A Woman Learning Thai...and some men too ;)

Learn Thai Language & Thai Culture

Tag: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation (page 1 of 2)

Index: Successful Thai Language Interview Compilation

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

The First Fifty Successful Thai Language Learners…

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

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

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

Share Button

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

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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

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

Aaron Handel

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

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

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

Aaron Le Boutillier

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

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

Adam Bradshaw

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

Andrew Biggs

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

Celia Chessin-Yudin

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

Chris Pirazzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christy Gibson

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

Colin Cotterill

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

Daniel B Fraser

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

David Long

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

David Smyth

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

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

Don Sena

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

Doug

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

Gareth Marshall

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

Glenn Slayden

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

Grace Robinson

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

Hamish Chalmers

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

Hardie Karges

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

Herb Purnell

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

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

Hugh Leong

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

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

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan:

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

James (Jim) Higbie

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

Joe Cummings

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

John Boegehold

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

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

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

Jonas Anderson

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Thames

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

Justin Travis Mair

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

Larry Daks

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

Luke Cassady-Dorion

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

Marc Spiegel

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

Marcel Barang

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

Mark Hollow

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

Martin Clutterbuck

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

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

Nils Bastedo

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

Paul Garrigan

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

Peter Montalbano

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

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

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

Rick Bradford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rikker Dockum

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

Ryan Zander

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

Scott Earle

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

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

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

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

Stephen Thomas

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

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

Stickman

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

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

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

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

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

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

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

When learners of Thai ask a question like:

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

the response is normally something like:

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

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

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

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

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

Excitement is the best memory technique.

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

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

Terry Fredrickson

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

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

Thomas Lamosse

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

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

Forget the rest for right now.

Tod Daniels

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

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

Tom Parker

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

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

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

Vern Lovic

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

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

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

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

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?…

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

And now for the rest of the interview…

Aaron Handel

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Le Boutillier

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

Adam Bradshaw

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

Andrew Biggs

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

Chris Pirazzi

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

Colin Cotterill

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

Daniel B Fraser

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

David Long

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

David Smyth

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

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

Don Sena

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

Doug

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

Gareth Marshall

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

Glenn Slayden

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

Grace Robinson

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

Hamish Chalmers

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

Hardie Karges

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

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

Herb Purnell

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

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

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

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

Hugh Leong

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

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

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

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

Ian Fereday

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

James (Jim) Higbie

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

Joe Cummings

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

John Boegehold

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

Jonathan Thames

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

Justin Travis Mair

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

Larry Daks

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

Luke Cassady-Dorion

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

Marc Spiegel

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

Marcel Barang

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

Mark Hollow

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

Martin Clutterbuck

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

Nils Bastedo

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

Paul Garrigan

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

Peter Montalbano

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

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

Rick Bradford

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

Rikker Dockum

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

Ryan Zander

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

Scott Earle

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

Stephen Thomas

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

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

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

Stickman

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

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

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

Tom Parker

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

Thomas Lamosse

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

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

Tod Daniels

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

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

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

Vern Lovic

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

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

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

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

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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

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

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

And now on to the rest of the interview…

Aaron Handel

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

Aaron Le Boutillier

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

Adam Bradshaw

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

Andrew Biggs

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

Celia Chessin-Yudin

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

Colin Cotterill

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

Fabian Blandford

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

Grace Robinson

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

Hamish Chalmers

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

Hardie Karges

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

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

Herb Purnell

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

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

Hugh Leong

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

Ian Fereday

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

James (Jim) Higbie

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

Joe Cummings

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

John Boegehold

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

Jonas Anderson

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

Jonathan Thames

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

Larry Daks

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

Luke Cassady-Dorion

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

Mark Hollow

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

Martin Clutterbuck

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

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

Nils Bastedo

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

Paul Garrigan

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

Peter Montalbano

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

Rick Bradford

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

Rikker Dockum

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

Ryan Zander

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

Scott Earle

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

Stephen Thomas

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

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

Stickman

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

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

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

Tod Daniels

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

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

Tom Parker

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

Vern Lovic

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

The Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

Interview Compilation: What are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What are your strengths and weaknesses?…

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

Aaron Handel

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

Aaron Le Boutillier

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

Adam Bradshaw

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

Andrew Biggs

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

Celia Chessin-Yudin

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

Chris Pirazzi

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

Christy Gibson

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

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

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

Colin Cotterill

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

Daniel B Fraser

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

David Long

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

David Smyth

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

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

Don Sena

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

Doug

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

Gareth Marshall

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

Glenn Slayden

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

Grace Robinson

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

Hamish Chalmers

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

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

Hardie Karges

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

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

Herb Purnell

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

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

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

Hugh Leong

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

Ian Fereday

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

James (Jim) Higbie

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

Joe Cummings

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

John Boegehold

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

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

Jonas Anderson

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

Jonathan Thames

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

Justin Travis Mair

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

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

Larry Daks

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

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

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

Luke Cassady-Dorion

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

Marc Spiegel

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

Marcel Barang

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

Mark Hollow

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

Martin Clutterbuck

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

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

Nils Bastedo

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

Peter Montalbano

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

Paul Garrigan

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

Rick Bradford

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

Rikker Dockum

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

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

Ryan Zander

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

Scott Earle

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

Stephen Thomas

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

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

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

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

Stickman

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

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

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

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

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

Terry Fredrickson

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

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

Tod Daniels

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

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

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

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

Tom Parker

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

Vern Lovic

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

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

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

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

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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

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

Aaron Handel

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

Aaron Le Boutillier

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

Adam Bradshaw

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

Andrew Biggs

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

Celia Chessin-Yudin

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

Chris Pirazzi

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

Christy Gibson

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

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

Colin Cotterill

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

Daniel B Fraser

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

David Long

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

David Smyth

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

Don Sena

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

Doug

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

Gareth Marshall

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

Glenn Slayden

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

Grace Robinson

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

Hamish Chalmers

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

Hardie Karges

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

Herb Purnell

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

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

Hugh Leong

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

Ian Fereday

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

James (Jim) Higbie

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

Joe Cummings

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

John Boegehold

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

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

Jonas Anderson

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

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

Jonathan Thames

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

Justin Travis Mair

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

Larry Daks

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

Luke Cassady-Dorion

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

Marc Spiegel

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

Marcel Barang

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

Mark Hollow

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

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

Martin Clutterbuck

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

Nils Bastedo

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

Paul Garrigan

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

Peter Montalbano

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

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

Rick Bradford

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

Rikker Dockum

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

Ryan Zander

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

Scott Earle

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

Stephen Thomas

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

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

Stickman

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

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

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

Terry Fredrickson

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

Tod Daniels

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

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

Tom Parker

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

Vern Lovic

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

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

Share Button

Interview Compilation: How Soon Did You Tackle Reading and Writing Thai?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?…

A subject that repeatedly comes up on Thai language forums is the importance of learning to read and write Thai from the beginning. A small number do learn on the street, but the results from this interview point to successful Thai language learners tackling reading and writing early on.

Out of 50 of those interviewed, 34 learned to read and write from the very beginning of their studies, seven within the first six months, five during the first or second year, one between 15-20 years, one at 25 years, and one never learned how to write (didn’t mention reading).

Simplifying the results: 44 out of 50 learned how to read and write within a year of starting their Thai studies. That’s an impressive number.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: I learned to write about 15 or 20 years after I learned to speak.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Early early! And I am a great advocate of this method. Throw away the phonetics and go crazy with all those lovely consonants and vowel sounds.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Right from the get go.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: One millisecond after I started learning the language. It’s the ONLY real way to learn Thai. This phonetic rubbish with the squiggles for tones just makes you sound like a farang sputtering through the language. You will never get fluent doing it that way.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: After about six/seven months.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: From the beginning, a few consonants at a time (as seen in “Thai for Beginners”).

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: I was pretty interested in learning Thai reading from a very young age and I loved doing those alphabet writing books as a child. I always loved writing, penmanship and art, and my “girlynature” thought that the Thai letters were “so pretty and curly” :). So I learned the basics pretty early on, but didn’t really gain fluency in my Thai reading until my late teens. Having to learn Thai songs helped me a great deal as I didn’t want to work from phonetics and knew that of course my pronunciation would be far better if I was reading straight from the actual Thai. And just the practice of having to read and stare at all those song words for hours every day was a sure-fire way of improving my Thai reading skills.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: I still can’t write.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: I learned to read before I could speak as I understood it was the key to the tones and pitch. So, I learned to read very soon after arrival.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: I found that by building my vocabulary through watching, listening, and guessing, I was ready for Reading and Writing during my second year of my stay here.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: From the very beginning.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: I actually found a book shortly after arriving in Thailand that explained completely the orthography, including “tone rules.” I scrutinized it in its entirety.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: After completing AUA conversation (vocabulary ~ 1,000 words).

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: As quickly as I could after getting a few speaking basics.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: In 1997, when I traveled to Thailand with “Reading and Writing Thai” by Marie-Hélène Brown.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: The first thing I was taught was ก,ข etc from scratch, the same way Thai children are taught in primary school. This created the best foundation for authentic language learning, without using ‘karaoke’ Thai.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Bit of a mixed bag this one. I learnt the alphabet almost straight away. It became very clear very early on that one cannot trust the transcriptions. Forget the obvious ones like Phuket and Sukumvit (where one just learns to substitute p for ph and w for v); it’s things like ต, ป and ง, not to mention many of the vowel sounds, which really get butchered by the transcription protocols. However, to my shame, I didn’t learn the tone rules until very recently.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: After 3-6 months of study without it.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: The Army Thai course was written in phonetics. That was the era when linguists advocated learning a language orally at first (listening and speaking) and then later do the reading and writing. The course was in two books. After finishing Book 1, the Thai tutor began teaching the writing system while doing the lessons of Book 2 which were still in phonetics.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: I had spoken Thai for 25 years before I learned the alphabet. Many people on these pages stress the importance of learning to read and write. I do not disagree. But I do not have an opinion about how important reading and writing is because language learning is a very individual thing. We each learn in our own way. Some people can learn a word without seeing it written down. Others can’t learn a word’s tone without seeing it written and using the tone rules they have learned. As I said, I am an audio-centric person. Reading came much later.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: Immediately. I recommend to anyone that if they have the time they should learn to read first. It makes it much easier to learn to speak if you can read written Thai. Trying to understand Thai speakers is not always easy – they don’t speak the best Thai! If you can read, your grammar will also be better and you will have no slang or dialect. Your speech and tones will be clearer and sentence structure accurate. Learning conversational Thai using phonetics will only get you so far, and you’ll never have good pronunciation.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I started right away.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: Immediately, beginning the first week of classes in Thailand.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: From day one, right along with basic vocabulary.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: I started to learn to read Thai the first or second year here, but at a very relaxed pace (double speak for lazy pace). I started to be more fluent reading Thai in my mid-teens.

I have learned most of my writing since becoming a singer actually, but that is an area of Thai that is frankly quite weak for me still, probably because I have had difficulty finding the time for more formal study of Thai.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Immediately; using the Teach Yourself book, I was a decent beginning reader by the time I started formal study in Chiang Mai. I am also a speller and visual learner, and so the better my reading/writing the easier it was for me to expand my vocabulary and learn new words.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: One of the last days in the 2 month course, we were given a one hour primer on how to read Thai. They basically showed us how to sound out the words. After that I kinda waited a month or two before starting to really try and read Thai.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: I never did learn how to write Thai, although I can write a number of letter in the alphabet and a few words. I started studying reading about two months after I arrived in Bangkok, five months after beginning to study Thai.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: After one month.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Immediately.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: I began learning reading and writing as soon as I started school and in parallel with the speaking lessons so learned from phonetic spellings for about four months until my Thai reading was at an adequate standard to swap over to Thai-only course materials.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Immediately. My first goal was to read bus destination boards. Sadly, now, buses also have boards in English ;)

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: Right away. I started with the alphabet in 2002 and quickly got to the level where I could make my way around Thai menus, but I didn’t delve deeper into written Thai until 2008.

I must admit that my own frustration at the complex script hindered me. I kept thinking thing like “Why not have one class of consonants, eliminate duplicates of same sounds, and have one tone marker for each tone instead of making tone dependent on consonant class”. Example: ‘mai eek’ could always be low tone, ‘mai dtoh’ always rising, etc.

My experience conversing with Taxi drivers and other staff at Bumrungrad brought me to the realization that many Thais, even supposedly highly educated ones, quickly became unsure of spelling when venturing beyond their everyday vocabulary. This in turn made me consider how the system could be simplified rather than focusing on accepting it and learning. I am afraid the experience had me ranting about how things ought to be changed rather than humbly digging into what I needed to learn.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: Learning to read Thai was important to me from the beginning so I was learning from the first day. I am glad that this was the path I took.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Look at, immediately. Tackle, relatively recently. Ten years of typing e-mails has been a big help (learning to type in Thai is easier than you might think), but when I got in the Chula classes this year, for which I had to take a reading/writing test, I found that they were right to ask me to write everything by hand. At first the old hand cramped up a lot, but it has gotten easier.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: Immediately. I am primarily a visual learner and so mastering the script was imperative.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: Pretty much right away.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Pretty much right away, which I definitely think is the way to go. Although I admit it took a while for me to get around to really bothering to learn all the rarely used letters well.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Immediately – I could read/write basic phrases long before I could make myself understood by talking.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: Right away. The Teach Yourself system has it’s own Romanisation (which actually makes more sense than most) but encourages you to learn to read Thai and prints the dialogues side by side in both formats.

The reading/writing lessons in Teach Yourself broke the alphabet down into about 10 characters per lesson, between consonants and vowels. The method was to write each character while saying the sound, “Dor… Dor… Dor…” over and over. Once they’d taught enough letters they began building up short sentences one word at a time to get you used to the lack of spaces between words. Then the book showed you some of the more complicated spelling rules, like those for words borrowed from Khmer.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I learned to read and write from the very first lesson and I firmly believe that this was the key in being able to reach such a high level. I never used to think in terms of transliteration as those who do not read and write are forced to. And because I learned the tone rules when I learned to read and write I knew how a word was supposed to be pronounced, even if I had problems pronouncing it exactly that way!

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Straight away.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Right away.

Tod Daniels

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

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: Straight away and I still think of learning to read as the most enjoyable aspect of learning Thai.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why I’d need to read or write Thai over the first two years. I wasn’t interested at all. After two years I thought I must be missing something and so I figured out the pronunciation of the letters, learned to form some words. Bought the childrens’ books and traced the letters and learned as a child does for a couple of months. Then I just got so busy with my real work, web development and internet projects that it all took a backseat. It’s still all in the backseat and I cannot fathom why I need to learn to read or write Thai at this stage.

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

And here you have it, the rest of the series:

Share Button

Interview Compilation: How Do You Learn Languages?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

How do you learn languages?…

Over the years I’ve developed a curiosity about how people successfully learn languages. And more than anything else, the methods mentioned in this series have helped me to understand that there is no one right way, there are many ways. And that we can mix and match to suit our own personality, lifestyle, and language level.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: I was never particularly good at learning languages in school. I was a ‘C’ student in German. Frankly, I did not have much interest in learning.

Thai is different. Thai is a tonal language. This makes it fascinating and challenging for a native English speaker. Because Thai is so different from Western languages, it must be learned with a different method. That method is, essentially, drilling tones. (There are a few consonant and vowel sounds that also need to be practiced.) Develop good tone pronunciation right from the beginning, vocabulary and grammar will follow in due course.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: By stress, word association coupled with mind-numbing pure memory.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Directly from the natives.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: With Tylenol and Xanax.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: By talking with people.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: Flashcards. I don’t find software programs or books that attempt to take you through it “step-by-step” and “spoon-feed” you bits of the language very useful. I’d rather be presented with a big, daunting, organized reference volume that analyzes the language and then scoop bits of it out at a time (a “top down” approach). I know others prefer the opposite “bottom-up” approach because it offers (or appears to offer) more instant gratification.

Sadly, there is no such “top-down” reference for Thai, except I guess the Higbie book (and it covers only grammar and needs a little more analysis and organization).

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: I really wasn’t designed to sit in classrooms and chant conjugations. Funny that, considering the number of years I forced other people to do it.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Constantly asking questions and seeking to understand what is being said. Then mimicking the right way to say it.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: One of my Thai teachers very diplomatically described me as a ‘visual learner’; I think my previous answer explains why. When I started learning Thai, audio materials were not readily available and Thais were a bit thin on the ground in London (perhaps they were avoiding me) so my efforts were focused mainly on reading. At first, I used to copy out reading passages – several times – which helped my reading, handwriting, spelling, understanding of grammar and retention of vocabulary. As I progressed to longer passages, I would just copy odd sentences or phrases that appealed to me or which I thought I could inflict upon some unsuspecting Thai.

Learning Thai made me aware how important it is to be able to ask questions. When I was at school the French and German teachers asked the questions and we answered; we never asked a thing. And if you were lucky and kept your head down, you could go for several weeks without even answering a question. A good classroom survival technique, maybe, but not very good preparation for real life. One of my former students, who seemed to have also got it into his head that, as a foreign-language speaker, his role, too, was to answer questions, complained one day, ‘Thais don’t want to talk to me.’ I think he expected that if he just stood somewhere, Thais would gravitate towards him, bombarding him with questions and that way he would learn to speak Thai fluently. It never occurred to him to ask Thais questions, whether out of feigned interest to improve his linguistic skills, or genuine interest in order to gain greater insight into another world and in the process, his own world.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: I prefer scholastically-written books – those that are meant for the college classroom, even though I may intend to learn on my own. After absorbing a good description of the language, reading printed articles and other such items follows. The same block of text needs to be read and reread multiple times until it can be oralized with ease. Contact with native speakers is a further aid in learning to be understood and – hardest of all – to understand the spoken language.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Practice, practice, practice.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: I’m not a classroom learner – much better to be out and using the language, making mistakes but finding your way.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Practice! Boring but true. Chatting to friends, listening to the language in any form and surrounding yourself with anything vaguely related, things can be learnt even in the most banal situation, so go and dive in at the deep end, immersion is ultimate! Personally, I have benefitted from getting to know the culture at the same time, this is really crucial, as the two cannot be separated. You will find many connections between language and culture and this will really raise interest and pleasure from learning.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: By using them.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: STUDY! Nothing is ‘picked up’ unless you’re a one year old with all the time in the world.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: I start with listening and getting used to the sounds and the flow of the language, picking out particular sounds that are different and focusing on them. This is probably due to my phonetics training and also because I find pronunciation to be fun and not very difficult for me. I try to learn basic and useful (for me) vocabulary and begin to try out my hypotheses about how the language goes together in these basic ways. This, too, goes back to my training in practical applied linguistics and my desire to talk with people as soon as I can. My goal is to get a reasonable oral proficiency before I start learning to read when the language (like Thai) is not in Romanized script. Reading is crucial for vocabulary development and for seeing how phrases and sentences get put together to form longer integrated texts. But written style is often different from spoken style, so that’s another reason why I focus on oral development first.

I found that reading folktales and short stories that contain interactive conversations was important for me to learn something about how socially-affected particles and pronouns are used in context. These are still challenging for me because the systems are so different from English. But seeing how the different particles reflect attitudes and emotions in the course of a story helps me to get a feel for their use. Then I try some of them out gradually to see if my use is acceptable and appropriate.

My writing was the slowest to develop, but as I found myself in situations where I had to write in Thai, I gradually got better at it. Taking the Prathom 4 exam was a big challenge. The dictation section contained a lot of formal terms to recognize and spell correctly. Then there was a essay to write on a specified theme, and then a personal letter that needed to be written in proper format. Having been away from having to write Thai for quite a few years, I am rusty in spelling, especially words with karan that cancels out letters. But I’ve always enjoyed being able to spell well, so spelling and writing Thai was a challenge that I wanted to succeed at. And a skill that I could still recover if I put my mind to it.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: With great difficulty and hard work. Languages do not come easily to me.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: By listening, practicing and correcting as I go while immersed in a language with speakers of that language. I also need to see a written, structured method, but I know this doesn’t work for everyone. Drilling doesn’t work for me – I feel stupid repeating myself.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I need to learn how to say sentences in a very front brain manner. I can’t pick up a language by letting it wash over me.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: My father was in the military so I grew up with neighbours and friends who had lived all over the world, and often spoke languages other than English. When I was 10 my family moved to France and I went to an international school for three years where I learned French. So by the time I came to Thailand as a 23-year-old I had been exposed to foreign languages and appreciated the language learning process. But I don’t think I was a particularly talented language learner.

I believe that since we’re all completely fluent in our own native languages, that that means we have the same capacity to learn other languages. I think most of the obstacles to learning another language are sociolinguistic rather than psycholinguistic. “I can’t speak French because I’m not French,” is the basic problem.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Through people; that is the bottom line. I have used different methods for each language due to circumstances, and I think different languages sometimes lend themselves better to different methods. As I said before, though, I really think a combination of things that engage all four basic skills and include all different registers of a language are the most helpful.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: I am a systematic person. I like to follow recipes and create plans. Right now I developed a system for me to learn Spanish, mostly to satisfy my desire to follow formulas.
 

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Hard work, putting myself into situations where speak the language, being proactive by seeking out opportunities to speak and listen.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: Good question. Ever since learning Thai, I’ve experimented with different techniques. Now, in addition to as much immersion as possible, I make use of electronic flashcard programs, online study tools, MP3s, and willing (and unwilling) native speakers. What I don’t do (and probably should) is watch TV. I’m sure that I would have much less of an accent and know more slang if I did watch TV; I just can’t seem to get into it. I do read a lot which helps with vocabulary and culture, but really should get around to getting the TV thing going.

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: I’ve always learned languages by studying in school and then reinforcing and expanding my capabilities through practice and use.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: By parroting, by writing things down, by asking what this or that means.

When I used to teach English to French students, the first thing I did was to have them speak French with an English accent: it worked wonderfully.

One decisive moment was very early in my study of Thai when I overheard an already Thai-fluent Catholic priest friend of mine in Song Phee Nong ask a fellow Thai, ‘How would you say this correctly?’ (Tong Phoot Yanggai Jueng Ja Took): I’ve been using that open-sesame ever since.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: For the first month or two I was very quiet and said little at school. I would learn vocabulary and language patterns but didn’t start speaking much Thai until I had more vocabulary (and confidence). I saw no benefit in speaking in the classroom unless it was mostly in Thai.

For the first six months I kept a notebook on me and wrote down new vocabulary, at first it would only be words I saw frequently as there were so many words I didn’t know. The notebook was later replaced by a smart phone flashcard application which I found more convenient and sometimes quicker (eg. the ability to take a photo of an advert, sign etc).

Most of my time at home was spent reading reference and course materials. This was very intensive, sometimes up to 10 hours a day. I’d often have the TV or radio on in the background for a few hours too just to let the sounds sink in, regardless of whether I understand or not.

As my reading ability grew I started buying Thai books and reading Thai websites. I’ve found modern poetry to be a fun way to learn as it often evokes an emotional reaction and therefore (for me at least) makes it easier to remember the vocabulary. Contemporary poems are also often quite short – perfect for a quick read on the skytrain.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Mainly, by listening, very, very carefully, with an open mind, that is, without bias or colour from any other language I know. At the same time, paradoxically, I listen for similarities with other languages, particularly those of the same family. Both of these are quite hard for most people, particularly if they are unaware of their own accent.

I feel lucky, because my parents came from working class cockney families, but learned crystal-clear received pronunciation at grammar school. When I was a kid, and lapsed into “lazy” speech, I was corrected, and although at the time it was annoying, I learned to hear small differences between sounds, which is the key to learning foreign languages.

Good text books and especially dictionaries, also help.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: I learned Swedish as a native speaker. English as a native speaker and as a foreign language. French for 6 years in grade and high-school and again at Harvard, where I became certified by the Paris Chamber of Commerce. Spanish 3 years in high in school and one semester at Harvard as well. Danish by ear and by watching subtitled Danish TV growing up. Norwegian (Oslo dialect) since it is close to Swedish and Danish. I also get by in other European languages (German, Italian) fairly well by using the languages I have to figure out what things mean and to make myself understood. When working as a consultant in Belgium, I was mistaken for French quite frequently, which was of course very flattering.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: Slowly but surely.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: For me, at least, it’s got to be a combination of academic study, pattern practice, memorization work, reading and writing in the language, and near-total immersion in a place where that’s the only language spoken. Unless you’re a freak of nature, you’ll have to really put your heart into it (เอาใจใส่จริงจัง): for an adult foreigner, no matter how clever or talented, no language will come just by osmosis. I believe in classroom study and lots of homework, but that can’t be all, either.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: By natural curiosity — I want to know what is going on in the society I am living in, so I read newspapers, watch the TV, and observe and listen to the people. By the same token, I cannot learn a language unless I am in-country, as the motivation isn’t there.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: With fear and trepidation. I have never learned any language in depth besides Thai, and I still break into a sweat at the thought of verb conjugation.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: The written part just by lots of practice writing, and the speaking part by actively trying to fit new words I’ve learned into sentences, then making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: When I was 15 I lived in France, after learning French in school. I was almost fluent within 3 months. But when I first came to Thailand, it was almost a year and a half before I could make myself understood. Learning languages is *definitely* easier when you’re younger!

I started out by learning to read and ‘hear’ Thai. I listened as much as I could, read as much as I could. Read car number plate provinces, read road signs, read advertising boards, got used to the range of fonts used. Listened to Thai-language radio stations, even the ones that play ‘international’ music, for the inane chatter and ads. Just immersed myself.

Seriously, all that stuff is what I did until I got the hang of the basics and could distinguish what a tone was and how words sounded. Almost two years in, circumstances around me dictated that I needed to decide where I was going to live (UK or Thailand – I lost the contract I had had, and so would be living here without a job unless I could find one, or going ‘home’). That’s when I booked 40 hours at a Thai language school, and struggled with one teacher, then moved to another whose strength was in teaching to read/write.

I already had a bit of vocab by then (mostly food and provinces!), and so some of the words she was teaching me how they ‘worked’ already made sense, and I was just learning the mechanics of the alphabet. After that everything was quite a bit clearer, because I had never learned the ‘rules’ before.

I learned basic phrases, and learned the alphabet. Started putting the two together, and created a crib sheet to use while chatting with friends. Realised that the crib sheet could be the start of actually learning a few more phrases and expanded it, found out about online chat, and chatted with people using the crib sheet initially and then free text later. Eventually forced myself to type everything and not use the crib sheet at all.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: We all have our own learning style and I think that it is important that we understand how we learn. I think we can loosely say there are two main learning styles, accuracy and fluency.

Those who prefer fluency tend to hear the language and then repeat it. They are more concerned about being able to communicate and be understood than necessarily being that accurate in their use of the language.

The other style is accuracy. People who prefer this method tend to want to see things written and break them down and then slowly reproduce what they see and then make variants of those sentences and check them for accuracy as they learn. They are most concerned about getting it right.

For me, I tend to be someone who goes down the accuracy path so especially in the early days I needed to see things written and then I would form my own versions of them, sort of like pattern building.

If you learn formally in Thailand the teachers are most concerned about accuracy – especially Thai teachers who really don’t seem to care for the idea of fluency based learning. That suited me perfectly.

If you learn from conversing with the locals, perhaps in the bars as many Western men do, then that is a much more fluency-based approach.

As I have often said, back in 2000 when I really went all out to get my Thai to as high a level as possible, I learned good Thai by day and bad Thai by night. I guess that was the best of both worlds!

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: With passion.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Listening and speaking to people, followed by reading.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: I am most definitely a visual learner. I learnt how to read by plastering consonants and vowels all over my bedroom walls as a student. In the early stages I would scan these images twice a day, once in the morning before class and in the evening. It worked very well for me, but I stress I did this by consonant class and not all the characters at once. That would have made my bedroom somewhat dizzying. I learnt vocab by repetition.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: First visually, then practice with speaking to other natives. I cannot, will not, or should not speak Thai with other foreigners trying to practice. It just doesn’t work for me – the context just isn’t there and I end up looking at them like I’m tripping on Red Bull or something. It just doesn’t add up. My brain goes into freeze-mode and I cannot form a conversation anymore!

Which of the suggestions suit you best? Any?

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

And here you have it, the rest of the series:

Share Button

Interview Compilation: Did One Method Stand Out?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

Did one method stand out over all others?…

Some get downright religious about their language learning method of choice. Me? Well. With so many fun methods to write about, I need jump from one to another. And whenever I come across a new (to me) method, the idea that “this will be THE magic fix” taunts me (but only for a bit).

Ranging from commercial products to systems dreamed up by polyglots and others, there are all sorts of ways to learn Thai: Assimil Thai, AUA, audio, FSI Thai, grammar translation, immersion, Pimsleur Thai, L-Lingo, LAMP, Learn Thai Podcast, Linguaphone Thai, Luca’s Easy Way, one-on-one, Paiboon, reading, Silent Way, Situational, Rosetta Stone, Skype, Shadowing, smart phone apps, Speak Your Language, SRS, Teach Yourself Thai, Total Physical Response, TPR Storytelling, TV, classroom… whew.

But do you know what? After reading through this series, seems to me the most successful are those who didn’t flaff around. They just got on with their Thai studies.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: I find it difficult to separate the idea of “learning how to learn” from actually learning to speak Thai. I stumbled upon the best method (for me) through a process of trial and error. At first, I ‘picked up’ a little bit of Thai just by traveling in Thailand. Occasionally, I listened to the tapes that Nók and I made. After a few months in Thailand, I could only say a few phrases. My pronunciation was not very good.

I think it was on my second or third trip to Thailand that I made my big breakthrough. I was up in Mâe Săi during the rainy season. It rained all day, everyday. I rented a room for one month. I had assembled the tools to learn Thai. I had a good book with tone marks on every syllable. I had the Thai tapes that Nók and I had made. And I had motivation. I was inspired by the friendliness and generosity of Thai people. I was intrigued by the language and the culture. I told myself, “I’m going to try this. I’m going to learn to speak Thai.” I locked myself in the room for 30 days, going out only for food and water. I drilled the tapes as I read the text. Drill! Say it again. No, that’s not right. Do it again! Drill again, with better pronunciation. Focus on the tone. Even if it is only one syllable, drill that tone again and again.

After 30 days, I emerged from my room, pale and exhausted. Had I learned anything? Yes. Although I didn’t realize it yet, I had broken the tonal barrier. I learned most of the Thai that I now speak, during those 30 days.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Helping as a translator at the Local Police Station was the wake up call. There you sink and die if your Thai is not up to speed and the added embarrassment of looking silly in front of a group of tourists and police is enough incentive to study harder.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: After learning the basics, I found the best method to move to the next level was simply carrying a little notebook around and writing down words, phrases, and sentences that I heard come out of natives’ mouths. Also, if you ask any of my Thai friends they won’t hesitate to tell you that I would sit and ask them questions about the Thai language for hours sometimes. Having patient Thai friends was of great help to me in progressing my Thai.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: Immersion, immersion, immersion. Read the newspaper. Watch the hideous Thai soapies. Listen to Thai pop music. Sit quietly with your Thai friends as they open a bottle of whiskey and solve the world’s problems in three hours before passing out. This all helps.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: Reading and writing really helped me speak clearer.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: The main thing that helped me though was just speaking, speaking, speaking, and making mistakes. Thai friends were extremely helpful, and for awhile I just asked them constantly how to say things. Thais also, as Jonas said, are often very complimentary, but I asked Thai friends close to me to please correct my incorrect speech and pronunciation at every possible opportunity, and they did. These 2 methods helped me more than anything else—1. Speaking the language with native Thai speakers as often and as much as possible, and 2. Being willing to make mistakes and not be discouraged by them or daunted by the frequency with which I initially made them.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: Tutoring and flashcards most useful.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: I think language is all about learning acres of vocabulary but I have an awful memory. I learn all my word lists through convoluted mnemonic methods. I did the same thing when I was attempting to learn Japanese ideographs. I had elaborate stories for every stroke of the kanji. Thai was easy by comparison but, as a visual person, I needed to see the words and their meanings. So, for example, the word ‘jeep’ (to flirt) was accompanied in my notebook by the image of an amorous soldier in the back of a jeep attempting to pick up his female companion (in fact my cartoon was a lot dirtier than that but this is a family website). Not all words lend themselves to interpretation but I have a good imagination so I can still see the image of a severed hand on a plate whenever I think of the word ‘ahan’. Being weird helps with this method.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Mimicking others for sure was best.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: What struck me at the time, was not so much the method of the teaching but rather the attitude of my teachers, Manas Chitakasem, Peter Bee and Stuart Simmonds.

At school I had studied French and German to university entrance standard in an atmosphere of fear and trepidation, where mistakes were regarded as evidence of laziness, stupidity or moral turpitude. To then find teachers who were patient, encouraging and eager to share their knowledge was a radically new experience; I shall always feel grateful to them.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: The linguistic orientation of Richard B. Noss of the Foreign Service Institute (1964) with its rigorous analysis proved to be prominent.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: AAUA approach is most excellent, imho.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: I prefer learning through reading as it presents vocab and phrases in context, helps get your head around the writing structure, and deals with grammar.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: A turning point was when I traveled alone in Thailand for several months in 1997. Along with me I had a thin book Reading and Writing Thai by Marie-Hélène Brown (DK Books, out of print) that I studied each night wherever I was. This, combined with being spontaneously invited into homes to live with Thais throughout my trip—not speaking English for days at a time—led to the most dramatic increases in my Thai skills.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Being able to read and write with the Thai alphabet system is key to getting the correct pronunciation. Word association and drawing pictures also helped me!

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Criticism notwithstanding, I did find The Rosetta Stone the best for listening and speaking, mainly because it dispenses with transcription and translation. One goes directly from image to sound and back again, with no interference from English, the same way in which we learn our first language. Of course, nothing beats getting out there, talking to Thais, listening to Thais, replicating what you hear and not worrying if you make mistakes, so long as you learn from them. To help my writing I’ve just started experimenting with www.lang-8.com.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: Reading, then every time you walk down the street you have a lesson embedded in each and every sign, i.e. life is the lesson.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: Most of my learning has been independent self-study, particularly with Northern Thai and Mien. When I had the opportunity for good instruction in Thai, I appreciated it and profited from it. I had a background in phonetics, anthropology, and linguistics which was a great help. I also had the opportunity for working during two summers as a junior staff member at a linguistic institute that taught principles of language and culture learning. So I am comfortable being an independent learner within a language community. However, I wouldn’t call my type of independent learning “picking up the language.” It was a more organized way to approach learning from local speakers, not a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach that tends to be more random and sporadic.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: When a caveman in Cave A wanted to trade his shells with a caveman across the valley in Cave B he probably had to learn to speak Caveman B’s language. I wonder what method he used.

For me it’s the Becker series, Thai Reference grammar by James Higbie and Snea Thinsan, independent study, real texts, the internet, Speaking Thai the Easy Way, and Learn Thai Podcast.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: Yes, cumulative lessons gradually adding to my repertoire of letters and tones, words and rules, and practice, practice, practice. Group study was better over one-on-one or self-study because I could learn from the other students’ mistakes and successes as well as the teacher.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: Keeping notebooks of vocabulary and phrases was the best method for me. I used to spend weekends at Ko Samet talking to people and writing down new things I heard them say.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: Each had its strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we learn language in spite the methods chosen, rather than because of them.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: Not really, they’re all pieces of the puzzle.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: I have been lucky to be in situations which naturally enrich my Thai due to the requirements of the situation. This can involve a huge amount of pressure at the time—particularly if I have to use very challenging language with a small amount of preparation time, but those times end up being unique learning situations I am privileged to experience.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: I would say, as with any language learning in my experience, a combination of several different methods is the most effective. To this end, I have always attempted to create an immersion-like experience when learning, and especially helpful is interaction with fluent speakers. Then again, just the four basic skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) are all important and are ignored only to one’s detriment. I have very much enjoyed my Professional Thai course at MIIS as it has been the most rigorous.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: The sink or swim method and the SYL were the biggest things that helped me I think.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Initially, I got the basics through endless repetition through pattern practice and memorization.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: I need to write things down. Knowing the international phonetic system (learned when I studied English at school in France) helped a lot. I adapted it to Thai in my own way.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: Well, I can only really comment on my studies at school as my prior attempts weren’t successful.

Except for one month, I’ve only had one-on-one tuition which I’ve enjoyed. The teachers were rotated periodically which gave variety to both the lessons and the learning approach. For the one month that I studied with another student I felt like I was holding him back – he was a Singaporean and, like many of his fellow countrymen, already a polyglot from growing up in a multicultural & multilingual society so I returned to one-to-one lessons.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: The Fundamentals of the Thai language is an enigma, because it’s this quaint 1950s thing, doesn’t have any exercises or pictures, yet has a good sequence of pulling you through the language topic by topic, so by the end of it, one has mastered a basic form of the language, and yes, it teaches you to read and write.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: The book Teach Yourself Thai was very useful. It contains sections on different situations, and I found the romanized script they used very intuitive. Before going out on early excursions, I would look up the vocabulary for the task I wanted to do in advance (giving directions to taxi drivers, buying fruit, and so on) and then go out and implement the knowledge.

I had one CD in particular which, though extremely limited, was very helpful for helping with basic vocabulary. I don’t remember the name, but it offered short quizzes on limited topics. Seeing scores like 8/10 stimulated me to re-do the tests and ‘nail them’.

Wanting to get the best in e-learning, I spent a lot of money getting Rosetta Stone, but with an instruction booklet in Thai and starting with phrases such as ‘The plane flies over the clouds’ or ‘The boy is under the table’ instead of ‘Where is the bank’ or even ‘Hello, how are you?’ I have few positive memories of that particular product. Besides, merely showing Thai script without giving explanations on the writing system is … not the best possible approach.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I think that it has been a mixture of all these methods that have gotten me to where I am today. I think that is how it works, you learn a bit here and a bit there.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: I would recommend the U.S. Foreign Service Institute courses, which our Peace Corps training was modeled on. A lot of the phrases are old-fashioned, but they are dead-on accurate, you can download them as pdf files, and the pronunciation guides are perfect. There are sound files for the lessons, too!

Cat, I noticed that you are involved in a project to revitalize this right now on thailanguagewiki.com. Not complete yet in that form, but a worthy project. Memorize that stuff, do the pattern practices, and you’ve got a great foundation. If you have a teacher to take you through it, but it can be done on one’s own if needed.

There are several English/Thai dictionaries in electronic format that I have found indispensable. Besides Glenn Slayden’s wonderful work on thai-language.com, you can download a multi-university academic project called Lexitron (the English page). It’s free, but you’ll have to create an account in order to download it to your own machine. Download both the program and the data file. When installing or opening it on a Windows machine you’ll have to set your computer’s regional and language settings to Thai, or you won’t be able to see it properly. Once it’s open, you can switch back to whatever other setting you use, and it will work fine.

I also use So Sethaputra’s Thai Software Dictionary, which has a lot of inaccuracies, but a tremendous amount of useful information. You can buy the cd for a ridiculously low price at DCO. The advantage of having the electronic format is that you can just type in a word, and it will come right up, not nearly as hard as looking through the pages of a thick book.

When I was in Peace Corps we had a great Thai writing workbook—can’t remember the name—which is obviously now out of print. It took you through all the rules, high, low, mid consonants, live and dead syllables, tone marks used with which, how and when, exceptions, etc., and step-by-step exercises until you finally got it. You can find these rules all in Mary Haas’ The Thai System of Writing, and it’s amazing to me that this was written over 60 years ago and yet still remains the clearest description I can find in English of the rules you need to understand.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: No. I think it is a mistake to stick to a single method. Apart from the boredom factor, I find myself learning different things through different methods. There’s some cross-fertilization at play if you employ multiple learning strategies.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: I still carry pocket notebooks sometimes, because I still run into new and interesting words on a regular basis.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: I had a really great first Thai teacher at the University of Wisconsin, Sidhorn Sangdhanoo. She did a good job of drilling the sounds of the language into our heads. She wouldn’t let us get away with doing something wrong. If our tones, consonants, or vowels weren’t right we had to keep repeating something until we got it. Thai people often tell me that my pronunciation is very clear, and if that’s actually true then I owe it to her.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: I think getting familiar with the letters and then learning the alphabet, is a very good way to start. However, casually chatting with people (online, and talking to people you meet everywhere) is the best way to build confidence in both writing and speaking.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I firmly believe that most Westerners learn better – and make more progress – in a classroom environment where you learn from both the teacher and other students. Too many Westerners either elect to study with a teacher one on one or are misled into thinking that one on in instruction is the best approach. It isn’t! One on one teaching is not easy and requires a different skill set from the teacher. I have yet to even hear of a really effective one on one teacher. It also requires the student to be highly motivated, which may or may not be the case with foreigners learning Thai.

I would implore anyone who really wants to develop their Thai language skills to study at one of the better language institutes in Bangkok in a classroom setting and Union and Unity both come to mind. I truly believe that learning at one of these schools in a classroom environment is so much more effective than any other method – and the costs are very reasonable with a one-month course, meaning 80 odd hours instruction, for under 7,000 baht. You cannot complain at that!

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: ‘Method’ was living my life in Thai.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: When I got in country, I immediately started using my tape recorder. That is how I learned to read. Once I mastered the alphabet and the tone rules, I jumped into the old Mary Haas reader, having previously taped students reading the texts. Within days I could look at long lines of text and see words instead of a jumble of letters needing decoding. Listening while reading also allowed me to see how the parts of sentences fit together.

What about writing Thai? I also used listening in learning to write. I would listen to a line of text and then try to write it out, making corrections after looking at the text.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersThomas: Ajarn Pat Sukatiparote, Roseville Minnesota-Private tutoring on Thai characters, vowels, reading, writing and spelling.

One on one tutoring with someone who has a strong background in teaching and has a command of the English language was key.

Tod Daniels

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

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: Not really, I think the key is to use a wide variety of methods and to totally immerse yourself in the language and keep the learning process entertaining. I totally agree with Chris Pirazzi’s advice about the importance of ‘drilling’ the tricky sounds and this is exactly what we did in our first few weeks of Thai study at university.

So how about you? How do you learn best? Or… what are you doing to avoid learning Thai?

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

And here you have it, the rest of the series:

Share Button

Interview Compilation: What Language Learning Methods Did You Try?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What Thai language learning methods did you try?…

Collecting Thai language learning materials and language learning methods is a hobby of mine. The upside is that I know what’s going on with the Thai language learning industry. The downside? I have way too much fun Thai stuff to play with.

Scrolling through the materials mentioned below, a few resources stick out: The Fundamentals of the Thai Language, anything by Benjawan Poomsan Becker, AUA’s text books, Hibgie’s Thai Reference Grammar, Smyth’s Thai: An Essential Grammar, and Smyth’s Teach Yourself Thai. For schools, AUA came out on top.

There’s only one mention of learning Thai on a smart phone or iPad (my favourite method). But, it’s still early days yet. New Thai language apps are appearing monthly (I presently have around 120 apps to review) so I do expect coming interviews to note the trend.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Her name was Nók (pronounced with a high tone, it means “Bird”). She was neither a school nor a product, but rather a quiet young woman from a Vietnamese family. She lived in Nong Khai, near the MaeKong River. Her parents spoke very little Thai, but Nok’s Thai was perfect. She was university educated in Bangkok and understood that if you want to fully integrate into Thai society, you have to speak Thai like a Thai. She also seemed to have an instinct for teaching. She spoke slowly and clearly, but with a natural conversational sound.

Nók and I produced our own tapes using the AUA text book, by Marvin J. Brown, 1969. After all these years, I still believe it is the best book for learning Thai, although AUA’s own tapes sound like they were produced under water and there are no CDs. Unfortunately, AUA no longer uses this text book and its drilling methodology in the classroom.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: I spent some time at Jentanna and Associates in Soi 31 and that was great. They really helped, now I am going at it alone.

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: I started with Smyth’s, Thai: An Essential Grammar, which I found to be an excellent guide to basic Thai.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: I started off by learning how to read and write the language, and I think this is the way to do it. The tone rules gave me lots of headaches but once I understood them I felt as though I’d made a major breakthrough. I went to a school very early on but they laughed at me when I told them I wanted to do the Education Ministry’s Grade 6 exam in three months time. They said if I didn’t take their five-day-a-week expensive course I’d fail it for sure. I walked out of that school and got to work by myself with the help of a lovely Thai teacher. I ended up coming first in that exam three months later.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: I learned the alphabet on my own. I tried transliteration but I didn’t begin speaking clearly until I took a University class.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: Mostly tutoring from Thai-American teachers in California (mostly volunteer, some paid). Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s Thai for Beginners was useful. Also really liked Higbie and Thinsan’s Thai Reference Grammar. Made lots of stacks of flashcards of consonants, vowels, and words.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: I used a private teacher for a short time and it was helpful to a point as she gave me tests and assignments and homework. The actual teaching didn’t benefit me as much (though I know many people say that a private tutor has been very helpful for them), but the assignments did me a world of good and forced me to buckle down and do some of the “grunt-work” that I otherwise would not have done on my own.

Some of the resources that I used in my Thai learning experience were the textbooks The Fundamentals of the Thai Language (by Stuart Campbell and Chuan Shaweevongs), and Thai for Advanced Readers (by Khun Benjawan Poomsan Becker). Nowadays I also often use thai2english.com to check my spelling, etc., as I’m trying to work on learning to type in Thai. Wish me luck!:)

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: I started off with a doorstep of a book called Fundamentals of the Thai Language. It looked like a rather ominous bible but, unlike the actual bible I found it really useful. I haven’t seen it around for a long time. I also learned to read from that book. But the bible was my backup. Most of my real learning came from hanging out with Thais and writing vocab in my little everywhere notebook. I am quite thick skinned when it comes to being laughed at for making linguistic mistakes, but it gets annoying after a while. So you learn to get it right.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: The way I learned was by mimicking others, using a dictionary daily, and writing words down in a little black book.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: When I arrived, I knew already that I wasn’t a very good student of traditional language programs. For this reason, I sought out what programs might be different and found the AUA Thai Program.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: Beyond the unpublished materials provided, I also worked through Stuart Campbell’s Fundamentals of the Thai Language on my own in my first year. It was not a book that my teachers had any great fondness for, but I found it very useful as an additional reinforcement. Later, I began to read books in Thai. I found novels were good for dialogue (but the descriptive passages were sometimes best saved for a rainy day) while biographies and autobiographies often had a strong human-interest angle that made it possible to forget the linguistic obstacles.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: I am entirely self-taught. I obtained the best books I could find — those with the most information and generally written in the old style of explicit rule descriptions. Linguistically-oriented books were especially helpful.

Doug

Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: AUA conversation, then reading/writing books, followed by U Hawaii grammar, followed by rewriting Noss’s grammar.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: I did try a school around Ploenchit – the building is no longer there and I can’t remember the name. It started well, although I had to research and provide most of the materials and advise the teacher on how to best to ‘teach’ me – I was a teacher at the time and I knew how I learned best so just needed someone to take me through things and add extra vocab, explain rules, etc. The teacher moved on to use her own materials but they were irrelevant and usually not pitched at anywhere near my level at all – either too simple or totally impossible. In the end I gave up.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: I remember listening to a Lonely Planet CD at one point. I made the most progress by reformulating material from numerous sources in my own way, which turned out to be the website.

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: I studied Thai at the University of Leeds, UK, on a BA course; Thai and Southeast Asian Studies. The course teaches Thai from beginners’ level and progresses to studying Thai at an academic level. We started learning the alphabet and how to formulate the correct tone using a ‘magic key’, which is a kind of mathematical equation the involving consonants and vowels of words. We went on to reading conversations and used role-play. After this we concentrated on reading newspaper articles and listening to news reports, in the final year we studied academic articles and books and did our own presentations in Thai on current world affairs. We constantly learnt new vocabulary and were tested on this weekly. Whilst language learning, we took in depth modules on Thai culture, history and politics, which enhanced and illuminated the language learning process. At home I listen to Thai music and watch films to practice my Thai, I believe that successful language learning should be fun and varied.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: I bought a lot of study aids. My very first was the Lonely Planet Phrase Book. Colloquial Thai by John Moore and Saowalak Rodchue saw me start in earnest, then David Smyth’s Teach Yourself Thai and the Rosetta Stone helped me along the way once I was in the country. I got about a quarter of the way through each of them before losing interest in them all. All were useful in their own ways; however they never matched my language needs at any given time. That’s the thing about language learning, it doesn’t follow some nice, preordained structure – you learn what’s important at the time. While was trying to explain that a tourist had fallen over while trekking and fractured her wrist, the Rosetta Stone was telling me that ‘the boy is under the table’ and ‘the airplane is next to the man’.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: I took one short course from AUA, the rest self-taught, through books and reading.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: As mentioned, my Thai study began with phonograph records, then with a tutor using the U.S. Army Thai course book Spoken Thai along with some lower level Thai children’s school books, and then on my own with reading and speaking. Plus the time with a tutor in Bangkok and finally the specialized intensive course at a language school. Everything else has been learned through lots of listening to news and talk shows on the radio, speaking when I had the opportunity, and reading books.

My Northern Thai study was helped by having a few lessons that a foreign friend had written just before I began. I revised these lessons, added some new lessons, and collected a word file that later became a small dictionary for foreign learners. At first these materials were just to help myself and my wife in our own language study. I used Thai right at the first as a bridge to Northern Thai, but then switched to using only Northern. Living in a Northern Thai farming village was great for motivation. I always carried a small notebook and spent time talking with villagers in their work and home situations, being sure to jot down words and cultural information. I was very motivated because this was a language that I really wanted to learn.

I learned Mien to an intermediate level while living in a Mien village, starting with Northern Thai as a bridge but then switching to Mien. There were even fewer materials for learning Mien so it was independent learning right from the start. I was fortunate to have two Mien men my own age (all in our 20s at the time) who enjoyed using and talking about their language. My notebooks rapidly filled up.

There is little written in Northern Thai (not counting the old Lanna script) that would help a learner, except for small wordlists published years ago, and then several regular dictionaries, leading up to two recent major dictionaries. But only one Northern dictionary (other than my own small one) was specifically compiled to help people learn Northern (by Meth Ratanaprasith, long out of print). Later on, for the most part I kept up by periodically getting back into a Northern Thai situation and speaking. Personally, Thai is a language for my mind and my academic work, but Northern is a language for my heart and “down home” interaction with people.

Progressing in Mien was a little easier because of the influx of Mien refugees from Laos into the States starting in the late 1970s. Moving to California in 1982, I was able to be in touch with several Mien communities for conversation. And once a new Romanized alphabet for Mien became established in the mid-1980s, material written by Mien started to become available. So speaking and reading helped my progress. For quite a few years, however, I have lived further from Mien locations and only occasionally get to be with them. But working on a Mien dictionary, corresponding with Mien, and those occasional times I have been able to visit Mien communities have been the means for my holding steady in Mien, though without the progress I would like to make.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: I started using the old audio-lingual method. That basically means listen and repeat. That is the basis of the J. Marvin Brown books from A.U.A. that many people started with. I knew Marvin Brown and towards the end of his life he changed his teaching philosophy away from the audio lingual method. We had some interesting discussions since I agreed with the beginning Marvin Brown and disagreed with the later one. But his books are still very useful when just beginning to study Thai. Lots of listen and repeat.

I am a very audio-centric person, have always been able to hear something and repeat it naturally. That doesn’t mean that I remembered it for very long, I still have trouble with that, but it did help greatly with my learning tones.

I own 7 dictionaries and use 3 online ones. If I hear a new word, or I have a concept that I want to say but don’t know the Thai word yet, I write it down and then look it up later.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan: Only the Ministry of Education produced series during classes with Patong Language School. The books are still available but have been heavily revised since I used them and have lost direction a little. I don’t think the editor/revisor fully understood the intended method, and consequently spoiled some great books.

I have bought and perused many Thai language books and CD’s over the years to get ideas for my own books. To be brutally honest, most of them are rubbish and some are just phrasebooks. The only two I can recommend are Thai System of Writing and Fundamentals of the Thai Language. These books are from the 50′s or 60′s, so some of the words and constructions are now archaic, but they are clearly laid out, easy to follow and very accurate. It’s surprising that nobody has managed to do a better job after all these years (including me!). The internet wasn’t around when I started learning, but I am sure there is a wealth of information out there now.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: At first I went through all the books written up to the early 80s, which were mostly Fundamentals and Gordon Allison’s books. They were interesting books but I felt they didn’t have the real language in them – some of it was old-fashioned formal Thai which wasn’t what I was hearing people speak. (Interestingly I heard some of those old fashioned constructions in Laos.) I thought Thai was difficult because of the lack of materials, which was one reason why I wrote the books. I’m sure it would have helped going to a language school but I was living in the country.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: The Peace Corps language training used Caleb Gattegno’s Silent Way, where you physically manipulate colored wooden rods (Cuisenaire rods) of various lengths, using them to represent people and things, and also as syntax markers for sentence structure. For reading and pronunciation practice, we used the Silent Way charts where the different letters of the Thai alphabet were colored according to differing sounds and consonant class. At least 15 minutes of every hour of instruction would be spent on pronunciation.

The Silent Way is based on the basic theory that:

  1. Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or creates rather than remembers and repeats what is to be learned.
  2. Learning is facilitated by accompanying (mediating) physical objects.
  3. Learning is facilitated by problem solving involving the material to be learned.

At Berkeley we used the grammar-translation method, which is pretty much the complete opposite of the Silent Way! After a short period doing grammar exercises followed by sentence-by-sentence translation, I went straight into translating Thai newspaper stories (I spent nine months translating nearly all of Kukrit Pramoj’s Siam Rath columns) and moved from there to Thai epic verse, eg, Phra Aphaimani, Traiphum. After that I could read well enough that I would choose my own material, based on topics I was interested in (politics and Buddhism), and then work on those until my professor was satisfied with the translations.

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: When I started, the classes at Wat Thai L.A. were the predominate method, although I tried a few others along the way. On my own I went through the Benjawan Poomsan Becker / Paiboon Publishing beginner, intermediate and advanced books as well as the Speak Like A Thai series. All very helpful. Their Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary for iPhone and iPad is great. I read a lot of other books I bought on Amazon, at a Thai bookstore in L.A. or when I visited Thailand. I’m always snooping around the internet and pick up little bits and pieces of a lot of different websites. I found the vocabulary and grammar lessons at ITS4Thai to be really useful.

One thing that’s been helpful for me is watching Thai TV and trying to follow along. I have a satellite service with a large number of Thai channels and usually have some program on a few hours a day, even if it’s only in the background. Right now, my favorite shows are กินอยู่คือ, which is a cooking show on Thai PBS and วันวานยังหวานอยู่, a talk/entertainment show on Channel 7. I try to watch Thai soap operas, but those can be tough to take.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: Mainly just “the school of life”. I have had very little formal study of Thai except what I have learned personally with books—primarily for reading and writing.

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: I have used: the Teach Yourself Thai book and CDs; a textbook authored by Dr. Wiworn Kesavatana-Dohrs (University of Washington – Seattle, USA); a textbook/reader authored by Dr. Thomas Gething (University of Hawai’I – Manoa); and various materials/readings provided by AUA and CMU instructors. From my first class I was also given basic newspaper articles to read, as well – although newspapers can still be fairly challenging.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: I mentioned the 2 months course already, this was created by my church specifically for teaching missionaries Thai. It is surprisingly similar to the FSI Thai Basic course and since they were both created around the same time period, I have a feeling that there may be some common authors in there. Though I have no way of knowing.

During the 2 months we were encouraged to S.Y.L. or Speak Your Language. Meaning as soon as you learn the word in Thai, we have to stop using the English word. This meant we spoke a lot of Thaiglish, but it was surprisingly helpful. We got used to using Thai grammar and patterns. A common joke we would do as missionaries was to speak English using Thai grammar. It was funny, but it actually solidified the Thai grammar in our head even though it was a joke.

Other than that, it was pretty much the sink or swim method. I had to go and communicate in Thai all day everyday. I did have the help from other missionaries, but for the most part they would only help you to save you from drowning. We all knew the best way to learn was to go and do.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: I can’t remember the conversation text we used during our Peace Corps training and which I continued to use in Thailand. However, certain phrases still stand out in my mind, such as สถานีรถไฟอยู่ที่ไหน (where is the railway station), สมบูรณาญาสิทธิราชย์ (absolute monarchy, which I can never forget because the phrase was very long and required extra effort) and ดูโน้น มี เมฆ สอง ก้อน กำลัง ลอย มา (“Look there, two clouds are floating by” which I incorrectly pronounced so it turned “Look there two mothers are floating by”. All of this amused the Thai tutor I hired when I reached Bangkok, which I suppose is why she married me, so she could have a never ending source of amusement.

I taught myself how to read by using A programmed course in reading Thai Syllables by Edward M. Anthony.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: Wasted one month in a small school in Sathorn Rd that insisted on the oral method (nothing written down) then hired one of their teachers to teach me how to write, read and speak at home the old-fashioned way, three lessons per week initially (with homework), then two, then one, each lesson lasting one hour and a half – until dear Khun Buaphan decided I was proficient enough to be left to cope with dictionaries all by myself.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: During 2009 I tried learning more seriously but still largely on my own. That year I also met my now-fiancée who helped whenever I had questions but I was on my own and somewhat lost for structuring my learning: she’s a nurse, not a teacher and I was a project manager, not a student!

I thought learning basic grammar (from David Smyth’s Thai: An Essential Grammar) would help with putting vocabulary together correctly. However, I didn’t really know much vocabulary to put together so that attempt died. I think it’s fair to say 2009 was a failure as far as language-learning was concerned.

It was only since leaving work that I was able to start learning seriously. On returning to Bangkok I immediately signed up with a private language school. I decided on Baan Aksorn because I’d read positive reviews about them and they gave a good impression when I visited. The building itself was different too – a cosy converted house, rather than a dull office in a tower block. It turned out to be a good choice for me.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: I looked at some of the NISA and AUA course books, and was quite impressed with them, but didn’t attend their courses. At that time, mostly because I was broke!

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: I have tried books, CDs, practical conversation and even private lessons. As many others, I found that studying on my own by using books or computers was challenging. Having worked with a few outside institutions when at Bumrungrad, I have realized that what makes computer based learning at places like Wall Street Institute relatively successful is that they are good at helping their students study regularly and stick to it. However, based on the students I had at Bumrungrad, it seems that improvement is slower with even the best of programs than with a real-life teacher. I do feel that working with a person is always better than any other approach, though the person you learn from should be chosen with care. Combining personal tutoring with computer-based learning and/or books may offer the best of all words, but practical application – speaking with another person – must take the most prominent place. Without practical application and real-life responses, language training loses its most vital dimension.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: I used the internet from day one. Places like Speaking Thai the Easy Way and some other I forget. I used to buy every Thai text book I could find including the Benjawan Becker series; I suppose these are the ones that stand out as being really useful. These days I don’t buy any more textbooks but use real texts. I do subscribe to the Learn Thai Podcast and these have been helpful.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Peace Corps did a great job, four hours a day, small classes, rotating teachers. Within three months I was able to get around pretty well, and when I hit the ground in Isaan there was nothing else to speak, so conversational Thai came in pretty fast. That said, my Thai back then was much more limited than I knew. I wish I had paid more attention to learning to read then.

When I decided to get serious, I dug into the reading side, and learned how to “touch-type” by sending e-mails. Good thing there was unicode and the internet to help! But that still wasn’t enough. I audited a graduate course at U.C. Berkeley with Susan Kepner, perhaps the best translator of Thai women’s literature, and in class we read stuff, including selections from Kukrit’s สี่แผ่นดิน (Four Reigns), maybe Thailand’s best modern novel. Did translations of a couple of short stories for Susan which she is still threatening to use if she ever publishes an anthology, anyhow I loved doing that, want to do more.

In 2002 I started writing my own dictionary. I was tired of looking up words like “till” and finding Thai telling me it only meant a drawer that held money, or “see” and finding that it meant only an administrative region defined by the Vatican. So I have been adding to my own dictionary and using at as a study guide ever since.

This year I tested into Chula’s (Chulalongkorn University) intensive Thai for foreigners program and have done 2 five-week modules, have two to go. Instead of going straight through like most people, I am doing five weeks at a time, then breaking for several months till the next level comes around again, because it eats one’s entire life when doing it! But worth it. Short answer? Many-pronged, but sharp prongs!

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: My core daily practice is my flashcard (Supermemo) learning, now up to 4500 elements of which I am tasked to remember about 100 each day. I went to a school and quickly realised that was the time of the week when I learnt the least Thai. I began reading the newspapers, watched the TV news, listened to the radio (100.5FM) and to other audio-visual resources in the MOAFTR.

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: I was low tech. I carried around little pocket notebooks which I constantly wrote in. Most any office or stationery store in Thailand sells them for about 8 baht — a little bigger than a business card, with ruled paper and a rugged plastic cover.

At first a lot of the things I jotted down were in roman script, but that was soon replaced by Thai script as my ear got better and I became more comfortable reading and writing Thai. Whenever I came across a noteworthy or interesting word, I wrote it down. Often this was dozens of words per day. Names of people I met, food I ate, random objects that I had asked someone the name of.

This habit was helpful in improving my listening comprehension, too, because whenever I heard some word repeatedly, but I didn’t know it, I’d write down what I thought it sounded like, and then ask a friend what that word I kept hearing was, explaining the general context. Sometimes I got it right, sometimes I got it wrong, but my ear kept getting better.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: At the University of Wisconsin we used a set of textbooks put out by AUA. Then when I did a year of study abroad at Chiang Mai University I had private Thai lessons with one of the professors, who catered the lessons towards my interest by using articles about Buddhism. Some years later, to refreshen up my reading, I studied on my own using Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s books and also Thai Reference Grammar by James Higbie & Snea Thinsan.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: When I first came here, I used a website (no longer in existence, sadly) to learn the basic letters, and that allowed me to read some basic things like road signs and the provinces on car registration plates. After that, I started to read menus at restaurants – they have a limited vocabulary, and tend to have similar contents. I took a course of 40 hours at a Thai school in late 2005, initially learning to speak, but then switched teachers and learned the alphabet. After that, I started to chat with people online, which is a very good way of meeting Thai people willing to chat.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: The first method I used was the book and CD set Teach Yourself which I think does a very good job, though I’ve been told some of what I learned is “old fashioned”. One thing I think is invaluable in that book is that it teaches you to read and write Thai which is vital for correct pronunciation.

The next method was picking it up in the streets or at work which will give you listening skills, teach you which words people actually use, rather than the overly formal words you often find in phrase books, and you’ll learn words they wouldn’t necessarily print in language books. :) However, a pitfall here is that you can pick up the wrong pronunciation or else use a rude word in the wrong setting.

Finally I went to Walen School which uses Thai script and teaches vocabulary with question and answer exercises. The teachers are entertaining and will stray from the book to show other uses of the word or to teach other words that could mean the same thing. Conversation is best way to learn a language, and I often converse with the teachers outside of class also.

Stickman

Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: I started at the Thai temple in West Auckland using some homemade – but excellent – materials. The Linguaphone course was the only self-study course I used. It was very good, but so it should be for it was very expensive. Still, as a language teacher myself, I appreciated the structure and a lot of thought clearly went into the way it was put together and the methodology.

I spent seven months at Union Language School in 2000 which was when I made the best progress. Prior to studying there, my Thai language skills had plateaued and I needed the formal environment of what is actually a very strict school to progress.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Our training [Peace Corps] was quite old-fashioned — memorizing dialogues and lots of repetition. I made it a point of talking to our teachers constantly, which was easy since we lived together.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersThomas: AUA language Bangkok-Immersion program, BEC language Pattaya-Sentence structure and Thai alphabet, Ajarn Pat Sukatiparote Roseville Minnesota-Private tutoring on Thai characters, vowels, reading, writing and spelling, Long Paw Pai Sit Wat Thai Minnesota-Sanskrit, Benawan Poosan Beckers Thai for Beginners…Thai characters and vowels, Chulalongorn University PhD Program on Thai culture and language, Individual studies/field research

Tod Daniels

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

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: At my first university we used the Thai ‘Linguaphone’ by Dr David Smyth, in addition to worksheets provided by the teacher. In the second year we also used Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s course which at the time had just been published. In Thailand we used a language course written by the tutor which has not been published. At MA level we read and studied popular Thai novels.

Many varied techniques were used throughout this learning process, notably flashcards, conversation, lots of reading – starting with children’s books, watching Thai TV, listening to Thai songs etc.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Notecards, as noted. I also hired a girl in Isaan for 100 THB per hour to help me with pronunciation three times per week. I guess we did about 25 sessions. It was a great help… she’d pronounce the word and I’d write it phonetically and sometimes record the sessions with my Nokia phone.

I studied a Thai dictionary that was very helpful and I have it here on my bookshelf, it’s the Robertson’s Practical English-Thai Dictionary, by Richard G. Robertson. The phonetic pronunciation tips in the book made the most sense to me, and though there were some errors, it’s the best resource I found for helping me find new vocabulary I should use. It’s a small book too – highly recommended.

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

And here you have it, the rest of the series:

Share Button
Older posts