Learning Thai Does Not Need to Be So Much of a Challenge

Paul Garrigan Muay Thai

Week 23 of My Six Month Challenge to Become Fluent in Thai

I am now almost at the end of my six month challenge to become fluent in Thai, so it is a good time to evaluate the experience. I’m definitely pleased with my progress, and I don’t regret my decision to put so much effort into learning Thai, but I can also see that I made this more of a challenge than it needed to be.

Have I Achieved My Goal of Thai Fluency?

I like the idea of having ambitious goals because it gets me out of my comfort zone, and this is why I gave myself the target of fluency. Six months ago, I defined fluency as :


1. You can have a long conversation with a stranger on the phone without them realizing you are a foreigner
2. You are as comfortable reading a book in Thai as you are in English
3. You can talk in-depth about almost any subject you are interested in

I’m making good progress with number 3, and I’m well on my way to achieving number 2 (although I think reading Thai as comfortably as English might be unrealistic), but the pizza fiasco a couple of months ago shows I’m nowhere near achieving number 1. To be honest, I struggle speaking in English on the phone, and my hearing isn’t great due to years of listening to loud music with headphones, so maybe I’ll never achieve number 1.

Back in August, I redefined my goal of fluency as being able to make a video where I tell my life story in Thai. This is what I’ve been working on for the last few weeks, and I plan on releasing this video soon.

So, do I speak fluent Thai? I have made significant progress in recent months, but I wouldn’t class myself as fluent and maybe that’s a good thing – I love learning Thai now, a passion I’d lost before the beginning of this challenge, and I don’t want this journey to end.

Learning Thai Doesn’t Need to Be So Much of a Challenge

I developed the idea in childhood that if something comes too easily, it can’t be of much value. I enjoy the struggle, and this means I’m sometimes guilty of making things harder than they need to be.

My approach to learning Thai has been to see it as a challenge, and this has meant that I’ve needed to fight to make progress. I’ve pushed myself to study six hours a day, and I’ve bullied myself to keep going even when it is obvious I’m not absorbing information. The only thing I’ve been fighting has been myself, and it is an unnecessary and fruitless battle – I probably would have made the same amount of progress without pushing myself so hard. I need to stop seeing struggle as a good thing.

When I look at my progress over the last six months, I see that most of the improvements have happened despite me and not because of me. I remember the day when I walked out my door and effortlessly fell into a conversation with my neighbor – this was easy because I wasn’t trying to achieve anything at the time. There have also been so many occasions when I’ve been enjoying the process of learning and things have just clicked.

What Happens After the Challenge?

My six month challenge officially ends in a couple of weeks, but it is not really the end of anything. I will continue to devote a least an hour per day to learning Thai (mostly using the Glossika approach), and I plan to make a number of addiction videos in Thai. I’m also hoping to do the pratom six equivalency exam within the next few years.

I plan to post the video with my life story in Thai in about two/three weeks, and this will officially mark the end of my six month challenge.

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
Week 13- If I Can Become Fluent in Thai, So Can Anyone
Week 14 – How I Make Time to Study Thai
Week 15 – Redefining Fluency After Losing My Way While Learning Thai
Week 16 – My Learn Thai Fitness Challenge
Week 17 – Talking about Myself in Thai
Week 18 – No Need to Force Myself to Speak Thai
Week 19 – 5 Factors that Improve My Ability to Learn Thai
Week 21- Review of My Learning Thai Resources

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9 thoughts on “Learning Thai Does Not Need to Be So Much of a Challenge

  1. I am one of those, that would love to speak Thai, but don’t commit ,, thinking Osmosis will work? Not.. When I move there, I was thinking of taking a course,,more of a way to kick myself ,, but I tend to be more dedicated when I spend money.

    Any suggestion on the motivation would be greatly appreciated

    Thanks

  2. Paul,
    I just wanna say, you’ve done really well in this endeavor. You set a goal, came up with a strategy, found methodology which worked for you and you stuck with it, even in the face of adversity and set-backs. That you hung in there is to be commended.

    Then again, in your life you’ve battled worse demons than learning the thai language and over came those.

    I’m sure you’ll continue to “chip away at the stone’ in learning the language.

    Good Luck, do good,
    Tod Daniels

  3. First I want to say I read most of your Thai language blogs and found them very useful, thank you. I’m only a beginner so just being able to read Thai, as you can, is very impressive to me. Being able to speak Thai fluently isn’t something I’ve even considered as a goal but one step at a time. I am attending a well-known school in Bangkok mainly because I like the traditional structured approach. The lessons are on the same days every week and I systematically work through the texts with my lady tutor page by page. It would be dull if it were not for her being so personable. This is what academics call the ‘grammar translation method’ as I recently discovered when reading about the pedagogy of ELT and it goes back to the early days of teaching Latin. I do have faith in it but without doubt there are modern ‘student centered’ methods that will get faster results. The problem is that if you want private tuition as I do you are stuck with the old method and the phonetics that they use. However, my tutor suggested that I supplement their course with other learning aids and she likes Adam Bradshaw’s videos. From your blog I see that the array of available resources is large but many of them seem to overlap. With regard to that my question is: Glossika versus Learn Thai Podcast- I have sampled them and they both seem to be using spaced repetition for memorisation of correctly pronounced sentences. I know this method works but for a beginner like myself who can read Thai with difficulty and has a limited vocab which would you go for if you had to choose one to begin with?

    1. Hi Simon, I think the nice thing about the Learn Thai Podcast is that it contains so much content. I’m a fan of the Glossika approach, but I suppose it might be easier to begin with the Learn Thai Podcast or Thaipod 101 (they have a nice app for the iPad)

      1. Thanks Ian, and Thaipod 101 too, how did people manage before podcasts and apps? I read somewhere that years ago American diplomats became fluent in Thai in only six months starting from scratch,I wonder how? (Both questions are purely rhetorical of course!)

  4. Again, I don’t know how “fluent” those diplomats were, and kinda think they had a good working knowledge of thai rather than achieving the mythical beast every one searches for called “fluency” (which actually is an imaginary place in your own mind versus something that can be measured).

    As far as I know all US diplomats still use the FSI (Foreign Services Institute) curriculum. That stuff is all public domain now. It gets people up and speaking and is taught 100% in karaoke (english script and symbols to represent thai sounds).

    Then again, in those 6 months diplomats are put thru a rigorous course, (much like mormons are) BEFORE they ever show up in the country where they’re going to work and use the language.

  5. The FSI courses are very intense. They’re 5 hours a day in small groups, plus 3-4 hours of homework over 44 weeks (for Thai). If you’re motivated, that’s enough to get pretty good in Thai though I’m not sure that, unless you were naturally very gifted or experienced at language learning, you could get all the way to fluent (say C1) in such a short time.

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