If there was ever an award for the slowest Thai language learner I’m fairly confident that I’d be in with a shot of winnnig. My journey to become proficient at Thai began when I moved here almost a decade ago – it still feels that I’ve a long way to go though. I’ve reached a plateau and might be destined to move no further.
My stagnation with the local language is only made worse by the fact that many of those in the Thai blogosphere are currently discussing their own language achievements. Johnny Foreigner got the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago with his ‘my long journey learning Thai’ blog entry (I’ll tell you what slow learning really means mate). This week though, it seems like there is some type of ‘Thai learning disease’ being passed around with Talen teaching the Thai consonants Megan explaining her mastery of the word ‘why’ in Thai, and Snap dissecting the elephant song – it is like these people are trying to make me feel bad. The final straw though was Catherine form Women Learning Thai who has just produced a long list of Thai resources that I’m not using.
During my first few years living in Thailand I really did put a lot of effort into learning the language -in some ways this has paid off. I have a fairly large vocabulary and I can understand most conversations around me. My greatest achievement though has probably been the improvement in my ability to read Thai. One of my main reasons for wanting to learn the language in the beginning was a desire to be able to understand the local meditation texts in their original language – I’ve succeeded quite well at this I think.
You must be Fluent in Thai by This Stage
When I go on holidays back to Ireland or speak to tourists here they will sometimes make the comment, “you must be fluent in Thai by this stage”. I always feel a bit uncomfortable answering this question; I don’t want to sound lazy, or too ignorant to want to learn the local language, but I also want to be truthful. A few years ago I’d have no problem claiming to be fluent, but my idea of what fluent means has now changed- I now have a different standard to compare myself with. I am fairly confident that my Thai language skills could impress a newcomer, but I doubt they would impress those non-native Thai speakers that I admire.
What Has Gone Wrong With My Thai Language Ambitions?
Over the years I’ve bought so many books and courses on Thai; it has cost me an absolute fortune. There comes a stage though where these course books can no longer help you. It is relatively easy to become competent at Thai but to get from there to completely fluent takes a lot of effort – at least this has been my experience anyway. I just don’t have the time anymore, and if I’m honest with myself I’m probably also lacking a bit in motivation. I now know enough Thai to do the things that I want to do – at least on a practical level anyway. I think we all have to make choices about how we use this precious resource of time; at the moment Thai is getting a raw deal.
While my ability to read Thai continues to improve my ability to converse remains fairly constant. I used to think that my reluctance to speak Thai was to do with being shy, but my recent publicity exploits seem to indicate that I’m far from this. I think it would be truer to say that I just don’t like talking to strangers – although it is hard to shut me up once I get going.
When I worked as a teacher I spoke Thai every day with the students – my main subject was Health Studies and this meant that just using English was almost impossible. When I lived in rural Thailand there were also a couple of hours each day when I’d have some of the local monks or neighbors drop by for a chat. Nowadays though, I don’t need to converse so much. Since my son was born we only speak English in the house. I used to always pick up new vocabulary from watching Thai TV but I just don’t have the time for this anymore – I hardly ever turn on the box and in the evenings my son takes charge of the remote anyway. I have Thai radio on all day, but that is only because it is less disruptive to my concentration.
My Thai Language Future
Although things have gone off track a bit in recent years I do hope to take Thai more seriously again in the future. One motivating factor is my son; I don’t like the idea of there ever being a communication barrier between us -as his Thai vocabulary increases I hope to be able to keep up. I know that there are a lot of ex-pats who fall into a similar trap as I have; satisfied with enough to get by. I would like to get beyond this though even if my progress continues to be slow.
I am interested to hear how other people feel about this so please feel free to leave a comment.