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?
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!)