn languages?
I guess by a mixture of immersion and observation.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I would say my strength is I’m a quick learner but my weakness is that I don’t have a desire to perfect it. I have reached a status quo where I’m happy to be able to read a menu or tell Thai people where I come from but I don’t really feel the need to go beyond that.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
People try to justify or rationalize the language based on their own. We must always remember languages are finite and therefore there isn’t really a right or wrong way to express yourself. Just different systems that evolved in their own ways. So in short, the misconception is that the grammar will follow the same pattern as your own language.
Can you make your way around any other languages?
I used to study Spanish and I can get the gist of it while listening though I tend to confuse it with Thai these days. I find myself wanting to say “Hablas Espanol, mai?”
Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
Perfect the basics before you try to the more complex stuff. Learn all five tones so you can use them on command and practice drawing (not writing) the letters of the alphabet over and over until you can recognize them. Oh, and learn that “Gor Oey Gor Gai” song, just so you can remember we all have to start from humble beginnings :D
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.