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Olle Kjellin’s Method for Improving Your Thai Pronunciation

Olle's Method for Improving Your Thai Pronunciation

Improving your Thai pronunciation…

Unless you are like Adam Bradshaw, who wears Thai like a second skin, it’s possible that your Thai pronunciation is lacking.

For Thai pronunciation help there’s one product on the market that I’m familiar with: Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s Improving Your Thai Pronunciation. It’s a decent product but if you are like me, more practice is needed.

Concerned with my Thai accent I started following a Facebook discussion about Olle Kjellin’s chorus repetition approach to acquiring native-like prosody.

Throughout the discussion, Olle was generous with his advice:

A small number of sentences — any sentences — will typically cover all that exists of prosody and segmental pronunciation in a particular language. With a small enough number of sentences you will be able to master them pronunciation-wise to 100% in x weeks, where x depends on the difficulty of that lg, but I assume 4-8 weeks on an average. All (=all!) other sentences in that language will obey exactly the same rules of prosody and pronunciation, so if you master your base sentences you will (theoretically) master all other sentences, and you will might be able to pass as a native, or native-like, as far as pronunciation is concerned. You will then have “acquired” rather than “learnt” the basics of a second language.

If you choose sentences at random, they will likely conform with the statistics of that language. But if you choose sentences from a common textbook for learners of that language, many kinds of otherwise “typical” sentences will likely be hidden from you, by kind textbook authors who don’t want to make it too difficult for the learners.

But I admit that I myself have picked sentences from book2.de, despite their being over-articulated. After all, over-articulation too is a way of native pronunciation. And since I don’t want to see the written language until I master the basic pronunciation (as is the situation for all native toddlers of any language), I may not be able to catch all sounds correctly if spoken too casually (as also is the situation for all native toddlers of any language).

In Olle’s in-depth tutorial (pdf download), Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity, he goes into great detail about acquiring language porosity and using Audacity. Briefly, here’s what to expect:

Are you learning a new language? Do you, like me, have the ambition to learn it well, to sound as “native” as possible, or at least to have a listener-friendly pronunciation that will not embarrass me or annoy the native speakers? This paper will show you how to achieve that, and explain why it is possible, even if you are not a child.

In these 21 pages with its 34 illustrations you will learn how to:

  • Produce perfect pronunciation exercises with your favourite sentences for free.
  • Practice the way that will give you the best result, for example perfect pronunciation, if you wish.

If you missed it, here’s Ollie’s pdf download again: Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity – The Best Method!

Following Olle’s method, Alexander Giddings (the OP on FB) originally planned to practice 30 sentences over 30 days. Each day he added a new sentence while reviewing four previous sentences: “100 chorus repetitions per sentence per day for a total of 500 x 30 = 15,000 chorus repetitions”.

After practicing the method for several months Alexander adjusted his mindset: An update on the prosody acquisition project according to the method proposed by Olle Kjellin.

Using a combination of Ollie’s tutorial and the mistakes and advice Alexander shared, I put together a few points to create a prosody course of my own:

  • Select materials that are native Thai, not stilted, unnatural sounding coursebook Thai.
  • Select recordings by a middle-class, educated Thai female raised in Bangkok.
  • Break up any long sentences but listen to the entire sentence each time (important).
  • At one sitting, listen to 50-100 repetitions of each set.

That sorted, off I went in search of real Thai (Thai-Thai, not English-Thai). After asking around (thanks Sean) I finally decided to use the native audio from Thai Recordings. They also come with a transcript in Thai script sans Thai translations. Olle and Sean do stress to listen only (no reading) but I’m anal like that. You might as well ask me to stop breathing – I just ‘need to know’.

Here’s the process I used:

  1. To get the files ready I first downloaded both the Thai audio and transcripts.
  2. I then quickly went through the transcripts, creating individual sentence sections.
  3. Listening to the recordings while reading the script, I made needed adjustments and corrections.
  4. As a sentence per day is the plan, I then cut up the audio files into single sentences.
  5. I created an audio file at regular speed and a file on slow.
  6. I also created files with seven sentences (a week’s worth). By having seven sentences in one recording I’m able to practice sentence run-ons that are common in spoken language.
  7. And being anal (as previously mentioned) I made text files for each of the seven sentences, noting any vocab new to me.

Now that I had my files sorted, here’s Olle’s method (tweaked to suit):

  1. First, listen to the slow version a few times.
  2. Repeat single sentences hundreds, thousands of times.
  3. When a break is needed, listen to the seven sentences for that week.

Practice tips:

  1. Put the volume up loud when you first start new sentences (you want to saturate your head with sound).
  2. After your ears begin to recognise words, loudly shadow (repeat at the same time) what you hear.
  3. Gradually lower the sound level of the audio until your voice takes over.
  4. Record yourself saying the sentences.
  5. Check for pronunciation mistakes.
  6. Once a week, have your Thai teacher give a critique.

Recording tips:

  • To change speed in Audacity: Effect >> Change speed >> Default settings
  • To create loops in iTunes: Controls >> Repeat >> One
  • To create loops in Audacity: Transport >> Loop Play

Useful resources…

Olle Kjellin: Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity – The Best Method!
Olle Kjellin: Choral Practice – the Neurophysiological Opportunist’s Way
Olle Kjellin: Accent Addition: Prosody and Perception Facilitate Second Language Learning

Facebook: Pronunciation Best Practice
Alexander Arguelles: The Shadowing Technique
WLT: Recording My Thai Lessons With a Blue SnowBall

NOTE: I was going to wait four weeks or so before sharing this post but as I keep talking about it on Facebook, sharing now made more sense. Besides, I can always report my progress later.

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Thai-English Readers with Mp3s

Thai Readers

Back, back, back to kinder…

Going back to kindergarten. Hmmm. But, if that’s what it takes to read Thai, then so be it.

Thai is a tonal language, so being able to listen while you read is especially important for those clinging to training wheels (like me). And (I hear) even for intermediate readers.

Some Thai-English books for beginners will come with sound, but most won’t. When I got into my mad buying spree (still there), I didn’t realise the significance. I now have a nice pile sitting here, waiting.

But before I get to the Thai-English readers for beginners, I’d like to share tips for listening to Thai language mp3s.

Beginning courses have slower recordings. Once out of the ‘see spot run’ range, you are rushed into normal speed. As you should be.

But for basic beginners on fast forward, well, your brain will cease to exist.

So this is what you do…

Audacity and Thai readers…

  1. Download a free copy of Audacity (don’t forget to install the LAME MP3 encoder).
  2. Import your mp3 of choice into Audacity by dragging, then dropping the mp3 icon onto the Audacity program icon.
  3. Once open (if needed) click on the magnifying glass with the + until you see a clear distinction between sound clumps (look for blobs between flat lines).
  4. To select a sentence, drag your curser over a clump of blue.
  5. While it’s selected, click on the green arrow and adjust your selection until satisfied.
  6. In Audacity’s top nav, select effect >> change speed.
  7. Move the percent change slider, then click on the preview button until happy.
  8. Click the ok button, then the undo (command Z for a Mac, ctrl Z for PC) once you get back (you don’t want to slow down a selection twice).
  9. Select everything (command/ctrl A) and go back to the top nav to effect >> repeat last effect.
  10. Again, go back up to the top nav, but this time to file >> export as >> mp3.
  11. Save the file under a different name.


Listen using iTunes, RealPlayer, QuickTime or similar. Or, do what I do. Select sentences inside Audacity and keep hitting that green button as you read. Easy.

Finally, the online readers…

Manii Readers
Manii is one of the first Thai readers. First as in first on the ground as well as a first reader. On this site you’ll find pdf and mp3 downloads for Manii Reader 1 and 2, as well as online vocabulary tests. It’s old and clunky, but it’s there if you need it.

Read Thai with Manee and Friends at LearningThai.com (no longer online – for the moment) has a modern Manee (Manii) reader. As there is no direct url, select Read with Manee from the nav on your left. Included are 22 lessons with sound, a vocabulary list, flashcards, tests, and more tests.

SEAlang Lab: Just Read
This is the motherload of online Thai-English reading. Sounds are lacking for whole paragraphs, but when you click on individual words the search takes you to a dictionary with sound and video. It’s powerful, it’s loaded down with Mary Haas, and it goes from beginner to beyond.

Thai Audio Books (spokenthai.com – offline for now)
Talking books written and recorded by students from Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan.

Hard copy readers with sound…

There are several online bookstores selling Thai-English books. One of the top Thai publishers are is Nanmeebooks. But, for basic beginners (unless you have a Thai by your side), finding an online Thai bookshop in English is needed.

For children’s books, Buy Thai Books (offline for now) is the place to be.

From the list below I ordered the four Disney Pixar books as well as the thirty Aesop Tales. The recordings are clear and professional, with Pixar being particularly cheerful.

UPDATE: When the site goes online for good I’ll relink the books.

101 Dalmatians
One book. Illustrated. Thai and English. 24 pages.

One book. Illustrated. 24 pages.

Disney Pixar
Four books: Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, Cars and Monster, Inc. Illustrated.

One book. Illustrated. 24 pages.

Aesop Tales
Thirty Aesop Tales books written in Thai and English. Illustrated. 24 pages each.

One book. Illustrated. 24 pages.

Snow White
One book. Illustrated. 24 pages.

The Lion King
One book. Illustrated. 24 pages.

Intermediate online Thai-English reading resources…

Note: this is not a complete list so expect it to be edited.

Languages on the Web
Daisy Stores: Night Watch, A Nice Little Trip, The Bookworm, Daisy Macbeth.

SEAlang Lab: Just Read
SEAlang gets a double mention for its long list of English-Thai on offer.

Thai Fiction in Translation
Translated modern Thai literature, by Marcel Barang.

Thai On-Line Library – Bitext Corpus
Thai and (mostly) English parallel translations.

Advanced online Thai reading resources…

Thai Literature audio books. Download their pdfs and mp3s files to read along.

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Recording My Thai Lessons With a Blue SnowBall

Recording Thai Lessons

I’ve got recording (mostly) sussed…

I finally read all the way through the instructions to my SnowBall, so in this post you’ll get the basics for recording your own Thai too. Whether it’s for your Thai lessons, or a SLR, or a few Thai words here and there.

What I use to record…

  • Mic: SnowBall (inexpensive and gives great sound)
  • Pop filter: Nady MPF-6 Nady 6 Inch Clmap On (guards against spitting sounds)
  • Software: Audacity (free and runs on both Mac and PC)
  • Computer: I’m using a Mac (PC’s are fine too)
  • Thai: A Niwat (translates, does voice, and cleans up nice)

The basic settings to record voice…

  1. On the back of the SnowBall there’s a switch with 3 settings. Flip it left to #1.
  2. Mac (PC will be similar) >> System Preferences >> Sound >> Blue Snowball USB.
  3. Audacity >> Preferences >> Audio 1/0 >> Device Core Audio: Blue Snowball >> 1 (Mono).
  4. Leave the rest of the Audacity settings as is.
  5. Restart Audacity (important).

When I finally had everything in place, there were grins all around. Just check it out.

Recording then.

Recording now.

Both were recorded directly via Audacity without much messing around. Sure, you can tweak the noise removal (as well as a ton of other options), but noise removal makes for a metallic file (once heard, you’ll recognise it on files around the net).

Recording with Audacity…

Open Audacity >> Save Project As (give it a name) >> click the round pink button to record >> click the brown square button to stop.

Cut, paste and delete inside that file, or paste a selection into a fresh file.

To remove volume differences (you’ll be glad you did), select all (Command+A for the Mac, Ctrl+A for the PC), then go under Effect >> Compressor >> and leave the settings as is.

Read the Audacity manual for more editing details.

Personal tip: When recording for long stretches, sometimes my files corrupt. A pain. As a safeguard, save the file, then export as your file type of choice (I’m using MP3 for now).

File >> Export as >> WAV / MP3 …

Setting yourself up…

Living room set upI’m using my living room at the moment. Computer on keyboard stand, script on music stand, mic nearby.

It’s pretty good, but not perfect. What I’m lacking now is a sound booth.

You’ll agree too when you hear the noticeable whooping of a Common Koel in the background of the Thai Alphabet poem (coming next).

In the meantime we’re shutting off the AC’s and fans, holding our breath, and dripping sweat like crazy.

Oh, and hoping the darn birds sleep through each recording session (dream on, yes?) Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing the birds of Thailand (just not superimposed over my Thai lessons).

Still to come, a sound booth…

Harlan Hogan improved on an excellent idea from Douglas Spotted Eagle (no longer online). A portable sound booth. Pretty basic, all it takes is a Whitmor Collapsible Cube and acoustic wall panels (see Harlan’s site for instructions).

If you can’t be trusted with a sharp knife, go to amazon.com and purchase a Porta-Booth ready to ship.

Ingenious really. Douglas figured out that for quiet recording, isolating the mic is a must. But not the whole room.

Featured recording resources and more…

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