Introverts Can Learn Thai Too

Learning Thai

I struggle when it comes to being social. I get verbal diarrhea when I’m around people I know, but I just find it difficult to talk to strangers. I feel incredibly awkward in these situations, so I try to avoid them as much as possible. My introversion has gotten much worse in middle-age, and it probably now the main obstacle between me and fluency in the Thai language.

It is day 48 of my six-month challenge to become fluent in Thai. I’ve made significant progress. My sounds are far more Thai-like, and the words are just coming out of my mouth easier. I’m loving Thai Glossika, and it is incredibly fortunate for me that this new course has been released right now near the beginning of my quest. The polyglot Stuart Jay Raj has been like my personal trainer, and he has shown me how to develop the muscles needed for a Thai sound system in my throat.

Everything is coming together nicely for me in my quest for fluency, but my introversion means I’m not getting enough practice with real-life conversations. I do speak in Thai with my wife when my son isn’t around (I only speak to him in English, and he has grown up bilingual), but other than a few short exchanges with neighbors, 7-eleven cashiers, and petrol-pump attendants, I haven’t been conversing much at all.

Now is the Time to Be Getting Out There and Speaking Thai

I mentioned in an earlier post how just getting out there and speaking Thai might not be enough. During my first few years living here, I did make a real effort to be social and communicate in Thai. It helped that I was drunk most of the time and lived in a part of the country where nobody spoke English. I would sit with my neighbors for hours chatting away, and I mistook my ability to be understood as evidence of fluency.

I reached an intermediate level of Thai by getting out there and just speaking, but after a while, I stopped making progress. My Thai friends got better at understanding my mispronounced words, so it was almost like they were learning a new language and not me – although I didn’t realize this at the time. It meant that when I tried to impress strangers with my fluent Thai, they just couldn’t understand a word I was saying.

After my son was born, we moved to a different part of Thailand, and it was only then that it started to dawn on me that my Thai sucked big time. Every uncomprehending look put a dent in my confidence, and it eventually got to the stage where I didn’t want to talk anymore. The lowest point came when a teacher colleague told me my Thai was almost incomprehensible – he was right, but it hurt, and I hope he never used the same bluntness with any of his students (he was meant to be a language teacher!).

I struggled to communicate in Thai because for years I was trying to do this using the same vocal muscles I used for speaking English. I also failed to realize that I already used tones when I spoke (we all do), and these first-language tones were interfering when I spoke Thai (I gave an example of this in an older post, Undoing the Damage from Speaking Thai Badly for Thirteen Years) . All of this stuff is basic Thai 101, but I’d been so focused on building a vocabulary that I didn’t put enough effort into the basics. I also didn’t have access to a great teacher like Stuart Jay Raj.

I am now at the point where just getting out there and speaking Thai is what I need to be doing. I can provide endless excuses for why this is not going to be possible, but I could do that for practically anything that involves getting out of my comfort zone. My life situation is much different from what it was a few years ago, I need to spend about 10 hours of the day looking at a computer, but there is going to be stuff I can do to have more real-life conversations.

Escaping the Prison of Introversion

A couple of evenings ago, I fell into conversation with one of my neighbors. The amazing thing was I didn’t even realize I was speaking Thai. It all happened so naturally, and my inner-critic didn’t have the opportunity to worry about how I sounded. This is progress, and it is something I want to build on.

I am expecting to devote the first half of this six month Thai fluency challenge to mastering the basics. If I’m not having real-life conversations every day (this needs to be more than simple exchanges) by the end of this first three months period, my challenge is going to be in real trouble. Breaking through my introversion is a must if I hope to progress.

Living in Thailand does mean lots of opportunities to speak the language, but I also know that it is possible to live here comfortably without ever uttering a word of Thai. The locals aren’t going to be knocking my door down to help me practice, so I’m going to need to make more of an effort. Here are some of the steps I’m considering to increase my opportunities for speaking Thai:

• I want to return to regular Muay Thai training, and this would give me the opportunity to chat with trainers. I haven’t been able to find a gym locally here in Rayong, but I’ll keep looking.
• I used to go running with some neighbors when I lived in Minburi, and this was a great way to practice my Thai. I prefer to go to the beach here, but I’ve noticed a couple people running in our village in the mornings, so I might start running at the same time.
• I have to make the effort to start conversations with my neighbors. I’ve been a bit aloof since we moved here last year, but maybe if I take the initiative, there will be more opportunities for chat.
• I might start paying one of the local teachers to come and chat with me for an hour – I could probably afford to do this a couple of times per week

I’m certain that making the effort to be more sociable would not only help me improve my Thai, but it would also improve my life generally. Introversion is just an excuse for staying in my comfort zone– it’s a limitation that I’ve placed upon myself. I might never become Mr. Charisma, but I can certainly make more of an effort than I have been.

I’m Loving Glossika Thai

I’ve been using Glossika Thai for a week now, and I’m really enjoying this course. The last two modules became available to download yesterday, and I’m impressed with the scope of this content. I was doing 50 sentences per day, but it just felt too much like I was rushing things. I’ve reduced it down to 25 sentences, and this means I’ll finish the 3,000 sentences in 120 days.

My current Glossika routine is:

• Review 2 Glossika spaced reputation (GSR) audio files – I shadow the Thai speaker (speak at the same time)
• Listen to the sentences I recorded from the previous day to see what can be improved
• Listen to the last four Glossika mass sentences (GSM) C (Thai only) files to review 200 sentences
• Record myself saying 200 sentences
• Revise 50 of the oldest Thai sentences out of the 200 using the GSM B files – the goal is the say the sentence before the Thai speaker
• Write out 25 new sentences in Thai and listen to the GSM A files twice
• Listen to GSM files while writing them down – I do this without stopping the recording, so I only write down the words that stand out. This writing practice is more about listening than writing – it is just a method for staying focused.
• I record the new 25 sentences
• I listen to 2 new GSR audio files

I don’t do all of this in one go – it is spread out over the day. I also listening to additional Glossika material when driving or out walking, but this is just extra.

One of my worries with this type of course is that the sentences won’t be stored in long-term memory. I already know most of the vocabulary, but I want to be able to remember these phrases so they are always on the tip of my tongue. In order to ease my fear, I’m going to be doing additional reviews two weeks after I’ve completed a file – this will be using the GSM Thai-only files. I read somewhere that if you can remember something after two weeks, it is going to be stored in your memory forever.

As well as using Glossika, I’m continuing with the language drills in the ดรุณศึกษา book. This week I’ve also been doing lots of fun stuff like listening to Thai Indie music , and watching horror movies (ปีศาจ, ร่าง, and ศพเด็ก), and a bit of lakorn (Thai soaps).

I had originally intended to immerse myself in Thai media for just six months, but the surprising thing is there is nothing I actually miss from western media. I don’t think I ever want to go back to watching English language TV and movies, reading English books, and listening to English music – it now seems a strange thing to do while living in Thailand.

Other posts in this series on learning Thai
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 6 – Early Impressions of Glossika Thai Fluency Course
Week 8 – Winning Strategy for Achieving Fluency in Thai
Week- 9 – Thai Fluency in 10,000 Sentences

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4 thoughts on “Introverts Can Learn Thai Too

  1. Pay a student a couple of hundred baht for an hour’s conversation once or twice a week could be an idea.

  2. At least for me pronunciation it’s a very straightforward subject, I’m not learning Thai but if I wanted to do so the very first thing I would do is to go to the “IPA for Thai” and “Thai phonetics” wikipedia pages and in week or so I probably would be speaking a pretty decent Thai.

    Ps: I just looked up the page and learned all the sounds and tones and just loved the phonetic set, it’s so consistent, now I understand all the things Jay talk about that language.

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