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Interview: Jeff is Getting By in Thai

Thai Style

Jeff is getting by in Thai…

Name: Jeff

Nationality: USA

Age range: 30

Sex: Male

Location: Bangkok

What is your Thai level?

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

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

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

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

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

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

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

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

About one month before I moved to Thailand.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

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

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

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

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

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

Does one method stand out over all others?

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

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think everyone could understand สวัสดีครับ right away ☺

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

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

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That tonal languages are some sort of insurmountable obstacle.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

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

How do you learn languages?

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

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

Can you make your way around any other languages?

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

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

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

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

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

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

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

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

I have been in Thailand for about 5 ½ years.

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

Nope.

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

I love music and used to play violin.

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

There is a direct correlation between effort and result.

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

Keep on trucking.

Getting by in Thai…

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

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Interview: Terry Clayton is Getting by in Thai

Interview Terry Clayton is Getting by in Thai

Terry Clayton is getting by in Thai…

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

Getting by in Thai…

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

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

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

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

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

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

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

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

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

The day I landed in January 1989.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

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

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

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

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

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

Does one method stand out over all others?

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

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

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

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

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

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

None at all. I’m immune to embarrassment.

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

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

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

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

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

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

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

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

How do you learn languages?

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

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

Can you make your way around any other languages?

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

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

Not particularly.

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

As above: Spanish, Russian, Khmer.

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

No.

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

Since 1989.

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

No.

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely. 



Terry Clayton

Getting by in Thai…

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

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Interview: Dan Ogilvie is Getting by in Thai

Interview Dan Ogilvie is Getting by in Thai

Dan Ogilvie is getting by in Thai…

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

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

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

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

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

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

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

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

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

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

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

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

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

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, but see above.

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

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

Does one method stand out over all others?

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

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

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

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

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

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

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

How do you learn languages?

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

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

Can you make your way around any other languages?

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

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

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

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

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

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

Have you been listening to me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll still be here.

Dan Ogilvie,
Dan and Ploy’s website

Getting by in Thai…

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

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Interview: Tod Daniels is Getting by With Learning Thai

Interview Tod Daniels is Getting by in Thai

Tod Daniels is getting by in Thai…

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

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

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

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

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

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

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

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

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

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

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

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

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

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

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

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

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

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

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

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

Does one method stand out over all others?

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

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

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

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

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

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

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

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

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

How do you learn languages?

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

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

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

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

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

Can you make your way around any other languages?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting by in Thai…

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

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Interview: Snap is Getting by With Learning Thai

Interview Snap is Getting by in Thai

Snap is getting by in Thai…

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

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

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

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

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

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

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

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

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

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

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

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

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

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

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

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

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

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

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

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

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

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

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

Does one method stand out over all others?

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

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

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

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

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

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

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

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

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

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

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

How do you learn languages?

Gradually, using a combination of all of the above.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

Can you make your way around any other languages?

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

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

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

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

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

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

Are you insane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, of course!

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




Getting by in Thai…

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

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Interview: Talen is Getting by With Learning Thai

Learn Thai: Getting by in Thai

Talen is getting by with learning Thai…

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

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

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

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

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

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

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

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

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

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

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

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

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

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

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

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

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

Does one method stand out over all others?

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

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

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

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

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

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

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

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

How do you learn languages?

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

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

Can you make your way around any other languages?

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

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

Not in the slightest.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use)?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timothy Bull ( Talen )
Twitter: @landofsmiles

Getting by in Thai…

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

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Interview: Greg Jorgensen is Getting by with Learning Thai

Interview Greg Jorgensen is Getting by with Learning Thai

Greg Jorgensen is getting by with learning Thai…

Name: Greg Jorgensen
Nationality: Canadian
Age range: 35
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Writer, podcaster, exporter of goodwill.
Web: Greg to Differ | Bangkok Podcast | twitter: @bkkgreg

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

Sadly, somewhere just below intermediate. I can usually get my ideas across okay and if I concentrate, I can usually catch the gist of most conversations.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

If I concentrate on a conversation, say at work or with friends or something, then I can usually understand the topic of the conversation and what direction they’re taking it (happy about this, impatient about that, yesterday I went here, etc). But as I said, laziness is my biggest weakness and I often just let the Thai fade into the background buzz.

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

I would say street Thai, which is to say, Thai I mostly learned from friends and people in Bangkok.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I feel unqualified to answer beyond the obvious reasons of that is just makes life easier.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

I preface this with the statement that I’m fully aware of how ignorant this sounds, but I took my first official Thai course 6 months ago, 8 years after arriving here. Before that it was just casual learning.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I attend Thai class twice per week for two hours at a time, but besides that, almost zero, as I’m usually too busy. I know it’s a crappy excuse, but really, I have so little free time that the last thing I want to do is spend it studying. Good lord, this is getting embarrassing.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

See above.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I attend Language Express at Phloen Chit, as it’s close to my office. I also have a few apps on my iPhone (Wordpower and Thai (no longer online) plus the usual collection of dictionaries and books laying around my house.

Does one method stand out over all others?

For me, it’s repetition. Saying a word as I write it, and doing that twenty or thirty times. Even then, I might do it 50 times and forget it, but on the 51st time, it will stick for some reason.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

I’m at the point where I can muddle my way through most signs and short sentences to get an idea of what’s going on. Writing Thai is very difficult for me though, as I’m usually not sure which similar-sounding consonants/vowels to use.

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

Learning to read is actually surprisingly easy, but writing for me simply comes down to remembering which words use which letters and vowels, which I haven’t gotten into yet.

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

Once I know a word I usually try it out whenever I can; the problem is I don’t learn new words fast enough. I’m usually not shy trying out short little bursts here and there if I know what I’m going to say, but I get strangely flustered in non-social situations attempting to use words or phrases I may not be so familiar with. For instance, with friends or something it’s no problem, but at the office around a meeting table, I’m very shy. Strange, considering I used to be a stand-up comedian (although that was in English, which some say I can use fairly well).

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

My first task was learning about fifteen words I thought were vital (yes, no, 1-10, left, right, stop, how much, a few food dishes, etc). I think I was able to get my ideas across fairly quickly, but with the help of sign language.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I somehow manage (completely randomly, I assure you!) to say the one word in the one way that will give it a terrible meaning. Past mistakes have included nam jim (dipping sauce/vagina water), hoy men (sea urchin/smelly vagina), hom yai (onion/large penis), and several others. It blows my mind that something so regular can be turned into something so bad with a simple mistake in pronunciation. I think the earliest Thai speakers did it on purpose as a joke.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I feel a bit hypocritical saying this, but that it’s too hard to understand. It’s not so different from English actually – certain shapes make certain sounds, and go from there.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I could hear and repeat the different tones. What still baffles me is how many Thais can’t answer me when I ask which tone they use.

How do you learn languages?

Repetition, and immersion. Sadly, both are lacking for me through no one’s fault but my own. I try to blame my girlfriend, as she speaks excellent English, but she won’t have any of that.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: I can pretty easily mimic the tones and sound like I speak Thai much better than I do. Weakness: Laziness, pure and simple. As I said, I have very little free time; if I was really motivated I’m sure I could find 15 minutes a day to drill myself, but I don’t.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

English and Canadian.

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

It’s certainly given me an appreciation of what else is out there and, in a very broad sense, how they all fit (and don’t fit) together.

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

Not many. Jeez, I’m starting to realize how little experience with languages I have. I can beat anyone at movie trivia though, that’ll be my consolation.

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

No.

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

I’ve been here since 2001.

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

I could make a cursor draw neat-o shapes on a BASIC terminal in grade 9, and I’m really good at video games. Other than that, no.

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

I am to the cow bell what Miles Davis was to trumpet.

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

Don’t do what I did and say “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it later.” Dive in right away and when you try to speak it, remember that the giggles you get are usually the Thais laughing with you and not at you, and they appreciate the effort.

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

I’ll be pushing myself to self-study, even if it’s only learning one new vowel at a time. I want to get all the vowels down over the next few months, because they can really throw you when you’re reading. However, I have a very busy few months ahead of me (and a lot of good TV to watch), so we’ll see how it goes :D

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

Yes.

Greg Jorgensen
Greg to Differ | Bangkok Podcast | twitter: @bkkgreg

Getting by in Thai…

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

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