Saturday, 28 February 2009

Learning Thai - the long road starts here

The school holidays have come to Thailand which means I've finished my job and am officially off work until my new job starts in May/June. 

With more time on my hands there are a few things I'm keen to get cracking on:
  • Get a tan - enough of being pasty already. I came back from a week in Italy dark brown last yer, 4 months in Thailand have yielded precious little - there' is always something more important to do which stops the sunbathing).
  • Take on short-term work. Many teachers are not paid during the holidays the more seasoned will take holiday classes but I have a few non-teaching options to keep the bank manager happy.
  • Learn more Thai!! Im in a tricky situation with the language, I've learnt the basics and I can get around fine but I want more so I'm going to tackle written Thai - the holy grail. I feel ashamed of foreigners who no effort to speak the language, I'm totally the opposite.
In the long run this method is the most practical way of learning Thai as it allows the learner to become self-sufficient, in so far as I will be able to read words and pick up their meaning without needing them translated into Roman script. Suddenly the signs

I'm not alone in my aim, many expats try to learn to write in Thai but few actually stick with it and see it through to any kind of fluency. 

So why's that then?

It's no easy task, there is an entire alphabet to acquaint oneself with - that's 44 new consenants, 32 new vowels and a number of pronounciations which do not exist in the English language. The words bear no resemblance to anything English, in fact they may sound similar to words which have no relation. For example, the word "mei" is used in many sentances, often as the first word, which would lead one to believe it means "me" when in fact it means "no" or "not" depending on the context.

Then there are the tones. Thai is a tonal language with 5 different tones - low, medium, high, rising, falling - it's tricky for foreigners and can lead to considerable confusion. Take for example the word for 'snow' (hi ma) if mispronounced it can mean 'dog's private parts'...yes I found out this one out myself!

So to get me started I have a couple of language books, a podcast series on my iPod, a range of useful websites and a Thai family to help iron out my creases. There is option of language schools or teachers but I live with native speakers and have a number of Thai friends so it I can be flexible to my schedule with The Little One (and save a wad of cash) by hitting the books and testing myself on the locals.

A thorooughly comprehensive article on the frustrations and joys of learning can be found at Phil's Thailand Travel Guide. Catherine's excellent Women Learning Thai blog is also recommended reading and does cater for men despite the title.

ฃอบคุณดรับ พบกันใหม่นะ

[thank you, see you later]

*This one Thai sentance was by far and away the most time consuming part of this post


Catherine said...


Thanks for the mention! Learning to read Thai is scary at first but it is easier if you find the shortcuts suitable for how you learn.

Phil has an excellent resource for learning to read Thai. I believe there is nothing better than a Westerners view of the process as it clears up some of the mysteries.

X said...

32 vowels !!!
i didn't think anyone could find a language more ridiculous to learn than finnish but it seems you've hit the nail on the head yet again black - i salut you !

kiitos ja nähdään kohta (thank you and see you soon ;) )

Jon said...

Hi Catherine - thanks for the tip. I'm going to start by getting to grips with the most common letters first - then hopefully add to them continually. Big ask though.

Well, you know me 'X', always pushing the boundaries. Should be ready for your visit here after Africa ;)

Mike said...

Jon, good luck, I had a similar embarrassment when referring to the local doctor as a dog! (more/mar).

happy days.

ThomasCrampton said...

Based on my experience - 5 years in Thailand with a range of efforts at learning Thai - get literate!!!

I only became literate towards the end of my time in Thailand and my learning accelerated incredibly.

One of the best things about learning Thai is the Thai people. They are so friendly and supportive.

Natta said...

It's supposed to be


Good luck with your Thai studying. I truly understand what it feels like to keep struggling and trying to grab the hang of some new languages.

Thai pronunciation might be challenging, but the grammar is pretty easy!

Feel free to ask if you have any questions! I'm happy to help :)

Cat said...

Jon, it's been a year now. How's it going?

Jon said...

How did you end up on this post, Cat?

Big changes have occurred, I nailed two of the three aims - the tan continues to elude me - and my Thai is unrecognisable. The alphabet came pretty quickly though only in the last 6 months or so have I begun to 'get' an extent.

I'm a very infrequent learner, but when I sit down it tends to be for hours, while Facebook and Twitter has helped massively giving an excuse to read and write in Thai. I keep meaning to write a mini-series on how do get the basics of learning together...maybe this comment will inspire it out of me.

Catherine said...

Jon, a mini-series would be fantastic! It will also solidify your Thai even more.

How'd I get here? I followed a link from my stats... and here you were :-)