How To Learn Thai Before A Trip To Thailand
The street food cart was selling boiled chicken and rice…. Called “Khao Muun Gai” in Thai.
In fact, that’s ALL she sold. Chicken with rice.
How hard could it be?
After a handful of Thai lessons before I moved to Thailand you’d think I might be able to at least order lunch.
Wrong. I went home hungry, frustrated, and humiliated.
My attempt at pronunciation was met with a blank stare.
I tried again. Pointed at the chicken, and said..
“Ow” (I want)
And I got the same blank po-faced stare. Not even a smile, which was highly unusual in Thailand.
Clearly I was butchering the language.
An epic fail. Here I was… a supposedly intelligent human who couldn’t figure out the very basics of the language in my new home.
I was complaining to my wife who promptly informed me that whatever I was saying wasn’t even words in the Thai language, and she couldn’t make sense of it either!
Turns out that getting the tones right was far more important than anything else.
I’d been going about things the wrong way. Learning grammar and vocabulary and trying to string things together… like we used to in French class in high school.
Like the app I was using to learn told me to.
Wrong strategy with a tonal language like Thai (or Mandarin or Cantonese)
Before I could even get a taxi to take me to the right address I had to re-learn how to pronounce the tones the right way.
You see, in Thai there are 5 different tones that you can use. Middle, High, Low, falling and rising.
So for example the word “maa” which means “come” also means “dog” or “horse” if you get the tone wrong.
Instead of learning from an app or a book, they found me a teacher that was a great fit for my individual learning style.
She immediately diagnosed the problem.
I sounded like an imbecile, literally. Because I was speaking so slowly and with nonsensical pronunciation the food seller probably thought I was retarded. “Like a mouth full of marbles” was the phrase she used.
Her solution was go go back and relearn the tones. I did two things.
Firstly, I listened to a bunch of similar-sounding words with anki.com which is a flash card software.
Like “dog” and “horse” (which are both “Maa”)
Like “near” and far.
Yes you got that right. “Near” is “glai”… “far” is also “glai”.
But after listening to these flashcards for a few days something clicked in my brain.
I could hear the differences. It all literally clicked into place.
And there are plenty of similarly confusing situations in English. After all, “their, they’re, there” all sound nearly the same, right?
I could have kept going how I started, learning lots more vocabulary… but I still wouldn’t have been able to communicate at all.
You can’t possibly imagine how much this improves the quality of my experience living here.
Not only do I have Thai friends (instead of foreign friends living in Thailand), there are so many benefits to speaking the language.
I’m not limited to the types of restaurants tourists go to (and the great joy of Thailand is the food).
I rarely get vendors or taxis trying to rip me off, since I don’t give off a tourist vibe.
I don’t have to haggle, because speaking Thai tells them that you probably know what the “real” price is.
I live in a charming old market district with no tourists and hardly any foreigners… without language skills I would be limited to dirty, smelly, tourist traps.
And the best benefit of all…. I met my wife! She didn’t speak much English back then, and I didn’t speak much Thai… but 5 years later she is fluent (and I’m conversational) we communicate in a weird blend of both we call “Tinglish”… and our daughter is growing up bilingual!
I’m very grateful to them and recommend them wholeheartedly. A great company in every respect.
Having a PERSON teach you, and not an app makes all the difference. And not just a “warm body who speaks the language”, but an actual, qualified, professional career teacher.
I’m a very satisfied customer.