Winning Strategy for Achieving Fluency in Thai

Bumps Ahead Thailand

Week 8 of My Six Month Attempt to Speak Fluent Thai

This is a great time to be learning Thai because there are now so many great resources out there. The only problem is I’m tempted to use all of it, but this wouldn’t be practical, and it could even get in the way of my progress. It’s also not necessary. I think the key to success is to pick just a few quality language learning resources and stick with them until they are no longer needed.

I feel like I’ve hit upon my winning strategy for achieving fluency in Thai – I say ‘mine’ not because I’ve invented anything new, but because this approach might not work for everyone. I read somewhere that the polyglot Adam Bradshaw became fluent by reading Thai out loud for an hour a day, and this seems to be the solution I’m moving towards.

I should have spent close to 1,000 hours studying Thai by the end of this six months. This period of intensive study is working for me. I do get days when I feel disheartened, but there is no doubt that I’m making significant progress. I no longer feel those previous 13 years of learning Thai the ‘wrong way’ were wasted. It is just that this period of intense learning was needed for it all to come together.

The Beauty of Reading Thai Out Loud

I see the work I’ve been doing with Stuart Jay Raj as similar to learning how to play chords on the guitar, and the pronunciation drills have been like trying to master different music scales. I’ve still more work to do in both of these areas, but I feel ready to move onto playing some actual songs, and I think this is what reading out loud is all about.

I know the texts in Thai for Advanced Readers by Benjawan Poomsan Becker well from using this book in the past. I used to record myself reading this content years ago but that was back when I thought enthusiasm could make up for lack of proper tones and pronunciation. I am now going back to these texts with a different attitude – I seem them as like songs I’m trying to add to my repertoire.

Reading the material in Thai for Advanced Readers is like revisiting old friends. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to read these texts and know I’m getting the tones and pronunciation right. It’s like playing a song and hitting all the right notes (not that I’ve much experience with this) – it just flows. As soon as I’m able to read a chapter all the way through while hitting all the right notes, I’m ready to move onto the next one.

I know it is possible to be able to read Thai to a fairly high level and still not be able to communicate, but this is not the same as reading out loud. It seems to me that reading aloud is the next best thing to going out there engaging in conversation. I suspect at some stages in our learning it may even be better to read aloud, so long as we are getting the tones and pronunciation right.

I see the work I’m doing during this six months as like a bridge to a more sustainable way of learning Thai. It’s all about making learning the language a natural part of my life, so that further progress doesn’t require so much effort. Some of the changes I’ve made are going to be permanent –it was crazy that I was living in Thailand but focused so much on English language media and entertainment. I also like the idea of reading out loud for an hour a day as my main technique for formal study – by then I’ll be ready for more natural content like newspaper stories.

My Study Routine for Week 8

I continue to love the Glossika approach to studying Thai. I’m learning 30 new sentences per day, and this feels like about the right pace for me (you can check out my exact routine in my last post ).

As part of my Glossika workout, I’m writing out the sentences really fast while listening to the audio and not pausing. One of the unexpected benefits of writing so rapidly is that it is making it easier for me to comprehend Thai handwriting. It’s like that by being forced to write so fast is moving me towards a more natural way of writing – although my own handwriting still looks like the scrawl of a seven year old with attention deficit disorder (a diagnosis I once earned).

BTW – Glossika has generously provided some free lessons on iTunes, so you might want to check these out. You can find some sample GMS lessons and some sample GSR lessons.

I’ve been spending a bit less time on the ดรุณศึกษา pronunciation drills and more time on reading actual texts out loud – 90 minutes a day was starting to feel like a bit too much. I found other pronunciation drills on the Learn Thai from a White Guy website, and I might mix things up by using these as well. I’ll continue with these drills for at least another month, to make sure the tone rules, and proper pronunciation of consonants and vowels, is firmly imbedded in my mind.

I’m still using Cracking Thai Fundamentals to keep me on the straight and narrow – there is an awful lot to the CTF course, so I expect to keep on returning to it.

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- 9 – Thai Fluency in 10,000 Sentences

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11 thoughts on “Winning Strategy for Achieving Fluency in Thai

  1. So true about reading aloud being a superb self study method if one knows how to pronounce what’s on paper. Even better if accompanied by a recording such as an audio book. Better still if the content is interesting for the reader!

    Thanks Paul for sharing your journey. I’ve been in Chiang Mai for nine months and put two or three hours a day into learning Thai.

  2. I have been living and working in Thailand for close to 12 years. When i first arrived i thought it would be great to learn all about Thai customs, culture and of course,the language. After 6 months i realized that because i have very little money,Thailand doesn’t really want me here and makes it very difficult for me to stay. So, they can stick their customs, culture and language.
    None the less, i wish you every success in your endevours. You seem like a pretty single minded guy who does what he sets out to do. So, good luck with your efforts.
    Tom

    1. Thanks Tom Yam. I needed to either learn to appreciate the culture or I’ve no business being here. I’ve a son who is half-Thai, so it would be harmful to him if I didn’t appreciate the culture – it could make him grow up hating himself. I can understand why people do become disillusioned quickly here, and I’ve certainly had similar thoughts in the past, but I can’t afford to think that way.

  3. Well all I can say after studying thai for 7+ years is keep at it.

    Any method you believe in is better than one you try but don’t believe in. I am of the mind that method comes in a distant second to motivation. Even a sucky methodology will work on someone who is honestly motivated to learn thai.

    I dunno how much reading out loud will help you communicate in real life with thaiz, but again, IF you think it will it probably will.

    Face it, if you read out loud but have no real life thai hanging around listening and correcting you, who knows if you’re pronouncing the words right? It is my experience that being able to read a thai word with the correct pronunciation and also being able to say that word when you converse with thaiz are horses of a different color. People rarely (as in almost never) think of how a word is spelled before they say something, or if they do, they’re awfully SLOW speakers of any language..

    Also I don’t believe Adam Bradshaw is a polyglot. I’ve only heard him speak American English and Thai, and that doesn’t quite hit the mark for polyglot-ism. Don’t get me wrong he is a really gifted non-native speaker of thai, but I’d hafta rate him as a “poly-not”.

    Here’s his interview on Catherine Wentworth’s website under Successful Thai Language Learners;
    http://womenlearnthai.com/index.php/successful-thai-language-learner-adam-bradshaw/

    Keep at it, you’ll get there, after all 70+ million thaiz in this country seem speak/understand thai just fine. It is statistically impossibile that they’re all smarter than you are.. If they can do it so can you, IF you want to!!

    Good Luck..
    Tod Daniels

    1. Hi Tod – you make some good points. Obviously, I’m not just going on my own interpretation of how well I’m pronouncing the words because that is what I did in the past. I’m constantly recording, comparing, and getting feedback from native speakers.

      It’s not really got anything to do with spelling either – reading out loud is about vocalizing non-stop in Thai for an hour at a time which is something I’m unlikely to get with normal conversations. I did this the other day, and afterwards I walked out my door and began chatting with a neighbor without even noticing that I was speaking in Thai. So it does seem to be working for me better than anything I’ve tried in the past.

      I probably shouldn’t have used the term ‘polyglot’ to describe Adam Bradshaw, and I don’t know if he would use this term himself, but for me anyone who can speak more than one language is a polyglot 🙂

    2. I’m also hoping reading out loud will help me in my quest to fluency. I agree 100% that proper pronunciation is a must. It’s my BELIEF that if a word is read out loud correctly enough times, when you go to speak it, you will also speak it correctly. I don’t know about your experiences, but I’ve found most Thai people don’t correct others when they speak anyway. As Paul mentioned, those of us with good ears can record ourselves talking and easily pick out our mistakes. Another advantage of reading out loud is we’ll get practice saying things differently than we normally would. I suppose that could be a disadvantage though depending on the source material. 🙂

      Mike

    3. In my experience I don`t have any problems correcting myself, because if a sound is more up, down, frontal or back than it`s suppose to be it feels quite odd in my mouth, I make sure to create a unique and distinct feeling for every sound of every position so I don`t need to think about my mouth, you know, `put them back in the unconscious where they belong` this comes from my experience seeing English learners, in the rare occasions they learn a new sound they would put so much more effort on very simple sound movements like they were the most difficult thing in the world.
      My only fault was to learn them as separate units rather them put them in a comprehensive whole, the sounds didn`t feel like they where natural consequences of each other and uninvited sounds where constantly wanting to get into the party.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Adam Bradshaw was a Mormon missionary and got exposed to the language practicing it 12 hours a day trying to find people interested in the church during his 2 years long mission all over Thailand.

    Books can help but in the end getting fully immersed in the language makes the difference and most of all USING what you are studying in everyday conversations.

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