Problems with Staying Focused Prevent Me from Learning Thai

Week 10 of my Six Month Attempt to Speak Fluent Thai

Stop in Thai

It has become apparent to me this last week that it is my inability to stay focused that has been my biggest barrier to learning Thai. I’m easily distracted, and I can zone-out for disturbingly long periods of time without even realizing it. It means during my study time, I can be automatically clicking on web pages and reading social media updates or just generally ‘away with the fairies’.

All of my previous attempts to achieve fluency in Thai have failed due to lack of focus. I always start off bursting with enthusiasm, but after a few weeks or months, this motivation starts to vanish. This happens because I stop making much progress, and it all starts to feel like a huge waste of time.

This week I almost fell into the same trap. I’ve been starting to zone-out a lot more while I’m studying. There have been a couple of days in particular where I spent six hours doing stuff, but it didn’t feel like I’d anything to show for it. This is because I was just going through the motions and not actually staying focused enough to learn anything. I have the books open and audio playing, but the fact that I’m daydreaming means I’m just kidding myself if I call this learning.

Revamping My Schedule for Learning Thai

My usual response to realizing I’m too distracted is to just press ahead in the hope my focus will return later on – it never has. The problem is this just means my motivation gets less and less until I can’t even be bothered to pretend I’m studying Thai. It is to be expected that I’m going to have days when my focus is a bit below par, but I think when this goes on for more than one day, it is a warning that my there are problems with my approach.

Successful entrepreneurs are fascinating people, and one of the skills they usually possess is the ability to swerve. In plain English, this means their commitment is to achieve a goal rather than strictly sticking to their plan for how to achieve this goal. This because a plan might only get us so far, and if we don’t come up with a new plan, we won’t make any more progress. In the past, I’ve sabotaged my own chances of success because I’ve been too stubborn about sticking to the plan (I’m not just talking about learning Thai here).

I know what is going to happen if I just stay with my old schedule, so I’ve made some significant changes to it:

• The ดรุณศึกษา pronunciation drills have made a huge difference to my ability to speak Thai, but I’m now on auto-pilot when I do them. I’m going to continue with some drill practice, but I’m cutting this down to about five minutes per day (I was doing over an hour). Stu Jay Raj suggested I could still one longer session once per week.I can’t stress enough how much these drills have helped me, and I definitely recommend them to anyone who is serious about speaking Thai like a Thai.
• I am cutting down to just 20 new Glossika sentences per day. I think 20 sentences is the optimal number because it means I can progress at the same pace as the Glossika GSR tracks (two per day).
• I’m now typing out all the new Glossika sentences into a spreadsheet
• I’ve been zoning out too much while listening to Glossika recently, so I’m spending most of this week just revising the last 200 sentences.
• I’m devoting more time to building my collection of 10,000 sentences because it is fun, and I’m usually fully absorbed while I’m doing it.

I initially felt resistant to the idea of slowing down with Glossika. I had my heart set on finishing the three books well before the end of my six month challenge, but it doesn’t look like this is going to happen now. Still, there isn’t any point in rushing through this course if it means failing to absorb half the content.

I don’t fully understand why, but I seem to get more from typing Thai than writing it by hand – maybe it is something to do with the fact that I spend about 10 hours a day using a keyboard? The other nice benefit of typing is I have a lovely spreadsheet with all the sentences I’m learning, and I much prefer this to the book. The only benefit of writing things down was it meant I could add some handy tone glyphs, but I’m getting so much better at recognizing the tone automatically that I hardly ever need to do this now.

I heard somewhere that Glossika is mostly meant to be about listening, but I’ve started using my sentence spreadsheet when doing the GSR audio. It isn’t so much that I need this to help me remember the words – it is more like a visual anchor that stops me from zoning-out.

Don’t Get Despondent if Your Progress is Slow

I’m sure that there are going to be many days in the months ahead when it feels like I’m not making any progress. It is only when I look back to where I was at the beginning of this challenge that I appreciate the changes that have taken place – I’ve made huge progress. I already take for granted stuff like my ability to accurately reproduce Thai tones even though a few months ago I’d almost given up hope of ever being able to do this. If you feel your progress is slow, like back to where you were a few months ago, and you might be amazed.

News update: Stuart Jay Raj is teaming up with Mike Campbell of Glossika for an event in Bangkok next month – I’ll also be taking part. It is a really exciting project and you can find out more about it here Thai Bites Live – The Road to Fluency

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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 11 – Importance of Cracking Thai Fundamentals

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12 thoughts on “Problems with Staying Focused Prevent Me from Learning Thai

  1. One of the most important things for me Paul is that I am going out and actually using the language because that has to be the greatest measure of progress. At the moment, there are really only three people I communicate with in Thai – my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and my trainer at the gym. And that’s really it. I don’t count ordering food in restaurants and asking for another glass, etc and my wife speaks fluent English.

    So there are times when I feel like I’m slogging away learning Thai in order to chat with just three people. I think that’s what makes me lose focus more than anything. Sometimes it feels like I’m studying Thai more as a hobby than as a tool to actually help me get through daily life.

    1. I know what you mean Phil. Mind you, it has gotten to the stage where I would classify speaking to three people in English per day as having a hectic social life 🙂 I’ve got lots of reasons to learn Thai (there is so much stuff I’m interested in), but the fact that it is forcing me to be more sociable might be one of the most important benefits.

  2. I embarked on a parallel program to you at the start of the month (I posted here a few weeks ago) doing more-or-less the same stuff as you but I quickly came to see that it just wasn’t going to work. I’m busy building a house and writing a book and trying to find the energy and drive to make any kind of worthwhile commitment to Thai on top of that meant that instead of dividing my time between three things instead of two, I was just doing nothing productive with any of them – it turns out that I’m really, really, really bad at having more than one major, intellectually demanding project going at the same time (building the house involves close to no thought so that doesn’t count but it does leave me physically tired, which doesn’t help when you’re teaching yourself a language)….so I’ve had to put the intensive Thai thing on hold until the book gets done. That said, I’m still reading your blog with interest. One thing I would say is that six hours of language learning a day is an enormous amount, especially when you don’t have any structure (in the form of lessons and teachers and textbooks and all the rest) so it’s not surprising that your motivation is flagging. Maybe you could try for less quantity and more quality. And doing the same thing day in, day out gets very stale – the Glossika stuff, for example, is worth doing but it’s boring as hell if you really cram it. Why not take a few days off from Thai (only a few, mind) and then try to find something new to do? Some extended writing perhaps.

    1. Hi Dan, it sounds like the time just wasn’t right for you – there are only so many hours in the day. I’ve made a few changes and my motivation is now back in top gear – I’m mostly enjoying this experience, and a lot of the six hours is fun stuff that I really enjoy doing.

  3. Maybe you need a Thai studying buddy! Like an exercise buddy, but you know, for learning Thai instead. You two could help each other or be competitive, if that works for you. Just a thought 🙂 Cause my partner is soooo good about studying, he motivates me by being a good example.
    Lani recently posted..I’ve been discontinued.

  4. Well done Paul, sounds like you’re on top of the whole stale, monotony issue! Keep tweaking your method and routine, say no to distraction, and let the process unravel itself.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to document the steps you’re taking in improving your Thai. I agree with your observation about typing Thai versus handwriting Thai. I find I can fill notebook pages with hand written Thai but not remember most of the words a day later. At least when I have the Thai text in computer form, I’m able to search for words in the text and look words up in the dictionary easier.
    Question – how are you planning to approach the problem of moving the Thai vocabulary you already know from the passive state (hear or read and understand it) to the active state (being able to actually use the vocabulary in speaking or writing)? In my case, my passive vocabulary is much larger than my active vocabulary.

    1. Hi Dan, I’m the same as you in that my passive vocabulary (a few thousand words) is much larger than my active vocabulary. One thing that is helping me is that I’ve switched my focus from learning individual words to learning sentences. I’m using Glossika but I’m also creating a lit of a few thousand sentences that I would actually like to use in real life.

      One of the problems I had in the past was that there were many words I recognized in written form, but I didn’t know how to pronounce them properly, so I never used them. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently to improve my ability to pronounce these words properly, and it is sort of allowing bits of the puzzle to fall into place so my active vocabulary is increasing.

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