Learning Thai


I've never been very skilled at learning languages (well, non-computer languages). I "studied" French for seven years in elementary and high school, the end of which I had memorized a few words for different types of clothes and body parts, how to conjugate verbs, and how to ask to go to the toilet, s'il vous plait. After seven years I don't think I could speak a complete sentence. In elementary school I was "diagnosed" with having some kind of auditory processing problems which means that it supposedly takes my brain longer to turn raw sounds into meaning. In grade 5 I even got a detention for not being able to respond to a phrase from my teacher that I really should have known (I actually did know the answer, I was just too afraid to speak). But it was about this time that I completely gave up all hope of ever being able to learn a new language.

Fast forward a few years and I'd decided to take a 100 level Spanish course for fun in third year University. Without a doubt I struggled more than most of the class with it, but at the end of four months I could speak and respond to very basic phrases that I'd more or less memorized. I probably had a similar skill level in Spanish after four months as I had through my entire seven years of French.

When I went to Argentina for three months I was now in a seemingly perfect space for learning Spanish "properly" and maybe even becoming fluent in it. I had a Spanish tutor three days a week for a month and also practiced Michel Thomas's method in parallel. The end result was that I was able to do very very basic communication, understand menus and notices, and sometimes get the gist of conversations of people I'd eavesdrop on. But really, my spanish was and still is pretty pathetic. But the Spanish thing did give me a lot more confidence with regards to being capable of learning a second language. Something I'd long ago given up all hope with.

I tend to make a number of goals for myself whenever I visit a new place. Usually related to food (try parilla, or blueberry schnapps), sight seeing, physical activities (i.e. surfing in Brazil, hiking in Slovenia), and language (usually basic greetings and numbers).

I'm going to be in Thailand in just over two weeks from now (arriving on Aug 23) and I'm setting a BIG goal for myself for this next trip. I've been to thailand before, and last time I wanted to get certified for scuba diving, take a thai cooking course, and of course eat lots of curries, pad thai and other delicious street food.

My end goal this time is to be able to read Thai (nothing more than being able to pronounce it and understand a menu) and have enough conversational skills to be able to negotiate prices of things in Thai. I've started trying to learn thai script already as I've heard it's important to not get caught in the trap of learning the "romanized" version of thai. We'll be in thailand for just shy of three months, so while it definitely will not be easy I believe it will be do-able.

The main approach I plan on taking differently this time versus all of my previous attempts, is to make a fool of myself ;). I've always been too afraid to say anything at all for fear that I'll make a mistake and totally embarrass myself. I have to come to grips with the fact that that /will/ happen, but hopefully I don't accidentally offend too many people. Basically I'm going to start with using standard greetings as soon as we arrive and slowly try and grow my confidence and knowledge from there.

I'll be posting updates about my progress each month to help keep me motivated, and I'll make my first update probably towards the end of my first week or two there. Hopefully I'll be making decent progress. For now, if anyone has recommendations for techniques to memorize the thai alphabet that will be much appreciated :).

Peanut Gallery

making a fool of yourself

Kat and I were just discussing this yesterday: I found it much easier to tackle Mandarin when we were in China for exactly the "fool of myself" reason.

I had no hangups trying and failing: nobody expected me to speak Mandarin anyway. But she (having Chinese genetics but an American upbringing) always felt like she *should* speak (or that listeners expected her to), so was wary to try.

Bottom line: I was willing to make a fool of myself, so got slightly farther than her.

ya, i think it's tough for

Scott Hadfield

ya, i think it's tough for most people to get over the whole embarrassing factor. even if i KNOW what to say i still often just freeze up. gotta break the habit :)


I'm in the same boat: I did four years of french in high school and I hardly knew anything at the end of it. When I went to Hull, QC after moving to Ottawa, I couldn't understand a single thing anyone said at any of the bars. What a waste of four years.

I did three weeks of private lessons in addition to about two weeks of private reading before arriving in Buenos Aires, and I can understand the gist of most written spanish now and make basic sentences in Spanish. Had I done another six weeks of private lessons, I probably could have been approaching basic conversational skills. Part of the difference undoubtedly is motivation - I wanted to learn Spanish, I didn't want to learn French.

I'm down for making an attempt at Thai as well, so if you want someone to hammer out phrases with an make a fool of yourself in private, I'm your guy! I haven't been able to find any Thai language books though, other than phrases to memorize though - if you have any suggestions let me know.

The motivation is definitely

The motivation is definitely a part of it, but then again wouldn't people be more motivated if the instruction were more empowering?

In South Africa while I was school it was compulsory to take Afrikaans as a second language and most people detested it, for the same reason as you guys. We had to learn Afrikaans for 12 years in school and many people I know definitely can't converse, and those who can are often to unconfident to.


Oh, absolutely. I totally agree they could do more to make it interesting. Sitting in a class all day and conjugating verbs isn't really my idea of fun. At least in BC, there was no real avenue to practice french. In Buenos Aires, I could simply head out on the town and try out my new tools after each lesson. So being immersed definitely has advantages to the learning process I find.


Scott Hadfield

awesome! I initially got inspired by this post: http://www.fluentin3months.com/phonetic-script-can-be-learned-quickly/.

This guy is a polyglot and i've read several of his posts now. Thai is extra tricky due to the tones, but hopefully that won't be too hard to crack. People seem to make a big deal about the fact that there's like 75 symbols that must be memorized for the alphabet. but that really shouldn't be a hard feat if taken in small chunks.

I also found this site that seems to have a lot of good stuff on it (haven't taken a close look at it yet): http://www.thai-language.com/

Otherwise I've just been starting to try and memorize the alphabet from wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_script) and using a thai script app on my phone (it's just called "Thai Script" on android, I'm sure there'd be something similar for the iphone too).

The secret with language is to learn like a child

Kids don't immediately attach meaning to the words. They're more into the sound or vibration of it. They watch facial expressions and they repeat what they hear without caring too much about what it means. It's also a whole lot more fun when you play around with the sound of words, make funny faces and not be concerned about looking like an idiot!

I find myself learning language far better when I try to understand and memorize less. When I was in South Africa about 2 years ago, I had a good opportunity to brush up on my Afrikaans and isiZulu. My teachers were kids! I'm fluent in Spanish and can get by OK with Afrikaans, isiZulu and Romanian. Although being in the languages native environment is probably the best way to learn a language (we'll call that the external element), there is also a personal element, which is the desire to communicate and connect. The third element, is technique. My technique is forget about meaning and have fun with the words, even if I sound like an idiot. Ha! I think I've just created a new language learning method.

#1 - Be in the environment.
#2 - Desire to communicate & connect.
#3 - Learn like a child. It's OK to look silly.