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Xmas Gift from L-Lingo: ANKI Deck with 1000 Thai Words and Phrases (audio included)

Xmas Gift from L-Lingo

Xmas is coming early this year! For those who want to get a jumpstart on their New Year’s Resolution to learn Thai, L-lingo is giving away an ANKI Deck with 1000 top frequency Thai words and sample phrases. Audio included.

Download the deck here: Thai 1000 Common Words

If you’ve never tried L-lingo, check out the free version of their Quiz-Based Thai lessons.

L-Lingo immerses you in the sights and sounds of the Thai language, rather than just the written word. Our multi-channel teaching method gives you real and rapid results much quicker than traditional flash-card or textbook approaches. Before you know it, you’ll be speaking words and longer sentences with real confidence.

Ho ho ho everyone! Happy Holidays to you and yours.

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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): Freshy

Andrew Biggs

A few years ago I caused a minor commotion on TV and online in Pantip Plaza chatrooms when I made an announcement that shook the Thai student world to its very foundations.

In a nutshell, I told everybody to stop referring to any first-year university student as a “freshy” because in the English-speaking world this word didn’t exist. And if a single Thai could find me an international dictionary with the word listed, I would run naked down Silom Road in broad daylight.

The news would have been less shocking had I announced I was moving to Pattaya to get a sex-change and begin my new life as Andrea. This was 2004, pre-instant-messaging, but the reaction was still swift. Surely Andrew couldn’t be serious … but he was.

I was tired of hearing young Thais saying and writing: “I am a freshy at Thammasat University.” How wonderful you got into that esteemed institution, nong (น้อง), but please, if you’re going to speak English, use the proper English word. The word is “freshman” (เฟรช’เมิน), not the Thai made-up “freshy”.

I know, I know. I sound like a nit-picking party-pooper. It’s the kind of topic that curmudgeons who infest the Letters To The Editor pages of the Bangkok Post attack with relish. But I mean, on the grand scheme of things, who cares that Thais say “freshy” while the rest of the world says “freshman”?

I do. I think it’s interesting and curious. “Freshy” is a word derived from English but it just hasn’t been yanked out of the English language and thrown into Thai like other words such as “happy”, “u-turn” and “short-time hotel”. Those words made it across safely; not so poor old “freshman”.

“Freshman” didn’t make the jump intact. Somewhere along the line it got castrated; the “man” was gelded and a prissy little “y” slotted into its place.

How did it happen? I would guess it comes from the fact modern Thais know that we add a “y” to the end of our names to make them less formal. Growing up in Sunnybank I was always called “Biggsy” (when I wasn’t “that strange little boy with the big ears and off-putting facial tic”). When I went to the States I was “Andy”, something the Americans arbitrarily decided without ever asking me … I mean, who in their right mind would choose the dinky-sounding “Andy” over the more distinguished “Andrew” – other than that Gibb brother, of course, and look what happened to him.

Because of this knowledge we now have a nation of young Thais with a “y” at the end of their nicknames. Their parents first dispensed with traditional Thai nicknames such as “moo” (หมู – pig) and ”oo-an” (อ้วน – fat) and started calling themselves such English names as “Gift” (กิฟทฺ), “Bank” (แบงค์) and “Donut” (โดนัต). Can you blame them? Give me “Gift” over “Pig” anyday! But the new generation is calling themselves “Gifty” (กิฟตี้), “Banky” (แบ๊งคี่) and even “Donuty” (โดนัทตี้), as I spotted once in a Sanook.com teen chatroom, which is the punishment I get for trawling such websites.

That’s where it all started. From this the Thais figured a “freshman” could be a “freshy” and the rest is history.

I’m not so black-hearted as to grasp Nong Gifty by her delicate wrist and demand she stop ruining the English language by warping perfectly good English words. Though I have to admit at the time I took the opportunity to expand my crusade against genital mutilation of English vocabulary to other words.

For example, all across Thailand, on graduation day, there are giant CONGRATULATION signs hung up across trees and faded concrete university blocks for young graduates to have their pictures taken. CONGRATULATION is probably freshy’s sibling; it, too, went under the knife during the linguistic leap.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross says there are five stages to dying and I think I went through a similar number with CONGRATULATION. The first was bewilderment that one could accurately write such a long and complicated word, then let the whole team down at the very last letter by omitting the S. Then I went through refusal to believe, as I scoured dictionaries trying to see if indeed, the English language has the word “congratulation” (it does, as in “a letter of congratulation”). The next stage was anger, albeit briefly, until I finally settled on sullen acceptance that this simple Sunnybank boy with the big ears and blinky-bill eyes could never change a nation of 62 million people.

Or could he? Since 2004 I’ve notice the addition of that final S on the graduation signs of some of the better colleges around town, even upcountry. Could it be my constant bleatings had an effect, or do I simply have tabs on myself?

Meanwhile “freshy” continues to run rampant and unabated across campuses. The word no longer means “first year student” and now extends to anybody with a fresh face and youthful demeanor, which suggests this column is even written by a freshy.

What’s interesting is that while Thais have been keen to embrace “freshy”, what about freshy’s under-achieving older brother “sophomore”? Why aren’t myriad Thai students announcing “I am a sophomory” … or even a “juny” or “seny”? In my world those three levels of students have as much right to be castrated as the humble freshman – how did they get off scot free?

Oh look, really, it doesn’t upset me. I kind of like the fact Thais use their creative juices when it comes to the English language — and who says the language is set in stone anyway? If 62 million Thais refer to university students as “freshies”, well that’s three times the population of Australia (and 3,770 times the population of Sunnybank). Majority rules; consider it added to MacMillan’s latest tome. This is what happens with language. Next century some big-eared facial-ticked English teacher’s going to be berating Thais who still use the old-fashioned “freshman”.

It’s already heading that way.

Not long after I threw down my public challenge in the effort to eradicate “freshy”, a young Thai posted a comment on the popular Pantip.com website. Freshy, indeed, could be found in an international dictionary.

The Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004 (damn you, Bill Gates!) listed the word as a “shortening and alteration of the word freshwater”. For example, an Australian freshwater crocodile is referred to as a “freshy”.

I was fully justified when I scorned the news, announcing in a huff that crocodiles and university freshmen were non-intersecting Venn diagrams, except when the latter went swimming in north Queensland swamps. But my victory was short-lived.

Another student posted that she had a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, and there was this entry:

“Freshy, (slang): a freshman in a college, university or secondary school.”

Clearly one of the Webster’s editors spends his annual holidays halfway around the world in the Silom area otherwise how would they know? Who told them? How could they find out?

The news led to a feeling of “me and my big mouth” in the pit of my stomach, though naturally I never let on. Suddenly there were lots of posts on Pantip.com from Thai teenagers demanding I fulfill my part of the bargain.

I should be happy. In the twilight of my life, there are vast swathes of Thai youth just dying to see me naked.

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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): No – Maybe

Andrew Biggs

Take a look at this week’s American music charts and there are no less than three songs in the Top 20 with the “F” word in the title.

There’s a song by Cee-Lo Green about a guy who’s girlfriend ditches him, appropriately entitled “F*** You”. Meanwhile Enrique Iglesias seems to be at some Patpong establishment, hence the title “Tonight (I’m F***ing You)”.

(The follow-up could be something like “My Buffalo Is Sick (Pay the Vet Or No More F***ing Me)”.)

And finally, Pink has a song where she extols the virtues of her boyfriend, though not in such prosaic terms as I just used. “Extolling the Virtues”? Nah. Try “F***ing Perfect”.

What has happened to the music of today? There I go, sounding like my father who used to bristle when popular songs like “Stayin’ Alive” dropped the “G”. I can’t imagine how bristly my father would get over this week’s Top 20.

Clean versions of the songs I just mentioned are available in order to get played on the radio. “F*** You” has a version called “Forget You”, while Enrique sings “Tonight (I’m Loving You)” in his lame G-rated version. This is the musical equivalent of bashing someone’s knees with a baseball bat; I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had anybody come up to me in a seedy Silom nightclub and announce: “Tonight I’m lovin’ you!” It sounds like an invitation to eat at McDonald’s.

What a pity the Thai language isn’t more universal because the Thai word for “hatch” (ฟัก), as in chickens, sounds the same as that “F” word with all the asterisks. Imagine the Billboard Top 20 this week with songs such as “Hatch You”, “Tonight (I’m Hatching You)” and “Hatching Perfect”. It kinda works, doesn’t it?

I’m telling you all this because like English, Thai has a number of taboo words too. Anybody who is currently learning Thai from Noi whom you first met at Pussy Galore on Patpong will have memorized these words quicker than you can say “bar fine”. It is not my job to list them here, suffice to say Thai just like English has colorful words for things such as fornication in all its forms, especially with someone’s mother or an elephant, as well as the male and female anatomy.

Despite all these rude and disgusting words, there is one word which out-disgusts them all. It is a word that you will never hear a Thai use, simply because within the frame of Thai culture it is frowned upon, more than “hatch”, more than “tui” … even more than a sick buffalo.

That word is “No”.

There. I wrote it. Thais reading my column are going to feel uncomfortable seeing that word on paper but it’s time for the world to know. When it comes to cross-cultural peeks into the minds the Thais, nothing is more valuable than knowing a Thai is simply unable to say “no” to your face.

In Thai there is a popular phrase: ”Kid doo gorn” (คิดดูก่อน). It can be translated roughly as “Let me think about that,” and indeed I have heard it being used by Thais speaking English as “I will think about that and contact you again.”

This translation is far too literal to be of any use. I’ve seen green foreign businessmen walk away from meetings thinking things went well after a Thai used this phrase. How sadly mistaken they are … for the real meaning of ”kid doo gorn” is “no”.

For ages I believed that when I suggested something at a meeting, their ”kid doo gorn” reply was an indication my words were being keenly considered, or what I suggested was so interesting and deep the recipient needed time to consider its glorious ramifications.

In reality what follows “kid doo gorn” is a deafening silence from your business associate. The phrase means: “No, I don’t want to, but I’m too polite to say it in front of your face for fear of upsetting you. And I don’t want to be around when you find out I mean no.”

Kheu yang nee (คืออย่างนี้) is another way Thais avoid saying “no.” This phrase can be translated as “It’s like this …” and is used to extrapolate or further explain.

Again, I was a slow learner.

Kheu yang nee is actually a linguistic signpost. It means: “The following information will not sit well with you. It is contrary to how you want things to be and this is my feeble excuse why it is indeed that way.” You can see how the Thai language economizes on words nicely.

For example: “The financial report you said you’d send me yesterday still hasn’t arrived. Have you finished it?”

“Kheu yang nee …” You, dear reader, may now insert some unfortunate series of events, not unlike a Channel 7 soap opera, only there is no accompanying soundtrack of cheap muzak downloaded illegally from the net. You will instead develop a slow sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize the speaker is taking his or her time to say: “No.”

You may indeed be sucked in by the “kheu yang nee” as I have on occasions. It acts as a depressant on a par with heroin; and indeed, after hearing some excuses in my time I have felt like transforming one of my six-for-100-Baht Chatuchak handkerchiefs into a tourniquet. But ultimately, if you ask a question that requires a yes-no answer but receive a “kheu yang nee”then the speaker is simply saying “no.”

A long time ago I introduced you to my former squash partner. I called him Eddie From Hell, for reasons you are about to learn. Eddie was so Thai you could literally hear somtam and kai yang as he spoke. Thus he could never bring himself to say “no”.

Instead, he used what is the most commonly-used word by Thais to evade the profane two-letter word … and no matter much I tried to box his ears, or deliberately whack the squash ball into his crotch during play, he would not stop using it.

That replacement word? “Maybe” (อาจจะ /àatjà/).

This should be in the pamphlets they hand out at Suvarnabhumi Airport. “Welcome to Thailand. Don’t do drugs, always use a condom, and ‘maybe’ means ‘no’.”

I have scoured Thai school textbooks which teach the English language and can’t find the offending text that teaches “maybe” as a way to say “no”, but nevertheless the whole country knows it and doesn’t want you to be let in on the secret.

I have been in Thailand so long now that when I have a business meeting I can gauge whether the other party is interested or not. This is not due to any amazing intelligence nor am I the latest reincarnation of Doris Stokes.

It’s just that the moment the other party utters one of these phrases … kid doo gorn, kheu yang nee, maybe … I am aware the meeting is a failure and it’s time to look at other alternatives.

Is this a bad thing? Not if you can read the signposts. While over in the West we are more direct about letting our partners know, here in Thailand they are just as direct – but in a roundabout way.

Also, the Thais are not deliberately setting out to deceive you, and this is an important point. They are trying to save you from feeling bad.

Yes, I know, ultimately a “no” is a “no” and you’re going to feel doubly bad somewhere down the line for not knowing sooner. But we should know the signposts if we are doing business here. It saves us a lot of tears, and will prevent those jaded foreigners who don’t see the signposts from sitting in Silom bars after work using profanities so common in the Billboard Top 20 to describe the Thais.

That’s my dream; for us to start understanding the ubiquitous undercurrent that flows in our private and work lives in this country, rather than just cursing those mother-hatchin’ Thais and their strange ways. With apologies to my father.

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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): Paeng and Jeud

Andrew Biggs

When I was a child one of my favorite literary characters was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

Dressed in rags and barefoot, he was a 12-year-old vagabond who wandered around St Petersburg smoking cigarettes and getting into all sorts of mischief with his best friend Tom Sawyer.

I never thought I would find common ground with Huck Finn. I’m not a vagabond, and I certainly never wandered around Sunnybank as a child smoking cigarettes – there were far too many broken beer bottles strewn around to do that. But I have to say, on the eve of my departure from Australia back to Bangkok, for the first time I have felt like little Huck. I have also felt like a Thai.

For the past three weeks I’ve been in Australia and how lovely to be back home, despite home now being one of the most expensive countries on earth. A robust economy, a strong dollar coupled with skyhigh labor rates has left me in awe – and as penniless as Huck Finn.

I am not usually one to count my pennies and I must quickly add my spending habits are as bi-polar as a Sunnybank housewife from the late 1970s. Last week in Sydney I purchased a Gant shirt whose price tag would feed a family of five from Mukdahan, down for a red shirt protest in the city, for at least a month.

But my next stop was Target – glorious, glorious Target, where I can pick up a black T-shirt and boxer shorts for the price of a bus ticket to Mukdahan (oh for goodness sakes look that province up on a map – you should know where it is by now anyway). The beauty of Target is it’s cheap and it has my size – not a Robinson sales girl shaking her head and patting my stomach in sight.

While on vacation I am very adept at closing my eyes as I hand over my Visacard, breathing deeply as I pray to Buddha my card is not declined. I can always pay off the bill sometime later. That has been my attitude every time I have been back to Australia. To hell with the cost. Just enjoy yourself.

Until this trip.

Very early into this visit I made myself stop converting price tags back into Baht for fear of having to take a voyage on the good ship Prozac. Going out to dinner is another surprise, putting it mildly. Drinks and dinner at one seafood restaurant set me back $80, something I’d normally not worry about too much because (a) I’m seeing friends I don’t see that often and (b) after my third Penfold’s I’m up for anything.

But on that particular night I did feel a little put out paying 2,500 Baht for my share of dinner at the seafood restaurant not so much because of the price, but because my dear friends forgot I was allergic to seafood, thus rendering the salad I had the costliest I’d ever eaten.

I have become what I often chastise Thais about.

Thais are terrible overseas travellers. There are two very clear reasons why, and they can be summed up in the two most common words you will hear any Thai say when he or she leaves the country — paeng (แพง) and jeud (จืด).

paeng means “expensive” and I love the way they say it. It’s as if one of those Japanese nuclear reactors has exploded in their mouths.

Thais don’t just casually blurt out paeng like they might say sawat dee (สวัสดี) or kin khao (กินข้าว). Oh no. Sawat dee and kin khao are friendly Thai words that require a gorgeous Thai smile along with an amiable slight tilt of the head to the right.

paeng is a different kettle of pla tu (ปลาตู้). It takes effort, along with a general muscle spasm in your face, to say it right. When a Thai sees something that’s expensive, it’s not just an utterance. It’s an event!

I once went on a Sydney trip with Thai students as they participated in a speech competition. Accompanying us was a very friendly Thai government official, a woman whose chief duties abroad were to pile as much food onto her buffet plate as humanly possible along with complaining as to why there was never any fish sauce on the table.

On the few occasions I was medicated enough to take her shopping, her behaviour was nothing short of a constant stream of ejaculations – those of “Oo-ee!” (อู๊ย) and then the subsequent ”Paeng!” The only respite I got from that was when we chanced to pass one of those hideous “NOTHING UNDER TWO DOLLARS!” shops with stacks of koala ashtrays and kangaroo combs in the dirty windows. She nearly ejaculated herself upon seeing that. For the next hour she was lost in the aisles of that dusty cavern, her shopping basket piled high with gifts for those tortured souls back home who constituted her family.

If paeng is a linguistic favorite, then jeud comes a close second.

Back in 2002 I went on a fantastic trip to Italy, with gorgeous memories of driving down the Amalfi Coast. One of the joys of that trip was the pasta and pizza in all its variations. In Sicily I ran into three Thais on a group tour also having a great time. Upon asking about the food, they simply shook their heads and said jeud. They were existing on instant noodles from Thailand.

I had a bowl of instant noodles once; it was like pouring hot water into a bucket of MSG. I couldn’t help but wondering if the shrivelled-up powder sachets might be an inexpensive alternative to cocaine but never got round to testing out that theory.

Thais will visit the most exciting culinary capitals of the world carrying suitcases of these hideous instant noodles.

That’s because of Thais’ terrible belief that food overseas is jeud or “bland”. Well it’s their own fault, that’s all I can say. Thais have tongues that have been numbed by the three kg of chillies they consume on a daily basis. And name me another country with the variety and taste sensations as we have in the Land of Smiles. Thus the moment a Thai ventures out of the country, everything else tastes secondary. It’s like listening to Abbey Road then changing the disc to Celine Dion Live At Las Vegas.

Alas, the karmic wheel has a wicked sense of humor.

On this journey I heard myself uttering paeng and jeud on a daily basis. And indeed, at Bondi Junction in Sydney I felt adrenaline when I saw a Thai restaurant open in the early morning. As my two Aussie mates chowed down on bacon and eggs, I got a Thai omelette with pork on rice. And it filled me with a sense of elation.

By the time this is published I will be back. Huck’s back! I’m no longer the poor cousin from afar – I’m in my home territory! Mind you I have lots to show for my three weeks in Australia. I have new clothes from “abroad” as I’ll loudly explain. I have visacard bills my children shall inherit. And I have lots of koala ashtrays and kangaroo combs to dish out to friends.

All of this I managed to get through without paying excess baggage. And why should I? There was a huge space left in my suitcase after finishing off all the instant noodles.

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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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