Week 13 of My Six Month Quest to Become Fluent in Thai – Almost Half Way There
I’m now almost halfway through my six month attempt to become fluent in Thai. I’ve improved significantly during the last few weeks, but my poor performance during the recent pizza-ordering demonstration made it clear there is still a long way to go. I continue to enjoy this intensive period of Thai study, and despite my recent feast of humble pie, I’ve no doubt that I can achieve a high level of fluency in the language.
Fluency in Thai is Not a Special Ability
Our house here in Rayong is right beside a shop, so we see people coming and going throughout the day – it can get a bit noisy. This morning a westerner I’d never seen before showed up on his motorbike, and he spent about fifteen minutes chatting with the locals in Thai. In the past, his fluency would have bugged the shit out of me (fecking show-off), but this morning it didn’t because although his Thai is currently better than mine, there is no reason why I can’t one day be as good as him. The trigger for childish jealousy is knowing he has something I can’t have, but this is not the case.
I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was 37 years old. Up until that point, I looked upon people who could do this as having an almost magical ability. I had lots of excuses for why I never bothered to learn, but deep down I strongly suspected that this was a skill I would never be able to pick up (I’d be the guy who failed the driving test 100 times before giving up). After my son was born, I had no choice but to learn how to drive – it only took me a few weeks before I was confidently able to handle a car.
I suck when it comes to learning languages. I can’t even speak my national language (Irish) after spending 10 years learning it at school. A couple of years ago, I was passing through Dublin Airport, and I heard some people chatting in a foreign language I thought was Dutch – it turned out to be Irish. I’ve no special talent when it comes to learning a language, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t become fluent – it just means it might take a bit longer. I’m sure some people learn how to drive a car faster than others as well, but this doesn’t mean we can’t all learn to drive.
I watch the YouTube videos, read the books, and visit the blogs of the language learning experts. All the advice I get tends to mostly come from people who already have a proven talent for learning languages – some of them are already fluent in multiple languages. If I compare my progress to their progress, I’m likely to feel inferior. If I do exactly like they say, I could easily end up on a path that just isn’t right for me, and it would just reduce my confidence for learning Thai.
One of my main goals with this series is to demonstrate that even a language-simpleton like me can reach a high level of fluency in Thai. If I can do this, it is a powerful demonstration that anyone else can do it too. I know there are lots of people who have given up on learning Thai, just like I almost did, and I want to show that it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t want to spend the rest of my time in Thailand viewing fluent westerners with jealous-awe, and I don’t have to.
The Importance of Being Open to Feedback When Learning Thai
I’ve been trying to learn Thai for the last 13 years, but this current attempt is different than anything I’ve tried before. The most obvious difference is that I’m devoting so much time each day to this project (up to six hours), but the most important change in my approach is that I’ve opened myself up to feedback.
Anyone can easily become fluent in Thai (or any language), and it doesn’t require any effort at all. The secret is to act as if you are fluent, but just refuse to speak (this can be justified by shyness) or allow your abilities to be assessed in any way. This is more or less what I did for many years – although it is not something I did consciously.
The incident with the pizza isn’t one of my proudest moments, but I’m proud that I did it. I’ve come out about my abilities in Thai, and I’m longer afraid of feedback. I now see how criticism can be like gold when it comes to learning a language, and I would normally have to pay somebody a lot of money for such personalized advice.
Now that I’m halfway through my quest to become fluent in Thai, I’ve decided to start adding audio samples to each post, so I can get feedback. I welcome all criticism, but I would prefer if people would leave these as comments on the blog or on Facebook rather than sending me private emails or messages– this way we can all learn together.
First Thai Audio Challenge
My first audio sample is taken from a Thai PBS TV show called the Bicycle Diaries from a couple of years ago. The video can be found on YouTube here, and the text I’ve used for my audio sample begins at 1:27.
Here is the text, and you will find the audio sample of me reading it below:
ถ้าเกิดว่าโชคชะตากลั่นแกล้ง แล้วก็ ทุกสิ่งทุกอย่าง
Other posts in this series on learning Thai
Week 0- My Quest to Speak Fluent Thai in Six Months
Week 1 -Creating the Right Mental Conditions for Learning Thai
Week 2- Maybe Just Getting Out There and Speaking Thai is Not Enough
Week 3 – 5 Improvements in My Approach to Learning Thai
Week 4 – Generating Enough Passion to Learn Thai
Week 5 – Undoing the Damage from Speaking Thai Badly for Thirteen Years
Week 6 – Early Impressions of Glossika Thai Fluency Course
Week 7 – Introverts Can Learn Thai Too
Week 8 – Winning Strategy for Achieving Fluency in Thai
Week 9 – Thai Fluency in 10,000 Sentences
Week 10 – Problems with Staying Focused Prevent Me from Learning Thai
Week 11 – Importance of Cracking Thai Fundamentals
Week 12 – Painful Lessons while Ordering Pizza in Thai