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Interview: Francesco is Getting By in Thai

Getting By in Thai

Getting by in Thai…

Name: Francesco
Nationality: Italian
Age range: 30
Sex: Male
Location: London, UK
Profession: Supermarket assistant

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

10%.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I’d say quite formal.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I wanted to learn Japanese in my teen years as I was in love with mangas and animes, but I was never applied myself. When I moved to London I met many people that were able to speak 3 or 4 languages and I always find it fascinating; that made me want to learn languages again.

However, it wasn’t until I started training in Muay Thai and organised a trip to Thailand with some of my friends that I decided to pick up Thai. I loved it, and I continued to study it.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

September 2013, a couple of months before my first trip to Thailand.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

About 20 to 30 minutes a day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

I try to. Having a regular schedule is one of the most important practice to do when study a language.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I tried many methods. Originally I had a private teacher, then I moved to some iPhone Apps and flashcards, and recently spaced repetition sentences in audio format.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes and no. Languages are too complex and one method cannot cover all the various aspects. There are all sorts of skills that are needed to be trained: listening, speaking, reading. However, I’d say spaced repetitions of both vocabulary and sentences is the most helpful.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

I made a choice to focus on reading and writing from the beginning. In fact I can read and write better than I can converse. I thought that would be extremely helpful to chat on the internet and look up words on the dictionary.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Thai is particularly difficult when comes to their writing system. There are a lot of rules and a lot of exceptions, but reading per se is not about remembering all these rules, is about recognising words and remember its pronunciation. It’s a memory game.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

Although I’m quite shy when I try speak Thai, when I went to Thailand I was quite eager to take my Thai for a spin, and having friends that do not speak English helps a lot!

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

Not too long really. Common phrases such as “did you eat yet?” are not too difficult to learn and you can use them every day.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I don’t recall any, but I’m sure I made a fool of myself at times.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I suppose for westerners would be the writing system, but probably tones even more.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I was reading signs around Thailand.

How do you learn languages?

I learn vocabulary and phrases with flashcards and audio material.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • My weakness is that I still thinking English before I speak Thai.
  • Reading is definitely my strength.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Considering that I’m Italian and now I’m fluent in English I think I can. :)

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Yes, because languages evolved in different ways especially between Asia and Europe and you can notice similarities and differences. Sometimes you can see how culture is tied in with the language.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

Unfortunately I don’t travel a lot. Thailand was my first experience.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

I recently started with Mandarin Chinese.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

I lived there only for two months, but it was really a long holiday.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

I’m not a programmer by profession although I majored in Software Engineering. Yes I have programming experience.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument

I used to play the bass guitar back in Italy, but after I moved to London in 2007 I stopped completely.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Set some goals. Make a realistic daily/weekly schedule to learn vocabulary. It doesn’t matter if you can’t stick to it at times, just do your best.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

Increase vocabulary and converse more.

regards,
Francesco

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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Interview: Daniel Styles is Getting By in Thai

Getting By in Thai

Getting by in Thai…

Name: Daniel Styles

Nationality: Australian

Age range: 30-ish

Sex: Male

Location: Chiang Mai

Profession: Teacher

Web: Language Exchange Chiang Mai (website pending)

What is your Thai level?

I guess intermediate but a lot still depends on situation and where I am and what we are talking about. I can still be quickly reduced to a startled rabbit in the headlights if a conversation takes a wrong turn. But still I can chat.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Again depends mostly on what we are talking about. I can follow the plot (if there is one) of many comedy movies although many jokes won’t make sense.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

Much to my teacher’s disappoint I have to admit that I mostly speak street Thai. I have been really keen to learn more Northern Thai as I am often surprised to find out that I already know many words.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

Opportunity. I am here so what better thing to do then learn the language. I have always wanted to learn another language so after living here for a while it just seemed natural. I just wish someone had have told me how hard it is. But then if it was easy I would have lost interest. I’m sick like that.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

Well it probably happened 2 times. First when I came here and was exposed to the language and culture. And then second over 2 and a half years later when I decided that I was actually going to learn Thai.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I study 2 times a week for an hour and a half a time. I’d like to say I spend a lot of time in the week studying but my teacher will probably call me out on that saying I always hand in homework late, if at all. It’s one thing I really am trying to find more time for. But I am lucky enough to have lots of opportunities to practice. For example, twice every week at the Language Exchange I organize that continues to become more and more successful.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Study? Schedule? What are they? I’m basically the worst student you can imagine. I gave my text book away to my friend’s son the other day because he was interested in it. Wasn’t a productive thing to do for my next lesson, but he enjoyed it.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I have started procrastinating about using ANKI although I do really do like it. One of the things I have really enjoyed lately is telling ghost stories in Thai and learning more. It relates to learning through interests. I have always been a story teller in English. So being able to retell stories in Thai is really natural and enjoyable for me hence I make an effort to learn more.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes! The method that you enjoy and take an interest in. For me I like challenges and tests more than study. I need to interact with things more than read about them. So knowing how you learn is important. My teacher gave me 1 week to learn to write the Thai alphabet. She bet me 2 beers I couldn’t do it. That’s my learning style. Needless to say they were 2 of the best beers I have ever had.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, and I strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn Thai. It will make your life so much easier. Plus it’s a beautiful written language. Can I even go so far as to say artistic?

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Of course it’s hard. But it’s not impossible.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I think I was using it as I was learning it. Living in Chiang Mai gives me lots of chances. And of course everything is just a test. Can I say that word correctly? Can I use it correctly?

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai?

Actually it was not being able to be understood that prompted me into learning Thai seriously. I was playing badminton and going to dinner with some teachers from the school I taught at often. Only 1 of them spoke English well, so usually the conversation was in Thai. At one point they told me that even though I could follow a lot of the conversation and join in, many of them struggled to understand me because of my tone, vowel pronunciation and grammar were so bad! So that was a big motivator for me to invest time learning instead of just picking things up.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

Many Thai words have closely pronounced words with awkwardly embarrassing meanings and care needs to be taken that you don’t mispronounce the wrong one at the wrong time. For example, it’s crucial to get the ด sound and not the ต sound when talking about the heat of the sunshine. And the more Thai you can speak the more people will assume that you meant to say the thing you said!

One story I can actually repeat without changing the family rating of your website happened when I’d just been here for a little while. I had learnt the Thai word of ice and confidently went to 7-11 and ask for some ice. The young girl looked at me, oddly walked off, and come back with a sausage in hand! Turns out I had asked for แหนมแข็ง and not น้ำแข็ง.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

After running the Language Exchange for over a year and a half now, 2 things stand out as common mistakes. 1) Ignoring the tones and saying that they aren’t important or Thai people speak to fast to hear them therefor they aren’t there. And 2) trying to translate everything or find an equivalent word or series of words. Sometimes in Thai it just doesn’t work like that. One friend of mine whom I admire and is fluent in both Thai and Northern Thai said to me that sometimes you just have to feel what something means rather than translate it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Realizing that before you can speak you have to listen. And I mean really listen. And look at how the sounds are made with the mouth and tongue.

How do you learn languages?

This is the only language I’ve learnt… Umm that sounds wrong obviously I learnt English, somehow.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Weaknesses; I’m lazy and too good at procrastinating. I don’t like being wrong, which I turn around and use as a strength that I will go and learn something and when I do I really try to understand it so I can avoid being wrong.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Nope.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

NA.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

Nope and no way. Thai is hard enough.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

I’ve been living in northern Thailand for over 5 years now.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

I struggled using my computer to write this.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument

I love Flamenco and play it poorly on the guitar. But love is deaf also so it’s ok.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

I guess the first and most important thing you should understand is how you learn. And find a teacher who is flexible and understands how you learn. There is an ever growing number of resources available to us – thanks to the amazing work of people like Catherine from Women Learn Thai they’re easy to find. Try as much as you can. Use what you like and discard what doesn’t feel right. Listen to native speakers and really listen.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I plan to dedicate 2 hours a day to improving my vocabulary grammar structure and another 1 hour working on my tone and pronunciation. Of course that’s what I plan to do. What I will actually do will surely vary.

Daniel Styles,
Language Exchange Chiang Mai

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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Interview: Biff is Getting by in Thai

Interview: Biff

Biff is getting by in Thai…

Name: Biff (nickname, long story!)
Nationality: English (UK citizen)
Age: 51
Sex: Male
Location: London/Chiang Rai
Profession: Railway worker (latest in a long line of occupations)

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

I would say Intermediate + probably about the B1 level (in the CEFR scale) for spoken Thai and maybe B2 for written materials.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Central Thai, I would say around 70%. Thai is all about context though, so if you jump into a conversation half way through, even native speakers will need some help! Sometimes I have to ask people to explain things again if I don’t get certain words. Vocabulary is a never ending learning curve! Kam Meuang, about 5 words, Lao Isaan a few more, but with both those dialects lots of Central Thai words and structures cross over and you can kind of botch a sentence together.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

Ok, here I think I need to expand on these definitions a little. I know they’re used throughout this interview series, but I kind of need to delve into them a little bit!

1. Street Thai. That depends where the street is! If it’s in Bangkok that could mean Isaan Thai, if it’s in Isaan then one of the many Isaan dialects (or Lao Isaan as my neighbour calls it), some of which get more and more Khmer the nearer you get to Cambodia. If it’s in the north, where I spend most of my time in Thailand, it would be one of the variants of Kam Meuang, or Northern Thai.

But lets deal with Central Thai only for a moment. There is a difference between spoken and written Thai, but ภาษาพูด (spoken language) isn’t a form of slang, or something that you hear ‘on the street’ in the sense that it’s kind of ‘working class’ language. It’s just less formal than written Thai that you might find in official documents, or reports in a workplace. It’s perfectly acceptable for use in pretty much any situation you might find yourself in.

There is something called ภาษาตลาด or ‘market language’ which is informal language that will include slang terms and might throw some Thai learners off track a little. That might be referred to as ‘street Thai’ and it can be a bit coarse sometimes :) Now, as for myself, I suppose I can be caught being a bit ‘market language’ in my home with my wife and close friends. When out and about it’s definitely ภาษาพูด and I try to remember to use the more polite particles and plenty of ครับ/ครับผม and MUCH less of the เออๆ type of language. That in itself can be a challenge sometimes!

Professional Thai, as in the language you might expect to use in business emails/letters, I am starting to use that more and more these days. Purely because I’m writing business type emails and reading things that use a more formal type of language.

In our area, right up in the very north of Chiang Rai province, there are about 4 different dialects (actually, in our street!) Northern Thai (Kam Meuang) Lao (or Lao Lao, as my neighbour calls it, so as to differentiate it from Lao Isaan) Central Thai (learned at school) and my wife and her sister rabbiting on in their very own Korat dialect, which nobody else understands!

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

This is an easy one. So that I could speak to my wife’s family. Mainly my two lovely step daughters (11 and 13 years old) who can’t speak English beyond “Hello how are you I’m fine thank you”. I was also motivated to be able to speak to the neighbours who are, mostly, very nice decent folk. I also believe that if you are going to commit yourself to a relationship with a person, and that person has a different mother tongue to you, then it is a matter of respect that you should at the very least make an attempt to learn how to communicate in that language. I still haven’t managed that by the way. Turns out her mother tongue is the Korat dialect which I have a total of zero words in! But central Thai is the language we mostly communicate in, although we do have some very strange (to other people’s ears) conversations where she speaks English and I speak Thai!

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

I started about 5 years ago, shortly after I met my now, wife. But I suppose I started seriously applying myself around 4 years ago.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I’ve recently started to have formal lessons for the first time, so now it’s one hour per week actual one-to-one lessons and a few hours homework. Although, right from the start, I immersed myself in Thai music (nothing else is on my playlists on all my devices) Thai news articles (started with YouTube news and current affairs clips, even though I didn’t understand them!) which I ploughed through one word at a time when I first started to learn the Thai script) and generally threw myself into hearing, speaking and reading all things Thai right from the start. I used to go to sleep with the Pimsleur Thai recordings playing on my phone as I fell asleep hoping that it would somehow seep into my brain!

So, it’s an ongoing constant thing with me. Difficult to quantify. The formal lessons have definitely re-ignited my hunger for learning Thai. I felt a bit ‘stuck’ till I found the very helpful people at Thai-Style (shameless plug!)

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

I do now, see above :)

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

My wonderful teacher ครูแก้ว. Thai-language.com is my ‘go to’ dictionary on my laptop, iPhone/iPad. The fantastic FCLT Facebook group and news sites like khaosod.co.th are all resources that I use frequently.

As for methods, I would say that I’m at a stage now where I can find vocabulary, write it down or look it up in my dictionary and try to form sentences using it. I speak Thai every day, even when bumbling around the house in London talking to myself! I start trains of thought in Thai, I swear at my neighbour’s cat in Thai too! Stub my toe and Thai words come out. Not very nice Thai words, but hey, it’s all learning!

Does one method stand out over all others?

Stu Jay Raj. I haven’t mentioned him before, but when I watched his videos about changing the way you form the basic sounds that you use to speak, it was one of those eureka moments! Once you have the building blocks to make the right sounds, everything else starts to fall into place. As for regular learning methods, at the start, the Pimsleur stuff was a good foundation to get me to start putting basic sentences together. Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s Thai for Beginners was also a big boost for me.

But the main stand out method, as far as I’m concerned is speaking and listening. Speak, listen, imitate. Copy what you hear Thai people saying. Make the same sounds as they do. Change the way you use your voice. If you don’t, and you use the same sounds as you do when you speak English for example, you won’t be speaking Thai. You’ll be sort of half speaking something that kind of sounds a bit like Thai if a Thai person who’s used to hearing foreigners butcher their beautiful language really stretches their imagination :)

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, as soon as I got fed up with the transliteration ‘thing’ (didn’t take long!)

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

No, not really. It can be a bit daunting at first I suppose. But written language is a code. Once you understand how it works, and you can crack the code, your brain takes over and it becomes language. It stops being squiggles and starts to become words. It really doesn’t take long.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

About ten minutes :) What’s the point of learning how to say ‘hello’ if you don’t say ‘hello’ to anyone?

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

Longer than ten minutes! I would say maybe a month or so? It’s difficult to remember actually, but it wasn’t long. Once you understand that you have to mimic the sounds you hear, you become understandable quite quickly. The problem that that causes is that the Thai person then speaks back! So you have a few situations where you have said something, been understood, but don’t understand the reply. That’s fun :)

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

Ordering a plate of unfortunate mountains. One of the words for ‘rice’ in a restaurant is actually ‘beautiful rice’ ข้าวสวย khao suay (rice beautiful) and a similar word is เขา, mountain (which also can be transliterated as khao) and ซวย unlucky, or jinxed (also looks like suay). They are different words with different tones. I butchered the tones and asked for unlucky mountains. That made me start learning the Thai script as you don’t make those mistakes when you see the different spellings!

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Hmmm let me think. Probably that it’s too difficult. At first it seems like there’s just so much to learn, If you’ve already been exposed to a few other languages for the same family as English (for native English speakers) like when we learn French or German at school, there are already a good few thousand words we can pick up almost at once (Latin Greek influences in all the European languages mean we share words) but Thai is a different family, so we start from scratch. But even though that may be true, it’s still possible to get going. Also, the other one is, if you have a Thai partner that they will be able to teach you. Unless they’re a language teacher, they probably won’t. Speaking a language doesn’t mean you can teach it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Ordering the unlucky mountains :) “Ah Ha” I need to learn to read properly :)

How do you learn languages?

By trying to think using the language. Immersing myself in as many things as possible to do with that language. It becomes the main focus of my day, every day.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths I would say are pronunciation, being able to reproduce the sounds used to speak Thai. My memory is pretty good too, once I’ve used a word or phrase regularly enough, it kind of sticks.

Weakness, tone rules! Spelling. I was completely self-taught at first (that phrase doesn’t in any way acknowledge the huge efforts by all concerned that put together all of the learning resources that I used to learn what I learned, but I mean that I didn’t take formal lessons until about two months ago). I’m trying to get my head around them now, asking my teacher to give me more homework on them so that I can, hopefully, internalise them, finally! At the moment, I just remember how to spell words and what the tone is. That’s just not good enough!

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Some French, I had a house in France for a while. Some German too. I always loved the language and have spent a bit of time there too. My Spanish consists of being able to say “I don’t speak Spanish” which is less than useful as it confuses the person you’ve just said it to :)

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Yes, it’s pretty much knocked them out of me completely! If I start to try to form a sentence in French, Thai words jump into it and it all goes downhill from there!

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

Including Thai, three.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No. Maybe because of the way that I learn, immersing myself in the language, I don’t think that would work for me.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

No, I’m currently in the UK and the longest I’ve been in Thailand in one stretch was for 3 months. I go at least twice a year, for 4-6 weeks in the spring, and 2-4 weeks in the winter.

My wife visits London every summer for about 3 months, then it gets cold(er) and she goes home complaining bitterly that she hasn’t seen any snow!

Plans are afoot for a permanent relocation to Thailand.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

No, although I used to be a sound engineer and produced music using computers, but no coding experience at all.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

Yes, always loved music and was a musician for a number of my ‘formative’ years. I played drums, bass guitar and kind of one-two fingered keyboards!

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Change the sounds you use to speak with. The sounds you use with your native language are not the ones you need to speak Thai with. Learn the script as soon as you can. Use the language every day, listen to the language every day. Find the beauty in the language. There are some beautiful sounds and rhythms in Thai, let them roll off your tongue, it’s magical stuff!

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

Tone rules! :) continue with my lessons, eat up all the vocabulary that I can, speak more, listen more, read more, understand more.

regards,
Biff

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting by in Thai

Interview: Ben Bradshaw

Ben Bradshaw is getting by in Thai…

Name: Ben Bradshaw
Nationality: American
Age range: 25-30
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Entrepreneur
Web: CikguBen.com

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

About 80%. I can follow most conversations and fill in the final 20% with just guesses based on context and experience.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I speak mainly street Thai mixed with some professional Thai that is used in English instruction.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I have a brother that is an amazing Thai speaker. I see Thailand as a land of opportunity for foreigners willing to learn about the culture and master the language.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

May 2014.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

About 30 minutes per day reading a Thai grammar and language book. Then I speak and use Thai and learn new phrases at least 5-6 other times throughout every day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

No. I just pick up my Thai book when I have the time.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I rely on English speaking friends to explain phrases and concepts, a pocket dictionary, google translate, and a Thai grammar book.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes. The most effective method for me is to speak and make mistakes. Then I will be corrected and I will then be able to remember how to say it correctly the next time. Half the battle is just remembering the new words and phrases when you want to say them.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes. I can read at a very basic level but I can recognize all letters but when reading a block of Thai text then I struggle.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I think it’s difficult how there are no spaces between words. Also, so many of the characters look so similar to the others that I often confuse one for the other. I think through time and more practice this will be less and less true.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I started speaking the first day I was taught. I was never scared to try to speak Thai.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

I could be understood within about the first week. I have experience in other Asian languages so putting together basic thoughts and phrases for simple communication came easy to me when I had established a basic vocab and a sense for the tones.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I am always scared that if I say something incorrectly, with either the wrong vowel or wrong tone that it is going to have some reference to male or female parts. It’s like this always in language learning so I’ve learned to just laugh at the times when I might get close to saying something incorrectly and hopefully the person listening knows that I am a student in the language.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That speaking is hard. I think, in fact, that Thai is quite simple to speak. I think the script makes people feel like the language is going to be so difficult but when you really get down to it, thoughts are simple, grammar is basic, and the tones are doable.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I realized that the tones are relative to each other. Just because you have a lower voice doesn’t mean you need to go to great lengths to make your voice sound higher or more “Thai”. You simply need to change your tone in relation to your other tones. It was difficult at first to so many consecutive words with different or similar tones but once I realized it as just in direct relation to your previously said tone, then it started to become much easier.

How do you learn languages?

I learn a few phrases, build a vocab, start speaking to people, carry a pocket dictionary, carry a small notebook, and always ask questions like “how do you say ‘to go’ in Thai?” It really helps to have a person explain things in your native language at the beginning.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strength is being willing to talk to anyone. My weakness is not wanting to talk to people sometimes out of sheer laziness.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes. I am fluent in Malay and Indonesian. I can “get by” in Mandarin.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Yes. Thai being a tonal language, often times start to come first to my mind when I am speaking Chinese. I’ll try to think of the Chinese word but the Thai word will come first. My Thai has actually overtaken my Chinese skills now.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

At least 4 different foreign languages. 1. Malay. 2. Indonesian. 3. Thai. 4. Mandarin Chinese.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No. Although I am always trying to improve my Malay and Chinese, I am not actively studying these languages at the same time as learning Thai.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yes. I am currently living in Bangkok.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Yes. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and have experience programming in a few different languages like C, MatLab, JavaScript, and Arduino.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

Yes. I love listening to music and almost always want it to be playing in the background of whatever I am doing. I grew up learning to play the violin and was quite advanced as just an elementary school student. I moved then into the trumpet and later into piano. Nowadays I don’t actively play any instrument but sometimes do get a feeling like I should get back into playing and making music.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Get out there and speak. Be confused. Be frustrated. Make mistakes. Write things down. Don’t worry if you forget something you learned 3 minutes ago. Look it up again. Use what you’ve learned and it will finally be cemented into your mind. Oh and of course, try to mimic Thai people, not your Thai-speaking, native English speaking friends.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I plan to continue on the same course that I am on now, that is, read a little of my grammar book, ask questions to my friends, and then try to practice and speak with Thai people as I go about my daily life.

Ben Bradshaw,
CikguBen.com

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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Interview: Jeff is Getting By in Thai

Thai Style

Jeff is getting by in Thai…

Name: Jeff

Nationality: USA

Age range: 30

Sex: Male

Location: Bangkok

What is your Thai level?

Hard to say. It depends on the subject matter being discussed, but for regular day-to-day dealings, I would put myself squarely in “intermediate.”

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

I’d say I can at least get the gist of at least 70% of what’s being said.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I speak polite Thai with some working knowledge of slang and Isan.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

It’s annoying to live in a country and not know the language.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

About one month before I moved to Thailand.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

Everyday is a lesson – but specifically studying Thai – maybe about 2 hours per day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not at all. I think this is one reason I’m not taking part in the successful Thai learners series.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I am reading and studying vocabulary from a couple books written in Thai.

Does one method stand out over all others?

I only know the self-study and immersion method. Having someone constantly correct me is rather discouraging. I prefer to learn from my mistakes (i.e. notice Thais saying the word differently than I am and working to mimic them).

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, of course. I got into reading and writing almost as soon as I landed.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I wouldn’t say difficult – just time consuming (it took me about 3 months of 3-5 hours per day to get comfortable with reading and writing in Thai).

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I’ve been using Thai from the first day. It’s a matter of politeness and convenience.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

I think everyone could understand สวัสดีครับ right away ☺

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I don’t get embarrassed from making mistakes. I like a good laugh.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That tonal languages are some sort of insurmountable obstacle.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Going out with Thai friends and realizing at the end that I was fully engaged in the conversation we were having that lasted well over three hours.

How do you learn languages?

I like to study grammar and get a basis of vocabulary down while doing grammar drills. Then it’s just about using what I know and adding more vocab.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are that I am quite good at learning grammar and I’m able to think in whatever language I’m learning. My weakness would be my own laziness. I really should be at a very advanced level for how long I’ve lived here.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes. I am fluent in German and also speak French as well as some Spanish and Norwegian.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Sometimes when I’m speaking German, a Thai word will creep up to my lips.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

With natives in their own countries, I have used German, Hungarian, Thai, Lao, and Tagalog.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

Yes, I’m concentrating on Tagalog and also working on getting at least a rudimentary knowledge of Lao and Burmese and mixing a bit of Norwegian in there.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

I have been in Thailand for about 5 ½ years.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Nope.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument

I love music and used to play violin.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

There is a direct correlation between effort and result.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

Keep on trucking.

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Jeff, Terry, Dan, Tod, Snap, Talen and Greg. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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Interview: Terry Clayton is Getting by in Thai

Interview Terry Clayton is Getting by in Thai

Terry Clayton is getting by in Thai…

Name: Terry Clayton
Nationality: Canadian
Age range: 59
Sex: Male
Location: Udon Thani
Profession: Science Writer / Teacher / Farmer
Web: Red Plough

Getting by in Thai…

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

Speaking: probably lower intermediate. Listening: Beginner. Pathetic given how long I’ve lived here.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Depends on the topic. Simple day-to-day conversations, as much as 80 to 100 percent. More complicated topics like politics, economics, social issues, my comprehension drops to near zero. Mind you, that’s true in English as well.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I’m a street Thai speaker. I’ve embarrassed myself trying to speak Thai in meetings. At home, my wife and I have our own unique patois of English/Thai/Isan.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I’ve been living in Thailand for the last 20 years. I hope to get another 20. I don’t have much in common with the expats where I live (Isan) and much prefer to interact with Thais. Isan would be the logical choice but for business it’s got to be Thai.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

The day I landed in January 1989.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I do spurts of on and off. Now I’m on an ‘on’ jag. I do a Learn Thai Podcast daily.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

I’ve heard of this ‘regular schedule’ thing but like the Higgs Boson it eludes me.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I like the Learn Thai Podcast, Rosetta Stone and Courage software. LTP I like the way they break down a sample of real spoken Thai. Rosetta Stone I like the way I can alter the lesson so I can repeat the same lessons but different ways. Courage for the same reason.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Don’t think so. What does not work is traditional classroom teaching.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes! Should have done that from day 1. Reading is fantastic because a) there are things to read just about everywhere you go (signage, billboards, menus, etc.) and b) you see the language as it should be spoke proper.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Learning the alphabet was tedious but there is no shortcut there. After that, it’s not particularly difficulty. It’s pretty much completely phonetic so that helps.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

None at all. I’m immune to embarrassment.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

It depends on who I’m talking to. I’ve got a half dozen amusing stories (I think they’re amusing) about speaking to Thai’s in Thai, knowing that I’ve said something intelligible because that utterance has been understood before, and having my interlocutor say to me “No speak English” and run off to get a friend to rescue them. It’s my biggest frustration.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

“Embarrassing” moments usually turn into a good laugh and my most memorable lessons. How I learned the expression “up to you” really was funny. Later.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That’s it’s difficult. That they can’t master the tones.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

A friend of mine mapped out negation for me in a simple grid. Ah ha.

How do you learn languages?

In the beginning, I mimic sounds. I’m very good at it. I can speak phrases and not know which sounds are words. I can learn to say something like, “A bottle of water please” and people will “You speak (fill in the blank) very well!”. The downside is people assume I am more fluent that I really am.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: immune to embarrassment; ability to mimic sounds; Weakness: lack of self-discipline.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Not now, but in the past I’ve mastered basic Spanish, Russian and enough Khmer to supervise a team of movers.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Not particularly.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use (while abroad, or talking to native speakers of the language at home, even armed with a phrase book)?

As above: Spanish, Russian, Khmer.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Since 1989.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

No.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

No.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Stop telling yourself that learning Thai is difficult. Stop telling yourself you can’t learn Thai. Listen to the sound of the language. It took me a week to master the ‘ng’ sound. But I got it.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

Work through Learn Thai Podcasts; redo Rosetta Stone lessons (again); install an older version of Windows on one of my laptops so I can run Courage; get the prescribed textbooks for Thai language used in the school system and start working through those.

And the clincher: Do you agree to report back with your progress in six months?

Absolutely. 



Terry Clayton

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Terry, Dan, Tod, Snap, Talen and Greg. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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Interview: Dan Ogilvie is Getting by in Thai

Interview Dan Ogilvie is Getting by in Thai

Dan Ogilvie is getting by in Thai…

Name: Dan Ogilvie
Nationality: British
Age range: 53
Sex: Male
Location: Saraburi, Thailand
Profession: Electronic Engineer

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

I don’t think I would class myself as intermediate yet. The trouble is being self taught I have a strange eclectic collection of vocabulary that is missing some key elements of sentence construction. I can nearly read Thai, (without comprehension), yet get thrown by a question from our postman.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Depending on the subject, about 30% when they are talking slowly and directly at me, about 20% at normal speed, 5% when they are in gossip mode and 0% on the telephone.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

My Thai comes from books so I guess professional Thai, but what I listen to everyday is street Thai of course.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I live here! But also, being useless at languages all my life, Thai is a real challenge and I think it is a lovely language with some great poets and artists that I would like to understand more. I would love, one day, to read a Thai novel or poem. That said, listening to a lot of Thai, the speakers sounds like the aliens from Mars Attacks.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

When I first came to Thailand, I think in about 1980 I bought a book on Thai that I still have and use. But, living in the UK it stayed as a talking point on my bookshelf. When I married my wife, Ploy, I started to try and learn it again but we were not living here and she is a natural at languages, speaking about 4 fluently, so I took the easy route. Now I live here, and having got over the ‘getting established’ here bit I decided I really need to learn this language properly.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

It is erratic and that is a lot of the problem. I tried to set aside 30 minutes a day but then found I went a week without doing anything formally and I found I had forgotten the last few things. So I am trying to force myself to thirty minutes a day, at the end of work with a cold beer as incentive for doing so.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, but see above.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

When I was in Singapore I went to some formal lessons for a few weeks but, I don’t know why, it didn’t seem to work for me; (in hindsight the other students were Singaporean who usually already speak 3 or 4 languages and two of them are tonal – I didn’t stand a chance). I find the tones very difficult to master and still can’t pronounce ‘ng’ reliably at the beginning of words. So I have decided to concentrate on reading Thai as I find that easier than just memorising sentences and words and I also find that the vocabulary sticks better. I use the children’s books for the alphabet which Ploy bought me and my bible is still The Fundamental of the Thai Language by Campbell and Shaweevongs although I also use Easy Thai by Gordon Allison. Both of these books teach reading at the same time as grammar and vocabulary. I also paid for the excellent dictionary Thai2English which includes some grammar and other incidental information. I find I work best with books when I can scribble notes on the pages rather than in front of a computer. CDs and DVDs don’t work for me at all.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes, the method in Campbell book which is to introduce a couple of consonants and vowels, introduce vocabulary using them and then some general notes about their usage. At the end of the chapter you find you can read a little Thai and that feels like a great achievement. I find that more satisfying than learning some sentence I probably will never use in real life and, as I mentioned, I find the vocabulary sticks better when I can read it in Thai script. It is more fun, for me too.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, as above. Just learning transliterations of Thai words en-masse I found didn’t work for me. Maybe I have a pictorial memory so remembering the characters allows me to pronounce the word and sometimes triggers me to remember their meaning too.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Actually I find reading Thai not so bad until you get to all the inherent vowels and grammar rules, like ‘hor hip’ popping up all over the place to just to change the class of a following consonant. Also I find the informal script difficult to read and also anything written by my wife. Actually anything not formal like a newspaper headline I find tricky at the moment.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

Actually ordering a beer came naturally to me. And the reaction of Thais is so friendly and encouraging it is impossible not to try. Until, three words into my fractured Thai they start a 200 word a minute discussion on the state of politics in Angola and then I run and hide under the stairs faking an old war injury.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

Big barriers with some words, (like snake and work and money and turkey because of the ng pronunciation), but OK if I avoid that. Then I was in a restaurant with my wife and feeling overly confident I said to the waitress ‘kep satang duay khap’. She looked at me as if I was speaking Klingon. I repeated it. Still that look of fear and incomprehension. I looked at Ploy. Say it again, she said, encouragingly. So I did so and again and again trying various combinations of emphasis and tone. I looked at Ploy again and she said ‘kep satang duey ka’ to which the waitress obediently went off to get the bill. I understood you, said Ploy. I just sighed.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I avoid ordering a bananas, luckily I drink my coffee black, so to date, nothing knowingly. But a big reason for the frequent Thai smiles around here is probably my Thai.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Thai is number 4 (out of 5) in the language learning difficulty measurements. Japanese and Korean are 5. English is a 2. Don’t think the language is easy just because the script is not as impenetrable as Chinese. That means you really have to work at it to learn it, especially if you are a linguistically challenged like me.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

We were in a restaurant and Ploy was talking to owner, as she has a want to do. After she finished the conversation I gestured toward the restaurant sign and told her the name of the restaurant,(Lan aharn Baan Gluay Seafood). Yes, said Ploy, matter-of-factly. It had taken me all of ten minutes including some very strange face gestures but to me it was the equivalent of scaling Everest in your pyjamas carry a small pregnant hippo on your back.

How do you learn languages?

You mean how did I ascend, after five years studying Spanish at Grammar school, to an unclassified ‘O’ level pass in my exam. It is just a talent I have.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are I am I good electronic engineer. Bleeding useless when it comes to languages though.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Strangely, I am quite good at English. I know it is my native tongue but I mean I don’t find any difficulty with English at all and completed the write a 50,000 word novel in a month competition and an 18000 word dissertation on art history without breaking a sweat. But other than English, attempts at Spanish, German and now Thai have always ended (so far) in abject failure.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Do you mean has it somehow opened a door in my mind such that I just absorb other languages. No.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

I did once learn in a bar in Taiwan to say in Mandarin, ‘You are beautiful’ and ‘I love you’and I still remember how to say that. I can say ‘synchrotron radiation’ and apple in German which is great at Teutonic dinner parties.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

Have you been listening to me?

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yes. Of and on for many years with stays of up to three weeks but now, my final resting place. I have been here 18 months so far.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Although I am engineer I am also a technophobe and proud of it. I can program if forced to as part of my job but I would rather garrotte myself over the frozen meat counter of Tesco Lotus if given a choice.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

Yes, I love music, from turn of 20th century Italian opera to Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. For playing a musical instrument replace language with music in all the above.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

I am hardly one to give advice. I have found something that works for me which is the challenge of reading Thai which I find keeps me interested. They say you should make learning a language fun. I don’t see how that can be. Sometimes (most times) it is a chore; I always have something better to do like bath the dog, prune the mango tree or dance topless on top of a car in Bangkok. But what it is a challenge and to be able to read a newspaper or a book in Thai would, for me, be a great achievement and that is what spurs me on. I think you need to find your motivation for learning the language and it has to be more than just a ‘nice thing to do’ or you will fail.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

There is a local man who is partially deaf and dumb but I assume can read Thai well as he used to be a teacher. That, I hope, will be me in a year or two’s time. Maybe before I die I will be able to hold a conversation about where snake’s work or keep their money.

And the clincher: Do you agree to report back with your progress in six months?

I’ll still be here.

Dan Ogilvie,
Dan and Ploy’s website

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Dan, Tod, Snap, Talen and Greg. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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Interview: Tod Daniels is Getting by With Learning Thai

Interview Tod Daniels is Getting by in Thai

Tod Daniels is getting by in Thai…

Name: Tod Daniels
Nationality: USA
Age range: 52
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok, Lower Sukhumvit
Profession: Retired
Web: Reviewing Thai Language Schools in Bangkok

Update: Todd has been elevated to the Successful Thai Language Learners series.

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

I’d like to think my Thai is at least at an “Intermediate ++” level. Perhaps I’m “grading on a curve” or participating in the Thai educational way of “no child left behind”, where everyone gets a passing grade 555+.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Most times I can certainly understand the overall gist of the conversation. If I pay attention or have an interest in the topic I can understand 95+%, the idiomatic stuff, etc. Many times I go to food courts and purposely sit near a group of Thais just to eavesdrop on the conversation. Really some of the stuff they talk about is quite risqué. Then again, most Thais don’t think a foreigner can understand Thai. Given the HUGE percentage of foreigners living here I’ve met, who couldn’t string 3 Thai words together, I’d hafta concur with their take on things. The Thais are pretty open when they’re talkin’ around a foreigner so I take advantage of that to increase my comprehension of Thai spoken at a normal speed.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I try to gauge how I speak Thai to the people I’m speaking Thai to. Dealing with officials in the Police, governmental agencies, businesses I cone in contact with, etc, I try to speak ultra polite semi-professional Thai. With run-of-the-mill Thais, street sellers, my Thai friends, etc, I adjust how I speak to match what ever level they’re speaking. I found early on if you try to speak a higher level of Thai than is being spoken by everyone else, you can come across as pretentious.

Nope, I can’t speak more than a couple phrases in Issan Thai. Having spent time touring Issan it was my experience EVERYONE under about 50 y/o can understand and speak Bangkokian (Central) Thai just fine. I’ve got more than enough trouble keeping the Central Thai vocab stuck inside my head. I don’t need to throw a wrench in the gears of progress, no matter how slowly they’re turning.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

Initially I compelled the Thais I interacted with to speak English. However, that got old awfully fast, and I was limited to predominantly tourist or foreign dominated areas, speaking about what ever it was they were selling, etc. Seeing as I have very few foreigners who are what I would truly call friends – partly out of loneliness but more out of the need to communicate something besides daily pleasantries or mindless Thai ‘phrozen-phrases’ – I finally realized to get bang-4-the-baht out of my life here I’d need to learn Thai.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

I became a Thai student after being here about 4 months. I took one of those ‘crash’ 60 hour courses offered at a well-known school. That’s the kind where you go 3 hours a day, 5 days a week for 4 weeks. I got less than ZERO out of that class, (then again my class was TOTALLY full of Christian missionaries set on converting the heathen Thais to Christianity, and it was a total buzz-kill). That bad experience put me off learning Thai for quite a while. Now I’ve self studied Thai on and off for about the last 3 years. I also attended a well-known, (yet un-named) private Thai language school for 180 hours or a year’s worth of lessons.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

If I totaled up the time during the day it’s probably 3–4 hours scattered throughout the day. Mostly looking up words I don’t know, reading magazines, reading books written in Thai which teach English (really HIGH value as far as learning Thai). Stuff like that mostly.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

I used to early on. I’d set a block of 2 or 3 hours and just review vocabulary, etc. But now, not so much. I do carry a notebook/pen to jot down words I’m unfamiliar with to look up later. Doing nothing here helps too, as I can study or review when ever I want to. In fact I’m so busy doing nothing all the time I’m gonna buy a day minder!

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

Heck, I’ve got more Thai language learning resources than I’m willing to admit. Benjawan Becker’s books &, C/D’s , Mathew Courage’s DVD, Rosetta Stone, many ‘borrowed’ copies of private Thai language schools material, countless books by other authors about learning Thai, etc.

I’m using an unconventional method for learning insofar as I taught myself to read/understand Thai before I could speak or understand spoken Thai all that well. I could recognize written Thai words, know their meanings, even if I couldn’t accurately reproduce the toning of them when I spoke Thai.

Does one method stand out over all others?

I have to say, of all the methods I’ve been exposed to learning the Thai language that ‘situational based’ learning is by far the one which provides me with the most bang-4-the-baht. By situational based I mean you learn sentence constructs based on the needs of a particular situation: post office, food court, doctor’s office, in a taxi, etc. These are things you do every day here, over and over, so getting a grasp on what you need to say and where you’re likely to say it is the ‘key’ to beginning to ‘unlock’ this country for a foreigner. Between that and constantly increasing your vocabulary in high frequency words, a person can do quite well.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

I started learning to read before I could even speak more than two-word-tourist-Thai or even simple ‘phrozen-phrases’ in Thai. I can write Thai, but my handwriting looks like a kindergarten kid. I did teach myself how to touch type Thai on a keyboard using all my fingers. That is no small feat in itself, seeing as the ‘finger load’ when typing Thai is skewed to one hand and more so to the two outside fingers on that hand. Not to mention there’s a lotta ‘shifty business’ and excessive reaching for keys which aren’t used in English typing all that often.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I found learning to read Thai (the way I chose to teach myself) was FAR easier than speaking clearly. When I started teaching myself to read I didn’t try to learn the tones (and still suffer from that oversight) or the consonant classes. At first I didn’t even learn the words associated with the Thai letters. Instead I broke it down to things like: Thai has 6 letters which make close to a “T” sound in English, they are; ฐ, ฑ, ฒ, ท, ธ, ถ. So when ever I saw those characters I immediately associated it with a “T” sound. Same for the 5 “K” sounds and the 4 “S” sounds in Thai.

I found the vowels a little tough at first, especially the ones which change or morph appearance due to being followed by a consonant. However, once you get the vowels down fairly well as far as long and short duration, they’re pretty consistent throughout the Thai language. Unlike English where vowels have little consistency due to the hodge-podge of languages English is based on.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

Sheesh, I’m still reticent in engaging Thais in Thai to this day. Unless I’m with my Thai friends, or people I know, I’ll compel Thais to speak as much English as they can before I’ll switch into Thai. I know that sounds bad, but in reality it’s not as bad as it reads on the page.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

Once I really started I could do “phrozen-phrases”, greetings, and basic questions pretty good. However if the conversation went “off script” I was lost.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

OMG, there’s been oh-so many!! One that comes to mind is the time I was at a street stall buying sunglasses แว่นตากันแดด but instead pronounced the last word like แตด!!

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That learning to read and understand what you’re reading in Thai is beyond them. It takes time, and countless hours of word memorization, review but for me, it’s far easier to read/understand things written in Thai than it is to speak clear Thai as a foreigner.

Also the old lame excuse, I can’t speak Thai because I’m tone deaf and can’t hear the differences in similar sounding yet differently toned words. In the beginning I couldn’t either and nearly gave up. Then I started learning the different tones in high frequency words I’d use: white, rice, shirt, mat, tiger, etc, (although I rarely talk about tigers as a rule!) Finally I actually began to hear the toning when Thais spoke to me. I also concentrated ONLY on the falling and rising tone as the other three can pretty much be blurred in colloquial speech with no loss in comprehension to a Thai.

I think ANYONE who puts their mind to it can learn to be at least conversational in Thai, get their point across and conduct their routine daily interactions in Thai.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I think it was when I first got a handle on Thai word order with the adjective after the noun, a classifier if it’s multiples (unless the classifier is the same word as the noun), adverbs after verbs, time markers to denote tensing or the ‘when’ of an event, ending particles to convey emotion, and the word order differences between statements and questions.

How do you learn languages?

As soon as I learn one (other than my native tongue of American English) where I feel comfortable with it, I’ll get back to you!

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are reading, understanding compound Thai words where the meaning isn’t always what the stand alone words would mean separately, knowing a TON of common idiomatic expressions. Typing Thai is another thing I feel is a strength, even though I can transcribe Thai quite fast (as in type something from a book into a document). My typing on the fly is far behind that due to my errant spelling, although MSN and other chat sites are bringing me up to speed on that.

My weaknesses are my erratic toning of words in my spoken Thai. I’m okay with vowel lengths now and my pronunciation of beginning/ending sounds are pretty clear. Unfortunately due to the way I taught myself to read (forgoing any consonant classes or learning the tone rules), I’m finding it’s way harder to ‘un-learn’ an improper pronunciation than it would have been learning it the right way first time outta the gate.

If I approach unfamiliar Thais who I need to talk to, I’ll use what I call the ‘Thai Language Dance’. In Thai I’ll say, “Hello, how are you, can you speak English, I can speak Thai a little bit, can you understand me?” This does two things, first it makes the Thai you’re engaging switch their ears from listening for English words, back into listening for Thai, and it lets them get a handle on how accented and poorly pronounced your spoken Thai is. Believe me EVERY foreigner here speaks Thai with a foreign accent, no matter how much the Thais praise your abilities.

(FWIW; take ANY praise about your Thai language skills from a Thai and discount it completely. If I had a baht every time a Thai praised my spoken Thai ability I’d be a billionaire here.)

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Umm, maybe English, but I’ll hafta get back to you on that one.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

It made me realize just how hard it is for non-native speakers to learn to speak, read and write the English language. I found learning Thai quite straightforward once I got a handle on how things all fit together in Thai.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use (while abroad, or talking to native speakers of the language at home, even armed with a phrase book)?

Hmm, I think this is the first one I’ve tried. I’m American and when I traveled I just had that holier than thou attitude “WTF do you mean you don’t speak English!”

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

I’m currently dabbling in learning to read the Lao language.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yep, I’ve lived here continually for almost 6 years.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Nope.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument

I like what is probably now called 70’s rock music, although when I started listening to it, it was cutting edge; KISS, Judas Priest, Styx, Queen, Heart, Ted Nugent, Poison, Def Lepard, etc. I also really like Thai rock, Loso, Micro, Body Slam, Big Ass, Asanee-Wasan, even ‘aunty’ Bird Thongchai.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

DON’T get discouraged, don’t give up, and don’t put the idea in your mind that Thai is too hard for you to learn! It does take time, constant practice, and there is no magic method of learning Thai, no magic pill you can take and suddenly start speaking in tongues, err in Thai. The Thais have the same idiomatic expression we have in English; “Learn from your mistakes”, but theirs is ผิดเป็นครู (mistakes are your teacher).

You’re gonna make mistakes MANY many mistakes! You’re gonna say things which will make the Thais laugh out loud at you, but it’s part of the process. Get over yourself, laugh about the mistakes and take them in stride as its all part of the process in learning Thai.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I’d like to get to a level where I could take the Thai proficiency exam they give (which replaced the ป.๖ exam) at the end of the year. I’m also now studying grammatical terms, etc, as I think there is a real value in being able to teach English to Thais using a combination of Thai/English and phonetics. Much like Andrew Biggs and Christopher Wright do now in the teach English for Thais in the market now.

And the clincher: Do you agree to report back with your progress in six months?

If I’m still alive and kickin’ you have my word on it. I swear on KISS I will.

Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com
Reviewing Thai Language Schools in Bangkok
(who BTW: is NOT affiliated with any Thai language school)

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Tod, Snap, Talen and Greg. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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Interview: Snap is Getting by With Learning Thai

Interview Snap is Getting by in Thai

Snap is getting by in Thai…

Name: Snap
Nationality: Australian
Age range: 48
Sex: Female
Location: Now, Chiang Mai, usually, Brisbane, Australia
Profession: Office administration and self-employed chalk sign artist
Web: Learning Thai In Chiang Mai | Cooee | twitter: @SnapCooee

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

Intermediate, meaning, a step higher than tourist Thai and one lower, than intermediate.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Very little, unless it’s spoken in class or by a sympathetic Thai person who’s willing to speak with a drawl and repeat themselves.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I’m learning professional Thai, which doesn’t always work out on the street. And, personally that baffles me.

So, for the little amount of vocabulary I have, I take note of street Thai, as well. For example: Wife: pronounced ‘phanrayaa’ at school, becomes ‘phalayaa’ once I step outside the classroom door. Or, ‘sawadee jao’ as opposed to ‘sawadee kha’, and ‘lam’ instead of ‘aroy’, for ‘delicious’. I’m not purposely looking for alternative ways of saying things, one is hard enough for me to remember.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

The main reason would be to communicate, interact and understand, while I’m here in Chiang Mai.

I didn’t want to be that person who has lived here for a year or more and still holds up a piece of paper to the taxi driver, displaying the name (written in Thai) of a major landmark…true story!

And who knows what the future holds, I may end up coming back to Thailand long term, so any language skills I obtain now, will be useful down the track.

The second, I’m not getting any younger and learning a new language (so I’ve been told) is a great way of keeping the grey matter working for longer and delaying the onset of senility.

The third may sound odd, but I really DO love the Thai script from an artistic perspective and for that reason, secretly wish that the old Lanna was being used and taught more widely.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

In early 2010 while still in Australia, when the plan to move here temporarily, became a reality. But my progress was seriously interrupted, for a few months, by the packing up of our lives.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I attend two classes a week, both three hours long. Set homework (if any) can take up to one hour per week, but self inflicted study…well, that ranges from one to three hours.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, not really, but should. Guilt usually sets in and pushes me to get out the books, or to at least scoot around the Internet looking for more words/phrases/videos to study.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

While still in Australia, I used a combination of tourist phrase books, Internet resources, like the Manee Reader for children, and a plethora of websites including Youtube.

Now, I still use the fore mentioned, but have streamlined it to (mainly) the following: my Thai Language course, the Thai-English-Thai software dictionary, Thai for Beginners book /CD and Thai-Language.com. And, of course WLT has provided me with many free! methods of learning and improving my Thai. My husband (his classroom is the street) and I also share what we learn and talk a little Thai to each other at home. I’m sure it’s quite entertaining for any flies on the wall.

Does one method stand out over all others?

No, I need bombarding from all sides: reading, writing, listening to CD’s and videos, parroting and practicing what I’ve learned, out in the real world. The latter, for me, is the most difficult. I tend to say the words in Thai, in my head, but English comes out of my mouth when I’m put on the spot. However, I’m ever so slowly coming out of my Thai shell.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, on my own, before I arrived in Thailand. I must admit I haven’t progressed much since, but still continue to write most of my homework/notes in Thai, even though we’re not learning it in class yet. I don’t always know why I’m writing the words the way I am, but figure it can’t do any harm…and besides, those letters are so cute!

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Yes and I can’t wait until we tackle it in class, because I’ve hit brick wall studying it on my own.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

Not long, I picked up a few limited phrases while on previous holidays and stuck to only those, for quite a long time.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

It didn’t take too long at all, but I do keep in mind that I live in a high tourist traffic area where our accents are probably understood better, than in more rural area. I reckon I’m understood about 80% of the time, when I have the nerve to speak in Thai, that is. The drawback with being armed with a little bit of knowledge is, that after saying a few sentences, locals start prattling back to me in warp speed Thai. Whoa there! Mai khao jai kha! Chan phuut phaasaa Thai nit nawy kha.

I’ve found that the vast majority of Thai people enjoy the fact that I’m learning and are happy to encourage me and play along.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I’m sure I’ve been unknowingly leaving a path of ‘what the’s?’ and red faces behind me, but I do know I did ask our hotel door man “What is your Mother’s name?” while pointing to our resident soi dog, one night. Yes, he still speaks to me.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I think that many new Thai language students get a little overwhelmed and disheartened when their progress is not as fast as they’d like it to be. Going to school won’t make it happen automatically; you have to put in the hard yards.

Sure, use as many methods and or resources as you like, but for me, learning what I need to say on a daily/weekly basis, sticks best. For instance: telling the songthaew driver where I need to go and no, I won’t pay triple the going rate; ordering food and drinks; telling my teacher what I did over the weekend…and now I’ll never forget how to say ‘my husband had an accident and broke a bone.’

And lastly, don’t fool yourself. In order to learn it properly, you WILL need to learn to read and write Thai. So, the sooner, the better. Transliteration can only take you so far.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

There’s an ‘ah hah!’ moment? I look forward to it. Just kidding.

I think I’ve had more ‘hah?’ moments to date. However, I am beginning to pluck out words here and there, on occasion, and am able to respond in pigeon Thai.

Reading – it would have to be the day I understood a sign that said ‘drink, no drive’.

How do you learn languages?

Gradually, using a combination of all of the above.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Weaknesses: Not applying the tones or speaking enough Thai.
Strengths: I’m fairly disciplined and self-motivated, so don’t need to be pushed to learn.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

No, apart from tourist level, in which case I learn just prior to visiting that country.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Yes, I’m thankful I’m not Thai learning English.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

Probably about five or six, at phrase book level, while holidaying and literally carrying the book around. When I was young, my Mum had us tutored briefly in Russian but our teachers were short lived for some reason and our lessons died a natural death. Yes, I’m half Russian, born in Australia. She spoke only English in our home, but Russian with her parents, so I grew up knowing some key words and phrases.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

Are you insane?

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yes, I’ve been in Chiang Mai for over three months and hope to stay for another year. Prior to that, I’d only ever visited Thailand for about one month in total.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Programming no, but can and have built some primitive looking websites. I’m also a bit of an Excel nerd and enjoy graphic design software.

Do you have a passion for music and or do you play an instrument?

I wouldn’t call it a passion, I do like a variety of good music though. As a child I (was forced to) played the piano accordion, for seven years…does that count as a musical instrument?

In hindsight, I’m grateful that I can still read basic music. Back then I preferred to play by ear, much to the sufferance and angst of my poor music teacher.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Catherine, you once fantasized about inserting a computer chip into ones’ head, which would enable one to speak fluent Thai instantly. We can only dream and wait for that day. In the meantime, keep plugging away at it. You’ll be surprised at what you remember when push comes to shove. For me, studying small amounts frequently, rather than large amounts sporadically, works best.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

For the next six months and next year, it’ll be more of the same, with a conscious effort to speak Thai more often. When I return to Australia, to maintain and continue to improve my level of Thai I also hope to Skype with English speaking Thai friends.

And the clincher: Do you agree to report back with your progress in six months?

But, of course!

Snap
Learning Thai In Chiang Mai | Cooee twitter: @SnapCooee




Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Snap, Talen and Greg. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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Interview: Talen is Getting by With Learning Thai

Learn Thai: Getting by in Thai

Talen is getting by with learning Thai…

Name: Timothy Bull ( Talen )
Nationality: American
Age range: 45-45 soon to be 46-46
Sex: I like …Oh… errr… Male
Location: Chonburi, Thailand ( Pattaya )
Profession: Construction Management, currently unemployed and finding my way
Web: Thailand, Land of Smiles (no longer online) | Twitter: @landofsmiles

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

I would say my Thai level is intermediate. While I am speaking and understanding more and more Thai and the proper grammar there is still a lot to learn.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

I would say I understand 50% of what is spoken to me. Often times I find myself picking words out of the conversation and then filling in the gaps with what I already know about the people speaking or the situation. What makes it difficult at times is the speed in which conversations take place ( Thai speaker speaking too fast ) and or when the speaker is using both conversational Thai and the Issan dialect.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I would say I speak more street Thai with a small mix of Issan at times.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I love Thailand and through my travels and trips which led to ultimately living here I recognized that I really need to learn Thai so I can better understand whats going on around me. As my trips to Thailand became longer I began to get more and more frustrated because I couldn’t convey simple thoughts easily. When you are just a tourist you can get by and get the information you need easily with a word or two of Thai but when you have made Thai friends the conversation needs to go beyond simple phrases and words.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

I guess technically I became a student of the Thai language before I made my first trip to Thailand. I began looking at word lists and handy phrases on the Internet that I could use. Before I made my first trip I also bought Benjawan Becker’s Thai-English English Thai Dictionary which really helped greatly. After my first trip I bought several books such as Teach Yourself Thai and started playing around with audio and video Thai language tools. I Started taking formal Thai classes in September of 2010 at Pro Language School in Pattaya.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I have classes 3 days a week for 2 hours each of those days. I started off very strong studying and hour or two each day on my own as well but I didn’t keep that up. Studying on your own is fine if you can recognize where you are getting it wrong but if you can’t then you just start to reinforce bad behaviors, bad grammar and bad pronunciations. Even though I still sit at times and go through exercises with certain Thai programs I use on the computer I would much rather be out and about using what I know with the Thai people I know who always make sure to correct me and teach me knew words and phrases.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Besides the 3 classes a week I have started a private course of 2 classes a week to help with reading and writing Thai. Other than that I’ve found that trying to have a regular study schedule just doesn’t work for me. I learn much better when I am not forcing myself to learn. When I have a quiet moment I’ll often work on words and grammar and it seems to flow more naturally and be retained at a much better percentage.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I am currently taking formal classes as well as utilizing online language tutorials such as Byki Deluxe and Learn Thai Podcast. I also have several Thai language apps for my iPod that have been very helpful in aiding with my studies such as Talking Thai Dictionary by Benjawan Becker, Dr. Wit’s Library Edition Thai and a few other smaller apps that help reinforce Thai vowels and consonants like Read Thai.

Does one method stand out over all others?

While all the methods I have used have given me aha moments and glimmers of hope that maybe one day I will speak Thai fluently the one true method that stands out for me is immersing yourself in Thailand. Speaking with Thai people daily is the real equalizer, you know right away if you spoke correctly or not because you will either get the answer or a strange look. The one great thing about Thai people is the fact that they are not shy about correcting your language on the spot and helping you to speak the word or phrase correctly. I have spent countless hours learning Thai this way and what I learn sticks.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, At school the second hour of every class since November has been dedicated to reading and writing Thai. Now both hours are spent reading and speaking Thai. I have also taken up a private class 2 days a week for 4 hours total just to concentrate on reading and writing Thai.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Yes, I find reading Thai to be very difficult for me. While Some things I can read and understand easily many words and sentences leave me scratching my head. My reading and writing skills are far behind my spoken Thai and will probably stay that way for some time.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I started right away on my very first trip. I asked a Thai lady where the bathroom was in Thai, I said it backwards and with the wrong tone bet she corrected me and showed me to the hongnaam.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

The very second time I asked where the bathroom was in Thai :) You know, this is actually a tougher question than it seems. By the end of my first trip I had a stockpile of phrases and words that I could speak and easily be understood but the longer I am in Thailand I have noticed that even Thai’s seem to speak or hear the same words a little differently at times and depending on who you are talking to you might not be saying what they think you should be saying which can make it tough at times.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

My most embarrassing moment in speaking the Thai language happened at the Mukdahan night market a few years ago. I happen to love a Thai dish called Hoi Lai which is clams or mussels in a spicy roasted chili sauce. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have the exact name of the dish correct at the time so I was walking around the market saying “Pom kwaam dong gaan Hoi, Pom chop hoi, Hoi aroy mak mak”. It turned out Hoi, as I was speaking it was actually the Thai word for the lower female anatomy. So I was saying: I want *****, I like *****, ***** is delicious. To make matters worse I was in the company of my then girlfriend’s entire family and at one point I mentioned that my girlfriends Hoi was the best :P

I learned 2 very important things that day. I learned that the dish I love is called Hoy Lai, and, I learned the meaning of the Thai words Pee Baa (crazy) as the girlfriend’s grandmother spent most of the day looking at me and saying pee baa.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That they don’t need to learn to read Thai. Yes, you can learn to speak without reading Thai but reading Thai really nails down the tones and pronunciation of the word. There is no guesswork, if you can read the word you can speak the word properly.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I don’t think there has been one big a-ha moment for me, it’s been more a series of many small a-ha moments that have come together. It’s all the little things like finally getting the dt sound right or understanding the relationship of certain words to certain objects.

How do you learn languages?

Slowly… I think I learn languages best by interacting with people using the language and learning while I stumble.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my love of Thailand is my biggest strength in learning to speak Thai, it pushes me because it’s important to me. My biggest weakness right now is reading Thai but I hope to have that in hand over the next few months.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I can speak Spanish to a certain extent but other than that, no.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Not in the slightest.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use)?

None, unfortunately for me I used to have the typical American attitude towards language which is if you can’t speak English why should I speak your language. Obviously that has changed.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No, Thai is more than enough for my plate at the moment.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yes, I currently live in Chonburi, Thailand ( Pattaya ).

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

I am not a computer programmer but I have programming experience.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

Yes, I absolutely love music. Everything from classical to heavy metal and swing to jazz. I have played the guitar since I was 9 years old.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Take everyone’s advice about learning Thai with a grain of salt. What works for them may not work well for you. Find a class or program that you enjoy and works for you and you will be rewarded with a much better learning experience. Also get out there and use what you know, speak Thai as much as possible with native speakers even if you aren’t confident in your speaking skills you will see improvements fast.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I will continue taking Thai language classes at Pro Language School in Pattaya for the foreseeable future and continue to speak Thai as much as I can daily.

And the clincher: Do you agree to report back with your progress in six months?

Sure, and maybe next time I can answer all the questions in Thai :P

Timothy Bull ( Talen )
Twitter: @landofsmiles

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Talen and Greg Jorgensen. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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