I’ve decided that all my usual excuses are silly and that I should learn Thai. I’m living here after all, and it would make things so much easier. Not to mention the (mental) gold stars that I could give myself for not only learning a new language, but an Asian one at that. Friends and family, I invite you to join me (it’ll be fun, I promise!).
- Thai has polite words: ‘kaa’ for women and ‘krup’ for men. Thai people use these words regularly. They add them to the ends of many sentences and even use them on their own occasionally. It’s a little like ‘Bitte’ in German.
- Thai has no tenses. We didn’t quite believe this when we first came across it. We were signing our house contract. There was a clause that hadn’t been translated well. It seemed to say that we would be responsible for replacing anything that breaks in the house, even if it was just old. We eventually wrote out three phrases in google translate: ‘it broke’, ‘it was broken by’ and ‘it breaks down’. Apparently they were all the same in Thai.
- There are no spaces between words in Thai. You’ll occasionally see spaces, but these usually designate punctuation, like a comma or a full stop.
- Thai has 5 tones. The same word can mean several different things depending on the tone of voice. Eek!
- Thai has 44 consonants and 15 vowels. Many of these have the same sound. This is because Thai was derived from older languages (primarily Sanskrit) that have more distinctions than modern Thai. Thai letters allude to these past distinctions, but they now sound identical. Apparently in 1940 there was a move to reduce the number of letters, but it unpopular.
- Vowels can go anywhere (left,right,above or below the consonant)
The best way to start learning Thai
There are lots of views on the best way to learn Thai, but most have one thing in common. They recommend learning how to read it before learning how to speak it.
This seems to be mostly because of the tones. Apparently once you learn to read Thai, it becomes more obvious which tone a word should be spoken in. Foreigners who learn to speak Thai can find themselves completely unintelligible to a Thai person because they haven’t mastered the subtleties of Thai tones.
To a visual person like me this was a breath of fresh air. It immediately made Thai seem easier as the idea of doing something visual like learning symbols is much more within my comfort zone.
I remember going to a German class in university where the teacher believed in the learn like children approach. ‘Children learn language in a particular way. Children manage to master language. Therefore adults should learn language in the same way as children.’ Anyone even remotely analytical can see the flaw in that logic, but somehow it seems to be a very pervasive belief amongst language teachers. The ‘method’ is then: They speak a language at you. You pick it up. Somehow. Apparently…I didn’t last long in that class.
My 2 week challenge for learning Thai
So, it’s all very well me saying that I want to learn Thai, but I need to set myself some goals. And I need to tell people about those goals so I don’t get lazy or give up! So here’s my challenge to myself:
I want to find out what the most common Thai consonants and vowels are and learn them. I want to figure out the tones. I also want to learn enough Thai to have a basic interaction in Thai with someone in a restaurant/food stall.
This last one is from reading the fluentin3months blog . He sets himself a challenge of learning Thai in 8 weeks (which he manages quite successfully). He’s a big believer in starting to speak as soon as you can and not worrying about getting things wrong. I know I’m always nervous about speaking foreign languages, as I’ve been told all my life that I’m rubbish at them. So this’ll be a difficult one for me. But I do agree with him – if I want to speak Thai I have to start somewhere.
Wish me luck!
Update: Read the progress of my challenge here