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10 Years Of Learning Thai


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If you want to become truly expert at something, give it about 10 years. Well I've reached that milestone with Thai, and looking back, there are some lessons learnt, so listen up grasshoppers, and even you Thai gurus might learn something as well, so listen up yo'.


1. If your Teerak is speaking in a lingo you can't understand, it's either colloquial, a dialect or a different language (or you're tone deaf LOL). Given your 10 year deadline, just go ahead and learn that as well. I started trying to learn one language, but I ended up learning most South East Asian languages as well. Something I never planned from the outset. However I don't regret it. Your approach may vary of course.


2. Become a scholar of the culture. And I'm not talking about one of those coffee table picture books about temples. Find several good books about different aspects of Thai culture and history and read them. Don't rely on internet posters like me, because to be honest, I'm far from reliable. I won't provide a list because some of them are most likely banned in Thailand, better safe than sorry! Nod, wink.


3. Talk from day one. I am a very sensitive kind of person - a common remark on my school report cards was how sensitive I was. LOL I still mind my Dad reading out a line from one of them, 'displays an amazing and encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of space and the solar system, something the class never studied, but really is far too sensitve'.


So being a sensitive person I put off talking, afraid of making a prat of myself. But really, that was being far too considerate. When you are in Thailand, always speak Thai first. The only exceptions are when talking Thai will actually make you a prat, like ordering for everyone at the table to a Burmese waitress who knows less Thai than you do. Also, unless you explain that you want to try out your Thai first, it can belittle staff, like at a hotel reception for example, whom are employed for their skill in understanding English.


4. Thai Tv is both your friend and enemy. You will find great joy here. It's where I learnt how to explain an affair as 'sometimes a man wants to eat a spicy takeaway, when the fare going at home is tasty...'. If you use this line, though - I wish you all the luck in the world. Better to have a go-between say it and come in on a wing and a prayer.


5. When you talk Thai be yourself. I like to joke around, but sometimes it gets me in hot water. Checking into a back country resort after a long motorbike ride, I might hit on the ageing Grandmother at the till for instance. Everyone laughs, and more than once I've got the Grand Daughter visiting me late at night to say hello to that nice young Farang! Jing, jing, lol.


6. More like a addendum to 3, but there are situations where it pays to just be a dumb Farang and mimic one who is only just learning. This list is not extensive, but you should do this when speaking to policeman, or most people in authority for example. Why? It's simple, trying to extort money from a water buffalo takes an enormous amount of skill for a Thai person, and potentially humiliating. Do NOT relegate yourself to such a foolish position. Also try not to speak Thai within earshot of other Farang also, owing to my 'sensitivity'. It attracts (unwanted) attention, and questions like where did you learn? The length of this post shows how I can choose to be abrupt, wrong, or just downright rude. Or if I'm in the mood and you buy me several drinks, then and only then will I 'fess up.


7. Well there's plenty more, so there is going to have to be a Part 2. In the meantime, appreciate your comments, and how your efforts to master this mind boggling language are really going. And if you're just starting out - mind this, it might take 10 years, but it's a hell of a lot of fun in the meantime!!! And if you make it so, so will it be - least that's how it rolls in my experience. Good luck!

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Issan Lao is close enough to Thai that I can generally understand it. My wife's Kham Muang (aka Northern Thai) is another matter though. Lao words most often are almost the same as Thai, but with a different tone or the R-to-L change. Kham Muang words more often than not are just plain different.


p.s. Kham Korat is a strange critter, sort of a mix of standard Thai with Issan Lao, plus some words unique to itself. About a million people speak Kham Korat, all obviously in the Korat region.

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I know some people who have lived in LOS for over 15 years who speak virtually no Thai whereas I know others who speak fluent after 3 or 4. Guess it depends on how interested you are in learning the language.

Here in OZ we have many migrants from Italy, Greece even Vietnam who have lived here for over 40 years and refuse to learn English :dunno:

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I think a lot of it's down to timing. Something that works very well with the ladies in any language really. Your motives can be entirely transparent, but if you are energetic and enthusiastic and plaster a winning smile on you face you're already half way home in my experience.


The reason I say culture is so important is that most languages have a natural rhythm which is derived from the various traditions and practices inherent in it. This is crucial to understanding timing.


When I was a schoolboy I played cricket. As a batsman I was fairly mediocre - but every now and then I'd hit a six. The ball would fly off the bat with barely a flick of the wrist - all in timing. That 'sweet spot' applies to language as well.


Timing in language isn't really much discussed, but in my experience, it' almost paramount. You can lose tones, garble the sounds, but often if the timing is right - then you're good! Not saying you should garble the sounds or not worry about tones mind you.



Now another thing before I go. I agree with Flashy - what a crying shame to retire here with no plan to learn the language. Like Bust says there are many communities in Australia, that remain in there own bubble - but the important thing is there children go to public schools, and I've got Vietnamese friends I went to school with that speak such a broad Australian accent, they' put Paul Hogan to shame! But it is sad that these Europeans are retiring here with no thought for the language. I'd like to think that if it were somehow made a bit easier for them to learn they would choose too.

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I came onto this board when it was in its Delphi infancy, around the time of my first trip to LOS and when Khun Sanuk was a young boy. :D !!!


One of the going themes that I bought into was "...if you're going to spend any time in Thailand, show some respect and learn some Thai". So I did. I got lessons with tapes in the bookstores and bought the Matthew Courage computer app on line (before anything was called "app.") and I sat down for about 2 years on and off and studied. I am still not an expert but I can speak, read, and write basic Thai. After a couple of years of learning I felt that I had "arrived" when I met a very nice 21 year old, first time in Pattaya, first time go with Farang, not a "working girl" but had come to work in her aunt's restaurant. I made my only trip to Issan with her and had a grand time buying every kind of drinks for her village friends and family. (She wanted to marry a Farang and I am not suitable, so I respectfully left her with paw/maei and went on my way.)


Learning Thai was the best thing I ever did in my pursuit of the Thai female. And I can give one piece of modern advice - learn to read and write a bit so that you can text msg in Thai. It really surprises and pleases women to receive texts from a Farang. And also, once you know when Google Translate is translating things more or less correctly (or has totally gone astray with something,) Google Translate (or the Apple equivalent) is a great aide with messaging.


Anyway...learn some Thai. It's good for the brain. And good for the heart.


Gaw Guy

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learn to read and write a bit so that you can text msg in Thai. It really surprises and pleases women to receive texts from a Farang. And also, once you know when Google Translate is translating things more or less correctly (or has totally gone astray with something,) Google Translate (or the Apple equivalent) is a great aide with messaging.


Or use Skype - with simple sentences it does a good job to translate English to Thai / Thai to English.

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