I have made more progress in the last month than I did in the previous decade of trying to get to grips with Thai. Although, a lot of my current effort is directed towards undoing the damage from those years of speaking the language badly.
How to Speak Crap Thai
The first Thai words I ever spoke were ขอบคุณครับ (khaawp kun khrap) which is the equivalent of saying ‘thank you’ in English. I use these words at least ten times a day, and it is something I now say automatically – the only problem is I’ve been mostly saying it wrong for the past 13 years.
I do know how to say ขอบคุณครับ the correct way, but for some reason, I pronounce it differently when I’m in a situation where I actually need to say ‘thank you’. Stuart Jay Raj calls it first language interference. I speak these words in Thai in the exact same way that I say them in English, and this means the ครับ (khrap) turns into a falling tone when it should be a high tone. I never even noticed I did this until a couple of weeks ago – I’d assume ขอบคุณครับ was one of the few phrases I did say correctly.
I say ขอบคุณครับ automatically, and so this is going to make it harder for me to fix this bad habit. I’ve given my wife and son the task of monitoring my use of the word ครับ (you could call it crap monitoring). The other day we went to a petrol station, and I was determined to say these simple words correctly. I rehearsed the tones in my head while I was waiting to pay, but I still ended up saying it the old way. The scary thing was that at first I felt convinced I’d said it right. I felt so annoyed with myself afterwards, but I’ve been saying it the right way since then.
The Importance of Getting the Thai Basics Right
If I had approached Thai the right way initially, I would have been speaking fluent years ago. Instead I stubbornly insisted on doing things my own way. I wrongly believed that I’d pick up the basics naturally by listening to people speak and by focusing my efforts on building a large vocabulary. I was wrong. What is the point in knowing a few thousand words in Thai if you pronounce most of them wrong?
Learning the basics does require effort and commitment, but as far as I can see, this work is essential. Otherwise it’s like that joke about the pilot who makes the following passenger announcement – “the bad news is we are completely lost, but the good news is we seem to be making pretty good time”. I hope new learners of the Thai language (or any language) come across my blog and see me old approach as the perfect example of how not to go about things.
Thai Drills Are So Powerful
I spend about two hours a day now just doing Thai drills. Stuart Jay Raj suggested I do this exactly same way as Thai kids do when they first go to school – the way my son has been doing it up to recently. I’m using the first book from the ดรุณศึกษา (Darun Suksa) series, and this is designed for kids who are still in anubaan (kindergarten). I first say the consonant and vowel separately, and if there is a tone marker, I saw the word with and without this. It takes me a couple of hours to go through all the consonant classes, but it becomes like a type of meditation.
In my last session with Stuart, he told me a few simple stories that have made it easy for me to memorize all the Thai tone rules. For years, I’ve been using these messy charts that I created myself, it is ridiculous how complicated I’ve been making things, but I can now look at a word almost any word and know the tone without having to use any tool. The work I’m doing with the Thai drills means I’m starting to do this automatically.
I suspect it is going to take another month or so to get the basics right, but I don’t mind this work because I can already see dramatic improvements. I’m building up the muscles needed to produce these words correctly, and I’m creating a Thai sound system rather than trying to speak the language using an English sound system. Those thousands of words I’ve already learned are going to fall into place, so I can actually start using them in conversation.
I’m going to start using the new Glossika Thai fluency course. It’s due for release next week, and I’ve already paid for the special pre-release deal. I’ll talk about my experiences with this program in future posts. I sort of feel excited about it. Catherine over at ‘A Woman Learning Thai’ is doing the Italian Glossika course, and she seems to love it.
Why Don’t You Join in My Six Month Challenge to Become Fluent in Thai or Even Italian?
There are already at least two other people who have committed to a similar period of intense language acquisition. Catherine from ‘A Woman Learning Thai’ has a slightly different goal because she wants to be able to speak Italian for her planned trip (although she is also going to use the language acquisition skills she picks up for improving her Thai). Dan reads Catherine’s blog and he left a comment over there saying he has been following my series of posts on Thai, and he too wants to commit to an intense period of learning Thai.
Why don’t you join us too?
The rules are simple – you just need to donate all of your free time to learning Thai (or whatever language you want to learn). This means no more English TV, no English music, no English books, and no internet for entertainment unless it is in Thai (okay you can read English if it is about learning Thai). You do this for six months, and you use at least the first couple of months to make sure you have the basics right. I’m managing to free up about six hours a day for focused study, but you may be able to do even more.
If you do decide to accept this challenge, you will find there is an amazing community ready to help you master the Thai language including:
I also recommend Cracking Thai Fundamentals so you can start off with a strong foundation. Stuart also has his Thai bites videos which offer further insights into the language. You might also want to check out his excellent YouTube discussion on tones
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 7 – Introverts Can Learn Thai Too
Week 8 – Winning Strategy for Achieving Fluency in Thai
Week- 9 – Thai Fluency in 10,000 Sentences