Back in Thai Language Class


It has always been my dream to be fluent in another language. Three years of French in High School and another two in college didn't help me in this quest at all, leaving me 20 years later with not much more than "Bonjour" and "Voulez-vous coucher..."

(Although now that I think about it, the latter phrase might be in the memory banks thanks to that song from Moulin Rouge.)

And I guess I don't have to mention that the two years of Latin in high school didn't enable me able to speak with Caesar either. Et tu, Brute?

So here I am, living in a foreign country for seven full years. What a great opportunity to learn a new language, right? The words should be rolling off my tongue by now with many late night discussions on the Buddha's teachings (tammá), democracy in Thailand (brà-chah-tí-bà-dai), what color shirt I should wear tomorrow (sêu.a sěe à-rai -- but yellow on Monday is the only one I can remember), et cetera.

That's how it should be, but au contraire, mon frère, I still can't do much more than order my dinner and tell a taxi where to go. Oh, and the obligatory First Conversation:

New Thai Friend: Where do you come from?
Me: America.
NTF: Obama! Very good! Are you married?
Me: No, I am not.
NTF: You speak Thai so well!
Me: Thank you.

So with the dream still in my mind, I enrolled for a private Thai language course yesterday and had my first lesson today. I was a bit apprehensive as most of my experiences in Thai language schools have been abysmal (caveat emptor!), but the first lesson turned out great. I had to admire my teacher's probing questions to test just how much I knew -- how complex of a sentence can I understand? And which topics do my limited working vocabulary cover? She started out asking me about the news of this week's Japanese election. But I quickly had to tell her that I can't converse about the news (kòw), I can only talk about food (ah-hǎhn) and taxis (rót táak-sêe).

So she quickly switched to a topic I could understand. And amazingly enough, for the first time ever I now have a Thai teacher who speaks English and who understands English grammar and can explain things when I get stuck (which is often).

Also, I realized that since most of the Thai I have learned has been from studying books and websites on my own, I realized today that my reading skills are much better than my listening skills, and I do a better job of listening than speaking. My teacher would say something, and I would be able to pick out 80% of the words, but often no meaning. But then she would write the same sentence on the board and I could take a minute to parse it out and understand what she was trying to say.

So here's hoping I can make progress on my Thai language skills this month. And if you will excuse me, I have some homework to do. (Carpe diem!)


OK - I bust out laughing at the food/taxis comment, because that's about as much Thai as I know too. "Bi chai haat di mai?" / "Mai pet kaaa"

But you can read? That's a pretty monumental accomplishment. Good luck in the class, I think it will help a lot. If I ever live abroad again I will *insist* on language courses being part of my contract.

Nice post. Yeah, no matter how many years of a language you take, if you don't get to apply it (a la immersion) you probably won't retain it. I have been down that road so many times, too...French (HS), German (stationed there), Arabic (stationed there), Spanish (college), Italian (married doesn't speak English).

Good luck with that...maybe you can convince all your friends to only speak Thai to you on the English. Even the ones that don't speak much Thai. Of course, the latter would be kinda like French class...where the teacher can't pronounce it any better than you can. I have stories of misadventures in Lyon trying to speak French to my Goddaughter and her family. (For instance, French does have a little guttural sound...which helps you differentiate something like 'cul' from 'coeur' (the latter with the guttural sound at the end). I never heard the sound in school. Anyway, I volunteered that I still remembered all of the poems I memorized so many years ago and they wanted me to recite them. The poem was 'Il pleur dans mon coeur' (it rains in my heart) but if you don't put the guttural sound, it can be misconstrued as 'Il pleur dans mon cul' (it rains in my butt) Hilarity ensued, natch.)

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This page contains a single entry by Stuart published on September 2, 2009 4:29 PM.

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