Showing posts with label Learning Thai. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Learning Thai. Show all posts

Learning Thai ...

The topic of learning Thai does not escape VF’s tendency toward canned flippant responses to repetitive or often asked questions.  As for the question of how I learned Thai, “Hormones are a great motivator” was my standard retort.  You have to remember I started learning Thai back in 1975 at the tender age of 21, with pretty much one thing on my mind and language helped me get it.  There really wasn’t much English to be found back then and your apartment was little more than a place to shower and sleep, so you were out and about, surrounded by Thai all the time.  Many nights I didn’t even bother to return home, finding myself caught out by the midnight curfew or sleeping at someone else’s dwelling.  Woke up in some interesting places back then.

Three television channels that went off the air around midnight, no cellphones, no internet, no blogs, no one to hold your hand and tell you what to do every minute of every day.  Other than my nightlife activities I would sometimes wile away an afternoon in one of those seedy, rat and cat infested theaters showing nonstop martial arts movies dubbed in Thai, for some ridiculously low price which I can’t recall.  Animals brushing past your leg in the dark, shoes sticking to the floor, indistinct odors permeating the air, just added to the experience.  Listening to Thai all the time gave me a headache but I would start to hear things repeated and if I couldn’t get the meaning through context then it was time to ask someone or look it up.  A scrap of paper to write on came in handy.

On a more formal level, I did study Thai at university.  Who knows how I would have fulfilled my language requirement for a degree if I hadn’t stumbled upon Thai.  They used pretty much the same material as AUA back then, so upon moving to Thailand after graduation, I continued that course of study.  I also taught English at AUA for a few years.  I was not a great classroom student of the language but did learn the alphabet, tones and unique sounds of Thai.  I have never had much use for the written language other than reading menus and road signs but the process of learning how to read and write was invaluable for understanding the language as a whole.

Along with formal classroom Thai, I picked up a lot of very unsavory words and phrases.  The kind of stuff best not repeated in polite society.  I enjoyed the colorful wordplay and double meanings and in some environments knowing the really bad stuff and being quick with a rejoinder, got a positive response and the right kind of attention from the girls.  You had to be very careful not to let those words slip out at the wrong time or in the wrong place, however.  In the end pronunciation and fluency was my forte as I neglected formal language learning and the development of a more extensive literary vocabulary.

I have long sense lost interest in keeping up with the latest slang.  After years of speaking Thai I started to rediscover my own language after meeting my wife and settling down.  Starting this blog progressed that rediscovery even further.  Now that my wife’s English is so good we have settled into an unusual pattern of communication.  I speak English and she speaks Thai most of the time.  With ones passive language ability always being better than ones active abilities, we find this a very efficient means of communication.  These days I do sometimes struggle with fluency when we get around Bangkok friends, since the farmers around here speak something different and their attempts to speak Thai are heavily accented at best.

Some guys go for learning one of the many regional or local dialects and if your intent is to spend all your time surrounded by people like that, there is some merit to going down that path.  I spent over thirty years in Bangkok and developed my language ability accordingly.  At this point I have no real desire to learn how to speak like an uneducated farmer, though my passive understanding of what they are saying seems to have a life of its own.

I can’t comment on the best schools, online options, phone apps or modern techniques for learning Thai.  I suppose someone somewhere has coined a term for the way I learned Thai, ranking it low on their list of learning strategies, but there were few options back then and you simple had to get on with it.  While I learned Thai in a different time, the language is still the same, as is the history, culture and traditions.  I am not up on the latest, best or cheapest places to stay or eat, public transport, where to pickup girls or get a tattoo but I have lived through many changes in Thailand’s recent history that the new guys can only read about.  My knowledge is about Thai society, how it has evolved since my arrival, where I fit in the mix and how to navigate my own path here.

Depending on your partner to teach you Thai, is fraught with problems.  Often they simply don’t have the skills or patience necessary to teach.  Some will actively block your learning as it is not seen to be in their best interest.  By allowing your partner to speak Thai you relinquish much power and control over the relationship.  My wife would say that learning Thai is a necessity, but many women who actively seek farang husbands, do not share her views.

There is no shortcut in my opinion.  It takes time, effort and some form of formal training.  Practice what you learn with everyone around you, not just your partner.  For the most part Thais are very appreciative of any effort to learn their language or eat their food.  So don’t be shy about using what you’ve got and listen intently to the responses and corrections that might come your way.  Whatever you do though, learn Thai.