Thursday, 11 November 2010

Preparation before learning to read Thai

Somewhat belatedly following my recent post on learning Thai, I wanted to kick off by looking at how I first started out and got myself into the mindset for learning Thai. As I mentioned in the post, I didn't follow a strict, academic plan and instead embraced Thai and the language as much as I could in everything I did.

As I also mentioned in my initial post, my learning was not tactical nor organised, and as such it may not work for everyone but it does demonstrate that there is an alternative to studious work, dedicated classes and other techniques that may not fit schedules.

So here is a basic list and things I did before I even picked up a book or began looking at Gor Gai - ก [Gor] is the first letter of the Thai alphabet which together with ไก [chicken] the equivalent of 'A for Apple'.

Believe the unbelievable. A great number of foreigners have mastered Thai to a high, fluent level. While it is unlikely that my approach alone reach that level, the fantastic achievement of many help make my small goal of understanding basic Thai seem possible. After all, if you don't believe in what you are doing, achieving it becomes all the more difficult.

Get motivated. I often try and start new things and don't carry them through but I was determined that my learning of Thai would not be a flash in the pan. Lucky for me that I have a number of factors motivating me to keep going, even if at times it felt like wading through treacle.

Firstly, my son is half Thai and will grow up speaking/reading/writing the language ('understanding Thailand' was a major reason we relocated here from London) alongside English. While my wife and I communicate with him in our respective, native tongues, the idea that I can at least keep up with books they read, his (future) homework assignments, letters, etc is a big reason to learn.

Additionally: I've met many a foreigner claiming Thai can't be learnt, which is motivation alone for me to disprove the (incorrect) theory. While as a curious person I can't help be compelled to learn the language around me, not to mention that there is a certain duty as a guest in his country.

Lastly, though my wife and I would, at some point, like to return to UK, we don't see our lives in either country, rather both. With Thailand such a big part of my future, and having family and other responsibilities, learning to read/write Thai will be a major bonus that might make me more attractive to employers and open me to more job opportunities.

Be immersed. Undoubtedly the most difficult step, particularly for those who do not reside in Thailand permanently, immersion is a hugely influential factor which has played a vital role in helping me, help myself to learn Thai.

Just picking up the newspaper, reading adverts on the BTS, looking at my dual English-Thai keyboard everyday and other small things helped me get a feel for what Thai charaters looked like, before I even began learning them.

Remove expectations. In my post more than a year ago I stated my believe that the road to learning Thai would be long. This was as specific as my predictions got, in part because I really didn't know what I was doing, but in part because I'm not great at sticking to things.

By allowing myself no set targets, I did not feel pressured to learn which helped me enjoy taking in new concepts. That isn't to say I was always happy with my progress or workload, which varied hugely from time to time.

Ignore phonetic western spellings. I am a visual learner, that is to say I do best when I write things down rather than just repeatly speaking them. Initially I began writing words down using phonetic western spelling, soon after I began learning to read Thai I realised just how misleading the spelling were. It really is true to say that reading Thai will help learn and pronounce words as Thai is such a phonetic language...though of course there are some exceptions.

This is just a brief look at steps and attitudes I adopted before I began serious studying. Coming next (hopefully without such a lengthy delay) will be a look at some of the learning techniqued I used to get a basic understanding and how I took my learning further.

I look forward to other opinions and techniques people have used to help prepare themselves for learning Thai. For now, I'm holding off discussing actual learning as I honestly believe getting into the mindset is the most important step.


Paul Garrigan said...

Great Stuff Jon, I agree with everything you say. I often hear people claiming that Thai is impossible language - this is just an excuse in my opinion. If you try to learn Thai you will get better at it over time- of course some of us are a lot slower than others. I've made many mistakes learning Thai over the years and I'm not as fluent as I'd like to be, but there has definitely been a lot of progress. We might not all reach the same level as some of the more fluent Thai speakers, but so what. Those who play golf don't quit just because they're not good enough to turn pro.

I also understand your comments about your son - I'm in the same boat. I would hate the idea of my son speaking a language in which I can't communicate - it would be like missing out on an important part of his life. I also don't like the idea of living in place where I've no idea what people are saying around me. I've seen westerners get taken advantage of by the locals - in many instances this wouldn't have happened if that person could speak a bit of Thai.

Jon said...

Hi Paul,

Absolutely, looking at learning Thai like a journey (as many learners do) is the best way in my opinion. Ever step forward, not matter how slowly or seemingly little, brings you closer. It also shows that the learning never stops as you are also travelling.

Seems obvious to me (too) that if you are a foreigner learning the language has its benefits, but I know so few farang who do so. Not such a big deal in Bangkok, but in the provinces not knowing much Thai is a social disability.

Cooee said...

"It really is true to say that reading Thai will help learn and pronounce words as Thai is such a phonetic language"...I totally agree! I started to teach myself to read a couple of months ago, I only know about half of the consonents and vowels...and very few of the rules. My only disappointment in starting my course this week, was that we are using yet another (and different) transliteration system. I am continuing to learn the script in my own time and in all fairness, the first 20 hours of the course is Conversational Thai...some students will leave after the 20 hours is finished, so learning script would be pointless and time consuming, for them.