Wednesday, 20 October 2010

My "long" journey learning Thai

It was February 2009 when I bravely went public with my intention to learn to read Thai. I'd been in Thailand for less than 6 months and having developed the basics of spoken Thai fairly reasonably, thanks in particular to my mother-in-law's patience and help, I set my sight on the unknown land of Thai script.

At that point I could not read a single letter of Thai, and had taken to learning the shape of the words that spelt the town names I needed to known in order to catch my bus to work and back. Hardly an efficient system as I found out when I bordered the wrong bus one day.

I titled my post 'Learning Thai - the long road starts here' but the truth of the matter is that getting the basics of Thai is not so difficult after all, and within weeks of my post I had learnt the basic pronunciation of the most common Thai letters.

Fast forward to now, October 2010, and I'm (surprisingly) making good ground through Becker's Thai for Advanced Readers.

I am by no means fluent (the 'advanced' book was chosen as the intermediate was sold out) and have a long way to go before I can be anything like satisfied with my ability but I am able to read a number of things from menus, to adverts, to Facebook and Twitter updates, and write fairly substantial messages in Thai, though reading books and larger chunks of text is takes me longer, practice and time should help me improve.

My point is that, to get to my level I didn't take any classes, I didn't buy DVDs, extensive arrays of books or MP3 series. I didn't attend workshops, get a tutor or pester the wife for tips... heck I didn't even study regularly (such are the responsibilities of fatherhood) and this book is my first proper learning material, excluding the horribly Romanicised Thai handbook that every expat must buy within their first month of arriving.

But for me, learning Thai is a mindset not an academic course, and it is there where I score top marks.

Living in Thailand the language is all around you. If you curious about life like me then you will want to know what you are missing, what the beautiful squiggles and lines really mean.

The basic task of learning to pronounce the Thai characters was as hard a shift as I put it, and it is the grounding which has helped me develop in my own way. The truth is, I've been at this level for a while - hence the use of the book to advance me - which shows that the 'long road' is not so far after all.

With the aim of being helpful and not self-indulgent (as mentioned, I feel I still have a long way to go), I'm going to pen a series of posts explaining what worked for me and helped me get to the level I am at now.

I won't say I have learnt every aspect of Thai well - cough cough...the tones - and I could do with a visit to a Stu Jay workshop, for example, but I've reached a level I wouldn't have dreamed of back in February 2009 through a 'workload' that could suit (or be bettered by) anyone.


Mike said...

Jon good stuff. I have finally decided to follow a similar route, reading, since I have the sort of memory I fancy this might work on. My aim is to be as fluent, as many Thais who read English perfectly, but can't speak it. Then I reckon I can really start to speak it more than the basic stuff i have now.

Jon said...

Hi Mike - great stuff. As Talen will testify, even just a basic knowledge opens the language in a new way and makes it far more learnable, and it is fun to boot. Thai people are always impressed, though that isn't difficult to do.

Jon said...

Hi Talen,

I've read your updates with interest - initially earlier this year I craved a classroom environment, but my hotch-potch learning means I'm not sure where I'd fit in. I'm going to continue going solo, and perhaps, in time, make sure of a Stu Jay type session to even out the consider kinks I will develop.

Agree there is nothing like the feeling of understanding, or beginning to grasp, the meaning of those strange squiggles.

Martyn said...

Jon first I'd like to say well done on your progression down the road to learning how to read Thai script. I have thought for a long long time (reading Women Learning Thai) that getting to grips with Thai script is the definite route to take and by that I mean from day one. By coincidence I have just started (again) trying to learn a few Thai scripted words because I see it as the best way to progress with my basic Thai language skills.

I'll look forward to your future posts on this subject.

Catherine said...

Jon, Excellent to hear that you'll be sharing your tips with new learners. I'll certainly be reading what you have to say.

Nocturnt said...

Interesting. My tahi reading is horrible after many years. i seem to get nowhere.

Boonie said...

“Thai is a mindset not an academic course”: As are all languages. I see this as the key to successful language learning.
Good luck with your studies.

All the best, Boonie

Snap said...

I'm a new learner too! I'm taking a rest from any formal learning for a few weeks (books, videos, web sites, dictionaries etc.) and just trying to soak up the Thai being spoken around me and interacting in (very limited) Thai...until my course starts. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Jon said...

This is a very late response Martin, but thanks for getting in touch. I would definitely encourage you to give it a go, though it is far harder to get into out when you are not a permanent resident in Thailand. When we were still in the UK I took lessons and the missus tried to help me, but it really didn't stick. (Consequently she has no interested in helping me, happier to let me fend for myself - fair enough)

Jon said...

Hi Nocturnt,

I would definitely recommend the Thai For Advanced Readers book, but failing that I used a number of others resources and just tried to practice as much as possible. I'll have a post on this upcoming, I hope it might be of some assistance.

Jon said...

Hi Boonie,

Yes, very true, which explains why living in the country and finding a degree of immersion is the best remedy.

Jon said...

Hi Snap,

Great - would love to get your thoughts/ideas on what is working for you. I've really taken to using the web - blogs, dictionaries, social networking etc - to practice and develop...but I freely admit a little more structure and a tactical approach might be better.