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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): Deluxe

Andrew Biggs

Does this happen to you, too?

In Thailand, do you suddenly find yourself in situations where you think – why? Why is this happening to me?

I just ordered a pizza. Actually it was three, and no, it’s not because I’m prepping for that new Thai TV show that started last night called, of all things, “Dance Your Fat Off.”

(Haven’t seen it yet but loved the pre-publicity: “Fat people take to dancing to lose weight. Each week, the person who’s lost the least amount of weight gets booted off.” Looks to me like the bastard, sadly-deformed-at-birth child of “Dancing With The Stars” and “The Biggest Loser.” Expect a column out of it when I do get to see it.)

No, I had my staff over for our annual beginning-of-the-year meeting. I called it our “2013 Vision” meeting, or “Wi-chun” meeting as my graphic artist kept calling it, which is ironic since his name is “Wi-chien”.

Anyway in my generosity I ordered pizza for lunch on the strict proviso all my staff obeyed my every command for the rest of the year.

Ordering a pizza over the phone is something I haven’t done in ages. This is the conversation that took place in the Thai language.

“Hello Khun Suthon, may I take your order?” the sweet voice answered and enquired.

“I’m not Suthon,” I said.

“You’re not Khun Suthon … hmmmm. According to our records, this cellphone number belongs to Khun Suthon.”

Oh my goodness. I remembered.

Some years ago, the very first time I ordered a pizza in this country, I was required to give all my personal details.

The memory is hazy, but I do recall being on the phone for the time it would take to deliver a pizza to Pattaya, answering all manner of personal details such as my marital status, age, weight, favored position, income and body type.

In that way, I was told, every time I called after that my order would be processed far more conveniently. It had nothing to do with the pizza company’s ability to sell that information to some evil telemarketing company. Of course not. In my ignorance I relented.

That day I wasn’t only wallowing in ignorance. My memory was hazy because I was also wallowing in the effects of one too many Absolut Vanilla screwdrivers so I gave a fake name. Suthon Jaidee.

Ah, the hilarious things we do while under the influence.

“Wait!” I replied. “I remember now. I am Suthon. That’s me. Khun Suthon.”

Silence.

“No, really, I am,” I said quickly changing the subject. “And I want to order three pizzas.”

“Which toppings would you like, Khun Suthon?” she asked in a tone of voice suggesting she didn’t believe in ghosts or UFOs.

“One ham and pineapple, one spicy chicken, and one deluxe.”

“One ham and pineapple, one spicy chicken, and one de-look” (เดอลุกซ์).

“No,” I said. “Not de-look.”

It was at that moment I could feel myself saddling up my high horse. Funny how that equestrian always rears its ugly head in such situations.

“De-LUX.” I added. “It’s de-LUX. Like the soap.”

“So … you want to cancel the de-look?”

Now I was in trouble.

“No! No. I don’t want to cancel it.”

“You said ‘no de-look’.”

“No I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand you, Khun Suthon. You want three pizzas, and the last one is a de-look.”

“The last one is a deluxe,” I replied. “We don’t call it a de-look. You Thais made that pronunciation up yourself.”

“Oh … you are not a Thai, Khun Suthon?”

Man, was I digging myself a hole.

“Well no, but my name is Thai. I, er, grew up overseas. I’m a displaced orphan from the Vietnam war era.”

Silence.

“That was a joke,” I said.

“Repeating your order: one ham and pineapple, one spicy chicken, and one de-look.”

She paused.

“Correct?” she asked, saying it as if she was plunging a spear into my chest.

Correct? Correct? How could I say yes to that, dear reader? I’m a linguist, dammit … how can I say that the word “deluxe”, when pronounced de-look, is correct?

There was something definitely evil, almost dominatrix-like, going on here. That pizza operator was playing head games with me, I know. (And of course, by using the name Suthon, I wasn’t playing head games with her, was I?).

I have asked this question before in this column but I will ask it again — Why is it that perfectly good English words get ripped to shreds when pronounced in Thai, especially on days when I haven’t had a good night’s sleep?

I can handle the omission of that final “s” because the Thai language doesn’t have such words. But why do we change a perfectly good vowel sound like “u” as in “but” or “cut” into the more flimsy pathetic “oo” sound of “look” or “cook”?

Isn’t it funny how we all have our pet peeves? I can’t stand any shop assistant who announces: “No have.” My friend Stuart nearly pees his pants if somebody says “Same same.”

Meanwhile Eilat has Siamese kittens when she hears “I no like,” and Craig goes ape-fecal over the pronunciation of “buffet” as “boof-fay” (บุฟเฟ่ต์).

And me? I’m a “de-look” kinda guy.

“Can I just say something here?” I said by way of answering this clearly manipulative, but clever, pizza operator.

“I just want to say that in English, it’s pronounced de-LUX, not de-look as you say it. Remember that. And tell your friends.”

“But we’re not speaking English, Khun Suthon.”

Oh my god.

She got me.

She’s right.

The word “deluxe” has its origins in French, meaning “of luxury”. And, of course, the French pronounce it similar to the way the Thais do, only a little more condescendingly.

Since when has it been stated that when speaking Thai, all foreign words must be pronounced as they are in English?

Was I just smarting because the Thais have favored the French over the English pronunciation?

I have nothing against the French, though they clearly have something against the British. When last in Paris the most valuable sentence I learned was “Je suis un Australien” so they would at least be nice to me – despite, at that time, Australia’s very vocal damning of French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

There are all sorts of words used in Thai that take the French pronunciation. Little nibblies are or-derf (ออเดิฟ), coffee is gar-fair (กาแฟ) and the word for France itself is farang-set (ฝรั่งเศส) which sounds to me like it comes from the French way of saying France with an emphasis on the last sound.

None of these bother me. So why be bothered with de-look? Or boo-fay for that matter, Craig?

Face it, Andrew. You just lost a linguistic battle to a pizza operator.

“Yes all right,” I said, feeling sick. “The … de-look … pizza.”

Kha” (ค่ะ), she answered. I could hear her troops’ hoots of victory from the front line as she spoke.

Two days later I was checking into a hotel in Suphan Buri to give a speech. As the bell boy carried my bag to the room, I was told: “You have been upgraded. To a hong soot” (ห้องชุด).

Oh god.

That’s another one.

A suite is a soot (ชุด) in Thai, rhyming with “suit”, another bastardization that gets my goat.

We can’t even blame the French for that one – where did that one come from? And why does that immediately incur my wrath?

“Air conditioning is here, and the light switch is over there,” the friendly hotel staffer told me once inside the room. “Would you like to order room service?”

“Certainly not a pizza,” I said.

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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): Fetmot

Andrew Biggs

Too much fetmot and you’re det-sa-mole-ay

I am munching on a delicious fetmot as I write this column, and –

I’m sorry, what was that? You don’t know what a ‘fetmot’ is? Come on. How long have you been in this country?

I was reminded of fetmot this week as I made one of my infrequent visits to Emporium, where I used to work. Ah, Emporium. Wasn’t that an exciting place to work for a while? Anytime you had a dull patch at work you could catch the lift down to the airy, khunying (คุณหญิง) infested walkways and escalators and pop into shops like Giorgio Armani to check out the latest overpriced shirts from Italy, making a mental note of their designs in order to pick up an identical one for one-twentieth the price at Chatuchak that coming weekend.

And the food! Cuisines from around the world, including my favorite, fetmot, which I purchased whenever I was in a rush and had no time to assume my faux hi-so persona.

Yes I will get to its meaning in a moment, but isn’t Thai a wonderful language? Since its inception – if a language can indeed incept – it has borrowed liberally from other sources, such as Chinese, Cambodian, Portuguese, Hindi and English. One simple Thai sentence these days is like falling into an atlas. But for me, one of the more interesting aspects of the language is how English words get picked up and used within the context of Thai.

We farangs often get hot under our western collars at the way Thais mispronounce even the simplest of English words, but there is often a good reason. Some sounds in English simply don’t exist in Thai, and vice versa. For this reason, English words get moulded into a new form within the context of Thai.

And English words enter and leave the Thai language quicker than smelly English teachers restamping their tourist visas in Hat Yai. Ten years ago the country fell into crisis and suddenly every Thai knew what “IM-Ebb” was. (It was IMF, but Thais don’t have an F sound at the end of their words.) I remember being a little surprised by the first Thai who shoved a plate of food in front of me and said: “Or Derb” (ออเดิป). Of course, he was saying “hors d’oeuvres” which has sneaked its way into the Thai language. Of course he was. But before you snigger at the crazy pronunciation, peer into the gaping chasm that lies between the way we westerners pronounce this word and the ludicrous way it is spelt, thanks to its shameful French origins.

In more recent times a verb has entered the Thai language which means “to stand up and make a speech in public”. This verb is to “hye-bark” (ไฮป๊าร์ค). Can you guess where this verb comes from? A hint: It’s not even a verb in English. It’s a place.

The answer is “Hyde Park”. In Thai, “to Hyde Park” means to get on your soapbox and make a protest speech. If you asked 100 Thais where Hyde Park is situated, you’d have a handful who could tell you. But they’d all know the verb. For example: “He will Hyde Park tonight at Sanam Luang.” “Do you know who will be Hyde Parking today?”

(I figure the past tense would not be an irregular verb … or would it? “Last night I Hyde Pack outside Parliament.” “I’ve Hyde Puck so many times I’ve lost my voice.”)

If you think that’s ludicrous, I have an even better one for you.

One slang word for “dead” in Thai sounds like this: “Det-sa-mole-ay.” For example: “I think Somchai will be det-sa-mole-ay if he doesn’t pay his debts.” “If that fat guy with the Jatukarm Ramatep amulet around his bulbous neck doesn’t stop hogging the karaoke microphone, he’ll be det-sa-mole-ay before midnight.”

I would like you now to put down your copy of Brunch and say that word out loud. “Det-sa-mole-ay” (เด็ดสะมอเร่). Sound familiar?

It should. It’s an English word. Or rather, the name of an English song. In Italian. Back in 1954 Dean Martin scored a #1 hit with a song called “That’s Amore.” “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore …”

How … the … hell … does … a cheesy English song … from 50 years ago … become a Thai adjective …. for “dead”?? Somewhere along the line, a Thai decided “dead” sounded like “That’s amore” and used the title of this song in its place. As crazy as it sounds, he or she was right – with the first syllable anyway. That’s why the title of a hideous old love song by a det-sa-mole-ay singer means “deceased” in Thai.

Sometimes I wonder why. I remember when the first taxi hit the Bangkok traffic with the plastic TAXI METER sign screaming for attention from the roof. Was it so difficult not to have written METERED TAXI? The same goes for those ubiquitous BAR BEERS in places like Chiang Mai and Pattaya, where westerners way past their use-by dates empty their hearts along with, ultimately, the contents of their fake leather wallets to girls one-third their age. It wouldn’t have taken much to have called them BEER BARS like the rest of the world does. Or am I just being bitter and twisted?

I love the Thai language and the way English words enter it. But pity the intrepid English word that ventures its way into the labyrinth that is the Thai language. By the time it has passed through all the twists and turns, it emerges a shadow of its former self.

Like “fetmot” (เฟดมาด). And what, pray tell, did it start out as? Why, “Fresh Mozzarella Tomatoes And Pesto Sandwich”, a popular choice at any Au Bon Pain shop. Only it’s shortened by the delightful Thai staff to “Fresh Mozarella,” then “Fresh Mot”, then “Fetmot”, then …

… Fot? Only time, dear reader. Only time.

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Aakanee.com’s Thai Recordings and Illustrations on Youtube

Aakanee.com

Thai Recordings and Illustrations on Youtube…

Exciting news! If you are a fan of aakanee.com, which hosts Andrej’s classy illustrations and recording for learning Thai (and Khmer), then you’ll be thrilled to know that Pablo Román is compiling the Thai recordings with their matching illustrations on YouTube.

You can find Pablo Román’s YouTube Channel here: Thai Recordings

And here’s a list of what’s live so far:

Thai Recording: Chili fish dip
Thai Recordings: Going to the Movies
Thai Recordings: Food Poisoning
Thai Recordings: Taking an Airplane
Thai Recordings: Tuk-tuk
Thai Recordings: Laundry
Thai Recordings: Pickpocket
Thai Recordings: Fried Rice
Thai Recordings: Cold Season
Thai Recordings: Getting Up
Thai Recordings: Thai New Year (Songkran)
Thai Recordings: Going To The ATM
Thai Recordings: Coffee And Soft Drink
Thai Recordings: Grilled Fish
Thai Recordings: Cutting One’s Finger
Thai Recordings: Motorcycle Taxi
Thai Recordings: Going To Bed
Thai Recordings: The Rainy Season
Thai Recordings: Shopping For A T-shirt
Thai Recordings: Alms Round
Thai Recordings: Noodle Soup

Background: Introducing aakanee.com: Thai and Khmer Picture Supported Learning.

Thai Recordings: Audio and transcript downloads
Thai: Thai Illustrations
Khmer: Khmer Illustrations
Guest posts on WLT: Andrej

Pablo Román:
Website: Dreaming Languages
Twitter: @langdreamer
YouTube: Pablo Román

Nicely done Andrej and Pablo!

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Thai Language School Review: PRO Language Chiang mai

Thai Language School Review: PRO Language Chiang mai

PRO Language: Chiang mai…

School: PRO Language
Website: PRO Language Chiang mai
Telephone Number: 053-400-980 , 086-431-0377

Address: 6/4-5 Nimmanhemin Rd. Suthep, Mueng, Chiang Mai.

PRO Language School in Chiang mai is located on the northern end of the trendy Nimman Heimman street where a lot of the Digital Nomads live, but the building itself is a bit older. Classes are two times a week: 2h at a time, with a 15min break in between.

From my experience with PRO Chiang mai, the biggest motivation for people to choose this school is the location, the price, plus the flexible attendance rules.

In my opinion, Pro Chiang mai is a great school if you want to attain the student visa and speak basic Thai. But, if you really want to learn Thai, then you’ll need to do a lot of work yourself on your own, take supplementary private classes, and/or enroll somewhere else as well.

Beginner level…

At the beginners’ level, the first class covered the tones and the vowels in an hour and then moved on to greetings and basic phrases. The pace was fast and each class or each 1.5 classes covered a different subject. And while they did follow a book (written by the school itself I believe) they also used a lot of handouts and had simple homework once a week. Considering the class was twice a week and 2h/day with a 15min break, that’s a good amount of homework (and we always checked it the following lesson). 

There didn’t seem to be much focus on making sure that every student could follow along. But, as many students were lax in their motivation, I cannot blame the teachers. If the teachers tried to get everyone up to speed all the time, they’d never get anywhere with the students who are motivated to learn. 

We spoke in pairs a lot, read out aloud from the book, and our teacher asked us a lot of questions. Our teacher was young, energetic, and happily took the time to explain. She generously went off-topic to answer our questions about how to say this and that in Thai so we’d often ask her about everyday Thai things (such as how to speak to the taxi drivers and market sellers, what foods in restaurants are called, etc). And after answering our questions, she always got us back on topic again. 

Intermediate level…

I was in an intermediate class at Pro Language for about six weeks. Officially, there were 15-18 students in my class.

The teaching was divided into speaking for the first hour, often following photocopied texts brought by the teacher, and then a reading and writing section after the break. The teaching was actually OK, albeit based on continual repetition.

I did learn to read basic Thai as well, so something must have worked.

The level was generally very easy and it was obvious that many students had absolutely no understanding of the Thai language at all. I genuinely liked the teacher, who tried hard to motivate students and get them to take part, but it must have been a thankless task.

I could have asked to move to a different class but as I was effectively getting private lessons at Pro Language I was more than happy to stay there. However, due to the low numbers of students showing up, the group was finally cancelled. I’ve just been moved to the next level where I’m hoping that it’ll be a bit more challenging.

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How I Learned to Speak Thai During My First Month

Speak Thai

So, there I was: sitting in the same old café, listening to my cheerful old friend talking about all the fun she had while teaching English in Thailand, when suddenly I felt very old. I’m still what they call young, but at that moment I swear I was ancient. Something was missing from my life. And then I realized I had been listening about it for the last hour, in between sips of coffee.

I needed to go live abroad for a while! I needed to learn a new language, become friends with a new culture. The country I chose was Thailand. I had visited it before as a tourist, and fell in love with it, but this time I was going to get a teaching job there and finally learn Thai.

And that’s exactly what I did. I got a teaching job there. Now I was faced with the second part of my wish: learning the language. I had tried learning Thai, spent a lot on courses, but made no major progress. My pronunciation was terrible and my vocabulary limited. That got me worried. What if I wasn’t gifted enough to learn Thai? What if I get really disappointed? Perhaps it was just too difficult?

I’m sure many people feel like that when they’re about to embark on an adventure quite different than any before. The adventure in question here wasn’t just living in Thailand, but learning Thai too!

However, as I soon realized, there are ways of successfully learning a language no matter where you live! It is, of course, extremely valuable to communicate with native speakers on a daily basis if you wish to learn it quickly, but there are a few more things you can do. This is what I did in order to learn Thai fast:

1) I moved to Thailand…

Okay, yes, I know – easier said than done. You might not be in a position to move to Thailand, but I had already signed my contract, so for me it wasn’t an issue.

As it turned out, this proved to be the crucial step for my knowledge of Thai. It gave me the chance to figure out what I had been doing wrong and to focus on what needed to be fixed.

First thing I did, however, was this: I swore to myself that I was not going to be timid in my attempts to communicate with the locals. No way. I was going to immerse myself in the language and in the culture. I was going to surround myself with Thai and not resort to speaking English every time it got a little difficult to communicate. And it worked!

It was frustrating at times, but I powered through it. I used my free time for trips, I explored, experienced the everyday life of the locals. Thai people are very nice and interested in foreigners. The benefits of being surrounded by native speakers are numerous and extremely helpful for learning!

2) I learned the Thai alphabet before I arrived in the country…

Don’t panic – at first glance this seems extremely difficult if you’re used to the English alphabet and 26 letters. The Thai alphabet has a completely different script and consists of 44 consonants and 15 vowel symbols that comprise 32 vowels. A little overwhelming, I know.

Here’s what you can do, though, to make the learning easier: put two posters on your wall, next to your bed if you can – one with consonants and one with vowels. At this stage, everything will probably seem very strange to you, but that’s ok. Set aside a certain amount of time every single day to look at these symbols and make the sound with your mouth that they’re associated with.

Also, I found Easy Thai Alphabet very helpful and I highly recommend these learning methods. And, as a big fan of flashcards, I loved Thai FlashCards.

3) I started with the basics on my own…

In this day and age, technology allows us access to great amounts of material for learning. You can google the basics of any language and practice with various audio and video guides. That’s what I did.

First, I practiced the tones of Thai. This is a tonal language and a word in Thai can mean different things when a different tone is applied. Take ‘mai’ for example. ‘Mai’ can mean ‘no’, ‘new’ or ‘microphone’ depending on the tone applied.

When you read a Thai word, you will often see one of the four tone markers which are named ‘mai eak’, ‘mai toh’, ‘mai tree’ and ‘mai juttawa’. There is no tone marker in a syllable with a normal (mid) tone.

A good way of practicing the tones is through videos on YouTube. There are some very good ones, featuring native speakers. This lesson from Learn Thai With Mod was one of my favourites. Find the ones that suit you most and repeat the exercises as many times as you need!

Next, I learnt the most frequent groups of words. I focused on topics such as:

  • Greetings
  • Numbers
  • Places
  • Foods
  • Jobs

I made flashcards and practiced. You can do this too. Set mini-goals for yourself. Don’t try to take giant steps.

What kind of flashcards do you prefer? For me, a combination of physical cards and the Thai Flashcards app did the job.

Traditional, physical cards offer beginners the best focus possible. That rectangular space confines the word(s) and makes you really pay attention. You can add photos, drawings or colored letters to your flashcards. This will help you remember the words even better as more sensory nerves will be employed.

The digitized flashcards offer everything that your senses need: audio pronunciation, relevant images, dynamic games…

Whatever you choose, practice with your flashcards as often as you can! Repeating makes you burn the words into your long-term memory.

Finally, I moved on to basic conversations. These too can be found within some excellent channels on YouTube.

6) I used technology to the max…

We live in a world where technology can help us in many ways. There are language exchange programs that let you communicate with native speakers and numerous apps you can download easily.

I, for example, always carry the Talking Thai <> English Dictionary with me. On my phone, that is. It’s simple to use and comes in very handy. Apps like these are easy to find on Google Play or iTunes. Just choose the right dictionary or phrasebook for yourself and practice away!

If you can’t be in contact with native speakers every day, you can always use the advantages of learning via Skype lessons or through language exchange sites. I’ve heard only good things about Learn Thai with Mod.

Italki is a great example of language exchange program benefits. Teach your native language to a Thai native and learn at the same time. It’s the perfect exchange!

5) I watched Thai movies…

I know, sounds too simple, right? You shouldn’t underestimate this type of audio-visual learning! If you just relax, your brain will pick up things and you’ll be surprised!

There are a number of frequent words and phrases that get repeated throughout any movie, so these will quickly become familiar to you.

Repeat these words after the actors. Stop the movie if necessary. Listen carefully to the pronunciation. Your brain will connect the words to the context. And your vocabulary will expand with every movie.

No matter what genre you prefer, you can find a lot of Thai movies online. Try Filmdoo, for example.

Oh, a tip: Don’t watch the movies with English subtitles. Use the Thai ones instead. This way, your brain will connect the spoken words with the written ones in the subtitles and help you learn more.

6) I did not let myself give up!…

So, there I was: surrounded by the beautiful Thai people, eating fantastic Thai food, enjoying this different, fascinating culture, when suddenly I felt very tired. Learning Thai demanded a lot of effort. However, I considered myself quite lucky to have felt this sort of tiredness. It was a sign that I was doing something very important to me, something fulfilling, and that I was doing it right!

Learning Thai quickly is a challenge indeed, but a very rewarding one!

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Successful Thai Language Learner: David Algeo Smith

Tomas Drayton

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: David Algeo Smith
Nationality: American
Age range: 50-60
Sex: Male
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Profession: Violin/fiddle teacher
Website/blog: I have a couple start-stop travel blogs which may have some interesting writing, not exclusively about Thailand, but I’d rather share my music here (there are 2-3 Thai traditional tunes on the album including Khang Khao Kin Kluay–“Bats Eating Bananas”): ค้างคาวกินกล้วย

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate spoken, beginner reading.

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

I’ve always tried to speak polite standard Thai. Although I lived primarily in Chiangmai I didn’t learn “kham muang” or any dialects apart from the odd phrase.

I know some curse words and other “mai phraw” words but even with friends I’d go there only very rarely.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Necessity! When I first arrived in Thailand in late 1989 I quickly realized I needed to learn the language if I wanted to stay–and I really wanted to stay for awhile.

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

I lived in Chiangmai from December 1989 until about November 1994, then in Bangkok until late 1995. Then I spent about another year in the North in 1997-1998 and another six months in the North and Isaan in early 2001. During those years I often explored the South when on visa runs to Malaysia and I did several runs to Laos in the early ’90s– when it was very different from today.

Sadly, since 2001 I’ve only been able to manage about five 2-month visits up to my most recent in 2014. I feel as if I’ve really been trying to move back toThailand for 20 years now! Without success 😔

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

I started learning almost immediately–within the first month of my arrival in December 1989–and I continued learning for my entire immersion experience through 1995.

Actually I’ve never been a formal student in the academic sense but feel I’ve never stopped learning since I caught the “Thai bug”, and I probably will always be an eager student of this language.

That said, since I’m not the world’s best language student, I find it difficult–even almost pointless–to continue to study the language when I’m not living in Thailand. So since 1998 I haven’t progressed much past the low to mid intermediate level, to my increasing regret today.

But every time I return for a visit the skills come back quickly and within days I’m improving to advanced intermediate levels. That tells me I can reach higher levels–if only I were to apply myself to more disciplined study.

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

It was right for me! But I never took formal lessons. I was very lucky to have a good Thai friend whose mission in life was to pull Westerners into the Thai cultural orbit, and I learned my first words and sounds from her.

I used a notebook to create my own transliteration which eventually made a lot more sense to me than the others available at the time. And I was fascinated by the alphabet early but concluded that I’d be better off focusing on listening and pronouncing words first.

I started with my friend to get to the market (beginner), then I continued with other friends I made in the music world (intermediate beginner), then finally with my girlfriend (advanced beginner).

This was during my early immersion period from 1990-1993. When I returned to the States for a year in 1996 I stopped studying completely and really missed it.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, but I was living and playing with Thai musicians on a daily basis then later I had a Thai girlfriend. None of my closest friends at that time had any more than basic English–not even enough for “Thaienglish”, really!

My friends were all Chiangmai or Phrae musicians with very little experience dealing with farang. I learned a lot from them even though they always talked in Chiangmai dialect with each other–very graciously they spoke “Bangkok” with me.

My girlfriend was from Lopburi so her “mother tongue” was the one I was trying to learn: Central Thai. I have her to thank for teaching me in the most patient, empathetic manner imaginable. I was so lucky to meet her, and my years with her were my best in Thailand.

To succeed in love and in music in a totally foreign culture I had to rely on these friends/colleagues/lovers to be my teachers, and they all taught me so much more than just the language. I learned about food and family and phu yai/phu noi and about Thai music and politics, and about jai rawn/jai yen and grengjai, and so much more.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

As a beginner I tried my “teacher/friend’s method–hers was an excellent way to get me quickly comfortable, on my own, in the neighborhood market😀

But seriously it was a total immersion situation and as a young musician on a Thai salary I never had the resources to try school or take AUA classes. I learned from the friends and acquaintances I made.

Did one method stand out over all others?

I grew up as a Suzuki violin student. Suzuki music students can achieve a high level of ability on the instrument with listening, imitation, repetition, review, and delayed music reading. I applied those childhood skills in my Thai learning.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I started basic reading almost immediately but I still can’t write today because I don’t know how to spell and I’m too lazy to work on improving my “five-year old’s” handwriting.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I could see right away that Thai is an alphabet and not an inscrutable “script”. And since I love reading I didn’t find that particularly difficult.

After learning the basics of the consonants and vowels from my first “friend/teacher” I largely taught myself to read. I was familiar with the “black book”–we had one lying around–but as I’ve already mentioned I was rather lazy. So I did not study the tone rules used in word construction ( that’s on my extensive to do list now–thank you Ajaan Smyth and Khun Cat for making some very fine resources available). Instead I used my “Suzuki ear” to learn the correct pronunciation.

Reading for me was all about what I could gain just running around in daily life. I learned to read all the “changwat” on the “thabien rot”, street signs, billboards, any other signs (bus signboards were so much fun to figure out, even if I wasn’t particularly waiting for a bus!), and of course menus.

By this point (maybe 2-3 years in) I completely ditched most transliterations. I simply didn’t need them anymore, and most of them aren’t helpful past the beginner stage. I recommend the beginner create her own if needed.

Oddities like the positioning of the vowels and the many dipthongs/tripthongs never threw me for a loop because I thought it was a fascinating way to construct words–if nothing else, Thai words on the written page are memorable, even if you don’t know what the word means or precisely how to pronounce it.

And off the page, all those weird vowel sounds were a lot of fun to try out loud with friends–lots of laughs there, and lots of successful learning too.

By the end of my initial 5-6 years of immersion I was reading trashy magazines and comic books, but I never really graduated to newspapers–too many abstract concepts for me! And I was too often stubbornly lazy with the dictionary even though I usually had two or three handy. If a friend tried explaining it to me and I still didn’t understand a written word, I’d might look it up. Or, more often, I’d forget to do so if I didn’t have the “dik” with me.

But my instinct during that period told me to delay serious reading study until I could speak somewhat competently, so that’s what I did.

Unfortunately at that point I had to return to the West. Which was a huge culture shock, by the way. In fact I’m still recovering 😂

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I saved this question for last because I’ve had several and want to relate this to you right.

Thais compliment foreigners way too much so they always say “geng” even when we’re not. But when they start saying (about you) “phud phraw maak” or “phud chat maak” then you can be sure you are making at least some progress. In Khorat I met a shopkeeper who asked me if I worked for “sathan thoot” (the embassy). That bowled me over.

Another moment was when I could read everything in a 20-page menu (no English) and ask the waiter to explain a new (for me) dish and understand everything he said and decide how to order competently–and humorously!

But my first “ah hah” moment was a very beautiful moment one morning in Chiangmai when my girlfriend woke up and said: เมื่อคืนฉันฝัน (Last night I had a dream…) and I understood everything she said to follow. This was my first experience truly grasping abstract concepts in Thai.

How do you learn languages?

I’ve outlined above a little about how I learned Thai. I listen a lot and don’t talk much at first. I’ve been fortunate to have had the time and inclination to get immersed in new cultures and stay awhile.

In Thailand I learned from friends, then colleagues, then intimate partners, and finally from everyone I encountered in dozens of provinces of Thailand.

But to reach the next levels I know I have to stop being lazy with reading and dictionaries and go back to creating vocabulary lists. This is the hard work that everyone must do to advance.

But then there’s the fun stuff: watch TV, the dumber the material the better (don’t be put off by soap operas and reality TV), listen to the radio, watch Thai content with English subtitles and Western content with Thai subtitles, watch the news. Graduate to Thai content with Thai subtitles, if you can get that kind of material now.

I can see from this blog that a whole new world of Thai learning has opened up, and I’m really impressed–and inspired. We didn’t have all those resources in the ’90s.

I recently spent about six months in France and I learned right away what I needed to do: get out of my comfort zones, speak French as much as possible, and watch TV–lots of it. Before long I had the best beginner French I’ve had in 40 years of interest in that beautiful, funny language.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my Thai pronunciation is pretty good because of my music background. I can hear and imitate the tones easily. Maybe they’re not even “tones”– just distinct, unique “sounds”.

Taw Tao, Paw Plaa and Ngaw Ngu are very foreign sounds for Western speakers, but they are not impossible–just a nice challenge to get right.

Also, while I’m somewhat shy and not really gregarious, I found in Thailand I really loved engaging verbally with people on a daily basis. Maybe this is why I loved everything about Thailand. It awakened something new in me which gradually turned into a strength that I utilized everyday.

As for weaknesses, there’s no question: reading and my non-existent writing.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I’m not sure, but this is an important question I’d like to answer thoughtfully. Perhaps I’m a good example for some of how not to learn!

I’ve had a lifelong love of languages but I always found the Latin languages and German far too difficult. In Thailand, however, I discovered I can easily reach a level, that with increased, more serious study would lead to certain advancement–even for a B-C student like me.

The tones are conquerable, even for a lackadaisical reader, and the reading itself is really fun, especially if you like reading but aren’t a stellar student.

Learning Thai, as a young adult, was for me like being a five year old again, in only the most positive sense of that universal experience. The entire world is yours once more, a marvelous place of wonder, which is how I’ve always felt about Thailand.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I was a C student in French in high school but gradually gained a beginner level over several visits to France over the years. I have very basic Spanish and even poorer German but only because of my extensive travel in Europe and in Mexico and Central America.

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

When I first arrived in Thailand I was just coming from several months in France.

But no, Thai was all I could wrap my head around once I’d left Europe, “for good”, I thought at the time.

This might be the right place for me to mention that in the ’91-’95 period I did not return to the West for about four years. In that period, life was just Southeast Asia for me–apart from a couple quick trips to Japan and Korea during the latter part of my 5-6 year immersion.

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

Every student is different: just explore a lot and find out the many different methods and resources that work best for you.

What worked best for me was having close Thai friends early in my experience. Get a job with Thais and hang out with people who don’t know English.

Find an intimate partner and meet everyone in her/his family and learn as much as possible about relationships and why they matter in Thai society.

Like everyone the world over, Thais love to gossip about friends, family and workmates. Don’t be afraid to join in! In my years with the band I learned so much about band politics and the internal hierarchy of that small world, and it really helped me to gain wider comprehension of the culture and the language–which are two things we can’t separate anyway​.

Get out of your city and/or schooling bubble, or comfort zones, and travel as much as possible to remote areas or “ban nawk”. That’s where I learned the most.

But even in the towns and cities you can learn a lot by getting out to market or “bai theeo khon deeo”. Go out solo and engage with women in the market and with songthaeo drivers and motorcycle mechanics and the woman who does your laundry. Ultimately I probably learned more from the general public than I did from my many wonderful friends.

Use humor, follow the Thai penchant for sanuk and “law lehn” and don’t be afraid when they laugh at your mistakes. Thais are way too complimentary of foreigners but they appreciate​ us too–and for good reason, I believe. We all have much to offer each other.

I like having a Thai-Thai dictionary and a good three-way, if available. Lately I’ve been carrying Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s brilliant Thai-English/English-Thai dictionary and her Thai for Intermediate Learners in my travels.

regards,
David Algeo Smith

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: Tomas Drayton

Tomas Drayton

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Tomas Drayton
Nationality: British
Age range: 26
Sex: Male
Location: London, UK.
Profession: BA South East Asian Studies Student at SOAS, University of London.

What is your Thai level?

Advanced.

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

In the beginning I tried to learn as much slang and ‘Thai-isms’ as possible in some vain hope of speaking exactly like a Thai. However, when I started studying at SOAS the best advice I got was that as foreign Thai speakers, regardless of how good your Thai can be there will always be slight communication barriers, therefore it’s best to accept your role as a foreign Thai speaker, and compensate by veering into the more polite and formal ways of speaking.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Initially I went to Thailand on holiday, and as a vegetarian I learnt about three phrases. I ended up staying much longer than planned and just slowly built up more and more, so it was more circumstantial than anything else. I then applied to study at SOAS as there was a year abroad programme at Thammasat University, which sounded much more appealing than working!

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

Not currently.

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

I have been a Thai language student at University level since September 2013. Previous to that I had been learning independently for about two years.

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

I was very keen to learn Thai at first and stuck at it for a good six months which built a good foundation of basic spoken Thai. I bought a book and just used to look at it every day while in Thailand, trying to learn and use one new phrase or expression each day.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

More so just as and when I could than a rigid timetable. However once I started learning it at university level of course I had to do much more controlled study in order to pass exams etc.

What Thai language learning methods did you try? Did one method stand out over all others?

I don’t buy into or even understand various language learning ‘methods’, some seem absolutely insane! Perhaps they do work for some people, but getting too deep into scientific language learning technique comparisons seems to me a waste of learning time!

I think for a grammatically uncomplicated language like Thai in which much of the emphasis is in speech and pronunciation, the best bet is to be practising speaking as much as possible. The only way to remember a language for me is to use it!

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Not soon enough! I think the earlier you can start learning to read and write the better, as it makes pronunciation so easy. I started properly being able to read and write at SOAS once I started studying there, as it is absolutely the first thing you do.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Thankfully I had David Smyth to teach me so it was relatively easy. I’d say after a month or so of learning it becomes easy.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Probably the first time I was ever understood asking for vegetarian food by a Thai person!

How do you learn languages?

Speak ๆๆๆๆ

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I think putting off learning to read and write is a big one, as being able to read just makes everything so much easier. Also, I think the idea that it is very hard is quite a misconception. If you think it’s very hard and you won’t be able to do it, you won’t.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I learnt French to quite a good level in school, but cannot remember any now!

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

No I think I’d find that very hard.

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

I truly believe that the best way to learn is through friendly chit-chat with Thai people. If you are in Thailand, go out and about and try to chat to people. If you aren’t in Thailand but are preparing to go, get practising specific phrases you are going to use. Once you can get a basic framework of Thai conversation and confidence in speaking and using Thai, the rest just follows.

I started by going out and trying to make small talk about the weather, inevitably someone would say something I didn’t understand, so I would go back, check my book to try and work out what they had said, and then would just try again the next day with someone else.

I think getting over the confidence barrier in speaking and getting the belief that you probably can learn Thai is the trick.

regards,
Tomas Drayton

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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Dom’s Thai Port Thai: Learn Thai via Football

Learn Thai via Football

Due to Tom Earls’ retweets, for the past few months Dominick’s learning Thai via Port F.C. tweets have been appearing on my twitter timeline.

From Dominick’s bio: “Originally from London, Dominick has been teaching English in Bangkok since 2006 and has been following Port FC since 2011”.

Being clueless about Thai football, I had to visit Port F.C.’s about page to get the goods:

Port F.C. (Football Club): Established in 1967, Port FC is one of Thai football’s longest-established clubs and one of the best supported clubs in Bangkok, drawing its support largely from the densely-populated working-class Khlong Thoey district.

Thanks to its proximity to the centre of Bangkok, and being the only stadium in the city within walking distance of the MRT, the club also attracts a large number of “farang” (foreign) supporters – probably the largest foreign matchday following of any club in Thailand. Foreign fans are also attracted by the friendly, noisy atmosphere (by far the best at any Bangkok club), and the “proper” stadium – unlike many Thai stadiums where the fans are separated from the pitch by a running track, PAT Stadium is a proper old-school football ground where the fans are right up close to the pitch.

If you are a fan of Thai football, here a list of Dom’s Thai Port Thai posts (so far):

Dom’s Thai Port Thai: Lesson 1 – Going to the Match
Dom’s Thai Port Thai: Lesson 2 – Terrace Thai
Dom’s Thai Port Thai: Lesson 3 – Players, Coaches & Refs
Dom’s Thai Port Thai: Thai Port Songs 1 – Rao Kue Singh

Being the gentleman he is, Dominick gave a shoutout to Yuki and Miki’s (pickup-thai.com) Glossary of Football Terms. Nicely done.

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Mind Your Language: Two Week Intensive Thai Course in Pakchong (Khao Yai National Park)

Mind Your Language

Mind Your Language’s Two Week Intensive Thai Course promises to be quite the adventure.

Along with learning Thai using their T.M.C. Teaching Method you’ll visit Khao Yai National Park (Pakchong), experience Thailand’s Thai cowboys (Chokchai Farm) and do a bit of wine tasting at Granmonte Vineyard and Winery. And if all pans out, included will be shopping at the Kingdom of the Pottery (Ban Dankwian) and a Thai Premier League game at Korat Stadium.

The T.M.C. Teaching Method is comprised of:
T – Transformation method: Reversing sentence structure.
M – Muscle memory method: Repetition leads to accuracy.
C – Combination method: Creating meaningful paragraphs.

The method sounds fairly straightforward to me but if you are interested in hearing more about it check out reviews from their regular intensive Thai course on Koh Samui (it uses the same teaching method): Reviews.

The intensive Thai beginners course in Pakchong will be held from the 3th to the 14th of July, 2017.

Excluding accommodation, the price for the two week beginners course at both Koh Samui and Pakchong is 14,900 Baht. On Samui you can arrange your own accommodation or leave it up to the school; Pakchong will have a package deal (accommodation and excursions – to be announced later). On Koh Samui I found it’s roughly 9000 baht for 12 days on the island but that’s without the school’s discount (and how much you want to slum it).

If you are interested in attending the intensive course at Koh Samui instead, you have more options as far as dates go. But the main difference between the two intensive courses (Koh Samui and Pakchong) is that on the island, classroom studies are the main focus and the activities are secondary (and up to you). On Koh Samui, after class is over for the day you can choose from: cooking classes, diving, kite surfing, massages & spa, yoga, safari tours, golf, frisbee golf, fishing, paddle-boarding, night markets, waterfalls, beaches, etc.

On top of Thai, on Koh Samui there’s also an Italian intensive course:

Thai, English and Italian are taught following the same teaching styles (T.M.C. teaching methods). Regular courses run throughout the year (2 or 4 times a week).  Intensive courses for both English and Italian will start from April (Easter Time) and a holiday-study package for students coming from abroad will be offered for people who want to study in the summer time (June, July, August).

Mind Your Language has just been affiliated to Societa’ Dante Alighieri Italia, which is the headquarter and main learning centre of Italian as a second language in Italy. From January 2017 we are the only PLIDA (Progetto Lingua Italiana Dante Alighieri) Certification Centre in Thailand and the official centre where students can take the PLIDA exams and get an international diploma that assesses their level of Italian as a Second Language (From A1 to C2) . Facebook: PLIDA Thailand.

If you have any questions please leave comments below or contact the school via their Facebook page or website:

Website: Mind Your Language, Thailand
Facebook: Mind Your Language School

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Karsten Aichholz

Karsten Aichholz

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Karsten Aichholz
Nationality: German
Age range: 35
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Aspiring writer. Actual entrepreneur.
Website: I run a website that provides people with free guides on living, working or starting a business in Thailand: Thailand Starter Kit

What is your Thai level?

Advanced.

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

Professional Thai. I can read and understand the fee structure of a an SET-traded fund, but for the life of it have no idea why the lady with the pancake makeup and the helmet haircut is angry at that other lady on some soap opera.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

My former business partner is a language prodigy. Unless I studied the language extensively I would come across as having learning-disability when sitting next to him in a meeting. I also didn’t want to be the guy who after 10 years in a country still doesn’t speak the language. Initially it was that and some curiosity.

Later on it was mostly for social reasons and some limited business benefits.

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

I have been living in Bangkok since 2006.

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

2006+

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

Back in 2006, the first year I arrived in Thailand, fiddled around with books and websites without making much progress beyond ‘turn right’, ‘vegetarian, please’ and ‘that’s not vegetarian’. I got serious when I first took an intensive Thai class at Chulalongkorn University in 2007. I wrote a review about that experience here: Thai Language School Review – Intensive Thai at Chulalongkorn University. I’ve been studying on and off ever since.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not as much as I’d like to have. Doing full-time intensive classes forced me to do it for a few weeks each and it helped a lot. In other years it was more of a ‘time permitting’ approach where I’d take up regular classes when my work schedule permitted.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I did some self-study (okay, to maintain current level), an intensive Thai class (very good to overcome roadblocks), and took private lessons (great if you can find a topic that interests you and combine it with dedicated self-study). 

Did one method stand out over all others?

One very labor intensive but effective way of self-study was to put entire sentences from Thai Grammar Books on Anki flash cards. It definitely helped with getting a more intuitive understanding of grammar. I would gladly pay good money for ready-made, sentence-based flash cards that can be purchased by topic. Finding topics that excite me (e.g. finance) was one of the biggest factors in making me more dedicated to self-study.

This said, the biggest improvements came from externally imposed schedules that force you to commit time and thought to learning the language.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

The first word I read in Thai was the transcription on the McDonald’s sign. That was a week after arriving. I picked up enough to ‘make out’ words reasonably quickly, but didn’t learn how to properly read and write until I took an intensive Thai class that taught me about a year after I arrived.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

It didn’t come naturally beyond some newbie gains, but I feel more at ease with written Thai than colloquial Thai.

How do you learn languages?

With dread and reluctance. I wish I was kidding. My work-around is to find a setup that forces me to study or provides a tangible reward in the near future (e.g. signing up for a class, learning the lyrics of a song, reviewing essential information for my business…).

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I have a hard time doing something for which I don’t see rewards in the near future. Though once I believe there’ll be a benefit, I can put up with a lot in order to reach it.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That reading is hard and grammar is easy.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I’m a native German speaker and picked up English on the internet. French I struggled with in school long enough to allow me some rudimentary communication while crossing a French-speaking country.

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

That would be pure horror to me. Nowadays when I try to speak French, Thai comes out. I can’t imagine how confusing it would be to learn two languages at once.

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

Find a very specific benefit you’ll want that requires speaking Thai. It’ll give you a lot of direction, motivation and you’ll have an easier time showing self-discipline. In my humble opinion, motivation alone won’t work: Stop Asking How to Get Motivated.

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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