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Index: Successful Thai Language Interview Compilation

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

The First Fifty Successful Thai Language Learners…

Well, that’s a wrap. For now anyway. Below are the first 50 interviews in the Successful Thai Language Learners series. My thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute.

Just to let you know … I’m slowly making inroads into the second 50 interviews. So far there are 28 – that leaves only 22 to go. When the magic 100 interviews has been reached I’ll create an ebook to share.

If you’d like to be a part of the series please contact me.

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Interview Compilation: What Advice Would You Give to Students of the Thai Language?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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

This has got to be my favourite question in this series. As the advice given is many and varied, I won’t even attempt to summarise.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: You can learn to speak Thai. You don’t need to be a genius. You do need perseverance. For some, it helps to have a good teacher. Others learn with CDs and a good book. If you want to start by learning to write, all I can say is good luck! If you want to start by learning to speak, you will need a book with transliteration (Thai written with English letters or symbols). The transliteration must have tone marks. You must have sound that follows the book. There are many books to choose from. Frankly, I think it’s beneficial to have several books for learning Thai. You might prefer one transliteration system over another. Whatever tools you use, you will need to break the tonal barrier. It simply cannot be avoided. Put some effort into tone pronunciation right from the start.

Not everyone learns in the same way. Learn at your own pace. Seek quality, not quantity. Remember, the turtle reaches the finish line before the rabbit.

Dtòw mah tĕung sên chai gàwn gràdtàai
เต่า มา ถึง เส้น ชัย ก่อน กระต่าย
Literally: Turtle come arrive line victory before rabbit.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Well, I still consider myself very much a student, however, my advice would be:

  • Learn to read,
  • Find your Thai voice and…
  • Never ever ever think it’s the listener’s fault for not understanding. They don’t understand because you are saying it wrong, lose the ego and swallow hard and try again :)

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Make as many Thai friends as possible and be willing to teach them English in exchange for them helping you with your Thai.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: 60 million Thais can speak it. You’re no different. Ditch the excuses and get on with it.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: Get a speaking partner, who will correct you.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: One thing I’ve discovered is absolutely crucial but left out of nearly all “programs” of Thai study: on their very first day of learning Thai, students should sit down with the teacher and go over all the sounds of Thai (where “sounds” means consonants, vowels, and tones), independent of how the sounds are written in Thai script. The students should sit there and verbally drill the tricky sounds with the teacher until the students are able to make and understand all the sounds that differ between Thai and English.

The teacher should critique the sounds made by the students and refine the students’ pronunciation until the students can make each sound correctly (i.e. until the teacher, as a native Thai listener, can distinguish which sound the student is trying to make). So in some sense, the teacher is acting as a “voice trainer” for the students.

The teacher should then say words to the students and verify that the students can correctly recognize and distinguish each sound that they hear. If it takes 5 sessions to do this, so be it: it’s worth it.

The teacher must drill not only the 5 tones and all the Thai vowels including the tricky อื vowel, but also make sure that the students can correctly make and distinguish b/bp/p and d/dt/t and the other consonant contrasts that English lacks.

Note that it’s even important for the teacher to drill sounds that English already has, because many sounds have different distributions in Thai. For example, even though the b, bp, and p sounds occur in various English words, the English-native student is not used to thinking of them as three separate sounds instead of just two as in English.

But in Thai, unlike English, you can have 3 different words that differ only by b, bp, and p, like ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) and ภัย pai (danger).

In order to satisfy the students’ desire for instant gratification, the teacher can drill the consonant, vowel, and tone sounds using real words, as in these examples (from the intro of the 2009 Paiboon dic):

ดี dii (good) ตี dtii (hit) ที tii (turn)
เดา dao (guess) เตา dtao (stove) เทา tao (gray)
ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) ภัย pai (danger)
เบ็ด bèt (fishhook) เป็ด bpèt (duck) เผ็ด pèt (spicy)
นา naa (rice field) งา ngaa (sesame)
ถุง tǔng (bag) ถึง tʉ̌ng (arrive)
กลัว gluua (scared) เกลือ glʉʉa (salt)
ซี sii (letter C), สี่ sìi (four), สี sǐi (color)

But the focus of the instruction for both student and teacher during this period must be on the sounds, not the words or meanings or grammar. The student will naturally be itching to move on to whole phrases like “Where is the bar?” and “How much is that pad thai?” but the teacher must guide (force) the students to focus on sound first.

I discovered how important this was more or less by accident. The very first day I went to the Thai class at the California Thai temple, I happened to be the only student, so I sat down with the teacher and we drilled sounds because that’s what’s on the first page of “Thai for Beginners.” It has helped me immensely.

Most students want to “jump ahead” to learning whole words and phrases right away, but in most cases I have observed (and I’ve now observed hundreds of people learning Thai at the temple), this impatient behavior seriously damages their long-term ability to function in the Thai language. This is because the students spend the first few months of instruction learning words incorrectly: many students are not even aware that ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go), and ภัย pai (danger) are different words in Thai until long after they have supposedly “learned” these words. This makes it nearly impossible for them to understand a Thai person correctly or speak the words so that a Thai person can understand.

By the time they realize that they should have studied the sounds first, it’s already too late: they’ve accumulated a huge dictionary of incorrect Thai in their head! It takes much more work for a student to un-do damaged learning than it would have taken to learn the sounds correctly in the first place.

For students without access to native Thai speakers, it’s still worth spending a long initial period familiarizing themselves with the sounds via available websites and software. That’s part of the reason I made the pages about Thai sounds on my hobby site slice-of-thai.com.

As a side note, it does not matter what system of transcription the teacher uses during this initial period, as long as the system writes each different Thai sound using a different symbol (that is, as long as the transcription system is complete). The focus is on sound, not writing. The students should not obsess over the English(-like) spelling that the transcription system uses.

The teacher must tell the students right at the beginning not to rely on the transcription system as a guide for how to say each word: instead, they must use their ears as the sole guide, and regard each written transcription symbol as just that: a symbol representing the sound they just heard.

With this advice, the student will be able to avoid the enormous pitfalls and wastes of time that have plagued so many students who obsess over systems of transcription.

In theory, the teacher could even discard transcription altogether and start with Thai script during this initial period (in which case the student is guaranteed not to make comparisons with English spelling!) but of course the problem with this is that Thai script has so many ways to write the same sound, leading the student to unnecessary confusion while the focus is on learning the sounds of Thai.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: Speak, speak, speak. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Make mistakes and then keep trying until you get it right. Immerse yourself in the Thai language and culture as much as you can. Ask for help and ask questions when you don’t know or understand something. Accept from the beginning that it’s not an easy language to speak and don’t expect immediate results, but do work hard to make as much progress as you can. Don’t give up.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: Language is a living thing. Learning it in a lab in a foreign country is like putting gas in the car but not going anywhere. It needs Thai input from living people. If you can’t come here, find a Thai. Offer language exchange to foreign students. Find a Skypemate. You can’t speak Thai until you feel it breathe.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Don’t be intimidated – just get the basics and make a daily (thrice daily) effort to get out and engage with people at street level.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: I would advise students to spend as much time looking and listening, and as little time speaking as possible. It makes sense to me that the more we’re talking, the less we’re able to hear, and if we want to understand Thai, we need to be listening to Thais as much as we can.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: Become literate. Being able to read Thai makes it much easier to take responsibility for your own learning. It also shows Thais that you are serious about learning the language so they are more likely to want to help you to achieve your goals. Not being literate imposes severe limitations on your opportunities to make progress.

  • Make friends with Thais.
  • Use tv/radio/internet etc.
  • Accept mistakes as a natural part of language learning.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Everyone has good and bad days.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: Do not use transliteration. It is grossly inadequate to the features of Thai. Do use transcription – IPA style – as it is (at least) capable of revealing certain important features not visible in the Thai orthography. Use detailed written accounts of the language – the kind that require a lot of study. Make sure that when using a teacher, that the teacher is not offering some quick-fix approach. Reject any teacher that uses transliteration. Understand that learning a language is a major task, and that there is nothing more complex that human language – whether humanly devised or natural. Human language, unlike animal language, is capable of an infinite number of utterances. Machine translation from language to language is far short of perfection and may possibly be inherently incapable of ever achieving complete reliability.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Use (relatively) formal methods that ensure broad exposure to vocabulary. Don’t neglect grammar. Spend as much time on task as possible.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: Don’t give up.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: It’s probably been said before, and may fall on deaf ears, but: learn to read and write!

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Stick with it. Don’t be shy. The most important this about learning a language is really wanting to do it in the first place, having the right intention and determination are essential.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Don’t fear the tones, learn to read, and most important … Use it or lose it.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: Crack the book, crack a smile, and reduce your dependency on English-only Thais for your social interactions.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: Again, people are so varied that it’s hard to say something useful to everyone. But just to throw out a few ideas:

  1. Work on being accurate as well as fluent, particularly at the beginning when you’re laying a foundation for later learning. But live with mistakes. They’re part of life and part of everyone’s language learning. The key is to learn from them, get some feedback, and try to do a little better next time.
  2. Just about everything in Thai is learnable if you stick with it long enough. If you can learn to do something correctly, then take the time to do it right and take satisfaction in it. Don’t be sloppy in pronunciation if you can sound better. Learn to gradually sharpen your vocabulary by learning the finer distinctions between synonyms and other words within a similar range of meaning.
  3. Reading is really valuable for developing a good vocabulary and for getting information. But (for me at least) it can be a distraction early on from the work of learning how to converse well. However, once you have a good foundation in the spoken language, read, read, read.
  4. For me, learning Thai is for interacting with Thai people. If I go to class, I want to use the lesson by talking with a Thai person about the topic so I can use the vocabulary and structure I just learned. If I read something, I want to talk to a Thai person about what I read and get their opinion.
  5. Once proficiency starts to increase or employment requires that Thai be used, pay attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it. Don’t be afraid to back up and try again if you sense there was a mistake or feel that you could have said something in a better or more appropriate way. And sharpen your awareness of what you are saying and what others are saying to you or to one another. The better your awareness and the more you develop sharp listening, the more differences you will notice between your speech and native Thai speech. Take one or two of those noticed differences and work on them, putting them into your own speech. This all takes time and effort, but it provides a good way to continue to improve.
  6. Keep a sense of humor. I have made some hilarious gaffes in learning Thai, as have most of my friends, but I am able to laugh at myself, admit my ignorance and slowness in learning, and ask how I should have said it. I never turn down a correction. Once I was in the middle of giving a talk to a group of Mien people, and a lady interrupted me, calling out, “That’s not the way to say it.” I stopped, thanked her very much, asked what the correct way was, backed up and put the correction in, and then tried to regain my thoughts to go on with the talk. Later I thanked the lady and encouraged her to interrupt me any time I said something wrong. If I had frowned or disregarded her comment, I would not only have lost the opportunity to learn something but she would likely never again have offered another correction.
  7. Finally, in language learning, as in other types of skill development, time-on-task is very important. The more one sticks with the language consistently, talking with Thai people, making an effort to read, learn vocabulary, and learn Thai customs and how one should act in various situations, the greater will be the positive payoff.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: Work hard, every day. Don’t give up. And no matter how old you are you can still learn. If I thought I would go for just one day without learning something new then I would want to leave this life and go on to what ever comes next. Learning new stuff just becomes a little harder as we get older. But we should not get discouraged just because it is hard. In fact, if something were easy, then why do it in the first place? The fun comes when we try something difficult and we succeed. They say keeping your brain active is one way to stave off senility. Well, if you are studying Thai then you’ll have nothing to worry about.

The Thais have a saying “Phak chee loy naa”, literally meaning “the coriander floating on top”. It means that all you see here is the surface of things, the pretty adornments floating on top of the Thai soup. The basic meaning is “We are inscrutable. There is lots about us that we won’t show you.” If you want to know what the soup is really made of then you need to know the language that the recipe is in. When you do, you’ll see that there are lots of goodies in the soup that you would have never been aware of if all you saw was that floating green stuff.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan:

  • Never give up. If you feel you aren’t moving forwards, try a different approach or switch to something else (from conversation to reading or vice versa).
  • Don’t confuse learning to read with speaking or understanding. You learn to read to gain the tools you need for conversation. When you learn to read, you needn’t even worry about what the words mean – just as long as you can read them and know the sounds.
  • If the vocabulary is useful and relevant, by all means learn it. If it’s not, don’t bother because it will only slow you down.
  • Some people learn faster than others, so don’t be disheartened if classmates seem to be getting there faster than you. It’s not a race and it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I would say it’s important to learn how to say things exactly the way Thais say them. Don’t try to learn a lot of vocabulary then make up your own sentences. Also, don’t feel that using ka or krup is demeaning. Use it a lot, especially with older people and even at first when you talk to people your own age. People in Thailand really appreciate politeness. Don’t hang out with foreigners all the time.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: For Thai, I think it’s as important to study Sanskrit and Pali as it is for a student of English literature to study Greek and Latin, to get to the roots of a lot of the vocabulary. Plus you can have fun translating your Thai friends’ last names for them (the Thai interpretations are often incorrect)!

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: A few things. I know it can seem tedious, but back off on trying to learn a lot of vocabulary at the start and focus on reading and writing. Once you have a grasp on the consonants, vowels, tone marks, etc. learning vocabulary becomes a lot easier and you have a much better shot of nailing the pronunciations.

Also, wean yourself off of using English transliterations as soon as possible. While they may seem helpful in the beginning, they quickly become a crutch and will ultimately slow you down. Once you learn how to read Thai, you’ll realize how inadequate English transliterations are in capturing the actual pronunciation of many Thai words. Don’t get me started on the supremely annoying (to American English speakers, anyway) of using “r” in transliterations like larb, Sathorn, gor-gai, etc…

I know there are some notable exceptions, but when you start to learn Thai as an adult, I don’t believe you can be fluent and speak clearly without knowing how to read the language.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: The main advice I would give would be to not fear the “giants” of the language—the main “giants” being the tones, the written language, the sentence structure, and the fact that Thai is from a totally different language group with scarcely any similarities to Germanic or Romance languages that Westerners are familiar with.

I think that while many people are wrestling with these giants and trying to grasp the concepts to the point of giving up, other people are just out there talking to people, being attentive to speech patterns and usage and end up able to communicate even better “pit pit, took took” (sometimes right, sometimes wrong). It is not always as hard as it seems, you just have to “think you can”. If you can’t manage the tones, don’t worry about it right away. Most things are understood from context anyway.

After a certain amount of exposure to the language it is good to go back and try to put labels on some of the things you have learned through language books and courses and then you can progress a lot more quickly, but if you start out trying to dissect the language with theory and terminology it could be much more frustrating. Some people say learning new languages the way we learned our mother tongue is the best method, and I tend to agree—it’s called the immersive method—putting yourself in situations that force you to learn the language.

Oh, and don’t worry about if they laugh at you. In Thailand being laughed at is not an insult, but rather they would say they are laughing because it is “nah rak” (cute), and you can take heart in that you brought someone a smile!

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Make Thai friends and try to use it all the time.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: Don’t be afraid to fall on your face. The first day in Thailand I had a guy laugh at me every moment I talked. Every time I felt cocky about my Thai I would be reminded that I still have much to learn. Thai people can be very direct sometimes. You just need to brush it off and keep trying.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all do it.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: Study, study, study. Don’t give up, get as much exposure to the language as possible, learn to read, learn to write, talk to people, make friends, make enemies (if you can speak enough Thai to say something that pisses someone off, you’re doing great).

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Stick with it! It’s difficult in the beginning, but the more you practice and use the language the easier it gets.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: Are you committed? Then never despair: it all builds up somehow. If you are not, then mai pen rai, just have fun, they’ll like you anyway for trying and for being (to their ears) funny.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: Persist.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Remember, Thai, just like any other language, has correct and polite forms, and guidelines for good, “educated” style. If you are serious about staying in the place, a little depth will go a long way. Most Thais appreciate any effort to learn their language, so do it right and they will love you :)

  • Learn to read and write.
  • Get decent dictionaries, including a Thai-Thai dictionary like that of the Royal Institute.
  • When you have mastered the basics, have a look at the compendiums of grammar called “Lak Phasa Thai”.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: Learn basic questions and answers to begin with. Get out there and try to implement what you have as you are studying it. Doing a task or even helping others learn is a great way to achieve good retention. Roman script can be useful when learning Thai, but it can never fully portray Thai pronunciation as Thai writing, so dip into the Thai writing system right away starting with a few basic words, the alphabet, the consonants, the consonant classes and tonality.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: You need to realise that you will improve if you keep on practicing; there will always be improvements. It is like a journey, but some of us have further to travel. We will all make it to the end if we keep on going; the only thing that can stop us is the end of our lifespan. The fact is though, anyone who spends enough time learning Thai will become fluent.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Ya wanta know the way to Carnegie Hall, kid? Practice, practice, practice. Oh, and get a Thai girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, whatever your flavor, but don’t speak any English with ‘em. Take some classes, do all the things I suggested before. For about 10 years, then you’ll have a good start. Go for it. Don’t give up. Be humble and realize this isn’t for sissies.

If you only want to learn enough to get around by yourself, that shouldn’t be that hard, but in all cases, be clear about what your goal is, and how close you actually are to it.

And if you’re in Bangkok, seriously ambitious to learn, and can afford the time and money, you probably can’t do better than the Chula intensive Thai course, check it out.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: First, motivation is everything when it comes to learning Thai (learning anything, in fact). Keep your motivation alive. Motivation can often be stimulated when you can see visible progress.

Second, to be flexible and aware in all aspects of your study. For example, there is a lot of research which shows that we learn best if we study at a level just above our level of competence; not too easy and not too hard. So a complete novice would get nothing out of watching a ‘lakorn’ on TV, or reading the Thai translation of ‘Gorky Park’. Start with a Doraemon comic and the AUA videos.

But this also means we need to constantly adjust our studies as we improve; we need to keep challenging our level of competence.

Third, an incredibly powerful method of learning is to force yourself to *think* in Thai. It’s a bit like the visualisation process that elite sportsmen are trained to use. The brain cannot readily tell the difference between an imagined conversation and a real one, so that the Thai you are mouthing to yourself is more likely to be on tap when you are required to produce it. And, even if it feels a little weird, it’s less embarrassing than making a hash of a real conversation.

Fourth, have a variety of learning methods and recycle them. That is, you may have watched ‘lakorn’ shows and given up on them because they were too hard. After six months or so, try again, and you may be surprised to find how you have improved. There is a visible pointer to your progress. Same with someone whose conversation you used to struggle to understand, or a newspaper you had trouble with.

Fifth (although this is a very personal view): Don’t ‘passive listen’. You may think you’re passively absorbing Thai when you have the TV on in the background as you check your e-mail, but in my case, this kind of passive listening simply taught me to switch off and ignore spoken Thai as a meaningless background noise — exactly the opposite of what I needed.

If I listen now, I make an active effort to understand what is going on. Even better, at my current level, is to download an MP3 from VOA Thai News, stick the cans on and listen to it a few times, writing down what I think I have heard. (VOA has transcripts as well, so I can check how well I am doing).

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: If you’re serious about learning Thai, tackle the written language. It unlocks the world.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Learn to read right away. Start by learning all the sounds of the language. Then you won’t be fooled into poor pronunciation by bad transliteration schemes. Reading and writing ability in Thai will really help your speaking skills more than you’d think.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Do not give up. I know it sounds silly (and obvious), but the more you can practise, the better. Most importantly, do not get put off when people don’t understand a single word you say – Thai is a strictly tonal language, and people who are not used to speaking with foreigners will not understand anything you say if you aren’t using the exact right tones and intonation at exactly the right time. It’s not your ‘fault’ that you speak using the wrong tone, because you are not used to speaking a language where it is relevant – and it’s not their ‘fault’ for not understanding you, because their brain is not tuned to listen to their language spoken with the wrong tones. Remember that people brought up speaking Central Thai will usually not understand a thing that someone in Isaan is saying (because the tones are all shifted).

So whatever you do, try and try again to speak. As much as you can. Most Thais are very keen to help you speak their language, because so few foreigners can, and so many give up before their brain has had a chance to adjust to speaking a tonal language. (Also, remember that English is also a slightly tonal language, kind of – the words PROject and proJECT have two entirely different meanings).

When you go to the local noodle shop, try ordering in Thai. Try speaking to people you meet in shops. Whenever you have the chance to speak to someone, do.

Also be aware that if you hold a conversation with someone and they say how well you speak Thai, it means they can understand you but it’s still pretty terrible! When nobody comments on it, that’s when you know you’re doing well. And no, I am not quite there yet!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: Find people who don’t speak English and talk to them. I hear foreigners say in Bangkok they don’t have to use Thai. I’m not sure where they go, but I can easily go outside and find many people who can’t speak a word of English. Start out by buying your morning coffee from a street vendor instead of Starbucks. Strike up a simple conversation. It will be slow at first but after a month you’ll realise how much you improved and you will have met other people in the neighbourhood who will want to talk to you too.

Learning songs is also a great way to learn, and one that I haven’t been doing to be honest. The couple of times I have learned a song I’ve seen how much faster it sinks in. Again I think it’s to do with the evolutionary mechanisms of our brain. That’s why songs are so important to us and why you can still remember songs from your childhood from historical lessons to toy commercials!

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: Learn to read and write before you do anything – at least if you have any notions of reaching a decent level.

Consider studying at a language school in a classroom environment. You will be amazed at how much progress you will make in a short time.

I learned more in one month in a language school studying full-time – which meant 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, than I did in my first two years in Thailand conversing with the locals in various environments.

Given that many Westerners in Thailand are retired or taking time out – and so have a lot of time on their hands – studying the language formally really is a great way to spend your time, progress with the language and of course, make some new friends.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Don’t compare apples with oranges. Thai is not English… However, just because it looks different, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarities. Up to 60% of Modern Thai has roots in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language as is English. There are some amazing similarities that are ‘masked’ through the ‘different look’ of the language. Once you start to scratch the surface a little you’ll realize that the things that you thought were difficult – writing, tones etc, aren’t that difficult at all. They’re just different.

Don’t be put off learning Thai just because you’ve had a bad experience with Thai teachers. Just like many native speakers of English, many Thais don’t have a deep understanding of their own language. 

When learners of Thai ask a question like:

‘Why are there 3 consonant classes?’
or
‘Why does the high tone actually rise?’

the response is normally something like:

‘There are 3 consonant classes – High, Middle and Low. The High class has ‘x’ number of letters, the middle class has ‘x’ number of letters etc etc.
Or,
‘you are a Farang, you don’t need to know that’.

The fact is that for most of them, they’ve never learned ‘why’ themselves.

One good formula is to have several different people that you learn from. Learn something ‘advanced’ from one of them. Something that a normal learner wouldn’t normally know. After that, go and try it out by just dropping it into a conversation with another Thai that you consult with. They will be impressed and think that your level is higher than what it really is. Then ask them to teach you something new. Keep rotating around your ‘Thai Consultants’ with new terms, new words and slang until your proficiency catches up with their perceived proficiency for you. It’s a great way to get past the ‘farang’ Thai that farang get taught and sound more native-like, not to mention keep motivated and positive about learning after each positive impression you make.

Think LOUD … full of colours, sounds, emotions. Make crazy associations and then link them with a system that you can recall.

Know what ‘pushes your buttons’ then wrap the language up in whatever that is.

Excitement is the best memory technique.

What other advice do you give to students of the Thai language?
  
Have FUN with the language – learn as much as you can about the language as you learn to speak the language. 

Listen and observe – don’t use Thai as a vehicle to ‘say what you want to say’ to Thai people. Learn the stuff that they want to talk about and use the language to learn about them.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Speak confidently, even if you are not. Speaking tentatively will inevitably skew your tones. Get into reading as soon as possible so you can see how a word is really pronounced. Before that, find materials that use a real phonetic alphabet. Trying to represent Thai in English is hopeless. As someone else pointed out, vowel length is very important in Thai, ie., it’s not just the tones. Listen constantly, even if you don’t understand what is being said. Use the media. I learned to read the newspaper very quickly and I watch Thai TV everyday, especially news shows.

Learning Thai dialects: First, get your central Thai down solid. Then you should realise that the tone changes in Thai dialects are very systematic. For example, take words beginning with a mid consonant with a maithoo that don’t have stop finals, e.g. baan (house) and dai (can). They will both shift in tone from central Thai in exactly the same way. Somewhere there is a chart of about 15 representative words that will allow you to determine all the tone shifts in a particular dialect.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersThomas: If you really want to speak Thai then stop speaking English right now!

Make a list of everything that is absolutely essential to your daily vocabulary. Then go out and learn how to say those things perfectly.

Forget the rest for right now.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: 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.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: As has been advised in the previous interviews, dedicate a lot of time (preferably early on in the learning process) to learning the tones. Listen to examples of tone pronunciation over and over and over again. Drill them into your brain and practice them every day. Find a good language course with tone examples and listen to it in your car, on the bus, before you go to bed etc.

Communicate with Thais as much as possible. If you don’t live in Thailand, watch Thai films even if you can’t understand anything, the important thing is to immerse yourself in the language, eat, sleep and breathe it, especially at the outset. If you live in Thailand you are surrounded by possibilities, go out and chat with a noodle vendor, a taxi driver etc. make learning more interesting and fun.

Learn to read Thai. It is absolutely fundamental to successful Thai language learning. Do not be intimidated by those alien-looking squiggles. At first I thought learning how to read Thai would be impossible, but when it begins to make sense to you it is very rewarding. Be methodical, learn the consonants in their consonant classes; learn the simple vowels first etc etc. There are now many good Thai language courses that teach how to read and write effectively. If you live in Thailand and cannot read Thai you are surrounded by things that do not make sense: signs, posters, books etc. In my view learning to read Thai is the principal factor contributing to successful Thai language learning.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Patience is indicated. I don’t know many people that picked up Thai immediately. Actually I know one girl that really picked up conversational Thai in 18 months to a very high degree. For the rest of us it takes a few years of sustained effort. Speaking Thai everyday is the best thing you can do to progress faster.

There is a great ebook I just became aware of because he decided to let me help him sell it on one of my sites. Learning the Thai Alphabet in 60 Minutes is that ebook. Have a look, you won’t be disappointed – as crazy as it sounds, it really delivers. I’d call it maybe 2 hours though

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

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Interview Compilation: What is the Biggest Misconception for Learning Thai?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?…

Out of the 50, 22 focused on tones and pronunciation. But there’s a mixed bag. Some said tones tones are not impossible to master while others bounced between tones being important and not as unimportant as feared. And 14 mentioned the misconception that the Thai language difficult to learn.

And now for the rest of the interview…

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: People tend to cling to what is familiar to them. They are most comfortable with the sounds of their native language. The tonal characteristics of Thai are seen as cumbersome, trivial, and alien. Some people actually convince themselves that tones are unnecessary. This is a great misconception.

I have met many foreigners who communicate quite well with their Thai girlfriends, but are not understood by others. Usually, this kind of “Thai” is spoken in a mono-tone or it may have an inflection that conveys the English speaker’s feelings. This is not Thai.

I once met a Chinese gentleman who spoke “Thai” at lighting speed. He had learned it in 6 months, from Chinese teachers. There was only one problem. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not understand him. His Chinese influenced tones didn’t make any sense to me. Some Chinese dialects have as many as 13 different tones. It seemed to me that he was using at least 13 and maybe more! It made my head spin. I felt a bit sorry for him. It will take him a long time to unlearn what he had learned incorrectly.

Speaking Thai is not just a matter of using tones, but using the correct Thai tone for each syllable. Fortunately there are only five tones in Thai. The tone of a word is an integral part of its meaning. Consider this. Suppose you go to a restaurant and want to order roasted chicken. You should ask for gài yâhng (literally, chicken roasted). Yâhng is the verb meaning to roast. It is pronounced with a falling tone. However, if you were to pronounce yahng with a middle tone, you would be requesting a rubber chicken!

Usually, Thais have a good laugh when a foreigner bungles the tone, but sometimes the wrong tone can lead to confusion. The tonal distinction between near (glâi, with a falling tone) and far (glai, with a middle tone) has caused many a foreigner to wander around aimlessly.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: That tones are not important. I have heard people say that you should not worry too much as the context of the sentence will be enough. I have never seen evidence of this. The best thing I was ever told that has helped me on my path is “find your Thai voice”.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: That the language barrier will never be broken haha. Patience is a virtue especially when it comes to learning Thai!

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: That you can do it without reading and writing it.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: That any transliteration system shows them how to make the sounds of Thai.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: One is certainly the belief that you can get through life without tones. I’ve met a lot of foreigners who pump out their Thai in monotone and are bemused when they aren’t understood. This is particularly common in long-term expats. They get away with it in a relationship with a partner whose ear is attuned to farang-speak but then can’t get the simplest point across to the waitress or the petrol pump attendant. Thai’s a tonal language. Learning the tones is half the battle. And learning tone and vocab at the same time is the most sensible way to go about it. You can either do this by learning to read before you pick up vocabulary, or you can go the Cotterill route and learn vocab in tone groups. Again in mnemonics, one set of vocab that lives on top of a mountain for high tone, one set falling out of an airplane for falling tone, etc.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: I think it is that you have to sound perfect before you can be accepted as a Thai speaker. But Thai has so many styles and accents, that one shouldn’t let the sounds and tones intimidate you. Just go out there and make an effort.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: That language learning is difficult. I believe that the thing that makes it difficult is mostly centered on how we try to do it! It seems to me that If a 2 year old can do it, then so can I and it doesn’t have to be hard!

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: One misconception is that if you get a tone wrong, Thais will not understand you. Another is that if you can’t immediately ‘hear’ or distinguish tones, you might as well not waste any further time trying to learn the language. Some learners can hear and reproduce tones accurately almost from the outset, while others take longer … yet still get there.

Another misconception is that it is good enough just to speak and there is no need to write. Back in 1906 Basil Osborn Cartwright cautioned ‘those who imagine they can ‘pick up’ a smattering of the language in a few weeks by trying to learn words in a parrot-like fashion from romanized versions which are invariably misleading’ and which is an ‘absolute waste of time, money and frequently of temper also.’

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: It is possibly the greatest misconception concerning any foreign tongue: an unawareness of the phenomenon of polysemy – the array of related meanings associated with almost every vocabulary item in any language. Because of polysemy, there are no one-to-one correspondences between the meanings of a word in one language and the meanings of any one word in some other language.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: That native orthography should be learned immediately (for those in more formal programs), and/or that informal methods work over the long run (for those studying informally).

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: That pronunciation is not important.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: A common response to this question is to “not sweat the tones.” Perhaps they are intimidating and if this is an excuse to not learn the language then maybe their importance can be minimized at first. However, in my experience, being a poor tone user, they are actually important. And the tone rules (determining the spoken tone from the spelling) are hard. I discussed this last week with my language-exchange student, a native Thai woman studying for the TOEFL here in Seattle. It was frustrating for me because she did not know what I was talking about: native Thai speakers have learned the tone system so innately as small children that they often aren’t even aware that there are rules that adult learners must master. While some Thais that you may communicate with in Thailand have the ability to imagine the different possibilities for your incorrect tones and chuckle but understand you, others seem to be hearing something like the difference between “cat” and “dog,” and are completely mystified by your utterance.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Thinking it’s going to be particularly difficult.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: That westerners can neither hear nor replicate the tones.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: That tones are a huge obstacle to learning the language. Tones are a function of correct pronunciation, but so are many things, such as long and short vowels, which is scarcely mentioned. Once you can read, then you can ‘see’ the tones also, as they are written in.

Non-tonal Thai is still understandable, also, witness Lao which differs significantly in tone from Thai, but not an obstacle really. Many Cambodians can speak Thai, but non-tonally, though still understandable. Some of the words they share with Thai indeed ARE spoken the same way, though Khmer is technically a non-tonal language.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: People are really different in their learning styles, motivation for learning Thai, living situations, opportunities to get instruction (if they’re even interested in getting it), and willingness to use the language often and with many different people and, in so doing, become vulnerable. So it’s probably not possible to say anything that will fit everyone. But here are a few thoughts.

For people like me, a misconception would be that written Thai is the “real” language. The real language is oral language with its many styles and levels of speaking. The script is attractive, exotic, and challenging, and reading is very valuable at an intermediate level and beyond, but I consider it to be secondary to spoken Thai.

Another misconception is that the language is really easy, since it doesn’t have the complexity of all those suffixes and prefixes as in Russian. Or, conversely, that Thai is really hard, possibly inscrutable, and maybe unlearnable for non-Thais because of the tones and the looseness of singular/plural, lack of marked tenses, and the like. The first view can lead to overconfidence when the learner gets a quick spurt, especially toward the beginning. The second view can lead to discouragement and a decrease in motivation, then falling back on a mix of Thai and English, or to being content with broken Thai or in despair of ever improving. A middle or balanced way seems to work for most learners: some things are easy to grasp, others are difficult but eventually learnable; one just needs to stay positive, keep working hard, and enjoy the experience of interacting with people in their heart language.

For some people, perhaps for those taking a formal class, a misconception is that if I pay attention and do my homework, maybe looking/listening to snatches of the language on tape, on a CD, or on the Internet, that the language will come. Perhaps it will, but the real payoff in language learning, whether independent or classroom, is interacting with people, getting to know them, and sharing each other’s ideas. In my current work at a language school in Bangkok, revising the curriculum, I am writing very focused and doable assignments that enable students to use what they learned in class in interactions with Thai people outside of class, from very simple assignments at the start to more complex interviewing at the upper intermediate level. These assignments integrate learning in class and learning in the community and, if students are willing to follow them and use them, they can help students to become independent learners with skills they can use long after formal classes are done with.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: The biggest mistake people have is not to stress the importance of Thai tones. In my opinion, if you get the tones wrong, no matter how much they are smiling at you, no matter how much vocabulary you know, no matter how well you read and write, no one will understand a word you say. Let me change that a bit. If you have someone you spend lots of time with, your partner, paramour, maid, golf caddie, they may be able to “decipher” incorrect tones and guess what you mean. That becomes more of an idiolect, your own personal language, which can be understood by only a few.

Here is why tones are so important. The sounds of English can be divided into 3 very important parts, consonants, vowels, and intonation. If you get any of these wrong then the person listening will have trouble understanding you. For instance, let’s say we have trouble with our consonants. You want to say “Your life is fine,” but you confuse the consonants and come out with “Your wife is mine”, only two small consonant changes. But if you say this to the wrong person you will quickly see how important consonants are in English. In this case we say that the change in consonants is “morphemic”, it changes the word’s meaning. I don’t think that anyone would say that it is unimportant to learn the English consonants and vowels. Then why do some people insist that Thai tones are not essential to being able to speak and be understood?

In Thai, tones are just as important as consonants and vowels. Changes in Thai tones cause “morphemic” changes in the words. They mean something different. If one speaks toneless Thai it is the same as saying all English words using only one consonant. “Your life is fine” becomes “Tour Tife is Tine”.

No wonder Thais look at us incomprehensibly at times. I’m not saying learning Thai tones is going to be easy. I still get those looks sometimes. And when I do, I don’t blame the listener for not understanding me. I know I just have to work a little harder at it. In one of my favorite books, Alice in Wonderland, Alice and Humpty Dumpty have a discussion as to whether “Saying what you mean” is the same as “Meaning what you say”. I never could figure out who was right. But I do know that if we don’t use the correct tones when speaking Thai we will always be meaning one thing and saying another.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: That it is any more difficult than any other language. Clearly, Europeans learning a language that uses the ABC alphabet is always going to be easier because they can already read it (mostly). That’s why I think learners should get reading out of the way first. Then it is not a hindrance to speaking and understanding.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: Some people say the tones aren’t important but your Thai will sound pretty ragged if you don’t learn them.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: That you can learn the tones without learning to read. Children can learn by pure imitation, but not adults. Adult learners benefit immensely from both using the language communicatively (as in The Silent Way methodology) and by explicitly discussing the structure (grammar translation). You need to work at the language from both ends, structure and communication.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: That’s tough from my perspective because I had no conceptions at all when I started! I have noticed a fairly common one in other students has been thinking (or hoping, anyway) that tone is a secondary component in pronouncing a Thai word when in reality it’s as important as consonants and vowels in being understood clearly when speaking.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: That it’s especially hard and/or impossible. I don’t know, lots of things. That’s what happens when you learn a language – hundreds of misconceptions are broken down over time. At least that’s been my experience.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: That it is TOO hard. Learning any language is difficult and Thai can seem even harder since there is little in common with English. That said, It is very attainable and I don’t think it is beyond anyone who is willing to try to be able to become fluent in Thai.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: I don’t know what the biggest misconception is, but this is one that leads people feel reluctant to speak. That if you mispronounce words the listener can’t understand you. That is the case in some situations, but if you use words within sentences, your listeners can often figure out the context.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: That it’s impossible for foreigners to learn, that tones are a hurdle which can’t be surmounted (anyone who has been to a Karaoke parlor knows that this country is full of tone-deaf Thais who can speak their own language just fine) and that the writing system is an obstacle.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Thinking you can get by learning transliteration. Of course you can learn the language, and I do have friends who are fluent; however, their pronunciation is quite poor and there are many instances where Thai people do not understand what they are saying until they hear most of the conversation and can understand the topic they are trying to speak about. In order to truly master Thai I strongly believe you must learn to read Thai properly.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: That learning to read and write is difficult: it takes time, certainly, but it’s hugely rewarding. If you settle down in Thailand for a number of years, it’s well worth investing in reading and writing. My only regret: I never learned to type Thai. It’d have come handy in my line of work, to consult dictionaries online or to Google things.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: That learning to read/write is too difficult or not necessary. Yes, it takes a long time and regular practice but it’s not too difficult. The benefits from being able to read are immense.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: That you can learn this language without learning the writing system.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: I think that every person is unique in this aspect. Since Thais tend to praise and don’t expect much from foreigners, one can gain a false sense of achievement. Remain humble. You will be advanced when you can watch Thai movies and newscasts with ease and read books and newspapers. If you cannot read a newspaper, you are intermediate at best.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I think that people expect things to happen quickly, but this is not the way for most of us. It is usually a case of believing that you are almost fluent one day to realising that you have a long way to go. It is easy to become disheartened because the prize always seems to be moving further away. Still if you stick with it you will get better. It might take a long time though; for some of us it will be a long long time.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: I think different people have different misconceptions. Some think the tones aren’t important, and that’s about as wrong as could be. Some don’t notice the difference between long and short vowels. Some don’t get the difference between aspirated and unaspirated unvoiced stops (p, t, k, ph, th, kh).

And I’ve heard quite a few people claim fluency when they have only enough vocabulary for basic conversation. This may stem from the misconception I’ve heard from many speakers of Indo-European languages that this language is as easy to learn as another European language. At the basic spoken level, it may be as easy as those, or easier. But in the end, it comes from the other side of the world, and learning to speak it is like growing a second soul. There are almost no linguistic cognates, so the vocabulary you have to learn from scratch is immense. The grammar at first glance seems incredibly simple, but that’s deceptive. You will at almost every level of learning run into sentences that are nearly impossible to decipher without help. If you’re like me, the learning process is a lot of fun, but much harder than your third-year Spanish class, or whatever.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: One common misconception is that Thai is too hard to learn. Another one, I think, among people who have begun to speak, is that mastering the tones is not of crucial importance.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: That learning Thai is anything other than fascinating, engaging, and rewarding. Also, the misconception that literacy is non-essential, or should be put off until later.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: That the tones are the hardest part of speaking. When I hear people speaking Thai poorly, it’s almost always their getting consonant sounds wrong that sticks out to my ears.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: 1. That the tones are not important (they really are!)
2. That you need not bother to learn to read and write. It makes a difficult job a lot easier!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: That you can get by using Romanisation. There are consonant and vowel sounds that appear in Thai that we simply don’t have in English. Plus the vowels we use pull double and triple duty. In Thai a vowel is that vowel sound only, with the exception of a few vowel combinations which are considered separate diphthongs in their own right. The letter A on its own is used to represent 4 different Thai vowels. In English I can substitute one A sound for another in a word and you recognise that it’s the same letter, but to a Thai person you’ve completely changed the spelling. Also some vowels in Thai are held longer than others but we don’t have a way of noting that in The Latin Alphabet which leads to putting the stress on the wrong syllable which again results in a completely different spelling.

Whenever I see a name or a place written in Roman letters I look for the Thai in order to see how it’s really pronounced. Some assistant directors have offered me “karaoke” scripts and I tell them no.

Thai is actually a remarkably easy language to get to a basic level and like all languages it takes practice, good teaching and a lot of drilling. I think one of the big problems is that Thais, despite being wonderful at many things, aren’t the world’s best teachers. So many just stand in a classroom and talk. Being engaging doesn’t seem to have much importance in Thailand when it comes to teaching technique.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: That the language is difficult because of the tones. It isn’t!

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Just because there are 40 odd consonants that it’s ‘hard to learn’. … oh, and that ‘tones are difficult’.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: That transliteration systems can be relied upon for correct pronunciation.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersThomas: Taking short cuts. A focus on constantly trying to develop a large vocabulary before correct pronunciation of the words one can already speak. Learn to pronunciate every word in your vocabulary to perfection before adding new words.

My opinion is that it is better to speak 10 perfect than to have a huge vocabulary that is spoken incorrectly by mispronouncing characters, tones and vowels.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: 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.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Maybe it’s that, “If I learn Thai – I know Thai.”

What I mean is, there are so many different dialects in Thai that you might know Thai and move 100km away and have a difficult time. When my wife moved from Isaan to the south – she was as dumbfounded as I was. That made me feel a lot better. Southern dialect is very different. Very little tonal expression and a whole lot of vowel sounds. I joke with the monks at the temple when they speak southern with me by repeating back what it sounds like to me that they just said… It goes something like, “Aweeooweeeweeee Oh Wa?”

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

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Interview Compilation: Do You Speak Street Thai, Issan Thai, or Professional Thai?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?…

Out of the 50 interviewed, 26 speak professional Thai, 14 speak street Thai, five speak Bangkok Thai (close to Central Thai), four speak Central Thai, and one speaks Tourist Thai. In addition, 11 speak street Thai as well.

Glenn Slayden: Tourist Thai, Chris Pirazzi: Street Thai, Daniel B Fraser: Street Thai, David Long: Street and Professional, Justin Travis Mair: Mostly street Thai with a bit of professional mixed in, Marcel Barang: Both street and professional. Isarn, bor pen, Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Professional when I’m working, street Thai on the street and Isaan when I’m in Isaan, David Smyth: Bangkok Thai, Gareth Marshall: Most of my Thai learned has been in Bangkok, Don Sena: Standard Thai (Central Plains dialect), Doug: Semi-pro, Marc Spiegel: Professional Thai, Christy Gibson: I use them all, depending on the situation, venue, and audience, Terry Fredrickson: Professional Thai, street Thai, Issan Thai and southern Thai (I enjoy dialects).

And now on to the rest of the interview…

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: The answer to this depends on which street you are referring to, as there are many Thai dialects and local nuances. I speak Central Thai. I’m quite comfortable with Bangkok Thai. My Thai is colloquial, but a bit more formal than ‘market Thai.’

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: I spend most of my time learning from Thai books at the Police Station so I need to spend more time on the street. Sometimes I feel like I can read about the Thai Criminal Code but struggle ordering some sticky rice and chicken! Too much reading and not enough speaking.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: I can speak Bangkok Thai the best, but I enjoy learning Isaan Thai as well. There’s something about Isaan Thai that’s just fun and charming.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: In a bad mood I’m excellent at street Thai, but I think I veer towards professional (for the first time in my life).

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: I speak professional Thai as I have been working at a Thai NGO and translating for the past year.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: Although I’m living in the south, I stick to central Thai. I get the feeling the southerners don’t necessarily appreciate our efforts to speak like them. Of course they all have TVs so they understand everything. But they answer in southern dialect so my ear’s getting better.

Fabian Blandford

Fabian Blandford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersFabian: Street Thai, but since I have spent nearly all the time in the north of Thailand I probably mix both Lanna Thai and Central Thai in my conversation.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Professional and informal Thai. I was taught Thai in an academic way so I have studied texts on Buddhism and politics in Thai and I do feel very comfortable speaking general conversational Thai, however street Thai or slang is still at times a mystery to me, so I am learning all the time!

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: It’s ‘day to day’ Thai, I guess. The influences on my Thai range from Karen villagers in Sangklaburi to cosmopolitan socialites in Bangkok, but most of the consolidation of my learning has happened in Bangkok, at work and at home.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: I don’t acknowledge the ‘street’ version of any language, merely correct or corrupt versions, though evolution and change is obvious and essential.

I mostly use modern standard central Thai, but also understand northern Thai–my wife’s native tongue–and can speak and read Lao (Isaan) at probably the intermediate level.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: I speak relatively more professional Thai since that’s been most of my experience. I’m comfortable speaking informally, but I don’t know much street slang.

Why specify just Issan? There are a lot of other regional people, such as Northern Thai or Southern Thai, in Bangkok too. I do speak Northern Thai, perhaps not as well as Thai, but it’s a lot of fun to speak it. My Northern Thai is much more informal than my Thai because I learned it in a farming village and use it primarily in informal contexts.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: I speak polite Thai. I can understand a lot of “Khum Muang” or Chiang Mai (Lanna) Thai but usually respond in Central Thai. Thailand is a very stratified country. If all you spoke were street Thai then it would be very difficult to communicate with professionals, academics, HiSos, politicos, monks, etc. You may or may not be interested in hanging out with any of these types but why limit yourself? Polite Thai works in all situations and with people at all levels of society whether they be the girl serving me noodles, the abbot of my local temple, or the governor of my province. Recently I had a nice conversation with the mayor of Chiang Mai. She spoke to me in Khum Muang and I spoke to her in Thai. That could not have happened if I had been speaking street Thai.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: Professional Thai and a bit of street Thai. I live in Phuket and we don’t get much Isaan Thai down here.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I try to speak both street and professional Thai depending on the situation. I lived in Laos for eight years and also speak Lao which is basically the same as Issan. At this point, though, I’ve been working in Africa for seven years so I’m not as fluent as I was when I lived in Thailand and Laos. I can still speak both languages when I go back but it would take some time to be as fluent in Thai as when I was writing Thai Reference Grammar.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: Professional Thai at work, street Thai with my friends, and Lao/Isan (Vientiane/Udon Thani dialect) when travelling in Isan or Laos.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: Probably somewhere in the middle of professional and street. I know a bit of Isaan, but not enough to throw in more than an occasional word or phrase.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: In my line of work I have to use all of these. I am often in professional situations that call for the appropriate communications, with Issan fans with whom I always love to embarrass yourself and give them a good laugh with attempts at that dialect; and dressed down or “market Thai” is often called for with our audiences too.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: I speak a mix, I’m sure. I have had a great deal of formal training for Professional Thai and I speak with relative ease in informal environments, as well. I also have picked up a smattering of Northern Thai from my time in Chiang Mai.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Professional Thai, but since I also speak a fair amount of Lao, I can converse in Issan and, to a lesser extent, Northern Thai dialect.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: Hmmm, what streets are you referring to? I can talk to my professors using full polite forms, I know way more gay-slang than is really appropriate and I feel at-ease working with the rural population when filming my show. The challenging thing with Thai is that it has all these layers of politeness; each sentence has to be a carefully crafted using verbs, pronouns and particles. Sure it’s fine as a foreigner to just use general Thai, but being able to use Thai that is situationally-appropriate will do a lot to impress on your listener that you understand his language.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: Professional/textbook Thai, I guess. I probably sound a bit “stiff” to locals as I’m likely missing some of the idioms and common sayings that a native speaker uses to make their speech sound truly natural.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Early on, I realised that the central dialect of Thai, as used by professionals, was well understood in all parts of the country, in every remote village with a TV. North, Northeast (Isan – why 2 “s”?) and South are the main dialects, I understand them mostly, South the best, having spent some time in Phuket, and each jangwat has its distinctive twang. I have a smattering of Lao, having learned some of the shifts and the Lao alphabet, which is how the Thai alphabet could be reformed in many ways.

Street Thai, well colloquial Thai, even as spoken by the upper echelons, is a huge challenge, but I will not curse, and there are many elephant traps for the unwary, so yeah, I avoid it, unless I’m feeling confident I won’t cause controversy.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: I have been lucky in that the Thais I have met have chosen to teach me nice language, and Thais often say that I phrase myself nicely. I do not speak Isan, but since the people I taught at Bumrungrad International represented very many different backgrounds and people from all over Thailand, I probably have a blend of ‘street talk’ and professional language.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I previously worked as an ESL teacher so would pick up a lot of Thai from the students as well as the Thai teachers. I also lived in a Thai village for almost 4 years where they spoke Issan. Now I live in Lopburi and as this is an army town you get a lot of people from all parts of Thailand with many accents. A lot of my Thai vocabulary has come from reading so it is a mixture of all of these influences. I suppose it is a mixture between professional and street Thai.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: I do them all with equal abandon. I spent two years in Isaan, and can get around in generic Lao, or northeastern dialect. I suppose “professional Thai” means “really good standard Thai,” and that’s what I work hardest on, although I like knowing and appropriately using slang as much as possible.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: Professional. The further things get from formal Thai, the worse I perform. I can pretty much understand a TV address by Abhisit, but not that of a cassava farmer complaining about the drought.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: I’d characterize what I speak as Bangkok Thai. I don’t try to be overly “correct” in ways that native Thais wouldn’t be — I don’t roll my r’s, and I generally simplify clusters and let my r’s become l’s. I do use Thai in more formal situations, which requires ‘polite Thai’. My wife is Bangkok born and raised, so I speak a lot of Bangkok Thai at home, and with her relatives. I can understand some but speak virtually no Issan or other regional flavor of Thai.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: I guess I speak more regular everyday Thai, but I keep it polite. I never learned much Isaan dialect, but I’ve picked up a little bit of the Thai-yai, or Shan, dialect because my wife is from Mae Hong Son, and that’s what her family uses at home.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: More ‘street’ Thai, although I also tend to speak Thai almost exclusively in the office. Partially to try to speak more politely! I also speak some Isaan, but it’s pretty much the same as regular Thai with the tones shifted and a few basic words changed.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: Probably more street Thai. Professional Thai has a lot more complicated and redundant grammar, though it can be useful if I am having trouble getting my point across. It’s important to know the proper rules of any language I think. I see and hear grammatical catastrophes in English all the time which people have just come to accept and don’t even know they are wrong. I don’t really want to sound like that in Thai but of course I’m late out of the gate and racing to catch up.

I do use some Isaan language. I have several Isaan friends and a lot of the vendors I go to regularly are Isaan or Lao. It’s also a good way to show that I’m not just a tourist who learned a few phrases, especially when going into touristy areas. It’s a fun and friendly dialect, and whenever people call me “Farang” I tell them I’m “Bak Seeda.”

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I consider myself lucky to have learned Thai “properly”, having learned to read and write right from the start in a very supportive classroom environment. This means that today my Thai is more formal than what you would hear from those who have learned in other “environments”.

I speak proper Thai or professional Thai as you call it, can understand a fair chunk of Isaan as well as some street Thai although my street Thai is actually not that good – but with that said, it is not something I am particularly concerned about.

My desire has always been to be able to speak proper Thai although there from time to time it might be advantageous to speak street Thai, or at the very least, understand it. Isaan Thai is probably more useful to me than street Thai per se as I have a lot of interaction with people from that region, especially those from less privileged, rural backgrounds for whom Isaan Thai is what they speak at home and with their friends.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: 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.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: I studied Thai at university so I learnt mainly ‘Central Thai’. I also studied some ‘Royal Thai’ as my Thai language instructor was a descendent of a royal court family. I have forgotten most of that and since I now learn a lot of Thai from everyday conversation and pop-culture ‘street Thai’ is probably my forte.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: I learned Thai in Isaan but told everyone that helped me pronounce that I want to learn Bangkok Thai, not Isaan flavor. The result was that I don’t do all that well in Isaan or Patong Beach, but overall I think it was the right way to go since I wasn’t going to spend my whole life in Isaan.

The Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

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Interview Compilation: What are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What are your strengths and weaknesses?…

It’s been said that if you are aware of both your strengths and weaknesses with learning languages you can shore up one with the other. But is that always true?

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: My pronunciation is pretty good. The Thai that I speak is fine for ordinary conversation. I have found it useful to use a little bit of Thai when teaching English. I speak some Thai for business. However, my vocabulary is limited to my experiences. Very fast teenager talk is a bit perplexing to me. When I hear the Southern dialect, I’m lost. It would be wonderful to study great works of Thai literature and poetry. I’m not there yet.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Having a vocabulary of obscure words that make Thai people laugh as they tell me I speak like their Grandfather and my weakness would be colloquial off the cuff Thai.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: My strength is my ability to have a conversation with anybody about anything. My weakness is sometimes saying something in say 5 words that could have been said in 3 words.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: Catherine, are you serious? My strengths are I am creative and manic obsessive so when I put myself into a task I stick with it. My weaknesses … you simply don’t have enough room in your column to list them all. Kate Bush is my greatest weakness.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: I “get” a language very quickly, but I am not good at paying attention to rules.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: I can analyze things well so I can get to understand grammar and certain spelling/pronunciation rules quickly. But I do not like to speak “off the cuff” or improvised so, unlike some learners who can learn huge amounts of Thai vocabulary by “winging it” in nearly-one-way conversations with Thai people, I learn most vocab much more slowly through self-study.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: I think reading is a strength for me and it’s something I really enjoy. Jonas is a better Thai speaker than I am, especially in regards to vocab and usage.

Pronunciation is more of a strength for me as well it seems. I’m nowhere near “there” yet, but I do work hard at trying to pronounce things correctly, and perhaps also being a singer and/or musical helps me somewhat in hearing and identifying the tones and sounds correctly (although I know many non-singer expats who speak Thai very well too).

On a more personal level, I would say a weakness is still sometimes not being brave enough to go ahead and try a new word or something I want to say that I’m not 100% sure of or haven’t said before. This has often held me back in my Thai speaking over the years, and definitely having improved in this area for the most part has been one of my greatest breakthroughs in learning the language.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: My greatest weakness is that I’m not prepared enough to admit when I don’t understand. I still bluff my way through conversations hoping that I pick up the facts I’ve misheard along the way. There are a lot of situations where it just doesn’t matter and it really isn’t worth going through the ‘Could you repeat that’, routine. But losing face really isn’t nearly as bad as grasping the wrong end of the stick and making dumb mistakes as a result. My strength is a sense of humour. People respond to humour in any language and there’s far less stress in a happy conversation than in a serious one.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Strengths are a good memory for difficult words or phrases. My tones are also quite good (for a Canadian!). But general structure and grammar is all very home-made for me, so I tend to not be so precise or clear with complicated dialogue.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: My strength in Thai is being able to use it without forethought- I simply use it like I do English. My weakness is in translation. When someone asks me what a phrase or word means, it’s often the case that I’ve never thought about what it might mean in any other language, so it’s very difficult sometimes.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: At first my hearing was not good. If I asked a Thai, ‘What was that word you just said?’ and they repeated the word in isolation, I had no idea what tone they had produced and therefore mispronounced it when I tried to repeat it. I had a farang friend who could not read Thai but could always repeat what he heard perfectly, much to the admiration of Thais. He made me feel inadequate. I eventually got round the problem by asking Thais to write the word down for me, and once I could see it on paper, I knew what the tone should be. Suddenly the roles were reversed. Thais saw that I could not only pronounce Thai correctly, but could read, too. Victory was mine! Happily, over time, my ears gradually got more attuned to what to listen out for; and I learned how to pass the blame – a bad telephone line, going slightly deaf, so-and-so not expressing themselves clearly.

In the end I think it is important to recognize that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses in language learning and that by working on the weaknesses we can always improve – if we want to.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: An analytical mind has been for me very useful. I still receive (the spoken language) with great difficulty.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Good ear; vocabulary retention could be better.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: My pronunciation is generally pretty good (although some friends say I sound a little Isaan at times – I put it down to me having a strong native English accent). My vocab is not what it should be for the length of time I have been here.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: I always tend to think about thinks spatially and related to the fact that, like English (and unlike, say, Chinese), Thai uses a phonemic alphabet. In fact, my fascination with reading and writing, combined with the nature of my work on thai-language.com, has put me in the unusual position for a student of knowing how to read and write Thai better than I can speak it. I have not had enough opportunity to practice and correct speaking with correct tone.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Weakness is definitely spelling in Thai and I also need to improve my typing. A strength is that I have built up confidence and try to speak even though it could be wrong.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Strengths: good pronunciation, motivation to learn (I live here, to not know the language would be disgraceful), and genuinely no fear of making a fool of myself.

Weaknesses: code switching with my wife (whose English is excellent) when I can’t find the Thai word, rather than trying to talk around the word or look it up.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: My strength is probably good visual memory and the mathematical aspects of language- e.g. alphabet as code, sentence structure as equation, and the connections between related languages.

My weakness is processing acoustic information, which is highly imprecise. This is how most languages mutate over time, of course.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: My strengths are in the areas of pronunciation and (until recent years) spelling. My linguistic background prepared me, through phonetics and a knowledge of how languages work, to get right into Thai sounds and structures. My applied linguistic background helped provide a framework for understanding second language acquisition and practical ways of learning a new language. So the academic background and some success in learning has provided motivation to continue and confidence that given the effort I can be reasonably successful.

One potential weakness is that I am generally more introverted than extroverted. I have two younger brothers who are very outgoing, and I’m not. But I loved learning Northern and Mien by visiting people and talking with them informally. It was low key, but it brought out that while I am naturally reserved, in one-on-one or small group situations I could be relaxed and communicative because I knew how to proceed independently. I have not kept up on reading and writing Thai to the extent that I should, perhaps due to a lapse in motivation now that I’m living in the States most of the time. Still I always pick up a manageable sized book (means relatively thin!) each time I come out here and read at least some of it while I’m in the States.

Perhaps a major weakness at my stage in life is that I either don’t notice the gaps (or differences) between what I’m saying and how Thai are saying similar things, or I notice something that I really should learn, but I forget to write it down or forget to actually take the time to learn it. Not noticing gaps is an indication that I could be on a plateau in my learning of Thai and that I’m not progressing. But trying to make progress in all three languages is becoming more difficult.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: Strength: Tenacity. I never give up. Weakness: It takes me about 100 repetitions to begin to remember a new word. Lucky for my tenacity.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: I am extremely determined and will never give up. My theory at the outset was that if Thais could read that crazy script, there was no good reason I couldn’t too. My weakness is I get bored if something doesn’t hold my interest. That’s really why I stopped regular classes, because they had become reading magazines, watching videos and doing translation.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I’m better at analyzing than at remembering vocabulary. Especially at first, I thought Thai words were hard to remember because they were mostly a single syllable and they all sounded the same to me. My ear wasn’t good enough to pick up tones just by hearing other people speak. I developed the visual transliteration system in my books at first to help myself visualize the sound of the words. It helped me learn to speak with the correct tones and vowel lengths.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: My Thai is strong in most fields of reference nowadays, but my best areas are probably politics, tourism, cuisine, music and Buddhism, all areas I’ve had a lot of experience researching in Thai. I’m weaker in medical and scientific Thai.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: I think my biggest strength is reading. My pronunciation of consonants, vowels, words, tones, etc. is usually pretty good. I can follow conversations fairly well, but I still have trouble following rapid-fire dialogue in TV shows, newscasts, etc.

My biggest weakness is thinking in English while trying to construct a sentence in Thai. My conversation is definitely not up-to-speed with my reading. A lot of that has to do with not living in Thailand and not being able to practice speaking Thai in everyday situations. Same with vocabulary. Words I don’t use consistently I tend to forget. It seems in my case that quantity time would be more beneficial than quality time at this point.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: By far my strength is speaking Thai and colloquial usage. I’m at kiddy levels with the written language.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Not sure. I think in general I’m a quick learner when it comes to languages; however I would say that even now I have good days and bad days. Comprehension is a tricky thing, and sometimes you’ll just not know a word or just not understand somebody. Usually context and more overt clueing can help one determine the meaning, but at times I simply have to get used to the way an individual speaks. In the end exposure to different registers, media, and dialects/sociolects is the best way to improve on those weak areas. At least, that’s what I believe.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: My strengths are that I love to learn new things and I am totally willing to admit I am not good at something. It does me no good to learn things if I think I already know everything.

I think a weakness would have to be follow through. I get so excited to do things that unless I have a responsibility partner or some sort, I would easily get distracted and start 10 projects and finish none.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: After working hard on this aspect of the Thai language, my pronunciation is pretty good. This leads people to believe I understand more than I do, which means they speak to me in a natural manner. I count this a strength, because in the course of these conversations, I can pick up new vocabulary and sentence structure through context.

I also speak and react quickly, another advantage, because again native Thai speakers also converse with me in a natural manner.

After forty years, getting basic grammar right remains a glaring weakness. For example, I still make mistakes on when to use “go” (ไป) and “come” (มา).

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: I’ve become quite good at just sitting and spending hours working on something, I think a big part of that is the focus and concentration that I have developed through my yoga practice. At the same time this can often be a downside as I’ll get so lost in the way that I think is correct, that I’ll fail to see the shortcomings.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: I have a natural knack for languages; however, as I am not the most patient person I am sometimes challenged by the speed in which I become conversant in a foreign language. I have a tendency to try and move too fast sometimes.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: As a speaker, when I’m tired or nervous, I make mistakes; I know too much slang for my own health. As a translator, you tell me.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: My enthusiasm for learning is probably my greatest strength. Weaknesses? Vocabulary retention especially those with irregular spellings such as loanwords.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Strengths: Big vocabulary, grammatical insight, depth in general, a good accent when concentrating.

Weaknesses: Sometimes, not bothering to make the correct pronunciation because I’m being lazy. I found, as a non-native speaker of this language, I’m using twice as much brain power to process a Thai text than an English text, so it gets tiring after a while.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: One strength is that I am good at mimicking sounds, though I must admit that tonality is still quite difficult. My basic programming, using tones for emotion and emphasis, is hard to disregard, and the habit of listening for tones in the way you need to when speaking a tonal language requires much practice. One major problem was that the word ‘tone’ mislead me for a long time. It was not until I looked at the relative length of the vowel sounds in the Thai tonality that my ear for tonality improved. Not starting by combining spoken and written Thai was also a mistake that hampered perfect learning. Sitting in a school bench and learning from scratch consonant classes, memorizing words, and building a varied vocabulary may sound boring, but it certainly is effective. besides, with a good teacher it can probably be a lot of fun.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: I’m good at producing the sounds accurately, and have a pretty good memory. At this point I’m finding, though, that when speaking fast I sometimes unwittingly use the wrong tones. I usually correct myself, but the mistake has been made. Also it’s surprising how hard it still is to catch fast conversation between other people. Final consonants p, t, k, are often hard to tell apart. In English we’ll pronounce those fully, with a release at the end, but in Thai the syllable will just end without a clear final sound, and there are other problems like that. Usually I have no problems one-on-one. But watching TV and catching most of the words is a big challenge. And I need a lot more vocabulary: working on that pretty hard now.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I never give up is my strength and my weakness is that I’m easily distracted.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: I am a systematic student that is able to take bits of information and create patterns of knowledge which stay with me. On the downside, I am not particularly confident about taking my spoken Thai out on the road — I tend to use it only when I need to.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: I’d say a strength of mine is that I have a good ear for mimicry. One “secret” to my success has been to carefully observe and internalize how and what native speakers say. This includes tones, stress patterns, vocabulary, idioms. And then reproduce what I hear.

One of my weaknesses is retention, especially taking the time to review and solidify my knowledge. I am not good at finding the time to go back over things I jot down, nor do I typically use things like flash cards. Generally for me it’s what sticks, sticks and what doesn’t, doesn’t. I guess this is why reading was so helpful to me, because the important words invariably show up repeatedly. But these days I feel like I don’t actively read as much as I’d like to, either, so my vocabulary stagnates.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Strengths are probably reading and writing. My biggest weakness is probably remembering new words if it isn’t a word that I’m actually going to use when I talk.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Strengths: I can pronounce the tones pretty well, and can make myself understood pretty much anywhere. Weaknesses: I am hopeless at ‘formal’ Thai – it’s like a whole nother language!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: I used to dread having to speak Thai on the telephone. It’s still more difficult, though not as bad as before. I have a hard time with telephones in general. After all this time you’d think they would improve the sound. I know it’s possible because when people talk on Viber it’s 1,000 times clearer. Even in English you can’t discern between S and Th or V and F on the telephone. You only know because of you know what the words are supposed to be, same as speaking to someone with a lisp or speaking in spoonerisms.

The lackadaisical habit of substituting ล for ร or dropping ล after ก has led to my confusion on more than one occasion. I love Joey Cheuancheun’s routine about Ror Reua is Ror Reua and Lor Ling is Lor Ling. But it’s the same as americans substituting D for T or the New York and London use of glottal stops or substituting N for Ng at the end of verbs. That’s why learning in the street is so important.

I hate forgetting vocabulary that I don’t use as often, but again this happens in English too, only you usually have another word to fall back on in that case.

As for strengths, the only strength I can really say is that I’m not afraid to make mistakes. I’ll try out a new way to say something or make a joke, and if it works great, if not then I learn from that.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I think one’s strengths and weaknesses when using a foreign language and inextricably related to their personality.

Probably my biggest strength is that I am gregarious. I talk a lot and am happy to talk with pretty much anyone about anything.

I can be a little impatient and when asking more modestly educated Thais for explanations of things related to language, I find their lack of knowledge frustrating – but with that said I learned a long time ago who to ask such questions to and who not to!

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Strengths – have passion about languages. Weakness – when learning, get obsessed by whatever it is I’m learning and won’t let it go until I can conquer it.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Strengths: Pronunciation, general vocabulary, humour, knowing what is appropriate in different situations.

Weaknesses: Making the same mistakes for 20 years. They become noticeable when dealing TV scripts. The sentences are not quite what I would normally say. Inability to communicate fluently in certain more technical subjects.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: 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.)

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: My weakness is still my limited vocabulary, although I can hold a conversation in Thai on most topics a few words always trip me up and when Thais hear that you pronounce Thai well they do not hold back on speaking with rapidity! My strengths are my pronunciation, which still needs some tweaking, and my ability to read well, although I have still not achieved my aim of being able to read Matichon newspaper fluently.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: I seem to be good at getting my own message across! I can speak about what I want to speak about pretty well. I can direct the conversation well. My vocabulary is pretty good, I know a wide range of words.

Due to the variability in the way Thais speak across the country, and even between any two Thais – it can become difficult to understand some people at all and they get the tripping Red Bull look. Add to that the rate of speech that someone uses, and I can get lost easily with a fast speaker.

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

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Interview Compilation: Did You Find Learning to Read and Write Thai Difficult?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?…

Scanning quickly through the results … 34 said reading and writing (combined) wasn’t difficult, 14 said it was, four found writing difficult, four didn’t attempt to learn how to write, and five found spelling difficult.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Learning to read and write was not too difficult, because I had already learned to speak. Spelling remains a challenge, because many consonants have the same sound (there are five letters that have the ‘s’ sound). At first, vowel position is a bit confusing. It helps to have a good book. I used Reading and Writing Thai, by Marie Helene Brown, 1988, DK Books.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: No, I enjoy it and it makes sense to me. That does not mean by any stretch that I understand everything and you will still find me scratching my head whilst trying to read the Thai newspaper. I suppose I would change the word difficult with challenging.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Not particularly considering Thai is a phonetic language and 95 percent of Thai words are read as written.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: No. I love it, actually.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: Reading isn’t difficult, but remembering how to spell is hard.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: Not so much but I am used to learning new “codes” from computer programming.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: I think that reading Thai is actually quite simple once you understand the basics of it. Once I’d memorized the alphabet and the general rules, after that it was just a matter of trying to read anything and everything I could.

This might not work for everyone, but one interesting tip that really helped me with my Thai reading was signboards. In a moving vehicle I would sit and stare out the window (not while driving of course ☺) and try to read the signs on buildings, advertisements and the like while travelling along. Although in the beginning the challenge was just to be able to read a certain word or phrase before I passed it by—and it was even a challenge in Bangkok traffic (just to show you how weak I was when I started out)—little by little I began catching on. I think the reason I found this helpful is because the wording on signs is often large and the reading is bite-sized—usually only short phrases and words. Obviously it wasn’t the only method I used for learning to read Thai:), but it’s something that worked for me and others may find it useful as well.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: I’m told it’s odd that someone can read and that skill doesn’t cross over to writing. But I guess I’ve never really had a need to write anything in Thai. I’d always be a long way from writing in Thai the way I’d hope to. Didn’t want to launch into a project I felt was doomed to failure.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Writing yes, as it is a slow process for me (and often incorrect). Reading less difficult, but the lack of character/word spacing was and still is a challenge.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: Not really. The only time it became difficult was when I was trying to learn to read words I didn’t already know.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: No. The script was presented in manageable chunks and progress was quick. We began by learning the most common low class consonants, and followed a similar order to that presented in Marvin Brown’s AUA Thai Course: Reading, Teach Yourself Thai and the Linguaphone Thai Course. Credit for first recognizing that learning consonants by class, rather than traditional alphabetic order, would enable the foreigner to learn to read more quickly, goes to Basil Osborn Cartwright, a teacher of English at the Royal Civil Service College in Bangkok, who introduced his system in his Elementary Handbook of the Siamese language, published in 1906. Yet 100 years later there are still teachers of Thai and authors of Thai language books for foreigners who expect their students to spend early lessons memorizing letters they will hardly ever encounter.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: It would have been difficult if hadn’t been so fascinating. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn more. I developed a handwriting that won the admiration of the Thais who saw it.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Only as expected.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: Tricky, but not impossible. Once you get your head round vowel placement and punctuation issues it all makes sense, somehow.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: Not particularly. Maybe as a computer programmer I’m used to working with symbols.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: No, not particularly, what was more difficult was getting the right tones and sentence structure.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: No! And this is the daft thing. I put off learning the tone rules because I kept being presented with baroque charts and overly complicated explanations, which were terribly off-putting. However, I hooked up with Brett from Learn Thai from a White Guy who had the rules drilled into me within, I kid you not, two hours. He stripped all the rubbish away and taught them to me in a logical, straightforward way. I guess it helped knowing the letters and consonant classes already, but still, it was much easier than I had imagined. Once I had them down it was just a question of practise, practise, practise to consolidate them. Here, Anki SRS cards are your friend.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: At first, since an alphabet has to be learned, one with much ‘junk DNA’, i.e. archaic obsolete letters. Lao is easier since it has purged much of that. Writing is more difficult than reading, of course, since you have to spell correctly.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: No. Once I had a good grasp of the pronunciation, the consonant and tone rules made a lot of sense, and I could make good progress. I still feel that that is a useful order in which to proceed, at least for me. Otherwise, I think that my pronunciation would have come along much slower. I would have been engrossed in making the lines and squiggles of the script instead of learning how to read clearly and accurately. But the issue of when to begin the Thai script is still a very live one, and the discussion is interesting and varied. I can just relate what worked for me.

For Northern Thai, I strongly feel that returning to a phonetic notation is essential for getting good pronunciation. That’s what worked for me and a few others who learned the language in the past. This may seem like a big step backwards when most learners of Northern will already have learned Thai. The important point is that the Thai script does not fit very well with Northern. And when Northern is written with Thai script, as in three recent major dictionaries, the sixth tone is not always marked regularly. Also, the High-Mid-Low consonants pattern differently in Northern and thus affect how tones are written. Since pronunciation (especially the tone system) is so important, and the sound of the tones and the relationship of tones to each other (in pitch height and direction of movement) is different in the two languages, using Thai script is a major disadvantage. However, once I got good pronunciation, and after I learned Meth’s system for using Thai letters (his dictionary was written specifically to help Central Thai forestry workers learn Northern), I became comfortable using Thai script for Northern, but only in Meth’s very clear and systematic way. The other ways of writing Northern are fine for native-speaking Northern Thais since they already know their mother tongue and can overcome inconsistencies, but learners would be at a disadvantage.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: I find everything about learning Thai difficult. I am not a really good language learner. I need to hear a word 20 times before I can remember it. I can’t spell in Thai. But I can’t really spell very well in English either so I don’t let it bother me. I figure that I was just born without the spelling lobe in my brain. So any achievement I have made is due to really really hard work and the fact that I just won’t give up until I get something right. Also, thank god for spell checkers. One thing I know that is true for me, if a Thai textbook or a Thai learning system has the words “Easy”, “Quick”, or “Simple” in its title then it is not for me. Thai is not easy, quick, or simple to learn.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: I found reading Thai very easy. Writing is not hard, but spelling is a bitch. Frankly, being able to write Thai is not a useful skill. If you need something written in Thai you ought to get a Thai person to write it – it will always be better than your own effort. The only useful thing about writing is to aid memory in learning the alphabet and vocabulary.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I thought writing Thai was difficult because of the spelling and I only got to the point where I could write a short letter. I thought reading was easier and I read mostly magazines – music and movie star magazines, love advice magazines and all the things they sell which are great for learning about Thai culture.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: I found the first month or so quite difficult, and although I could read simple signs on the street, and simple notes between friends, it wasn’t until I went to Berkeley that I properly learned to read long passages of text.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: I learned the mechanics of reading and writing consonants, vowels, tone rules, where words begin and end, etc., for the most part in about 10-12 months. I really didn’t find it difficult, just very, very time-consuming and tedious. For me, it was all in the repetition. I know there are a lot of mnemonic devices and tricks for learning all of that, but it seemed easiest to just plough through it.

The part of reading for me that’s a bit more difficult at this point is the vocabulary, especially in newspapers and books where you come across a lot of technical, political words and phrases, proper names, religious terms, etc. The difficulty for me in writing Thai isn’t physically writing or typing the characters, it’s forming a thought and writing it the way a Thai person would.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: I think once you “get over the hump” reading Thai is quite easy actually. Written Thai is much more phonetic than English. You don’t face “cough” vs. “through” situations in Thai—it reads as it is written, so it is just a matter of memorizing the sounds and the few exceptions.

Writing Thai is much more difficult because of the many consonants that have the same sounds, and the Sanskrit influences in the written language such as silent letters, vestigial endings to words and so on. There are many ways to phonetically spell words properly but only one correct spelling, so basically you have to memorize the proper spelling.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Many rules, some exceptions, but in the end just an alphabet-like writing system! I have found the Thai and Khmer scripts far less difficult and more intuitive than Chinese characters.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: I did find it hard to differentiate the words, due to the fact that Thai script is written with very few spaces. Eventually it just became normal. It’s kinda like having a conversation in a noisy room, at first it is hard to talk to your neighbors, but after awhile you adjust and it seems normal.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Learning to read was fun, because I found it easy to measure progress. In addition, because I had already built up a fair vocabulary in Thai, I could quickly read things that I found interesting or useful, such as newspaper stories and street and store signs.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: No.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Reading was not so difficult to learn once you master the alphabet, but writing is another story, especially when it comes to tone marks.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: Not really. To me, speaking good Thai with the proper accent is more difficult.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: I found learning the alphabet very difficult. Learning by rote and with no context is almost impossible for me so I made a story out of the alphabet to provide the context eg. ท thor tahaan (soldier) is a patriotic chap likes to stand next to ธ thor thong (flag), next to him is… etc.. it’s all silly stuff but through the story I could remember.

The tone rules were difficult too at first but I found similar ways to link them together as an aide to my memory. Applying them while reading was a slow progress too but over time it becomes more natural.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Yes, but I consoled myself, firstly with the thought that Thai kids pick it up in a only couple of years when they are very young, and secondly, with the idea that Chinese is a lot harder (44 Thai consonants vs. 40,000 Chinese ideograms to read a newspaper). I had the writing down pretty well in about six months. Compare that to the language – after 25 years, I am still picking up new vocabulary.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: Yes. Not having spaces between words, memorizing not only the extended alphabet but also consonant classes, adjusting to vowels being placed non-sequentially and in complex combinations makes written Thai difficult. Not that English is that much better, it is the only European language I know where the sound of a word can not be seen immediately from the writing. English vowel sounds vary greatly, which must be frustrating to Thais, whose vowel system leaves no room for doubt. The student of Thai needs to memorize individual word spelling since identical tones can be made with different combinations. Being raised seeing writing as a code for replicating spoken sounds, I was as frustrated with having to memorize the writing of individual Thai words as Thais must be having to memorize the pronunciation of individual words in English.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I have found learning to read Thai to be far easier than learning to speak it. This is probably because I much prefer dealing with written text than spoken language; even in English. I am quite satisfied with my ability to read and my vocabulary is quite large.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Yes, it is a monster. 44 consonants and 33 vowels, depending on how you count, plus all those tone marks and other miscellaneous signs, a lot of duplication, so that it’s usually impossible to tell how something is written from how it’s spoken, and then there are the exceptions! And the ambiguous spellings! And the alternate spellings, they’re like opinions, everybody has one! It takes a lot of memorization. Also, the words are all run-on together, you have to parse them out with your eye, and sometimes that gives ambiguous readings, too. Only after a lot of experience can you start to discern the patterns which begin to make things easier.

Reading Thai subtitles in English-language movies is a challenge, if they’re more than five or six words long. Thais can read them in the time they show on the screen. Reading karaoke doesn’t count, that’s slow and easy, even though it’s good practice. When I can read ninety percent of the subtitles as they come up we’ll break out the champagne—but I’m not there yet. And love that Chula course: writing essays, making a few presentations in class on news stories. T’ain’t easy, but there’s no giving up.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: Yes. But it had to be done. And the hard work I put in has paid off — I can read newspapers, magazines and books at close to full speed and understand most of what I read.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: Yes, but entirely doable. It was challenging, but it felt like a natural part of the language learning process for me. Being in Thailand provides constant reading opportunities, so the basics quickly became second nature.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Not really. The hardest thing about writing was to remember the spellings, like which “s” or which “th” to use. The lack of spaces between words gave me some frustration in the very beginning, but I found that the more you read the quicker you can instantly recognize words, and it’s not really a problem anymore.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Not particularly. I imagine it’s several orders of magnitude easier than learning Chinese or Japanese, for example.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: I seem to remember it being fairly quick to learn, though I’ve always been fond of alphabets anyway. It took me a few weeks before I started recognising Thai letters in different fonts and longer before I could read handwritten Thai.

I’ve built up my reading speed by trying to read the signs on buses to see where they go. Now sometimes when I’m at the movies my eyes will pick up the Thai subtitles. On a slower song I can sometimes read along the Thai words on a karaoke machine, but I wouldn’t put bets on it!

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: It is ridiculously easy! I learned to read and write the entire alphabet over 6 x 1.5 hour lessons and about the same amount of time at home practicing. So let’s call it 18 hours all up. The tone rules followed but they were not that hard.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: No.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Not really.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: 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.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: Yes, but it is absolutely critical to long-term success, not just in reading and writing Thai, but speaking it too, because if you rely on transliterated Thai to learn new vocabulary the pronunciation will often be incorrect. Plus there are so many ways of transliterating the Thai script it can only lead to confusion for the student.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Yes, not because of the alphabet being so large or so strangely different from English, but because the sentence structure and reading backwards sometimes is a bit hard to get over. No breaks for words or sentences is also something that takes getting used to. As I insinuated, it was going to take a lot more effort than I realized it would – and I just didn’t have the time or motivation to keep pushing to learn it.

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Soulawynne

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Soulawynne (Portmanteau)
Nationality: Thai-American
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Male
Location: Phuket, Thailand hailing from Colorado, USA
Profession: Editor-Writer-Thinker
Blog: Siamerican

What is your Thai level?

Fluent.

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

Central Thai, and sometimes, unintentionally, Southern Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Initially to explore my roots, though the learning is continuous as I use Thai to sustain and propel my social and professional obligations and contracts.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive? 

Off and on for 14 years, first time in summer of 2001.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

2001-Date.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

Learning is ongoing; 2-feet in from the start though.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

For me, I did not view it as formal study discipline, and thus Thai has been a 24-hour learning experience; as for intentionally hitting the books to improve reading comprehension, at least in the early years, I probably put in 2-3 hours a day on average, but again, not by any formal ‘study schedule’ or ‘learning regime’ per say, but rather setting a side time to do something I’m passionate about, like reading, or playing music.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

Engaging and embracing direct/group communication contexts/conversations; music media – Thai pop/country songs, karaoke (with&without other Thais at the same time) A Thai friend or 10, etc et al.)

Did one method stand out over all others? 

Learning to sing Thai songs via karaoke and pop songs from guitar chordbooks helped with learning to listen to tones, consonants and invariably pronunciation thereof; and also in the early years, having the Thai telly on regularly, and watching Thai movies at the cinema also helped to improve my listening and comprehension. In summary, for me it was informal learning, immersing myself in the language and culture at every opportunity.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

1-2 year mark one benchmark, 2-5 years another; 6-9 the next and plateauing somewhere along the line.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult? 

No, as long as I always had motivation, and I always did. Learning to read and write has been part of learning to speak; I did not view them as different discipline, but rather different dynamics of the same discipline.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment? 

Depending on whether ‘ah hah’ refers to an epiphany or finally achieving a pre-set benchmark, there’s been a few such moments. First cracking a paragraph in the Ramkien; or a Thai newspaper headline in a conversation with another Thai; realizing I had been singing a particular word at the wrong tone, and then subsequently adjusting my attempt based on feedback; hearing other farang say it ‘better’ than I could, to name a few.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

Strength, Ability to meet Thai speakers in the middle, able to adapt to their level of Thai and English, and honing in on a mutual middle ground…

Challenge: rolling Rs, I’ve just got what Thais call, a firm tongue…

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

You don’t need to learn Thai script to become a ‘good speaker’.

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

Find/define your personal motivations and inspirations, and make the learning process central to your daily routine, creating and conforming to regular contexts, situations and interactions in which you need to use Thai, be it taking the time to order a coffee or snack engaging in some small talk with the smiling merchant or frowning policeman…small talk is as good as it gets. 

Most importantly, like every sage and guru in history has ever concluded about communication, take the time every now and then, to shut up and listen.

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Tamber

Successful Thai Language Learner

Name: Tamber
Nationality: American
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Female
Location: Bangkok
Profession: NGO worker (Human rights and refugees)

What is your Thai level?

For most practical purposes, people call me fluent. That’s a fraught term, though, and I’m all too aware of my shortcomings. I tested in July 2014 with the CUTFL offered by Chulalongkorn, and ranked Advanced in all except writing, which I got high elementary if I remember correctly (I think because my spelling was/is horrible). However, after that I did six months of intensive Thai and I have definitely improved since then, with greater understanding of complex vocabulary, including royal language. On the CEFR proficiency scale, I am sure at this point I would rate about B2, pushing into C1 territory on some things. That would be for all except writing, where I might still rate somewhat lower.

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

Professional Bangkok Thai, for sure. I know a good bit of social media slang and swear words, but my Thai is overall very formal and polite. It doesn’t slip much lower than “business casual”, for better or for worse.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I knew I was going to be here awhile, and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a new language. I love learning languages, and being able to talk to and understand the people around me is very important. I felt like I’d always be left out of something if I couldn’t speak Thai.


Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive? 

I do live here. I’ve been here since May 2011.


How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

I started the week I arrived, so since May 2011. I’ve always taken classes of some kind at least once a week, but from October 2014-April 2015, I was studying 15 hours a week.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I did. I took classes right from the beginning, and stuck with it. However, I changed schools about every six months to a year, so sometimes there were interruptions. But I’d say it’s been a consistent dogged effort, even if some months it was more of a limp than a sprint.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

For the first six months, I took classes, and I studied reading and writing by myself for a couple hours a week. After the first six months, outside of classes, I didn’t formally set aside time to study, and barely did any homework (not least because teachers rarely assigned anything). I just didn’t have the time or the motivation, though I’d pursue things that were “fun”, like trying to read a magazine or chat to people around me as the opportunity arose.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I started with Thai Language House, which used Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s books at the time. They didn’t really work for me for whatever reason, so I asked my teacher to try and teach me using David Smyth’s Teach yourself Thai. I like that book a lot and would recommend it, especially to self-study learners. Meanwhile, I taught myself to read with Rungrat Luanwararat’s Introduction to Thai Reading. I made it through to the end of that book and Teach Yourself, and then switched to Jentana, and worked with two of her teachers for about six to nine months. After that, I went to Language Express, and studied two or three days per week in their highest level for about one year. After I felt I had maxed out on what I could get out of classes at Language Express, I went to Sumaa, which was much more expensive, so I only took 90 minutes a week. Their teachers are top-notch, though. I stayed there for a year, I think.

At about the three-year mark, I changed over to Rak Thai Language school, and took their evening intensive class, Social Problems, at ten hours per week, and then newspaper reading, for two months. That was where I made my quickest strides, and really learned how to write and spell. I continued with them for another month after I quit my job, I think taking newspaper reading again. Then I started at Chulalongkorn, and did their Thai 8 and Thai 9 courses (15 hours/week), which helped a lot with formal vocabulary and listening comprehension. I went back to Rak Thai after that for another two months, doing a course that the head instructor put together especially for myself and some other students who were interested in looking at Thai literature and some special topics in professional writing.

I’ve also had conversation partners, watched series from time to time, and I try to read recreationally at least a few pages a week of a novel I’ve been working on for awhile.

Did one method stand out over all others?

I think Rak Thai language school really has something going for it. My writing skills were going nowhere before I started there. Their trick is making students do written homework everyday. It seems obvious, but it’s rare to find teachers that assign homework and then actually make you feel a little bad if you don’t do it.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Immediately. I think being able to read has been absolutely key to my progress. The world is my textbook: I read signs and learn words just by walking down the street. I also lock tone and vowel length into my memory by knowing how a word is spelled. Just hearing a word and then recalling all of its elements is, for me, terribly difficult unless I know how it’s written.

Furthermore, many Thai words actually do sound exactly the same, down to tone and vowel length. However, the spelling of the words is often different, and the spelling frequently makes a difference to my understanding of it. If nothing else, though, it helps with vocabulary building just to know, in the case of absolute homophones, that I’m really dealing with two different words.

In sum, I can’t imagine not learning how to read and write Thai. Not only does literacy make you a more sophisticated user of any language, but also, if you’re any kind of language buff at all, Thai is so much more interesting when you start to realize how much other languages have contributed to even its most basic collection of vocabulary words. This foreign influence is only apparent when you know how to read and can then investigate the etymologies of certain spellings.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Not really. I barely remember that part-it only took a few weeks to get the idea. Proficiency, of course, took much longer, but the basic idea takes no time at all. Several hours of flash-carding to begin with, then lots of practice to familiarize yourself with exceptional words, and that’s really it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I can’t remember. I do remember feeling exceptionally proud one day early on when I was able to read a basic sentence out loud to a Thai friend of mine. Or maybe when I figured out what the different BTS announcements were saying in Thai when the train arrived at the station, left the station, had a problem, etc.

How do you learn languages? 

I’ve always learned language through formalized study plus immersion. I focus on sentence structure and grammar, usually, and I always work hard on reading, as that’s where I feel my vocabulary grows the quickest. My most successful learning experiences have always come, though, when I have been able to stay with a family and speak my target language 24/7 in a variety of day-to-day experiences.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Speaking, conversation, and reading are my strengths. I’m weaker in listening comprehension, as it is still hard for me to catch all the details in films and TV shows. Writing is my weakest skill, as my spelling is still shaky, meaning I have to have a dictionary at hand when I compose anything at all.


What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai? 


That there is no grammar in Thai. There is; just not as we know it from European languages. A lot of nuanced meaning is communicated with particles and word order, and I would call that grammar. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers and students have this idea there is no grammar in Thai, and therefore nothing to learn or teach in that department. I think most students pick up the structure organically in the end, but it’d be good to focus on sentence structure and call it Thai grammar, so students understand how it relates to grammar as they know it.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes, I speak Spanish (C1), French (B2), and Mandarin (B1 now; though I used to be at B2).

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

At the beginning, for about two years, I was studying Thai while taking lessons to maintain my Mandarin, but I dropped the Mandarin eventually. I picked up French in July 2014, which has been a massively quicker learning experience, no doubt due to its similarity to English and Spanish.

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

Just don’t stop trying. Definitely learn to read. Always look for opportunities to practice all four skills.

It might take longer than you hope to reach a useful proficiency level, but stick with it. It pays off when your friends start telling you you’re not just geng (skillful), not just chat (clear), but khlong (fluent) and don’t always switch to English when they talk to you. It’s also a real boon to be able to navigate any situation at all in Thai, from dealings with authorities to company customer services reps. In fact, by speaking and reading Thai, you can access Thai-market services that are much cheaper than their farang-targeted versions with English websites and customer service reps. Basically, it’s worth it to start right away and keep going, especially if there’s any chance at all you’ll remain in the Kingdom for longer than a year.

Tamber,
NGO worker (Human rights and refugees)

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Call For Participants: Chula Linguistics Research Projects

Chula Linguistics Research Projects

Two Chula Linguistics Research Projects…

If you are a student of Thai and live in Thailand, there are now two research projects that might spark your interest. I’ve previously discussed one here: Call for English Speakers Learning Thai: Junyawan’s Linguistics Research Project at Chula.

These two research projects are similar but still different enough to gain a benefit from. Plus, by doing both, you’ll get two reports on your Thai language skills, along with a small renumeration.

Similarities…

  • Both projects are driven by Ph.D. candidates in Linguistics at Chula University.
  • The present studies are for native English speakers only (for now – stay tuned).
  • On set topics, paired participants are recorded having a Thai conversation.
  • Participants then complete a questionnaire about their personal Thai language history.
  • The duration of the interviews are roughly two hours each.
  • At some point each participant will receive a report about their Thai skills.

Differences…

Junyawan Suwannarat:

  • Participants are asked to make up a story, in Thai, while looking at pictures in a storybook. Responses will be recorded.
  • Participants translate 60 English sentences into Thai. There is no time limit on this one (results can be submitted via e-mail).

Sumintra Maklai:

  • Multiple choice test in Thai.

Location and making contact…

The preferred location for the interviews is in Bangkok, but it’s very possible that other arrangements can be made. That’s if you don’t dally making contact (time’s a wasting).

To set up interview dates, here are their details:

Junyawan Suwannarat
Tel: 086-915-1074
Email: junyawan.s@gmail.com
Facebook: Junyawan Suwannart

Sumintra Maklai
Tel: 086-129-5837
Email: sumintramaklai@hotmail.com
Line: mindy_mean

Note: As I mentioned above, time is getting on, so please do make contact asap. Good luck!

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Steve Saad

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Steve Saad
Nationality: British
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Male
Location: Right now: Bangkok, working in Singapore, soon to return to UK
Profession: Banking – COO department. I have just written a book on spoken Thai, which hopefully should be a little different to the other books out there. Total newbie to publishing and marketing so all advice appreciated.

What is your Thai level?

I am fluent in spoken Thai but this comes with some disclaimers and qualifiers. I read Herb Purnell’s interview on here and he got it right – fluency is about the appropriate word choice, style, the feeling of the listener etc.

Personally, I think there are only three main levels – Basic, Intermediate (which includes Advanced) and Fluent. Secondly, I think the step up between each level is progressively bigger. Thirdly and maybe most importantly, I think there is a fourth level, which is again progressively much higher than the step up from Intermediate to Fluent and that is Native proficiency. I class this as those people who can be Thai interpreters, who can read the news or make a formal speech or simply sound Thai and speak Thai in the way that Thai people do. I do not think anybody (apart from the very, very, very small minority of foreigners) ever reaches this level or will ever reach this level…or should expect to. Certain ways of expression are learnt through culture and upbringing etc. and a foreigner should not even expect to speak 100% like a native speaker. So fluency and trying to go ever further beyond fluency to native proficiency, is the aim.

To return to the question, I am fluent and perhaps slightly beyond (using my own proficiency level definition above) in terms of spoken Thai but still not close to a native speaker. I sound Thai and my pronunciation is very good…BUT and this is a big but…I could not present the news on TV, or even come close, or understand a lot of the formal words / military and police ranks etc. in the news and I cannot hold formal meetings on banking in Thai. However I can discuss my childhood in detail with a friend, I can understand a taxi driver when he talks about the economic and social state of Thailand and the need to develop infrastructure outside of Bangkok and fully participate in the conversation, I can go through my career history in detail with a recruitment agent and I have been mistaken for a native (southern) Thai (partly because I am ethnically from Bangladesh) many times because my spoken Thai is very good. Then again, every now and then I mispronounce or lazy-pronounce or fail to understand a simple word and it is certainly true that you get used to the Thai of people you know well and hear often so confidence and exposure to a wide variety of situations and people helps. Just trying to qualify what I can and cannot do to put my Thai into context as fluency is a difficult question to answer properly.

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

Bangkok Thai. I do not speak street Thai if that means slang or ‘rough’ Thai, I speak Thai in a similar way to a typical professional in banking or other ‘middle class’ people but can adjust my style to suit the audience e.g. taxi driver versus my friend versus a senior Thai colleague in my Singapore investment bank office.

I know a few words in Isaan, which always gets a giggle. I know some slang but not much and quite a few swear words (but obviously never use them!…apart from when, in the privacy of my own home, if there is a conversation about IKEA, I deliberately replace the “K” with an “H” and shout it out and amuse myself…and she rolls her eyes and fails to see what is so funny :) )

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

A business trip for a week and, similarly to many people, becoming totally enchanted and intoxicated with all things Thai.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I worked in Thailand (Saraburi) for three years in a banking software company between 2003 and 2006. Apart from that I have visited many times over the years for a few weeks or less at a time.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

About three years – around 2002 – 2004. I did bring my Thai books with me from London and spent my first year here (2003) continuing to study by myself after work but after that less and less so, mainly because I was speaking Thai every day with my wife and colleagues and everywhere. And that is the main reason my spoken Thai is so good – I was lucky that I was in a Thai environment from the start and so, meetings were in Thai, dinner involved Thai conversation and so on. Of course everyone could speak English but as much as anything, I deliberately tried to avoid speaking English. On weekends when I would come to Bangkok (from Saraburi), I would deliberately avoid staying in Sukhumvit and mixing with large expat groups and search opportunities to speak Thai.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I started learning soon after my very first one-week business trip from London in 2001. I did take it fairly seriously from the start, sitting on my sofa in London with my Thai books.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not so much regular but it did take up most of my time outside of work and watching TV and whatever other errands I had in the evenings and weekends.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I have never had a single class in Thai. I am entirely self-taught and quite proud of that fact. Basically a friend lent me Teach Yourself Thai and I also purchased Essential Thai, a book that I cannot praise highly enough even if I were to write an essay on it – it is that good!

I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron Handel in his interview on his methods and many of his other comments. Like him, I am self taught and just like him, I focused on speaking and again just like him, I went to huge effort to let go of English pronunciation and mentality and completely focus on understanding the pronunciation rules and sounds.

I am also very strident in my view that Thai can absolutely be learnt WITHOUT learning to write and CAN be learnt by transliterated or romanised Thai. The two critical factors are how much the learner is willing to let go of their Englishness or Americanness etc. and learn to move their mouth in new ways to make new sounds and not be embarrassed by it and secondly, how much they have paid attention to the first section in the book where it discusses the method of transliteration used. Again, Essential Thai is so good it is beyond belief and I challenge anyone to tell me why they cannot pronounce a word correctly based on James Higbie’s superb explanation of Thai sounds. Essential Thai does not even teach you how to read!!!

Did one method stand out over all others?

Aaron Handel and Herb Purnell have already discussed numerous great points, all of which I very much agree with. Before I went to Thailand to work, I spent hours and hours going through Teach yourself Thai and Essential Thai, cross referencing words, learning the transliteration rules etc. When I got to Thailand, I used every opportunity to practice and then go back and check my books.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I did learn to read but not really thoroughly. I did go through the tone / class rules but that is where I left it. Why? Again, I am firmly of the belief that you can pronounce words perfectly using transliteration but it does take a huge amount of effort and lots of exposure to Thai people to practice, of course. So I can read basic things fairly slowly but certainly cannot read a paper. Basically if I see a Thai word written in Thai, I don’t know what tone it is but know it from memory so new words written down will always cause me problems.

Writing – as Herb and Aaron have said, writing should very much be a secondary concern, if at all. I never learnt to write and have absolutely no interest in doing so. I have never been in a situation in 15 years of being around Thai and Thailand where I needed to write Thai but I am of course aware that some people do need to because of their job in academia, for example. My view is many Westerners become fascinated with the exotic looking Thai script and become totally sidetracked when they should be focusing on speaking. When they type in Thai e.g. in a text message and get a positive reaction, this reinforces their enthusiasm to write while, all the while, their spoken Thai is sometimes awful. I am sure 99% of these people have absolutely no need to write Thai but just like it! Focus on speaking and get it right first!

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Yes, to an extent but as I explained above, I was mildly interested in reading so have a basic ability and had no intention of learning to spell and write myself so did not try.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I don’t know about that but I do know that I had a decent set of memorised words before I got to Thailand and practised them a bit when I went on holiday to Chiang Mai in 2002. From 2003 to 2004, my progress was incredibly fast because I lived and worked in Thailand and was fluent by around 2005.

I spoke to a Thai taxi driver once who went to work previously in Singapore (where I work now) and he told me he became fluent in Hokkien in two years – same timeframe as me. How? He told me it was simply because he spent every single day with his colleagues speaking and listening. Exactly as I did.

How do you learn languages?

As above – by speaking and self-study. As Aaron said, Thai people trying to teach me did not work at all e.g. friends, girlfriends etc! My wife has barely taught me any Thai words but having access to her every day for more than 10 years means I have had someone to converse with every single day (albeit she insists sometimes on speaking English).

The single best way to learn however is to listen! Then listen again!! This is the one thing my ex boss – an Englishman who speaks Thai to native proficiency – told me that has stayed with me – your ears have to get used to hearing Thai and you need to pay attention!

In my book that I am about to publish, I discuss lots of other things I did such as listen to Thai songs and check the transliterated and Thai versions of the lyrics on websites and then listen to the songs again etc.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Speaking is a strength and reading a weakness. I do struggle on specific topics as I obviously would not have been exposed to them previously so there would have been no way for me to know specific words in that particular field. One random example – just two days ago, I was asked in Thai whether I wanted a standard head screwdriver or a criss cross ‘Phillips’ head and I could not respond.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That you cannot learn from transliteration rules – the problem is not the transliteration, the problem is the learner not paying attention to the explanation! Chris Pirazzi is right that people jump to speaking without getting the sounds and tones right but this is the fault of the learner. The answer is NOT to learn Thai by learning to write. The answer is to listen, listen again, study, study again, speak and speak again. Repeat!!

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I can speak very basic Bengali and I started learning Korean for a while and learnt quite a few words but never managed to string them together. I got an A in French at school but haven’t used it ever since.

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

No.

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

Think I have already said above…but one more point…I noticed that both Herb and Aaron are self-taught and seem to be highly proficient and I am also self-taught and have achieved fluency (in speaking only). So I wonder whether there is a lot to be said for good old fashioned hard work and forgetting the classes. Horses for courses I guess so if you need to be taught, fine but I believe in study, speaking and listening.

Finally, to repeat, there is no better book than Essential Thai in my opinion. And who knows, maybe my book, if I ever get it published, will help someone out there.

regards,
Steve Saad

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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