If learning Thai is a battle, Wednesday night was my own personal Dunkirk. My task was straightforward enough, I just needed to order pizza in Thai over the phone. Things were going really really well up until the point when I started speaking, but then it all started to go downhill rapidly. When it was over, I felt like I’d made a complete twat of myself in front of room of about eighty people with thousands more watching the live stream in Google Hangouts.
The Battle to Speak Thai When the Other Person Wants to Speak English
If Stuart Jay Raj had not been there right next to me, I would have reverted to English within the first few seconds of the call. I sensed it as I said ‘สั่งพิซซ่าครับ’ that things were going to get bumpy – I was like the class whimp asking the most popular girl in school out for a date. I got the tones wrong, and I sounded too unsure of myself.
The operator then said something in Thai I couldn’t hear, and instead of just asking her what she said, I kept repeating in an increasingly desperate voice ‘สั่งพิซซ่าครับ’ like I was stuck in a loop. I failed the audition for the Thai operator within a few seconds, and I was automatically transferred to the English-speaking pizza professional.
I assumed the game was over, and I was ready to hand the phone back to Stu, but he wanted me to keep speaking in Thai. So I entered this battle of wills with the English operator where I was still trying to order in Thai while she tried to get me to speak in English. I made it to the end of the call, and I finished it off with a final mispronounced ‘ครับ’. Stu got everyone to give me a round of sympathy applause, but it was far from the proudest moment of my life.
Even before I ordered the pizza, I had a demonstration of my weaknesses in Thai. I got to the event a couple of hours early, and I had the chance to chat with Bingo from Duke Language School. He’s a great guy with the patience of an arahant. Bingo spoke to me for about 20 minutes in Thai. I could understand everything he said, but I struggled to provide him with coherent replies – my mind just kept on going blank (any less going on in my brain and I would have been drooling).
Thai Bites Live – The Road to Fluency
Overall, I really enjoyed this first Thai Bites live event. Stu is a total professional, and he created a quality experience with plenty of fun moments– he even had a proper film crew and a room full of complicated looking equipment so people could watch at home. My lessons with Stu have always been on Skype, so it was great to meet him in person. The guy is full of charisma, and it is motivating just being in the same room as him.
I also got to ask Mike Campbell from Glossika some questions, and he clarified a couple of things that are going to help me get more out of this program. He’s another charismatic character, and it is obvious he is passionate about his courses. I feel so lucky that his Thai fluency course became available a few weeks ago just when I needed it. I was exciting to hear about the plans for Glossika, Cracking Thai Fundamentals, and content from Duke Language School becoming available as part of one package – it sounds like an unbeatable combination to me.
One of the unexpected pleasures of Thai Bites Live was getting to put faces on people I’ve only ever know online. There was a great atmosphere at the event, and I think there were quite a few there who have had similar struggles when trying to learn Thai.
I left Thai Bites Live feeling glad I went but disappointed with my performance. I ended up getting lost in the Bangkok traffic for an hour, and this didn’t help my mood at all. I began to feel sorry for myself – why am I putting so much effort into this and not getting the results I expect?
I had a lot of time to think during my three hour drive back to Rayong, and the only thing I didn’t consider was given up. About halfway through the trip, I came to the conclusion that things couldn’t have worked out any better. I now have a much better idea now of my deficiencies and that has to be a good thing.
Painful Lessons while Ordering Pizza in Thai
I don’t have any excuses for my dismal attempt at ordering pizza, but I’m not interested in excuses anyway. I only care about what I can do to improve and that is what I’ve been focusing on. The deficiencies this event has highlighted for me have been:
• My brain is hardwired to speak Thai badly because I’ve been doing it for years. This means that whenever I’m under pressure, I’ll revert back to my shitty Thai. I can’t get rid of those bad connections in my brain, but I can develop new stronger connections.
• I struggle when it comes to translating what I want to say into Thai during a real conversation – it is like the part of my brain where the Thai is stored become inaccessible. I need to develop my ability to translate my thoughts and ideas into Thai automatically so I can maintain a conversation.
I’ve made the following changes to my Thai learning schedule:
One of the most impressive things at Thai Bites was watching Stu translate what Mike was saying into different languages as Mike was speaking. You could tell Stu was doing this automatically because there just wasn’t time for him to think about what he was going to say. I want to be able to do this with Thai because it would mean I would have no problem saying what I want to say during a real conversation.
I’m going to start devoting some time every day to translating English into Thai as it is being spoken. There are thousands of videos on YouTube for people who want to learn English, and I’m going to use these – the BBC learning series The Flatmates seems to be ideal for this purpose. Here is how I intend to do it:
• I’m going to listen to a video once and try to translate what is being said into Thai
• When the video is over, I’m going to try to recall the things I wasn’t able to translate – I’ll do this without looking back over the video
• I’ll work out how to say those things in Thai
• I’ll play the video and try to translate more than the first time
• Repeat until I feel I’ve done a good job of translating the episode into Thai
I need to do more to overcome my habit of speaking bad Thai (I’m finding out that it is much harder to unlearn than it is to learn). A good way of doing this would be for me to develop a realistic accent, so then it would be almost like I’m changing into a different character when I’m speaking. I think สรยุทธ สุทัศนะจินดา from morning TV would be a good choice for me – there are hundreds of videos of him speaking on YouTube, and he is there every morning. Here is how I plan to start imitating his voice:
• I’m going to make short audio recordings of him saying interesting sentences
• Catherine from A Woman Learning Thai found a great resource called the Come Again Tool which makes it easier to work with short sentences
• I’m going to work with these files until I am able to imitate the voice of สรยุทธ to a reasonable degree (I’m shit when it comes to imitating people but apparently it is something anyone can become good at with persistence and patience)
I’m not sure if it is possible for an introvert to speak Thai at the level I’m aiming for. All of the people I’ve met who are fluent in Thai are outgoing and sociable. So, I need to act like more of an extrovert. After ordering pizza on stage while being filmed, and in front of a crowd of people, speaking with my neighbors should be a walk in the park – it’s not like they can transfer me to an English speaker.
One of the other changes I’m making is to cut down Glossika to 10 sentences per day. Mike Campbell says this is a reasonable amount, and it’s not like I need to rush to finish the course. If I can reduce the amount of time I spend on Glossika to one hour, I’ll have more time to devote to work on some of the key weaknesses.
Will There Be Another Attempt at Ordering Pizza in Thai?
Stuart Jay Raj wants to try ordering the pizza again in a couple of months. He is going to work with me, so I can hopefully get to a stage where speaking in Thai isn’t painful for the operator taking the call. I’m definitely willing to try again – I want another opportunity to get this right.
Update: I’ve decided to add audio recordings of me speaking Thai to future posts over the next three months. My hope is that this will motivate me to improve my pronunciation, and it will also boost my confidence. You have already heard me speaking bad Thai, so it’s not like I have anything to lose by making these recordings public.
If you missed Thai Bites Live. You can watch the video on YouTube. It’s worth watching the whole thing, but my battle with pizza professional begins at 45:00 minutes
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