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Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning Languages

Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning Languages

YouTube polyglot Luca Lampariello…

Back in 2009 YouTube polyglots were becoming all the rage. Poking around to see what all the excitement was about, Luca Lampariello’s Channel stood out for me. What really impressed me was Luca’s method for learning languages. And the array of languages he spoke wasn’t too shabby either: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, and Portuguese.

After Luca and I’d been chatting for awhile, he agreed to explain his method in more detail in order for me to share it here. With much patience on his side (thanks Luca) together we created what became two top draws on WLT. And by the end, Luca and I became friends.

If you haven’t read them yet, they are absolutely worth your while: An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages: Part One and An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages: Part Two.

Over the years Luca has continued to dedicate his time to the language learning community. Definitely past time for an interview!

Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning Languages…

Hi Luca, how are you? Long time no see! During our first collaboration you spoke nine languages. How many languages do you speak now?

Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning LanguagesHi Catherine. I am great thanks! Well, it depends on the definition of “speaking a language”. I like thinking of a language as a network that we build with time. In my opinion, being able to speak a language means being able to assemble words together to form sentences, as well as being able to interact with native speakers in daily life. It is a bit like playing with Legos. When we have 100 Lego pieces in front of us, the very first thing that comes to mind is not the quantity but the question “how am I going to assemble them together?” One can know an incredible amount of words without even being able to string a sentence together. Also, communication between two human beings is always bidirectional, so when somebody asks me such a question, I always think about speaking as well as understanding what people say. That’s another capacity that we develop by way of practice and exposure, and it is an integral part of using a language.

How do you choose which language to learn and why do you decide to study a particular one?

I have to say that in this regard languages are like girls. We have the illusion that we choose them, but in the end, they choose us. If I think about it, it is the languages that have chosen me along my path, and every single one has a different story.

How long does it take for you to learn a new language to fluency?

Once again, one should clearly define the term fluency. Unfortunately it is a very vague term, and everybody has their own definition. Having said that, and having given my own definition, I would say that the amount of time it takes to reach fluency depends on your mother tongue and the target language. In my case, it took me less than a year to become fluent in Spanish, and more than two years to become fluent in Chinese. So in general, it takes six months to two years to become “fluent”, depending on the language. In this regard, I would also distinguish between “conversational fluency” and “advanced fluency”. One thing is to be able to speak and understand natives, another is to enjoy a language in all its aspects: books, movies, cultural jokes, etc. That takes a much longer time.

Is it possible to learn a language in one month or in a relatively short amount of time?

The modern world is obsessed with speed. Language learning is a long road if our objective is to be able to use language in all its aspects. That said, adults already have their own native tongue in place, which is an advantage because we don’t start totally from scratch like kids do. But just to start communicating at a very basic level is certainly possible, especially in languages that are close to our own.

Regarding your study routine, how many hours a day do you spend on learning your languages?

Not that much to tell you the truth. I spend relatively little time deliberately studying a language, 30 minutes, maybe 1 hour a day when I am inspired, but the key factor is consistency: I do it every day. Learning something every day, even at small doses, leads to success in every activity. I call it “the bucket effect”. Look at an empty bucket. A drop falls in it. “Ok”, you might say – “it still looks empty”. Without realizing it though, one drop every five seconds can fill a bucket in a matter of hours. Our brain is like a bucket, and the drops are the bits and pieces of information that flow into it, day by day. After months our brain is full of information and ready to be used in the real world. And when we start doing that, we start learning faster and faster as we get exposed to the language.

People are often in awe of your pronunciation in all the languages that you speak. How can you reach such near-native pronunciation? And how can one reach a near-native pronunciation in a foreign language?

Oh, that’s a tough one (kidding). I think that there are two main factors that really make a difference in this regard:

First, I am interested in sounds, and I do care about having good pronunciation. So I start paying attention to phonetic patters from the very beginning.

Secondly, I am good at impersonating other people. I think that while training is great, I also believe that in order to reach certain results, one has to let go of his personality in one’s native language and “live” another character in another language. If the world is a stage, like Shakespeare writes, then taking on another language is like switching from the character one has always played into a different character within the frame of another story.

Proof of this is that when I speak another language I have a different personality. I do different things, I act differently, my gestures are different. Everything changes, and when I speak, it is as if I had another experience of life. This is the sum of all my experiences, the people I’ve met, the movies I’ve watched in that language. They all breathe and live inside of me when I use the language.

Did it ever happen to you to be taken for a native speaker? What was people’s reaction about that? Do you think it is that important?

Yes, many times. Especially in English, French, Spanish and German. Now it is happening more and more often in Russian. People are always surprised, and it always ends up spawning interesting experiences. Once I was sitting in a square in Rome and I heard a loud burp. I said, in English, “what, that is a loud burp there”. The girl who belched laughed and asked me if I was American. From that little exchange, I got to know someone who became one of my best American friends, and I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t replied in that accent. I can tell you countless stories like this. People’s attitude towards you changes considerably, and I found it be a strong motivation in learning other languages.

Speaking like a native doesn’t have to be the main goal of a language learner. It is not an easy goal to reach, and to be totally frank, just a tiny fraction of people achieve it, and for a number of various reasons. Having said that, I think that achieving good pronunciation within everyone’s reach, provided that they start working on it from the very beginning.

Which is the most critical aspect in learning a foreign language: grammar, syntax or vocabulary? Any useful tips or piece of advice to tackle these three aspects?

There is no single aspect more critical than the others. They are all equally important. I think that languages are living, extremely complex entities and we shouldn’t focus too much on the single parts because we run the risk of “getting lost in the maze”. That said, some languages have specific features that pose problems. The characters and tones of Mandarin Chinese, for example. I think that one should find a way to tackle languages in a way that suits their needs and tastes, and that embraces languages as a whole. The method needs to be flexible though, so that one can adapt it to the specific language.

As far as grammar and syntax are concerned, a famous Hungarian polyglot used to say “don’t learn language from the grammar, but grammar from the language”. I completely agree. I think that while some grammar explanations are great at the beginning, one starts figuring out the patterns of the language through exposure. If we try to learn all the rules at the beginning, we end up getting lost and frustrated when we realize we cannot actually use those rules in the real world. The same goes for syntax. I say, get exposed to the language, use it, and the fog of grammar and syntax will lift in the course of time.

As for vocabulary, my first piece of advice is to get a hold of content that you like. Interest causes your brain to retain information more efficiently. Then use spaced-time repetition. We don’t store a word just by looking at it. We need to see it a few times and in different contexts before it “sinks in”.

You are known for using a technique involving translation from and to the target language. Some might find it a hindrance to the development of the capacity to “think” directly in the foreign language. What is your take on that?

It is always a question of how you do it, and my experience is that there is a “right” way to use translation. I use translation as a tool to figure out the patterns of a foreign language while using my own as a crutch. I do this for a few months, after which I start using the language without even thinking about my own. If one translates with the wrong goal in mind and does it poorly, they run the risk of filtering everything through the lens of their own language, and that should obviously be avoided because it creates considerable interference.

What other languages are you planning to learn? Thai, for instance?

Of course I have! Thai is one of the languages that I would really like to learn. I have heard great stories from friends who went to Thailand, and the idea of enjoying such a lovely country and interacting with the locals in their own language is exhilarating.

Do you enjoy traveling? Do you think that it’s important to travel to learn languages? And … any plans to come Thailand?

I love traveling. I was thinking about this recently on the plane back to Rome. Travelling, like language learning, is a journey into new worlds, but it is also an inner journey that we take inside ourselves. All those who have traveled, no matter the distance, have felt that strange, bittersweet feeling of bewilderment, a sudden desire to live more and more intensively. One of my favorite quotes comes from Chris McCandless, a guy whose story inspired “Into the Wild”: “staying is existing, traveling is living”.
Of course I will come to Thailand – did you have doubts about it? (laughing)

How has the ability to speak different languages changed your life?

They dramatically changed it in all its aspects. I work full-time as a language coach on-line, and I use tons of languages every day. I made friends with many many people from all over the world, and when I travel or I live in a foreign country, life is so much easier. If somebody were to ask me for one reason why I learn so many foreign languages, I would simply answer “for all the reasons of the world”

Where are you now in your path? What are your projects for 2014?

I have a ton of projects lining up. The most important one is the book I have been writing for quite some time now. But right now I am working on a huge workshop that is going to take place in Vienna next week. I have been working hard on it. The main goal is to give people the right tools and frame of mind to achieve their dreams. For example, with the internet, I think the focus is shifting from giving language learners the “right” materials (of which there is overabundance) to teaching them first how to find and create their own materials according to their tastes, and above all, how to use them.

Thanks for this interview Luca.

Thank you Catherine!

You can find more about Luca’s workshop here: How to learn a language WITHOUT killing yourself

Luca Lampariello
Web: thepolyglotdream
Facebook: Luca Lampariello
YouTube: poliglotta80

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Interview: Diplomats Learning Foreign Languages

Interview: Diplomats Learning Foreign Languages

Diplomats learning foreign languages…

Many moons ago I resided in Negara Brunei Darussalam. No. Not Dar es Salaam. That’s in Tanzania. Brunei is located on the island of Borneo. It’s sort of penned in by the land below the wind (Sabah) and the land of chicken butts and beer (Sarawak).

Being a small country (around 350 thou) with an overly large diplomatic community, expats such as myself were drawn into their active social life. These events were fondly called “Dip Do’s”.

Even as a seasoned expat with a zany social life of my own, I’ve long been envious of the diplomat lifestyle. Just for starters, diplomats rub shoulders with top movers and shakers, they hear undiluted versions of what’s really going on in the world, and they get to travel to exciting countries using the diplomatic line at immigration (that alone should be a serious consideration for those thinking of a job in the diplomatic service).

A subject that didn’t come up often during the various social gatherings was learning the local language. I’m not surprised. Bruneians are highly proficient in English, so for communication English was the logical choice for the majority of expats and locals alike. Some of the more ambitious expats did learn Bahasa Malay and/or Chinese. Being a language wimp (and professing to be incredibly busy) I passed.

It was only when three ambassadors to Thailand started tweeting about their Thai language studies that I started thinking about the many opportunities diplomats have for learning new languages, and what I could learn from their advice. Why? Because every single interview in the Successful Thai Language Learners series has taught me plenty.

In order of arrival to Thailand’s twitter community, the three ambassadors are: US Ambassador Kristie Kenney @KristieKenney, British Ambassador Mark Kent @KentBKK, and Canadian Ambassador Phillip Calvert @PhilCalvert2.

My curiosity peaked when Mark Kent tweeted about other ambassadors to Thailand studying Thai: Australia, Germany, and New Zealand. Excellent. Game on.

Ambassadors are busy people (understatement). After reaching out to the various embassies, my thanks for the language learning experiences and tips shared in this interview go to (in alphabetic order by country): Canadian Ambassador Phillip Calvert, New Zealand Ambassador Tony Lynch, and U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney. I’d also like to thank my longtime friend and former Australian diplomat to Brunei (who has asked to remain nameless).

Note: Ambassador Mark Kent was previously interviewed in the Successful Thai Language Learner’s series.

And now on to the interview.

Interview: Diplomats learning languages…

How many languages have you studied and what is your proficiency in each one?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: Five, plus English. We are required to be fluent in English and French to be posted abroad. In addition I speak Mandarin well enough to conduct meetings, high school German (most of which is forgotten) and very basic Japanese (1 year at university). I had about 6 weeks of Thai, enough to give directions to taxi drivers and ask for beer and the washroom, but am starting up again this month.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Bahasa Indonesia, French, Thai – basic level for each.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: I speak decent Spanish, passable French, some Filipino dialects. I continue to work on my Thai every day.

Was knowing a foreign language a requirement for being hired as a diplomat?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: No, but it was a consideration when they look at the overall package. I spoke Mandarin but didn’t have much else to offer….

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: No, although this is changing – but language “aptitude” is important – ie the ability to learn languages. Increasingly many if not most new foreign affairs staff have two or more languages.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: While speaking a foreign language is not a strict requirement for joining the Foreign Service, many diplomats enter the business with foreign language skills or the willingness to learn. During the balance of one’s career, a U.S. diplomat can expect to learn several foreign languages. To help achieve this proficiency, the U.S. Department of State has a training center for American diplomats to study languages, culture and international affairs. Speaking foreign languages allows us to better communicate with people, which at its core is what we do every day as diplomats.

When I joined the Foreign Service I spoke passable Spanish and French. Throughout my career as a diplomat I studied Spanish, French and Thai.

Was your knowledge of local languages taken into consideration for future postings?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: With Mandarin I ended up having three postings in China, as well as being a negotiator during China’s accession to the WTO. I think it was taken into consideration, but so was local knowledge, which sometimes goes hand in hand with language skills, but not always. I’ve worked with some excellent non-language speakers who had other talents: judgement, interpersonal skills, deep knowledge of issues…

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: No.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: Language skills are a major consideration in any assignment decision, but other factors such as job knowledge and experience also come into play.

If diplomats don’t have the necessary language skills, but have the requisite job-related skills, there are often opportunities available for learning the language. A diplomat could, for example, study at the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department’s primary training institution, or perhaps study the language after arriving at the country of assignment. Most of our embassies have language programs available for diplomats to improve their language skills and learn more about their host country.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: I was recruited because of my accounting background and initially worked in the internal audit section of the department. I later moved into the consular and administration area of the department. For recruits for purely policy work a foreign language is highly desirable and often essential – although there was a standing joke that someone fluent in Chinese would have a good chance of a posting to Paris. Many positions overseas are advertised with language ability as a prerequisite – mainly policy positions (including Head Of Mission).

In a country like Brunei where English was spoken at a high level, particularly in their foreign Ministry it was not as essential to learn the language as it is for countries where very little English is spoken. I was given the opportunity to study for a few weeks in Australia, but as you know it is quite different from the Bahasa spoken in Indonesia.

I do not not know why I was chosen for Brunei but my knowledge of Bahasa may have helped a little.

In order to influence where your next posting would be, did you target the local language of the country you preferred?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: No. It worked the other way around.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: No.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: Over the years, I always looked to serve in countries where my particular skill set was needed most. If I happened to speak the language already, as I did with my postings in Latin America, it was a huge help. I used my postings in Latin America to study advanced Spanish to improve my language skills. Whatever the scenario, I have always made learning foreign languages a priority.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: You would require a high level of language proficiency before it would help one attain a particular posting and you would have to study in your own time and there would be no guarantee of being selected for a particular position. Only staff selected for a position are normally trained during office hours.

How has your knowledge of foreign languages helped in your job?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: In China, it helped build personal ties and establish a good rapport with contacts, and have more interesting and frank conversations. Early in my career I was able to identify a multi-million dollar copper project from something offhand someone said to me on the sidelines of a meeting. It also enabled me to speak with locals and ordinary people about pretty much everything (politics, movies, famly life) so it enabled me to much more easily understand the country and get a feel for it. It also made travel much easier, so I saw more of the country. I’m missing that here in Thailand, with my limited Thai.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Yes, certainly – in terms of understanding the culture and the people of the host country, being more comfortable in operating in a new/different environment, and by and large English language capability lessens the further away from the capital (so, for example, I did have to use my bahasa regularly when travelling outside of Jakarta). The other aspect is that efforts to speak the local language are welcomed and applauded, by and large, by those you meet – it is seen as a mark of respect for the local culture, no matter how awkward or basic your knowledge of the language may feel.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: I strongly believe that speaking foreign languages and understanding foreign cultures are essential to effective diplomacy. Throughout my career, knowing how to speak the language of my host country has helped me tremendously. Let’s look at Thailand, for example. My Thai language skills broaden the number of people I can connect with – from University students and shop owners to government officials – as well as deepen my understanding of the Thai culture and people. I also find speaking directly with people (without using an interpreter) much more personable and enjoyable. It is simply a better way to connect with people.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: The Foreign Ministry had such fluent English (better than my Bahasa) so we always spoke in English. A knowledge of Bahasa was helpful when I was presented with invoices in the office. In most countries I was posted to, English was spoken extensively, except for Indonesia and Argentina.

Do your embassies have in-house or contract translators and interpreters?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: Our in-house people are either officers or assistants who speak Thai and English, not usually professional translators/interpreters. They can interpret if called upon to do so, and some are very good. For translation of written work we contract it out–a better use of resources.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Yes – we certainly do.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: At the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, we have an amazing team of very talented people. Many of our Thai colleagues assist with translation and interpretation as needed.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: Most of our missions have translators fluent in the host country language and English. They are often relied upon to translate official and legal documents. The translators I encountered were very good at their job.

Given that you’d be conversing with the cream of society in each country, what form of the language did you study first, colloquial or professional? If professional, did you tackle colloquial at some point?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: They tended to teach us professional language, and I learned colloquial a bit in the classroom, but mostly on the street.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Most schools start with fairly standard, basic language, and as the course progresses pick up more specialised expressions and language. Many teachers however do prefer to focus on the professional, and leave it to the students to pick up the colloquial in their daily contacts outside the school (which is a critical part of learning any language – to be familiar with what is actually spoken, rather than just a “BBC” version of the language.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: My primary goal in learning Thai is to be able to talk to people at all levels. I often talk to students, shop vendors, friends and government officials in Thai. While I started out studying professional Thai – focusing on vocabulary, social greetings and common phrases – I am now focusing more on speaking colloquial Thai.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: Staff are trained in professional and others in colloquial language depending on the level appropriate for the particular position and country requirements. I was taught colloquial Behasa Indonesia for three months to attain a basic proficiency.

Has your country upped its drive to support diplomats learning languages?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: Yes, we have designated language positions and learning difficult languages is a priority.

New Zealand Ambassador, Tony Lynch: Yes – particularly Asian languages.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: The United States government has always supported teaching its diplomats foreign languages. There is a dedicated training center for diplomats to study languages, culture and international affairs before they go overseas.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: If you google DFAT languages you will see that language training has been controversial, and there have been continual efforts to improve it.

Were you sent to private classes or a language institute?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: I was sent to a university for 8 months. I had already studied Mandarin at university, so it was partly a refresher with a focus on conversational work.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Yes.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: When and how American diplomats study languages varies – but in general – we study languages as part of our official duties. I also study and practice whenever I can so that I can improve my skills.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) uses many different training schools but has standardised exams to test proficiency. It uses one on one tuition, University courses, Military langiuage courses, and sometimes places students in country for study.

Were you given time off to study, or were you expected to study after work hours or on holiday?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: In our government language training is an assignment–full time study–for varying lengths of time, depending on the difficulty of the language. If you have learned a foreign language, you can also have maintenance courses a few hours a week.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Time off for full time/intensive study.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: When and how American diplomats study languages varies – but in general – we study languages as part of our official duties. I also study and practice whenever I can so that I can improve my skills.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: The amount of support staff received for language training was highest for the policy positions and of course it varied according to the country one is posted to. Some staff are sent off for a year to learn a language. Usually staff can study a language during office hours.

Did you receive a raise in pay for each language you acquired?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: No

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: We do not remunerate for language aptitude.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: Depending on the language and the fluency one achieves in it, some additional compensation is provided for some assignments.

If there was compensation for each language you took on, were the bonuses down to a medium or high proficiency?

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: “Language pay,” as it is known, is for those who achieve high proficiency in difficult-to-learn languages.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: There are language proficiency allowances paid according to the level of competency achieved. Payments are only made when a significant degree of competency is achieved, not a basic level.

The USA has the FSI and the Defense Language Institute. The UK has the Foreign Office Language Centre. Other resources available to the diplomatic community are… ?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: The Canadian Foreign Language Institute, part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: N/A (we use private language schools – in the main in-country).

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: The Foreign Service Institute is the U.S. State Department’s primary training institution for American diplomats to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas. The training center provides more than 600 courses—including some 70 foreign languages. There are also a variety of online course available to diplomats and their families.

At the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok we have a robust language program available to Embassy employees and their families. I study Thai in class at least once a week and often spend time in the evenings reviewing flash cards and watching Thai television to improve my listening skills.

How many tours have you experienced, and how long is each tour?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: Four tours, two at three years, one at four years, and this one is four years.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Four postings overseas, with the average 3-4 years.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: My overseas assignments have included serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines and the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador. I have also served in positions at U.S. Embassies in Jamaica, Switzerland, and Argentina. The length of tours varies, but U.S. diplomats usually serve in a country like Thailand for around three years.

Retired Australian diplomat, Brunei Darassalam: The posting period varies for each post, generally two years for difficult posts and three years for all others. Difficulty is assessed by a number of factors including security, climate, health and hygiene, availability of recreational facilities, variety of food and other goods and the general ease of living in the country etc. We normally would not make a fuss about these ratings to host countries for obvious reasons. All staff are covered by these periods except for Heads of Mission (Ambassadors and High Commissioners) who do not necessarily have the identical period of posting. We normally do not advise the host country of the Head of Mission’s departure date until the host country has accepted the nominated replacement Head of Mission. Each diplomatic service has different posting periods eg The Philippines often posts its diplomats for long periods – could be six years or more.

Did you experience language snafus arising from miscommunication? President Kennedy’s I am a jelly doughnut ‘misconception’ comes to mind, as does a more recent “ooops” by Tony Blair:

The virtual linguist: Blair decided to address the French media in French. Intending to say something like “I’ve always been envious of Lionel’s policies and whatever positions he’d taken,” Blair instead said “J’ai toujours envie de Lionel, même en toutes positions.” (Roughly: “I’ve always lusted after Lionel, in all positions”).

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: Let me put it this way: if you get the tone wrong in Mandarin, “pen” can sound like “vagina”…..and I know that different tones in Thai can mean different things…

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: My favourite story is of a diplomatic colleague who asked to borrow his teacher’s notebook for the weekend, but it turns out that the Vietnamese words for notebook and wife are very close. Beware of “false friends” – words that sound alike but have very different meanings to that intended!

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: Luckily, I haven’t experienced any major language embarrassment! But there are certainly plenty of experiences where I resort to sign language and gestures if my language skills need help. My recent efforts to describe why my watch needed to be repaired had both the repair man and I laughing as I struggled to explain in Thai.

And finally… what language learning advice would you give to those aiming for a career in the field of diplomacy?

Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Philip Calvert: Learn an Asian language–especially a language whose economy is growing–and a language of a country you’d like to go back to…and force yourself to use it all the time once you’ve achieved a level of competence, or you’ll lose it quickly.

New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch: Language – and by that I mean communication – is critical to the role of diplomacy – to convey your message appropriately, and to understand others. Language provides an insight into the culture, and so a far better understanding of what is involved in any transaction. As an example – the fact that in Thai language there are different words for which side of the family your relations are on, and which order they were born (in contrast to English where it is just Aunt or Uncle etc) is a reminder that family is tremendously important in Thai culture. You will know that in some languages there are no direct translations of English words (bahasa Indonesia does not have a word for “exciting”) – sometimes whole paragraphs are necessary to explain certain concepts – and this works in both ways.

So my advice is that learning a language is not easy (the earlier you start the better!) – but it will provide great reward for perseverance!

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie A. Kenney: The best part of my job is connecting with people and learning about new cultures. I find it much easier to make meaningful connections when I speak the local language, so naturally I make language learning a real priority. At times it can be difficult to find the time, but I do my best to keep studying. I often study Thai at home while eating dinner, while stuck in traffic, or even waiting in the dentist’s office. I always have my flashcards handy and I never miss the opportunity to practice with my Thai friends.

My professional life is at an end, but working in the diplomatic field just might be an attractive consideration for those mulling over a career choice. Obviously, a diplomatic mindset is a must. And getting serious about learning a new language every few years would be something to think about as well. What say you?

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Interview: Benjawan on VOA

Benjawan on VOA

Benjawan on VOA…

For all of you Thai-English English-Thai dictionary fans out there, Benjawan Poomsan Becker from Paiboon Publishing was interviewed on VOA last week.

VOA 2012: คุณเบญจวรรณ ภูมิแสน Beckerร่วมมือกับสำนักพิมพ์ Paiboon Publishing จัดทำพจนานุกรมพูดได้ ภาษาไทย อังกฤษ

Previous interviews:

VOA 2011: คุณเบญจวรรณ ภูมิแสน Becker เล่าถึงความเป็นมาในการเป็นล่ามในอเมริกา

VOA: คุณเบญจวรรณ ภูมิแสน Beckerร่วมมือกับสำนักพิมพ์ Paiboon Publishing จัดทำพจนานุกรมพูดได้ ภาษาไทย อังกฤษ

Note: The audio files (all in Thai) can be downloaded.

WLT: Benjawan Poomsan Becker…

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Interview: Luke Cassady-Dorion: Photographer and Linguist

Luke Cassady-Dorion RAM

Interview: Luke Cassady-Dorion the linguist…

I never tire of reading about the language attributes of linguists. Luke, a talented photographer, just happens to be studying for a Bachelor’s Degree at Ramkhamkaeng University (Thai Major, Japanese Minor). In addition, he has taken on Spanish, Sanskrit, Lanna, and Burmese at the university level. Impressive.

Goldenland Polygot

In Luke’s bio he states that he:

…doesn’t really see much difference between the study of languages and the study of photography.

Now, I’ve read about the connection between music and programming, but never photography.

So Luke, could you please explain your mindset?

You’re the first person who has asked me about that, which I find quite surprising. Anyway, it’s a great question. When taking a photograph, we need to pick the right angle, framing, light, lens, etc … in order to communicate the message we want to get out there. Herni Cartier-Bresson was famous for not allowing his photographs to be cropped when printed in magazines or newspapers, something that I think pretty much all photographers would like to be able to require. The message that we’re communicating, something that we usually decide on before pushing the shutter, can be changed significantly if there is a slight modification to the cropping.

When communicating using words, we – taking into account our audience – have to use vocabulary and grammar in order to communicate a message. Getting people to agree with us, or even just chose to listen to us depends so much on the words that we choose and they way that we speak. Politics in USA is a great example of this. Barack Obama is a great statesman, but I doubt that he would have been elected had he spoken like George Bush.

So with both photography and languages, you’re communicating a message using a defined set of tools. Of course, your tools are different, but your chance of success in both areas depends on your mastery of your tools.

When did your aptitude for learning languages surface?

It may be in my blood …. my father has his PhD in Spanish and my mom learned Spanish when she and my father were living in Spain during Franco. Unfortunately they didn’t teach me Spanish as a kid, they mostly used it to talk about stuff that they didn’t want my brother and me to understand (or to swear). What’s interesting is that as I grew up, I found that my subconscious scatological speech was much more likely to come out in Spanish than in English. This is something I’ve noticed with my Thai friends too. In the midst of a long stream of Thai, I often hear them throw “shit” in as a loan word.

In middle school (grade 7) we had to pick a foreign language to study. I picked up French, adding Spanish in high school. My original plan when going to university was to study a degree related to languages. I ended up going for computer science because I thought I could make more money during that whole internet revolution thing. After making (and losing) lots of money and realizing that I didn’t want to spend my life sitting in front of a computer, I quit to teach Yoga. I find it rather ironic that at age 29 I enrolled in a Thai-language university to major in Thai.

If you could give one amazing piece of advice to students of the Thai language, what would it be?

Take a scientific approach to your studies. There are loads of different books and classes out there. If you try something for a few months and it doesn’t work, then figure out why and try a different approach. At the same time, don’t assume that there is a magic book or teacher who can make you fluent overnight. Unless you have a stellar memory, there’s no way around sitting down every day and studying.

How do you plan on combining your duel passions, photography and languages?

I hope to do just that in my next photography project. I’m starting on a project to use photography and video to document Thailand’s 74 living languages. The project is still in the early stages. After I get through this opening I am going to put much more energy into it. I am looking for grants and sponsors, so if anyone reading this is interested, please do get in touch.

Luke Cassady-Dorion RAM

Luke Cassady-Dorion the student…

This statement of Luke’s caught my attention too (scroll over the Thai script to read the transliteration):

From the first day that I started classes at Ramkhamheang University, I knew that a photography project would grow out of it. I had been in Thailand for two years at that point, and had never seen anything quite like the university.

วันแรกของการเรียนที่ม.รามคำแหง ผมทราบทันทีว่าตัวเองจะต้องทำโปรเจ็คต์ถ่ายภาพที่นี่ ตอนนั้นผมอยู่เมืองไทยมา 2 ปีแล้ว แต่ไม่เคยเห็นที่ไหนเหมือนที่รามมาก่อน

Luke, in what way is Ramkhamheang University different from other educational institutions of its caliber, Thai or western?

It’s different from other Thai universities in that they allow anyone to access a higher-education. Ram did away with the entrance exam requirement, doesn’t require you to go full-time, doesn’t check attendance, and doesn’t grade your homework. I don’t think that the coursework is the hardest in the kingdom, but it’s one of the few places where students have to take full responsibility for their own studies. If you don’t go to class or pass in the homework, there’s no teacher who is going to be hounding you to get your butt in gear. There is homework which is collected and graded, but your final grade for the class is based solely on the final exam. It is for this reason that Ram graduates are known to be hard-working and self-motivated.

The fact that there is no entrance exam does have the downside in that popular classes can be very crowded. This is especially true for kids majoring in English or Law. Fortunately, there are few people interested in subjects like “Ancient Northern Thai Writing Systems”, so I often find myself in a class where I sit at the same table as the professor and two or three other students.

In comparing Ram’s system of education with my experience in USA, I do see stark differences in the way the student / teacher relationship impacts studies. Teachers in this country are put up on a pedestal, which means that students are often afraid to engage in debate with their professor. I do see evidence that this is changing, perhaps as a result of teachers first studying abroad and then forcing Thai students to engage in debate that is so common in the West. Unfortunately this still has a lot way to go. I was in a composition class where attendance dropped from 30 to around 4 once we were required to grade our fellow student’s essays in front of the whole class.

You are obviously impressed with Ramkhamheang. If you had chosen a different school, do you feel that the opportunity for an exhibition would have materialized?

Well … not sure that I can definitively answer that :) I will say that Ram spoke to me on many different levels. The large classrooms speak to an effort to bring higher-education to a growing population, and to help people better their lives and have more opportunity. The smaller classrooms show Ram’s commitment to offering a wide range of classes, even obscure subjects that have two or three students. There is a series of new buildings being finished, which may mean that some of the more run-down buildings will eventually be torn down. I hope that this project serves as a record of them for future generations of students.

How did you prepare for your RAM studies?

I said above that there is no entrance requirement, but this isn’t true for foreign students (there are approximately 20 foreigners in the non-international program at Ram: one Korean, one Australian, one Cambodian and lots from Laos). There is a language-proficiency exam that all foreigners are required to take before starting classes. Honestly though, I don’t think the exam is a good metric of university-level language skills. In stark contrast to my TH101 final exam, I found the entrance exam ridiculously easy. The government P6 exam I took after a year of studies or so was much harder than the Ram entrance exam.

Before sitting for the entrance exam, I spent about a year and a half studying with private teachers. I would meet with a teacher for ~10 hours per week and then spend at least that much time memorizing vocabulary and sentences. My first year here, I forced myself to socialize with Thais almost exclusively and told them to just speak Thai in front of me and not worry if I understood it or not. Now I have a circle of friends that includes foreigners, but that first year I stayed far away.

Luke Cassady-Dorion RAM

Luke Cassady-Dorion the photographer…

I’ve taken thousands of photos of Bangkok, but I’ve never seen the inside of a whole lot of classrooms. Luke has.

So many people experience a sheltered version of Bangkok, not venturing past the reach of the Sky Train or a few polished tourist attractions. I wanted to show how the city is really used, specifically the parts used by the populace as they go about trying to better their lives through education.

หลายคนคิดว่ากรุงเทพฯ มีแค่รถไฟฟ้าและแหล่งท่องเที่ยวหรูๆ ผมอยากจะถ่ายทอดผ่านภาพถ่ายให้ทุกคนเห็นว่า จริงๆ แล้วผู้คนอาศัยอยู่ในเมืองแห่งนี้อย่างไร โดยเฉพาะย่านที่เต็มไปด้วยประชากรที่กำลังดิ้นรนเพื่อชีวิตที่ดีขึ้นผ่านกา ศึกษา

Luke, how do you find your subject matter? Are the majority of your photos from the university you attend, or do you go in search of the perfect shot elsewhere too?

With each of the four shows that I’ve had in Bangkok (including this one), the subject matter found me. Once I knew that I was going to do this project about Ram, I spent many days walking around the campus with my camera and tripod. I am indebted to Ram’s public relation’s department and specifically a woman named P’Lanna who supported this project from the beginning. P’Lanna opened many doors for me at the university, getting me into places which would have been otherwise hard to access.

My next project about Thailand’s linguistic landscape will require a different approach. I’m going to have to do a lot more research into finding subjects, as well as travel to meet them.

What camera and lens do you use? Do you have a favourite all around lens?

As you can see from the photo that you used in the banner, I have WAY too many cameras. I shot these with a Yashica 124G which has a top-down viewfinder. It takes a bit of practice to learn how to use it properly, but has the advantage of not looking like what people consider to be a camera. I found that people were wont to ignore me as they didn’t really know what I was doing. I recently bought a Mamiya 7, which is a beautiful camera; I will use it for my next project.

I like using medium-format film, as I feel that it forces me to be selective about my pictures, and to put time and energy into setting things up before pressing the shutter button. Plus the quality of print you can get from a medium-format negative is hard to pull off with a digital camera (well … unless you have 10K USD).

How did you get into photography?

It started back in high school, but then when I got busy with university and then work, I stopped shooting entirely. For years, I stopped making art, but did continue collecting works and going to museums. I think there are two reasons that I started shooting again when I moved to Bangkok. Part of it was having more free time (and drinking less that I did in California). In addition, I am suspicious that the visual part of my brain was reactivated once I started to study languages with different alphabets. First the Devanagari (Sanskrit) and then the Thai alphabet forced me to associate new shapes with sounds, carving out a new visual pathway in my brain.

Which photographers inspired you?

Without a question, the book that most inspired me is Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces. I was blown away when I saw how he could take the most ordinary thing and take a beautiful photograph of it. I tried to do the same thing at Ram. To show that even though many of the classrooms look old and beat-up, there is a certain beauty to them.

A book I picked up this past Christmas is Mitch Epstein’s American Power. It documents the way in which people view “power” in the United States. Mitch wrote a fascinating essay to accompany the book where he talked about being chased out of towns for photographing power stations, even though it wasn’t against the law.

I am also a huge fan of Manit Sriwanichpooom who runs Kathmandu gallery where I will be showing next. His work constantly pushes the envelope, causing people to reconsider where they stand on important political and social issues.

In addition to studying a Bachelor’s degree in a foreign language and working on your photography projects, you also work as a Yoga teacher and are writing a book. How do you find time for everything?

555 …. A friend of mine calls me the gay Tasmanian devil because I’m always running around doing a billion different projects. I’m glad that you brought up the Yoga, as I feel that it is the foundation that supports all of my other projects. I’ve been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for almost 12 years now. And I’m presently on a work visa to teach at Absolute Yoga. When I was writing computer software all day long, I realized that even on days when I hated my job that I could deal with those feelings much better when I was practicing Ashtanga.

Focusing your energy on a variety of projects requires a healthy body and a mind that isn’t easily distracted, two things that I’ve developed (slowly) though this practice. The book I’m writing, tentatively titled After the Inhale, traces my life over the past fifteen years and the way in which it has changed as a result of the Ashtanga. How I stopped caring about making piles of money and buying lots of things, how I learned the importance of breathing deeply and creating a lifestyle which leaves time for personal interests and hobbies. I’m writing it in Thai (with lots of editorial help from a friend) as I think it’s a story which will be helpful to people in this country.

Luke Cassady-Dorion RAM

A photo exhibition by Luke Cassady-Dorion…

On the 5th of June, RAM, Luke’s fourth photography exhibit in the kingdom, will be open to the public. The opening party of June 5th from 6:30-9:30pm is a great opportunity to discuss the work with him in person.

RAM: A photo exhibition by Luke Cassady-Dorion
5 June – 30 July 2010 | 11 AM to 7 PM (closed Mondays)
Kathmandu Photo Gallery

For more details: Goldenland Polygot
Oo WLT: Luke with Farang Pok Pok

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Interviewing Anothai Dara: Lakorn Fansubber

AnothaiDara Lakorn Fansubber

Learning Thai with translated lakorn videos..

If you are serious about learning Thai, you probably search out every available avenue for getting the rhythm of the language into your heart, your head, down to the tapping of your fingers even. To assist, Thai songs are a great way to go, as are lakorn’s.

Dedicated, professional, and driven, Anothai Dara is one of the most popular lakorn fansubbers I know.

Wantagan (Chompoo) returns home to Thailand from America after her father passes away. She knows that her father was swindled, slandered, and murdered. She just needs to prove it. Her twin sister, Tienwan (Chompoo), also suspects the same, but is too afraid to vindicate herself. She is Natin’s (Chai) long time girlfriend and does not believe he or his family would betray them. Wantagan, on the other hand, is determined to uncover the truth at all costs and leaves no one out as a possible suspect…

If soap operas are not your thing, Anothai Dara also has a growing collection of translated songs that include Thai script, transliteration, and English. Here’s the latest one: Bodyslam – Naliga Tai [Dead Watch].

I’ve always been interested about the process of subbing YouTube videos, so I contacted Anothai Dara for an interview…

Interviewing Anothai Dara, a lakorn fansubber…

Could you please tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born and raised in the U.S. and English is actually my primary language. I learned Thai mostly through my grandmother, so I understand it better than I can speak it. That’s also why I’m able to translate from Thai to English just fine, but translating from English to Thai is a bit more difficult for me. I have a BS degree in Mathematics and Chemistry.

What is a lakorn?

A lakorn is a Thai play or drama series, which usually consists of the pra’nangs (hero and heroine) and the nang’raai (female antagonist). There’s usually a birth secret or some sort of inheritance revelation, but usually end happily with our pra’nangs confessing their love for each other on a beach. Of course, those are just lakorn clichés, and there are plenty more, but listing them all would probably require its own article. LOL.

How did you get into translating YouTube videos?

Initially, I’d wanted to translate/sub Thai music because I thought it’d be a great way to share some of my favorite Thai songs with everyone. Then naively, I thought, “How hard could translating lakorns be?” You see, I’d always admired and have been impressed with fansubbers of other countries (i.e. Korea) and especially of Chobling and wishboniko (Thai fansubbers), who I think started the whole lakorn subbing. However, you’ll see how wrong I was about the whole subbing process as I explain it below.

What is the process? How long does it take?

Subbing dramas/movies consists of 5 steps; translating, timing, editing, spot translating and hardsubbing/encoding. (The last step is actually optional, but a must for me since I post my work on YouTube.) Also, before I can even start the subbing process, I have to rip and convert the DVD files into individual episodes.

Translation & Timing: Here’s where the fun begins. I go through what I call a rough draft of translations and timing. It’s basically what it sounds like. I run through a “quick” translation and save unclear spots for later. Timing is where the subtitles are timed to display in sync with the actually spoken dialogue in the video. This takes about 2 to 4 hours for a 1 hour episode.

Editing: Here, I check for any grammatical or translation errors and check that the translations themselves make sense. I also make sure that the timing has been set correctly and that everything runs fluidly. This part can take another 2 to 4 hours.

Spot Translations: Even post editing doesn’t mean that I’m done. Sometimes, there are spots in the video that are either hard to hear, discern or refer to something I am unfamiliar with. Here is where I fill them in to the best of my ability. This part can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. It really depends on how many spots there are to fill and how difficult each one is. This can end up being more painful and strenuous than the initial translations itself.

Hardsubbing/Encoding: Hardsubbing is where the subs are encoded into the video so that they’re permanently embedded into the video.

All in all, subbing a 1 hour episode takes an average of 6 to 8 hours, but has taken longer. Subbing songs isn’t nearly as arduous, but still requires the same care. In Thai (and in many other languages), pronouns are often always unstated and even when they are stated explicitly, they can be rather vague. Take for instance; the third person reference “kao”, which means “he”, “she”, or “they”. This is the reason why I emphasize that my translations aren’t direct translations, but rather, interpretations.

You are teamed up with another fansubber. How is the work shared out?

I’ve been blessed in having a wonderful subbing partner, Chobling. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work alongside someone whose flawless work I’ve always admired. Since there are only two of us in our joint projects, we don’t feel the need to explicitly credit each other for the individual work we put forth. Having a partner is great and alleviates much of subbing angst that can build up. Also, it allows us both extra personal time, which is the icing on the cake.

How do you choose which video or song to do next?

Ever since I started subbing, I haven’t listened to Thai music the same way. I have a (bad?) habit of translating songs in my head while listening to them. The reasons behind my subbing selection vary tremendously. At times, it could just be a line that strikes a chord, while at other times, the song holds personal meaning. About 25% of the songs I’ve subbed were requests, so they might not have had anything to do with me at all.

How do you handle critics?

I’ve had my share of criticism. I realize that putting my work on the internet poses vulnerability to judgment. Some people dislike my non-literal style of translating while others think I’m too literal. I know, I can’t please everyone. I can only try my best and be content in that. On a different note, I do appreciate constructive criticism; not the ones that attack just to be hurtful. I’m always up for learning and improving because there’s always room for that.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to try their hand at translating Thai songs or movies?

While subbing songs doesn’t require any form of commitment, I’d say translate each one with a bit of passion. Here’s your opportunity to express yourself through your song interpretation. Make it your own, but respect the artist’s intentions.

As for subbing lakorns, make sure you’re ready to eat, sleep, and breathe it for the next few months. Well, at least love it enough to be motivated and inspired to sub it to the very end. There’s a sense of responsibility to bear in mind.

The demands and pressure may get overwhelming at times, but the reward is well worth it.

Good luck.

Anothai Dara,
Anothai Dara | Twitter: @AnothaiDara

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Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part Two

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Interview with polyglot Stu Jay Raj…

Heads-up everyone: This post is a continuation of Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part One.
Stu, with Cracking Thai Fundamentals and Mnidcraft, you’ve taught the Thai language to expats for some time. In your experience, which learning difficulties are the most common?

The writing system always stands as one of the biggest mental barriers for learners of Thai. Many people say ‘I just want to learn to speak Thai, I don’t need to learn to read or write’. I really believe that embarking on learning Thai with this attitude is shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve even started. The Thai writing system is based on a very logical system that’s actually a map of the human mouth. People shouldn’t count consonants and vowels and use that as a measuring stick for how hard a language is to learn.

The first thing you learn when you learn Mandarin is Hanyu Pinyin – the Romanized sound system. Luckily for Mandarin, Hanyu Pinyin was put together by linguists who knew what they were doing and can be used very accurately to produce the sounds in Mandarin. 

Unfortunately for Thai, although there are many transliteration systems, the best ones I have seen are based on the IPA phonetic symbols. I notice with other Roman systems, unless you’re a linguist, learners’ mother tongue’s interpretations of roman letters filter the sounds when they’re reading the Thai words. The result, confused looks on Thai people’s faces and frustration from the learner when they think they’re saying the right thing but aren’t understood.

Investing a little bit of time getting a solid foundation when it comes to pronunciation and the sound system – and the writing system as an extension of that, will help you avoid hitting that ‘glass ceiling’ that many learners of Thai hit when they realize that they need to ‘unlearn’ a whole lot of language that has now already been embedded into their muscle memory.

How do you address these learning difficulties?

I tried to develop a system that enabled learners to spend a short time in learning the sound system and writing system in a fun way and kept it in the long term memory. That’s where Cracking Thai Fundamentals came from. You can see some examples of how I’ve done this in my blog, or on my youtube channel. Here’s an example:

With these two clips, most people can learn most of the Thai vowels in around 20mins to half an hour.

If you could pick five books from your librarything to help learners of the Thai language, what would they be, and why?

That only has a small portion of my books.

I would recommend:

  • A Dictionary of English Thai Idioms – Ted Strehlow
  • From Ancient Languages to Modern Dialects – Marvin J Brown
  • Any one of Andrew Biggs’ books – written in Thai, are a great starting point to reading Thai. The stories he speaks about are normally easily understood by ‘farang’, so will carry you through language you don’t know. Start with a couple of lines. Move on to a paragraph. Within a couple of weeks, your reading speed will really start to pick up.
  • Teach Yourself Thai – David Smyth
  • ทะลึ่ง – ‘Thaleung’ – Series of books covering Thai risqué jokes and short stories. Most stories are only a paragraph or two and in most cases, the picture tells it all. Reading through it, you will start to appreciate Thai humour, see a lot of idioms and slang being used and get out of the normal ‘farang’ vocabulary that Thais think that farang have to use – as opposed to what’s really used.

What other books should beginner to intermediate learners of the Thai language read?

Everything and anything. There are some really great books and many extremely crappy ones. I’m yet to find a book that I can’t learn something from. 

More than just reading books, I highly recommend learning to type in Thai from the get-go and get into blogs, web boards, MSN, facebook and anything else online that lets you interact with Thais in ‘everyday’ Thai language. The best thing about Thai on the internet is that it’s phonetic and is written to represent the way it’s really pronounced. You can ‘read’ someone’s mood / accent by how they’ve written.

Your Cracking Thai Fundamentals course is hilarious fun. Could we please get an overview?

Here is the blurb taken from one of the brochures:

This course is suited to anyone who has just arrived in Thailand and wants to start off on the right foot or for anyone who has lived in Thailand for a long time but their knowledge of Thai sounds like a clumsy shoe falling down the stairs.

Stuart Jay Raj has built up a reputation in Thailand for teaching the Thai language and culture to the expatriate community since 2000. When it comes to languages, take our word for it…this guy knows what he is talking about in any of the 13 different languages he can fluently speak, listen, read and write!

Aside developing conversational skills in Thai, other topics the course covers include:

  • Memory techniques and building
  • Building cognitive fluency when speaking Thai – training ourselves to react in Thai without thinking
  • Motivating in the Thai workplace and eliciting the information we really need
  • Using language to build a cross cultural rapport in the workplace
  • Street Thai vs. Formal Thai / what to say, when to say it and who to say it with
  • Expressing yourself in Thai to get the right reaction
  • Understanding and Using Thai humor to reach to the heart.

Learning with Stuart Raj

Language is an exciting, living, changing and flexible creature that lets us get into the minds of the people who speak it. As expatriates, the value that learning to understand and communicate clearly with locals is priceless – especially in the workplace!

Over 4 x 3 hour sessions you will achieve the following objectives:

  • Develop instinctive natural responses when conversing in Thai without passing through another language
  • Overcome the psychological barrier of learning a tonal language
  • Mastered the entire Thai Consonant System (including tonal classes) – Ideal for People who have learned previously but still have problems remembering symbols and classes – (Using imagery, mnemonics, sign language and 3-D spatial recognition)
  • Learned the entire Thai Vowel System – (using unique hand signs that directly relate to the vowel shapes in the Thai script)
  • Learned the Thai Tonal Rule System – (Using mind-mapping, imagery and story telling)
  • Learned new language learning techniques, including how to recognize and analyze many Sanskrit and Chinese based elements in Thai.

What will attendees learn in your Mnidcraft seminars?

Mnidcraft empowers anyone with a will to succeed to develop the same aptitude for languages and communication as what Stuart Jay Raj possesses based on powerful NLP modeling principles. 

NLP Modeling

NLP modeling is the practice of isolating essential patterns that makes someone successful and duplicating them into others in a way that they are practiced unconsciously.

 Stuart has carefully designed activities where you will not only learn the secrets that have crafted his aptitude for language, but will also have these skills, habits and knowledge embedded within you, breathing new life into your relationship with language!

More than just the ability to learn languages

, developing an aptitude for language is actually just a side effect of the Mnidcraft series. You will also tap into new abilities:

  • Super Memory

  • Perfect Pitch

  • Touch-type in multiple languages including Thai, Sanskrit and Korean

  • Be ‘funny’ across cultures
  • Increase self-esteem in yourself and others
  • Mimic sounds, body language and mannerisms
  • Build instant rapport with people you’ve just met
  • Master tones in Tonal Languages including Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese

  • Solve the Rubik’s Cube
  • Use an Abacus

  • Circular Breathing
  • Morse Code / Sign Language alphabets
  • Speed Reading

  • Simultaneous Interpreting
  • XML and programming fundamentals

What are your tips for learning and retaining new vocabulary?

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.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Stu Jay Raj | stujaystujay’s YouTube Channel

The final section of this three part interview is: Successful Thai Language Learners: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj.

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Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part One

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Interview with polyglot Stu Jay Raj…

When I moved to Bangkok I was fortunate to discover Stu Jay Raj’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals course located at that time on Suk Soi 1. Once a week for ten weeks I’d jump on the MRT to travel into the bowels of Bangkok for an hour of hilarious fun. Fun, because Stu is not only a knowledgeable teacher of the Thai language, but a fabulous entertainer too. And ever since then, I’ve followed Stu’s climbing career.

Stu’s interview on WLT has been a long time coming. Due to his varied background, the interview will be in three installments (and I could have easily asked enough questions for a fourth or even a fifth).

Stu Jay Raj: Accredited Dale Carnegie consultant and trainer; regional advisor, trainer, and lecturer in cross cultural communication; IT developer; simultaneous interpreter, translator and editor; television and audio composer; TV presenter; and polyglot.

Stu, when I first met you, you were fluent in: Speaking, listening, reading and writing with over 13 modern languages; Chinese dialects, Spanish, Indonesian, Thai, Danish and Sign language; plus a working knowledge of more than 15 additionally languages, modern and ancient. Have you added any more languages to your repertoire?

I don’t really like counting languages.  Languages are songs.

It’s like being a musician and being asked “How many songs do you know?” 

There are some songs you ‘know’ – you’ve rehearsed them every day for the past 20 years, you’ve played them in front of packed houses, you can improvise, you know how to pick a dead crowd up with it, you know what parts of the song to listen out for especially when you’re playing with new musicians and you can interpret what other musicians are doing with it. Those kinds of songs become just like another extension of your body. 

Then there are the ones that you ‘know’, but you’d probably need to have the chord chart handy just in case. 

Then there are the songs you ‘know’ – like when you hear them, you know who the composer was, what key it’s in and you could probably get away sitting in on a gig with another band playing it if you had the charts and were watching for the cues.

The ones I like are the songs you ‘don’t know’ – BUT … you can predict what they’re going to sound like.  For example, most ballads you hear playing on the radio or a Karaoke bar deep in the Sois of Sukhumvit will probably fall into one of a handful of ‘formulas’ with some variations here and there. I don’t know how many sappy songs there are out there where the bridge uses the chords ‘IV  – V/IV – IIImin7 – Vimin7 – IImin7 – V7 – I’ or some variation of it.  

If I was sitting in on a gig and didn’t even know the song, as soon as I heard the first couple of chords starting to sound like that formula, I could probably follow through being pretty certain that what I play is going to be a decent fit.

So to make a short answer even longer, and carrying on the analogy of ‘language’ = ‘song’, I’m always learning new songs and even those songs that I’ve played for years and feel like they’re part of me – I always find ways of making them new for me. At home I have thousands of ‘song’ books and everyday am buzzed to go to my collection and learn something new, sometimes about songs that I already know, sometimes about songs by the same composer, sometimes about songs in the same genre and sometimes I try out genres I’ve never really touched before. 

Since doing my TV show last year, I have been traveling all over the place, so I’ve been getting into languages like Tagalog, Turkish, Burmese and Vietnamese.

Your grandfather must be an amazing man. Not only is he a linguist with an extensive passion for history, but he took the time to share his love for languages with his young grandson. Did he use any language learning methods with you?

I can remember when I was about 4 and had the mumps. My grandfather sat with me and would read a book each day with me ‘Italian through pictures’. The book was made up with stick figure pictures and slowly building up functional vocabulary and structures. That book became part of me. Later on, if we were ever out, he would stand and point up at the birds just like the pictures. I would say just like in the book – “Gli uccelli sono là” (The birds are over there).

He also had sets of Japanese Kanji cards that we used to go through. He taught me all the different components of characters – the radicals and the other meaningful particles and we would have compete to see who could find them in the Kanji dictionary first.

He taught me all different memory techniques and we would use them to remember wordlists in English and other languages, memorize lists of numbers, calculate what day of the week any given date was, convert decimal to binary to hex, send messages to each other in Morse-code, build electric circuits from schematics, listen to shortwave radio broadcasts, taught me to touch-type at the age of around four and many other things that stimulated and bridged the senses.

He would play with words with me and we would make new meanings up by making ‘nonsense words’ with roots and affixes that only we knew what they meant.

I believe that all of these things had an impact on my ability to learn languages.

The combination of multiple language skills and training with the Dale Carnegie method must pack a punch when it comes to cross cultural communication. What is your advice for anyone going the same route?

Falling into Dale Carnegie was one of those unintentional happenings of fate.  It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Many of the things learned in Dale Carnegie were similar to what my grandfather had taught me and there were many other things that NO-ONE had ever taught me … but I needed to learn. The great thing about Dale Carnegie is that it teaches you to focus and build on the positive.

It took years just to be accredited to train a single programme. Being in training rooms day in day out during that time and learning under some amazing master trainers was an amazing experience. 

The one main thing that my time with Dale Carnegie taught me was the value of ‘people’. You might have a slew of letters after your name, but if you’re not good with people, the benefit you bring to an organization is very limited and can even be a liability. If you’re not a people person, you better be pretty damn good at what you do. 

When I came out of Dale Carnegie and started my own consultancy, I realized a potency of the synergies that language, cultural understanding and people skills brought. Companies, governments, UN agencies and NGO’s have also realized the potency of this and over the past ten years, many of them have trained me up to a level of competency in their industries and send me out to work with their people and be a conduit between local team members in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, India and other countries in Asia and executive management.

Advice for people taking the same route? Language + Hard-skills + People Skills = Higher ROI than just Language + People Skills. 

After interviewing Miss Indonesia 2005 (Artika Sari Dewi), you landed the envious job of linguist for the yearly Miss Universe pageants. Has it changed the direction of your life in any way?

Being part of the official Miss Universe interpreting team since 2005 has been one of the most amazing and life changing experiences. Each year I have the pleasure to travel to some of the most amazing places on the planet (this last year we were at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas) and rub shoulders with some of the world’s most amazing, influential and gorgeous people. Most of all, I get to spend time with one of the most amazing, talented group of linguistically inclined people on the planet. Most of the interpreting team are polyglots and all have amazing life stories. Some are of royal stock, some have become extremely successful after escaping war and hardship in their home countries. In 2008 when we were in Nha Trang, the Vietnamese interpreter went back to her home village in Nha Trang for the first time since escaping from there almost 40 years ago.  

It was that Vietnam event that we first met Lady Gaga. Most of us were wondering who she was. When she performed though, it became apparent that she would be the next ‘big thing’. Within months, she was topping the charts all over the world.

Miss Universe is an amazing cosmos to learn from. People who think it’s just about looks and ‘world peace’ are missing the bigger picture. It’s business. It’s marketing. It’s people.

It’s taught me once again that the ability to understand and build a rapport with ‘people’ is one of the most valuable assets anyone can have. With each pageant comes a whole new set of friends each year – from production crew to event organizers and contestants. After all these years we’re still close and I have had the opportunity to meet up with them again on my travels.

When I saw your new TV show, Nuea Chan Phan Plaek’ เหนือชั้น1000 แปลก, I couldn’t think of any other theme that would be as tailor-made for your linguistic talents. How did it come about? Did you put forward a proposal, or did they come to you?

A couple of years back I was asked to be a guest on the Thai talk-show ‘เจาะใจ’ (Joh Jai) to speak about languages. I had a blast doing the show and when the clips hit youtube, they ended up getting 100’s of 1,000’s of hits. I started to receive emails everyday from people all over the world who said that it inspired them to learn languages and aspire to become a polyglot. 

In 2009 one of the producers from JSL called me in and asked me to do a short test-shoot for a new programme that they were looking at producing. 

Things went well and I landed one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I was paid to fly around the world and hunt down stories on the most amazing, extraordinary and bizarre people, places and things on the planet.

On a Thai language note, the title of the show is interesting.  It was originally going to be called เหนือชั้น ขั้นเทพ ‘Neua Chan Khan Thep’ – ขั้นเทพ is a popular idiom that’s been in my opinion overused over the past couple of years in Thailand especially by the younger generation meaning ‘ guru’ or ‘master’. I think they were worried that using that word set the expectations bar too high for the show, so changed it to a play on words – ‘เหนือชั้น 1000 แปลก’. Here’s a breakdown of what it means:

เหนือ – ‘above’
ชั้น – ‘standard’ ‘class’ ‘level’
เหนือชั้น – ‘Above par’ or ‘extraordinary’

1000 แปลก is a play on words in that the number ‘1000’ is pronounced พัน ‘phan’. This is the same pronunciation as the Sanskrit based word for ‘species’ – พันธ์.  So when you hear the words 1000 แปลก, it could be interpreted as ‘1000’s of weird / strange things’ OR ‘strange species’.

The season finished at the end of the year, but I’m looking forward to doing more production work in 2010 hopefully targeted at the English speaking world this time.

Are you still performing with the ROL Jazz Trio in Bangkok?

Sadly not anymore. Since our bassist Kenro Oshidari was posted to Sudan a couple of years back, the ROL trio had to go on hiatus. Kenro is back in Bangkok now and all of us are keen to play, but now I have just moved my family to Australia. I fly back and forth, but aren’t in town enough to commit to playing. 

Playing jazz is an amazing outlet to maintain one’s sanity. You really notice the difference not playing each week. One thing I loved about our trio was that we would rehearse every week at Kenro’s place and in the 8 or so years that we played together, never had one fight or serious disagreement. For musicians, this is an amazing feat! We would record most weeks we played and listen to what we did in each gig to try and work out what we could build on and what needed to improve. I think this is a great principle to take through life.

What are you up to these days?

Just a couple of weeks ago, I moved my family over to Australia so that my kids could learn English and have a chance at a ‘non-Thai’ education over there.

I still travel back and forth in the region, but at the moment I’m trying to give some time back to the kids after having traveled up to 20 days out of each month for most of last year.

I am looking at partnering with an outfit working in the region in a few months and continue to provide solutions to the Oil and Gas industry. I’m also working on several production projects that will be airing in Asia and beyond.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I want to be the person that helped make ‘language’ and ‘using your brain’ sexy. Doing what I do combining multiple languages and cross cultural communication / training is a terrible business model in that you can’t cookie cut it that easily.

Leveraging through being in the media is one solution that I want to invest more time in over the next year. I’ll continue to build on my brand and continue to affiliate myself with organizations and people that support the same vision.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Stu Jay Raj | stujaystujay’s YouTube Channel

Next up: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part Two.

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Expat Interview: Jonas Anderson and Christy Gibson

Jonas Anderson and Christy Gibson

Jonas & Christy and Thailand’s ลูกทุ่ง (lôok tôong)…

In WLT’s Successful Thai Language Learners series, those interviewed began studying the Thai language in their twenties and older.

Jonas and Christy came into the Thai language scene quite a bit younger.

Jonas Anderson (Swedish-British) moved to Thailand when he was 9 years old. Christy Gibson (Dutch-British) arrived at the age of 6 years. Since then, they’ve been busy integrating into the Thai culture.

Early on, both Jonas and Christy discovered a passion for singing. By their teens, they were performing together. Then, when a friend requested a ลูกทุ่ง (lôok tôong) song, the response from the audience was so appreciative that they decided to learn the intricacies of Thailand’s country music.

Christy: As I grew to understand lookthung better, I realized just how deep-rooted the music is in the context of Thai culture. The sense of the Thai heritage is so strong. It’s so totally Thai, and I believe that for every Thai, whether they know it or not, this music flows through their veins. It is very beautiful and it must be preserved. Lookthung comes from the heart. To sing it well, you have to feel it.

I went through a Country Western stage in my late teens, so I slid easily into the rhythm of Thailand’s ลูกทุ่ง. But as ลูกทุ่ง was a total mystery to me, I needed to know more …

Rough Guide: According to luk thung DJ Jenpope Jobkrabunwan, the term was first coined by Jamnong Rangsitkuhn in 1962, but the first song in the style was Oh Jow Sow Chao Rai (Oh, the Vegetable Grower’s Bride), recorded in 1937, and the genre’s first big singer, Kamrot Samboonanon, emerged in the mid-1940s.

Originally called pleng talat (market songs) or pleng chiwit (songs of life), the style blended together folk songs (pleng phuan bahn เพลง พื้น บ้าน), central Thai classical music and Thai folk dances (ram wong).

Malay strings and fiddles were added in the 1950s, as were Latin brass and rhythms like the cha-cha-cha and mambo (Asian tours by Xavier Cugat influenced many Asian pop styles during the 1950s), as well as elements from Hollywood movie music and “yodelling” country and western vocal styles from the likes of Gene Autry and Hank Williams.

And while Wikipedia does have its ups and downs, this snippet adds to the history of it all…

Wikipedia: Luk Thung (Thai: ลูกทุ่ง; lit. “child/children of the fields”) refers to the most popular form of a style of music found in Thailand. The term is short for pleng luk thung (Thai: เพลงลูกทุ่ง; lit. “song of a child of the fields”). Luk Thung songs typically reflect the hardship of everyday life among the rural poor. Tempos tend to be slow, and singers use an expressive singing style with a lot of vibrato.

It was the mention of vibrato that caught my interest because in order to warble, you need total control of your voice for extended periods. And that is more than I’ve been able to master, for sure.

Rough Guide to the Music of Thailand: It takes a special voice and talent to fully exploit the depth of feeling in a lukthung song. Notes are held, wavered and ornamentation added to drain every last drop of emotion.

And if you’ve been to Thailand, then you too have had the pleasure…

Very Thai: In August 1997, life improved for Bangkok taxi drivers. Cherished cassettes of luuk thung folk music wore thin, they could suddenly tune in round the clock to Luuk Thung FM90. They haven’t yet tuned out. While liquid petroleum gas powers the engine, luuk thung powers the driver.

So the next time you are in a Bangkok taxi, perhaps try some name dropping? โจนัส! คริสตี้! ลูกทุ่ง!

Questions for Jonas and Christy: ลูกทุ่ง and more…

When Jonas and Christy agreed to this interview, I started asking questions of the Thais I met:

Do you know Jonas and Christy? How about their music?

Shop girls, secretaries, pharmacists, and even delivery boys all beamed back…

We love Jonas and Christy! They are great!

And it’s not just the Thais who admire the two performers. I also came across a reference to ลูกทุ่ง on Hugh Leong’s site, Retire to Thailand. When I contacted Hugh about Jonas and Christy, he was chuffed to give me a quote:

I absolutely love Christy. I think she is one of the best Luk Thung singers, including all the Thais. Her Thai is really good and she normally sings in Issan Thai, since that is where Luk Thung music comes from. I know Jonas’s music also and he has a very good pleasant voice. He usually sings humorous, sexy type songs. Both are very well respected. Both my wife and I love their music.

I find Luk Thung the most accessible Thai music for foreigners. The musicians are quite good, the music is very similar to American country music in theme, adultery, getting drunk, etc. And the shows that they put on are lots of fun.

My Thai teacher was also thrilled to hear of the interview…

Thais LOVE them both! Christy is so beautiful! To the Thai people, Jonas and Christy are Thai. The Thai people love them so much, they even held a contest to give Jonas a Thai name.

Jonas & Christy, the interview…

So my first question goes to Jonas – What is your given Thai name? Does it have a special meaning to the Thai people?

Jonas: Soon after launching my first album, the radio station “Wetee Thai” organized an activity with their listeners of picking a Thai name for me. Typically Thai lookthung singers have artist names—names that are catchy and/or rhyming or send a certain message from the artist—usually of endearment.

Fans of the radio station responded by sending in thousands of name proposals. It was fascinating to read through all these names, many of which were very imaginative indeed, so it was hard to pick one name. There were simple names and more elaborate ones, old fashioned and traditional names, and more modern ones. Some interesting entries were for example, “Kwanjai Thailand”, “Sawatdee Sweden”, “Rakthai Jaideow” and so on.

In the end I opted to pick a simple name that sounded somewhat similar to Jonas and is typically Thai—the name “Manas” (Or Manat) which means sincere and truthful—rather than choosing a whole new artist name for myself.

It didn’t stick so well though, and more commonly I am called by an Issan nickname of “Baknat”, other than “Jonat” itself of course.

Christy, you mentioned that there are techniques involved in singing lookthung. Could you please describe them for us?

Christy: I had studied singing and taken formal voice training throughout my childhood and teen years especially and so had a pretty good foundation as far as the basics at least. Most of those general or basic techniques are the same in lookthung as well, but there are also some distinct differences. A key for me has always been respecting the Thai lukthoong singers and looking to them as my teachers and mentors and always striving to learn from them as much as possible.

I do not consider myself an expert by any means and I’m still constantly discovering new things, so this will be my meager attempt at describing some of the basic techniques that I have learned and am learning still.

One thing about lukthoong is that the singing style is extremely expressive. My first lukthoong teacher said to me frequently in the beginning that “ต้องได้อารมณ์ของเนื้อเพลง (dtong dai arom kohng neua pleng)”… “you must capture the feeling of the lyrics of the song”. Of course that’s true of all singing in pretty much any language, but as a foreigner I found this much more difficult to do when singing in Thai, as it’s not my first language.

The lyrics of lukthoong songs, particularly the older and more classic ones, are very beautiful and poetic and are often not in what you would call “spoken Thai”. Thus it was a challenge for me to be able to really capture the essence and feeling of what was being said.

Many Thai lukthoong singers are incredibly good at this, and listening to their recordings and live singing, as well as asking them to help teach me and correct my singing helped me a great deal. Also I’d had the unique opportunity of spending a number of years growing up as a child in upcountry Thailand and being in a very distinctly Thai environment—the rice fields, the markets, the rural villages and country life, our Thai neighbors and friends, all the things that are typically part of those surroundings. This was the time to draw upon those experiences and translate them into the feelings that are carried in this beautiful music genre.

The tones of the words in the songs also direct the melody to a very large degree (and this applies to all Thai singing, but especially Lukthoong and Mohlum because of the fact that it is quite traditional in nature and thus the Kru Pleng (teachers) are, thankfully, generally very strict in regards to using correct pronunciation). Naturally, that is the case as Thai is a tonal language, but it is, obviously, very different from singing in English where you can improvise quite a bit so long as you are singing on key and within the chords, etc. That only works in Thai so long as you are improvising within the tones of a given word.

Vibrato or ลูกคอ (look-koh) is also used differently in lukthoong; often slower and much more pronounced. Proper and skillful usage of the ลูกคอ is a major characteristic of the vocals in lukthoong.

Another important feature of singing lukthoong is the ลูกเอื้อน (look-euan). It’s the lukthoong vocal improvisation and inflections, or what I like to call “vocal acrobatics”, usually using the legato technique, and can be used in various ways all throughout a song, particularly at—though not limited to—the end of a line or sentence. This is another thing that Thai lukthoong singers do so very beautifully (sigh).

With mohlum particularly, you also have to learn to move pretty quickly between the notes within the mohlum scale and you have to be able to sing a number of syllables in a row very quickly. I had to really work on my staccato when I started singing mohlum. Thai Mohlum singers can do incredible things with their voices and there are some sounds I never knew were possible to make with the human voice until I started learning mohlum!

There’s a lot more to both lukthoong and mohlum than that, of course, and they are both pretty big subjects in themselves, but these are just a few of the perhaps more prominent examples. Again, let me reiterate that I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m also much more used to talking about this particular subject matter in Thai. Describing it in English is always fun, but a bit of a challenge.☺

When I was growing up, I was sent to voice lessons where I was put through the grueling (and slightly embarrassing) mo mo mo me me me’s. While the lessons were meant to prepare my voice for singing ordinary songs, ลูกทุ่ง is known as being extremely difficult to master. So, what special training did you both go through?

Jonas: I had previous voice training under an Australian teacher/musician for basic technique and control (which included standard voice warm-ups as well). That basic training helps with any form of singing because it strengthens your voice and improves tone and pitch, but yes, learning lookthung was entirely different in terms of style and delivery.

In basic terms a principle with lookthung is to sing with a full voice and not in the breathy style often popular with pop songs. But being able to truly sing lookthung is of course much more complex than that. We were particularly lucky to receive training under a lookthung teacher who is himself an excellent singer and contemporary of some of the masters of lookthung such as “Sayan Sanya” (sometimes referred to as the “King of Lookthung”).

Despite having grown up in Thailand, I would say my musical influences growing up were much more Western than Thai, so going into lookthung involved quite a shift conceptually as well as in practice. Coming from that different frame of reference musically made having techniques explained to me hard to understand versus actually hearing the singing and trying to copy it. Being trained under Kru Wilai Panom or “Kru Pod” was like a vocal apprenticeship program of learning by doing, and a lot of trial and error. I had an intensive musical course with Kru Pod for a full month before actually going in to the studio to record my first album.

Christy: Yes, I was put through the mo mo mo me me me’s as well…so I feel for you, Catherine, ☺ but again, I really believe that all that basic training helped me a great deal. Having had that musical background definitely made a difference to me when first starting to learn lukthoong and mohlum.

Jonas described pretty well there what we both went through so I won’t repeat it all here. I too was initially trained by Kru Wilai Panom for the lukthoong songs, and Kru Doi Inthanon for the mohlum songs.

Mohlum in particular is a very difficult genre to sing. The note transitions and chord changes in mohlum were not at all predictable to me from my western musical experience and training, so just that, along with the difference in the scales, took getting used to.

In the beginning I had to actually draw on my lyric sheets the sounds and inflections and ups and downs of the notes. So my papers were always full of squiggles and lines and curves and arrows and steps going up and down all over the place. I was the only one who could understand them, but it worked for me! These song sheets were even featured in a number of TV shows that we were interviewed on—I don’t think the Thais had ever seen anything of the sort before :)

Other than that it was a lot of homework too. I spent hours and hours every day for months working as hard as I could to learn how to do those “vocal acrobatics” that the Thai lukthoong and mohlum singers seem to do so effortlessly. And that was just the initial process. From that day to this, every new album and song has been a learning experience for me.

What ลูกทุ่ง and หมอลำ (mŏr lam) performers have inspired you?

Jonas: Rather than any particular individual, I would say that I am inspired by all of the talented Thai lookthung and mohlam artists I have come in contact with, and in many cases had the privilege of meeting personally.

Personally I am inspired by any talented lookthung singers, many of whom may never have had the chance to become famous, but who I consider to be experts nonetheless. I feel that there are so many Thai singers who I can learn from. They are all my teachers.

Christy: I would say the same, and I’ve always tried to listen to many different lukthoong and mohlum singers and learn as much from each of them as I can. I do have some in particular though who I have been particularly inspired by and love, such as Banyen Rahk Gaen, Siripon Ampaipong, Sunaree Ratchasima, and Poompooang Dooang Jun, to name a few.

Were you influenced by any other expat singers of Thai music? For instance, Henry, who performed ลิเก (lí-gày)? Do you trade tips and techniques with other farang musicians specialising in Thai music?

Jonas: From time to time, some people have drawn comparisons between Henry and me of course as there aren’t all that many farangs out there on the lukthoong music circuit. ☺ But unfortunately I never had the chance to meet him or watch him perform. I believe he passed away before I started singing lookthung.

Todd Tongdee is a good friend I have met on numerous occasions. He is a talented performer with a great rapport with the audience. On a professional level I would say that our meeting point is more just as farangs singing Thai and the whole experience of being non-Thai performers, but our actual musical styles differ a whole lot, so there has not been so much exchange on that level.

One of my favourite ลูกทุ่ง songs is Ramwong Dao Dao. And I find the interchange between the two of you with บ้านนี้ฉันรัก Bahn Nee Chan Rak (Jonas) and บ้านนี้ฉันเกลียด Bahn Nee Chan Gliat (Christy) so very fun! What are your favourite ลูกทุ่ง songs?

Jonas: I guess that would depend on if I should say which of my songs is my favorite or which is my favorite in general. Ha!

There are some timeless lookthung classics that I feel epitomize what is lookthung both in style and meaning. One such song is Monrak Lookthung. That song represents the whole lookthung spirit to me, and I would say that it is the definitive lookthung theme song. Another favorite is “Long Ruea Hah Rak” by one of the all-time greats who sadly just passed away—Yotrak Salakjai. I also love the romantic song “Kit Tueng Pee Mai
. There are many more recent lookthung songs which I would say are destined to have timeless appeal—songs like “Gin Kao Rue Yang” by Tai Orathai, or “Jai Sarapap” by Got Jakrapan, and “Krapow Baen Faen Ting” by Ekarat Suvarnabhumi who is one of the greatest current lookthung artists in my opinion.

Personally I feel so privileged to have had the chance to sing many fantastic lookthung songs new and old. Most of the albums I have done have been of classic songs redone, as is the case with the songs you mentioned above. One classic song I had the opportunity to sing was “Mon Mueang Nuea”. That song beautifully portrays the enchanting north of Thailand.

However, as time passes and different albums are produced I feel that I am constantly learning more about lookthung and that I can “feel it” more. I would say that my current favorite is from our most recent album; it’s a song called Mai Pen Rai. The words of the song are simple but heartfelt and the song is very “real”, as lookthung songs should be. I feel that the delivery of it came out natural and sincere which is what I was hoping for. The lyrics are well written (by Ajahn Sompong Pbrem-pbree) as well, sending a message of hope despite hardships.

Christy: Thank you, Catherine! I really like Rumwong Dao Dao also and it’s one of the songs that people like us to sing at our concerts as it’s a lot of fun and often gets people up dancing!

As for some of my favorites, well…

I love the song Sao Ubon Roh Ruk (สาวอุบลรอรัก), though I of course prefer the original version of the song to the one that I did on my second album. The song itself is very beautiful and so moving to me somehow and it just feels like I’m in Ubon whenever I hear it.

A few other lukthoong songs I like are Koy Wun Ter Jai Deeo (คอยวันเธอใจเดียว), Rao Roh Kao Leum (เรารอเขาลืม), and Gaew Roh Pee (แก้วรอพี่). Though really, I have too many favorites to name here, and that goes for both lukthoong and mohlum.

Of my own songs, I really like some of the ones on our most recent album, such as Jep Tee Mai Dai Cheun (เจ็บที่ไม่ได้เชิญ) and Maksidah Sao Dtao Tahng Mohlum (หมากสีดาสาวต้าวทางลำ).

Are there any particular temple fairs that you perform at regularly?

Jonas: Temple fairs typically rotate artists quite a lot and there are many temple fairs we have performed at repeatedly. Other than temple fairs though, there have been a number of other venues that we have been invited back to many times—hotels for their yearly Thai festival events, yearly cultural events in various cities throughout the country, etc., etc. These are also quite fun and special occasions for us, as the audiences are very diverse and besides including a wide range of Thais there are also many foreigners in attendance and it is rewarding to have the chance to showcase Thai music and communicate our appreciation of Thailand and its culture to such a diverse audience.

You often appear on Thai TV. Which shows can we expect to find you on?

Jonas: At present we are promoting our latest album and so are appearing on a number of Thai TV shows including “Hah, See, Sahm, Sohng [5-4-3-2] Show” and “Mum Show”, as well as “Choom Tahng Seeang Tohng”. Around January next year we will be appearing individually on the English morning program “English Breakfast” on Thai PBS. I am also due to appear on “Ching Roy Ching Lahn”.

Christy: We will also be performing very soon on the “Lukthoong Toh Toh Boh Hah” program on Channel 5. You can also look out for us on “Talat Sooan Sanam Pbao” and also again on “Weti Thai”. There are a lot more programs coming soon to a TV screen near you :) but these are a few interesting examples. If you watch Thai cable stations such as Hit Station, OK, or Thai Chaiyo, you will see us fairly often.

You are well-known to the Thai people for positively influencing the youth of Thailand to appreciate their Thai culture. How has the Thai culture influenced your lives?

Jonas: I would say that the influence of Thailand and the Thai people in my life is much greater than the other way around. I consider it a privilege to have grown up here learning to adopt many Thai ways.

To me besides the fascinating aspects of Thai art and music, what is most impressive is the genuine friendliness of the Thai people, their gentle mannerisms and eagerness to serve and make people feel welcome. Beyond the exoticness of Thailand, I would say that this is something that draws people to want to return again and again.

Christy: Thai culture has influenced probably just about every aspect of my life. Especially having grown up here from a very young age, there are many facets of the culture that have become a part of me and the way I think and react to things. The Thai culture is so beautiful and multifaceted. I’m still learning and I hope I always will be.

At times foreigners are granted Thai citizenship. Is citizenship in your future?

Jonas: At this point Thai citizenship remains a dream, but it is one that I truly hope would one day come true.

Christy: “Diddo” to Jonas on that one. I’m definitely hoping for it someday. Who knows? Maybe one day it will be a dream come true! Until then, as the song says, “เรารอ…”

Thank you Jonas and Christy, for taking time to answer questions for us. Especially as you’ve been concentrating on getting your latest album out there (congrats, btw!): Jonas Anderson & Kristy Gibson – Jonas & Kristy (โจนัส-คริสตี้ ชุด โจนัส-คริสตี้)

Coming up next: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Jonas and Christy


Resources for ลูกทุ่ง, หมอลำ, and Jonas & Christy…

Facebook: โจนัส คริสตี้ | Jonas and Christy

Wikipedia: ลูกทุ่ง | lôok tôong
Wikipedia: หมอลำ | mŏr lam
Wikipedia: Music of Thailand
Wikipedia: Christy Gibson

มนต์รักเพลงไทย: Enchanting songs of Thailand
Far Side Music: Thailand

The New York Times: A Revival of Authentic Thai Pop

YouTube: Jonas and Kristy – โจนัส คริสตี้ ตัวจริง Presenting Jonas and Christy!
YouTube: Jonas and Kristy – Ramwong Dao Dao
YouTube: Jonas and Kristy – Num Tum Lao Sao Tum Thai
YouTube: Jonas and Kristy – Look Kiam Laeo
YouTube: Jonas and Kristy – Ramwong Sao Bahn Tdae
YouTube: Jonas and Kristy – ป่าลั่น Pah Lan
YouTube: Jonas – สาวบ้านใด๋ Sao Bahn Dai
YouTube: Jonas – ลาวตีเขียด Lao Dtee Kiat
YouTube: Jonas – บ้านนี้ฉันรัก Bahn Nee Chan Rak
YouTube: Kristy – บ้านนี้ฉันเกลียด Bahn Nee Chan Gliat
YouTube: Kristy – สาวเหนือเบือรัก Sao Nuea Buea Rak
YouTube: Kristy – รักคนใส่แว่น Rak Kon Sai Waen
YouTube: Kristy – กุหลาบเวียงพิงค์ Gulahp Wiang Ping

Note: All through this post you might have noticed ลูกทุ่ง (lôok tôong) being spelt in many ways – Luk Thung, lukthung, lok tung, lookthung, etc. I even found a suggestion to google for ‘Look Toon, Luk Tung, Luk Thung, Loog Tung, Look Toong, Loog Toong, Loog Thoong and Loog Thung’.

And I can attest to this – hunting for information about ลูกทุ่ง was fun, but slightly crazy making :-D

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Interview: Benjawan Poomsan Becker

Benjawan Poomsan Becker

Learning Thai with Benjawan…

What do I think of when I hear the name Benjawan Poomsan Becker?

My mind immediately goes to her wide range of Thai learning products: Thai for Beginners, Thai for Intermediate Learners, Thai for Advanced Readers, Practical Thai Conversation 1&2, Speak Like a Thai 1-6, Thai for Lovers, Thai for Gay Tourists, Thai für Anfänger, Thai for Kids, Improving Your Thai Pronunciation, Thai for Travelers Phrase Book, and the Thai-English English-Thai Dictionary.

New out? Benjawan’s Three-way Thai-English Dictionary with Chris Pirazzi, and her Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1 (released this month).

And those are just the products for the Thai language learning market.

I know. Wow.

And as you will soon read in the interview below, there is still more to come.

Benjawan Poomsan Becker Interview

On top of Thai, Lao and Issan, you also know English, Japanese and Spanish. At what age did you discover your talent for languages?

I started learning basic English in grade 5 when I was about 10 years old. Everyone in school was required to learn English at that age and although I excelled in my studies I did not think I had any particular talents in learning languages.

I had a hard time in school with math so I enrolled in the liberal arts curriculum and as a prerequisite I was required/forced to take French when I was 15 years old. I was able to learn French very quickly and it was then that I realized I had a special talent as far as learning and speaking foreign languages was concerned.

What was your path to the Thai language teaching profession?

I didn’t begin teaching the Thai language until I was in college and then only just for fun. I was a student doing my master’s degree in Kobe, Japan and taught part-time at the Japan Thailand Trade Association in Osaka. I liked the experience of inventing ways to help people learn Thai. Although I ended up teaching many Thai classes I found out that I enjoy the process of writing books to teach the Thai language more than the actual teaching in a classroom situation.

What are your favourite Thai language books?

The Principle of Thai Grammar หลักภาษาไทย by กำชัย ทองหล่อ.

Who are your Thai language heroes, and how did they influence the design of your courses?

Thai poet, Sunthornphu สุนทรภู่. I consider him my Thai literary hero and to me he is equal in talent to Shakespeare in his ability to craft the language. Plus he had the extra complication of a tonal language in his rhyming poems. But most foreigners will have a difficult time appreciating his work since it is highly developed Thai poetry.

I don’t believe I was influenced by any language hero for the designs of my Thai language courses, up to now. The poetry of Sunthornphu has inspired me in my development of my latest Thai language learning product, Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1. Writing the lyrics to the songs and working on the melodies with the musicians I can definitely feel that influence from the greatest Thai poet.

What foreign language methods/courses did you study when designing your courses?

I was influenced by the book Basic Japanese (Nihongo No Kiso). I admired their structure, the step-by-step approach and how easy it was to follow. In designing my Thai language learning materials those were some of the main ideas that guided me to developing Thai for Beginners.

On the subject of language methods, what are you thoughts on: roll playing, SRS (flash cards), a crash course, and the natural approach?

Every person learns a language differently and whatever works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Personally I never used flashcards but I know it is a helpful device for many people. And roll playing works well if you have someone to practice with. For me the natural approach is the best.

Your three core books, Thai for Beginners, Thai for Intermediate Learners, and Thai for Advance Readers have different approaches, would you please briefly explain your thought process for each?

I spent a lot of time developing Thai for Beginners, thinking about the structure, what to include in each chapter and how to have each lesson build upon the preceding one.

For the intermediate level book, I was not as concerned about each chapter building on the previous one since the students already have a command of the Thai language. Therefore, each chapter can pretty much stand on its own. I felt that learning more about the Thai culture while learning new language material would be beneficial so I included information on Thai holidays and events.

Thai for Advanced Readers is a collection of essays I wrote about my life and family and is a completely different structure that the first two. I thought using personal essays of my life as a woman growing up in Thailand would make it more interesting to my readers. Consequently, I structured the essays to include more complex vocabulary related to Thai culture and family life, but tried to make them interesting and informative as a reflection of everyday life growing up in Thailand.

As I am struggling to compile a list of the top Thai vocabulary words a learner must know, I am especially interested in how you chose the vocabulary for your Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced Learners courses.

To develop the vocabulary lists in my Thai language books, I imagined what types of interactions people would encounter on their daily excursions in Thailand. I tried to include words that would be useful but also inject some humorous words and words specific to the Thai culture into the list. I would visualize a conversation for each situation and then determine the sentences and words that someone would need to successfully interact in that context.

The advantage of designing Thai for Beginners from the ground up was that it was developed specifically for the Thai language market rather than having been written for one language and then simply translate the vocabulary list into Thai the way some language programs have been developed.

From what I am seeing, Thai For Beginners is especially popular with students and Thai teachers alike. What aspects of the book do you believe makes this so?

Thai for Beginners is uncomplicated, well structured and each chapter builds on the previous chapter. Both students and teachers like an organized, logical approach since it makes their tasks clear. Nothing discourages language learning more than a textbook that is inconsistent and provides confusing direction.

Also, the transliteration system I have developed, which we use in all of our Thai learning materials, is easy to understand, can be learned quickly and is extremely consistent. It doesn’t have to be modified to cover many unusual cases and the students don’t have to learn many “exceptions” to the rules.

I believe these are some of the contributing factors to the popularity of the book. I’m really looking forward to incorporating all the new language learning techniques I have gain since writing the first edition of Thai for Beginners into the second edition.

What gave you the idea to produce so many products for learning Thai? Did one lead to the other, or was a series planned from the beginning?

Everybody learns a language differently. That’s why Paiboon Publishing has developed language books, audio CDs, DVDs, software and now with our new product, Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1, we include songs as a way to learn the Thai language. When I was learning Spanish I used over 20 different books, each provided new insight. No book can teach a student all the aspects of a new language so we provide a variety of ways to learn Thai.

As for the specific product development for our materials, when I wrote Thai for Beginners I had no idea that I would write the intermediate and advanced books. I may have organized them differently if I planned this from the beginning. They just developed organically when it became apparent to me that they were needed by my students.

But now we put more thought into looking at each new product as a potential new series. For our series Speak like a Thai I envisioned about 10 volumes with specific titles before we even started the series. The sequence in which they were eventually released changed and I modified some of the titles and content, but the basic format remains the same as the day we developed the original concept for the series.

What energized you to start your own publishing company, Paiboon Publishing?

My experience is probably similar to many first time writers. I wrote Thai for Beginners and then attempted to get it published. My manuscript was rejected by almost all of the publishing companies I approached. The ones that were interested in publishing my book offered me such low royalty rates I’d never make any money from my book sales.

So I decided to publish my own book and distribute it myself. Fortunately I had some friends that were very knowledgeable and experienced in the publishing business and they tutored and guided through the process. I’m grateful for those early book rejections; otherwise I never would have established Paiboon Publishing.

What can we expect in Paiboon Publishing’s future?

Paiboon Publishing’s future is extremely exciting. We will be coming out with a variety of new products and expanding the types of language learning materials we produce. Soon we will be releasing the digital version of our compact Thai-English dictionary designed for use on PC’s and mobile phone with spoken Thai words. Our Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1 is available now and includes a 94 page explanation booklet along with the 10 song music CD. The DVD music video version of our first music will be out in early 2010.

We have more plans for digital downloads and podcasts of Thai language lessons that will be available from our website and iTunes. Interested students should check our website for announcements of future releases, or get on our mailing email list.

My Thai teacher mentioned that her overall objective for each student is to find what their main obstacles to learning Thai are. What obstacles do you address in your courses?

I have found that one of the biggest obstacles to successfully learning Thai is the ability to read and write the language. Many people learn enough phrases in Thai to communicate well enough to satisfy their basic needs. But to learn Thai effectively you really should be able to read and write it. That’s why my Thai for Beginners includes writing exercises.

Although my transliteration system is well designed and extremely helpful for the beginning student it is only a crutch and should be discarded as soon as possible. If students put the effort to overcome the obstacle of reading and writing Thai, the rewards will be tremendous.

What are the typical mistakes made by students of the Thai language, and what advice can you give?

As you know most students have a problem with tones in the Thai language. Unfortunately, even with the correct word, the incorrect tone will make the word incomprehensible. Learning a little vocabulary with the proper tones is better than having a huge vocabulary pronounced incorrectly. Any method to be more cognoscente of and sensitive to the tone changes will be helpful.

Another common mistake is misplaced words in sentences in using Thai. The proper sequence in Thai for example would be the word “ให้.” เขาไปให้ and เขาให้ไป are different and many Thai learners can’t tell the difference or just make mistakes. For this condition memorization is the solution. A Thai grammar book might be a good future product for Paiboon Publishing.

In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing students of the Thai language?

There are challenges in learning any new language but with enough time, energy and desire most students can overcome them. For Thai the writing is a great challenge, and of course the tones. Mastering the 5 tones also takes practice and determination.

What background do you find more successful for a student learning Thai: A student who has first absorbed the language via audio, tv, radio, living in Thailand; or a student coming in fresh?

I would say that living in Thailand and studying the language would achieve the most success in leaning Thai. Someone can live in Thailand for many years but without a serious effort to learn the language they will never expand beyond the basic conversation level.

Again, each person learns a language differently and listening to songs, the radio and watching TV may be helpful to some. Whatever the method a serious, determined approach to the task is required. One of my favorite online comments about Thai for Beginners is, “This book is totally useless unless you are serious about learning Thai.” That seems to say it all; use whatever works but be consistent and dedicated in your process of learning Thai.

How often do you advise students to study Thai each week, and for how long each time?

I would recommend spending 10 hours a week studying Thai. One to two hours each session from 4 to 6 days a week and the student should definitely see progress. Review is the key to retention. What was learned one day should be reviewed the next day, weekly and monthly until it is firmly implanted in your memory. Also practice is most important. Speak Thai at every available opportunity. Most people are too shy to speak a new language and consequently never practice speaking to people. The most successful students are the fearless ones that speak Thai with all their improper tones and grammar.

What other advice do you give students of the Thai language?

My personal advice would be to learn Thai by learning songs. That’s how I learned to speak English when I was a young girl growing up in Isaan. I probably know more words to songs in English and Spanish than many native speakers. But, music is in my blood and I love to sing and dance. Each person needs to find out what excites and inspires them and then follow that lead.

Benjawan Poomsan Becker
Paiboon Publishing

The legacy of Benjawan Poomsan Becker…

Thank you Benjawan, for your insightful interview, as well as your contribution to the Thai language learning community. When I glance through your long list of products, I am always impressed. When your youthful photo arrived, I was impressed even more as I was expecting someone of a much grander age. Fabulous. I am looking forward to many more successful products from Paiboon Publishing.

Resources mentioned in this post…

Benjawan’s Thai learning products can be purchased at Paiboon Publishing, most large books stores in Bangkok, and online via amazon.com and .uk.

Be sure to subscribe to Paiboon Publishing’s new and growing YouTube Channel.

Read all about the author of The Principle of Thai Grammar หลักภาษาไทย, กำชัย ทองหล่อ, at Rikker’s blog, Thai 101.

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Interviewing Myke Hawke: Quick & Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast

Myke Hawke Interview

The power of learning languages…

Before I start the interview, I’d like to share a quote Myke has in the prefaces of The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast.

“He who learns another language earns another soul”

When I first read the quote, my heart glowed. And then I grinned.

Now, just sit back and think about it. Without being able to communicate, we cannot possibly understand the nuances of a different culture.

So, by learning their language, we acquire the ability to absorb parts of their world and possibly their mindset.

The power of it totally blew me away.

And now I give you… Myke Hawke…

Myke Hawke is a TV personality, professional soldier, and author, as well as being an accomplished linguist. And while the many attributes of Myke are quite an attraction, it is his language skills that suit women and men learning Thai.

Quoting from The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast:

To develop my specialized method of instruction, I built backward, the way you are supposed to plan. First, I figured out what was needed and then how to get it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Using this method I have become officially rated in seven languages: Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Serbo-Croation, and Turkish. I used many of these languages within weeks of beginning to study them and served as the official interpreter on our missions.

In addition, with a little research and effort, I was able to create summaries for the other members of my Special Forces team so that they too could function with a day of study.

From these summaries, I wrote this book so that you could learn a foolproof way of conquering a foreign language.

Do not kid yourself: you still acquire the language, the good, old-fashioned way – you have to learn it. But here I have trimmed the fat for you and gotten down to the brass tacks. No fluff, all action words, so you can get down to the action yourself.

Myke Hawke, the interview…

Being a pathetically poor language learner, I’ve always wondered: Are linguists created or born? Were they subjected to a variety of languages when young? Did they always have the language knack or, from a variety of circumstances, did they fall into learning languages later in life?

Hahaha! The answer is easy- it’s both! Like music, everyone can learn to play an instrument, the degree to which they carry it, will depend on natural aptitude of course, but no one just gets there without effort. So the second ingredient is the most important, it’s hard work. Usually, this work is more effective if well organized and that’s all my book really does, is provide a structured framework, but the individual has to build their own house. The third ingredient is motivation… If one lives in a culture surrounded by other languages, or they see a need as a way to increase income, or they just meet a romantic interest of another tongue… But without motivation, the other two ingredients don’t usually amount to much. So, being born with ability helps, but desire and endeavor are what makes a linguist.

Myke, you mentioned that it was in the Special Forces where you first tackled a foreign language. Did you have any leanings at all towards learning foreign languages when you were growing up, or was that your first drive to learn a language other than your mother tongue?

No way! In fact, the way I was raised was to think I was stupid. And, since I never got past junior high school, I didn’t think I’d ever be smart enough to learn another language. I only knew what I believed, and that was that during the cold war, the Russians were the threat, and since I had just become an Intelligence guy after being a communications guy first, I felt it was imperative that I learn the language of the threat. So, I requested Russian school with much apprehension, but equal fervor. I graduated early, with honors and all while being a platoon sergeant for 70 troopies.

In The Quick and Dirty Guide you write:

It works for any language… For the less familiar languages, you will need to select and use a very good guide or dictionary in conjunction with this guide.

I’m guessing that Thai would come under a ‘less familiar language’. So, what additional tips do you have for Thai language learners?

  1. For the languages that come in squiggles and symbols, like Thai, it is good to get the kids books that are made for English speakers or anything that gives phonetic pronunciation examples for starters.
  2. Get some kids tapes or childrens videos, especially with subtitles and listen to how they say simple words and listen for how they say it, as it sounds to you. This will help you refine your own phonetics standards. (For example, I often find when someone who wrote a phrase book uses a “Th” sound for a letter, I might find it sounds more like a “Dh” sound to me.) So, I tweak it according to how I hear it, and this makes it more intuitive and therefore, a bit easier.
  3. Get a long haired dictionary… of in your case, a short haired one, ha! Having a sexy or romantic person who can work with you on the language helps a lot. The reason is that we learn most from our mistakes. The mistakes are a lot easier to take if they come with friendly giggle when the human dictionary corrects you as opposed to a snarl when you make a mistake with a stranger. Positive reinforcement!

Quoting from The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast:

You know your mission, whether it’s for travel, business, or just speaking with a friend. Your objective is to conduct your mission in the language required. Your goal is to obtain the instrumental tool needed, which is the language itself. Your parameters are to do all this in the time allocated.

What were the circumstances for you coming to Thailand, and how long did you have to become proficient in Thai?

We were going there to train their Delta Force and Seal guys. I had 30 day notice. I was functional, but not at all pretty. Mostly simple sentences that conveyed the thought I wanted, but always with flaws. As with anything like this, if learned fast, it’s forgotten fast, unless you remain at it or in the country. So, it’s still a super way to get up and running in a hurry, then it’s easier to use and build as you can manipulate it more. So again, it’s a positive reinforcement.

Due to the time constraints of your job, how far were you able to get with Thai?

I only got far enough to be able to communicate basics ideas. I wasn’t there long enough to solidify a base in it.

Did you find anything particularly difficult when you set out to learn the Thai language?

Actually, no. Only because I did not set out to learn to read and write, only to speak and hear. But I have found that the more foreign the letters, the easier to learn as I still confuse Russian and English letters in cursive, to this day, 20 years later.

What are your favourite Thai phrases?

Every cloud has a silver lining- (Chew a jet, T D, jet hun)
I recall it as chew on a jet, while viewing the clouds, I make a mental TD, or touchdown, and jet to my hunny, for her silver lining….

So, I play with the sounds of the phrase, to make it make sense to me and remind me of something in English I can relate to, and in this way, I can call it to the forefront of memory when needed.

Have you had the opportunity to use your skills with languages in any of your TV or movie roles?

Ya’ know, I really haven’t. Media folks are surprisingly closed minded. Once they get it in their head you fit into one box, and that’s the label you get. So, they often forget that I was a Medic, and Officer, an Aikido guy or even a Linguist. But, I keep hope.

More on Myke, but no more on languages…

At the same time as I read The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast, I was also reading other books on learning foreign languages. And while reading Quick and Dirty, a visual image of A. G. Hawke formed in my head.

A. G. Hawke: Seasoned, middle-aged male nudging 60-65+ years old, skint on top with a wee bit of a pouch in the front and love handles hugging both sides. He no longer consumes healthy amounts of caffeine or alcohol, prefers a sofa lifestyle over jumping out of planes, and mostly writes to reminisce over past successes.

When I finally tracked Myke down, I was not expecting what I found. Not even close.

So with that visual in mind, I just have to ask Myke this question: At some point a decision must have been made to omit your photo from the book cover. Why?

That’s funny! Really, Military guys don’t take looks into consideration when it comes to fellas. The language book and dangerous fun books are both published by Paladin, a military niche publisher, so, it was never even a planning factor. Besides that, I think photos cost more, haha!

Thailand is an incredible place to live or visit, so what Thai experiences stand out the most for you?

To me, buildings and trees are nice, but the people make a place. The Thai people are simply the warmest, friendliest on the planet.

What is your take on Thai food? Just right? Too spicy? Or not spicy enough?

Like the people, the food is just right! I mean, what is not to like?! A subtle but complex fusion that bursts with perfect flavor, wow!

What so far has been your favourite role(s)? (in either TV or movie).

To me, TV is like life in that it only gets better and better. So, While my first role on MTV’s Road Rules back in ’98 was great fun as I got to play a good guy and the bad guy and had lots of freedom to make it up as I went, I have to say the last show was the most fun- working with Andrew Zimmern and the crew of Bizarre Foods was a real joy. Andrew was super and the crew was fun, so, it made the work easy and enjoyable. I think it will show when the program airs soon.

And one more question…
Now, about that Paris Hilton… ;-)

The ladies were great, that show was a lot of fun, too. The personality of the production company leadership really impacts the outcome of a show and they had some awesome folks on the ground. The kids were a challenge and entertaining. But Richie was a real feisty one and that ain’t never a bad thing, haha!

Thank you Myke. I’ll be right there, watching you on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern next month.

Thanks, Cat! Take care and a big squeeze!

Coming next in the series will be the free Thai download prepared from Myke Hawke’s The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast: .

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