Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Tomas Drayton
Age range: 26
Location: London, UK.
Profession: BA South East Asian Studies Student at SOAS, University of London.
What is your Thai level?
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
In the beginning I tried to learn as much slang and ‘Thai-isms’ as possible in some vain hope of speaking exactly like a Thai. However, when I started studying at SOAS the best advice I got was that as foreign Thai speakers, regardless of how good your Thai can be there will always be slight communication barriers, therefore it’s best to accept your role as a foreign Thai speaker, and compensate by veering into the more polite and formal ways of speaking.
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
Initially I went to Thailand on holiday, and as a vegetarian I learnt about three phrases. I ended up staying much longer than planned and just slowly built up more and more, so it was more circumstantial than anything else. I then applied to study at SOAS as there was a year abroad programme at Thammasat University, which sounded much more appealing than working!
Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
I have been a Thai language student at University level since September 2013. Previous to that I had been learning independently for about two years.
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
I was very keen to learn Thai at first and stuck at it for a good six months which built a good foundation of basic spoken Thai. I bought a book and just used to look at it every day while in Thailand, trying to learn and use one new phrase or expression each day.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
More so just as and when I could than a rigid timetable. However once I started learning it at university level of course I had to do much more controlled study in order to pass exams etc.
What Thai language learning methods did you try? Did one method stand out over all others?
I don’t buy into or even understand various language learning ‘methods’, some seem absolutely insane! Perhaps they do work for some people, but getting too deep into scientific language learning technique comparisons seems to me a waste of learning time!
I think for a grammatically uncomplicated language like Thai in which much of the emphasis is in speech and pronunciation, the best bet is to be practising speaking as much as possible. The only way to remember a language for me is to use it!
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
Not soon enough! I think the earlier you can start learning to read and write the better, as it makes pronunciation so easy. I started properly being able to read and write at SOAS once I started studying there, as it is absolutely the first thing you do.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
Thankfully I had David Smyth to teach me so it was relatively easy. I’d say after a month or so of learning it becomes easy.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
Probably the first time I was ever understood asking for vegetarian food by a Thai person!
How do you learn languages?
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
I think putting off learning to read and write is a big one, as being able to read just makes everything so much easier. Also, I think the idea that it is very hard is quite a misconception. If you think it’s very hard and you won’t be able to do it, you won’t.
Can you make your way around any other languages?
I learnt French to quite a good level in school, but cannot remember any now!
Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
No I think I’d find that very hard.
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
I truly believe that the best way to learn is through friendly chit-chat with Thai people. If you are in Thailand, go out and about and try to chat to people. If you aren’t in Thailand but are preparing to go, get practising specific phrases you are going to use. Once you can get a basic framework of Thai conversation and confidence in speaking and using Thai, the rest just follows.
I started by going out and trying to make small talk about the weather, inevitably someone would say something I didn’t understand, so I would go back, check my book to try and work out what they had said, and then would just try again the next day with someone else.
I think getting over the confidence barrier in speaking and getting the belief that you probably can learn Thai is the trick.
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.