Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Next Three Days Learning Thai

How to record progress

I have to be careful, I want to leave a reasonable record and reflection of what I did and what happened but I have to strike some kind of balance. Blogging takes time, family takes time, work takes time, and learning Chinese takes time this means that learning Thai is very much a part-time hobby. Alongside this I am reading an huge amount of language learning blog posts. By necessity my posts will be off-the-cuff and speed typed with many smelling and mistakes grammar (elegant writing is not so important as recording information and impressions).

Time on Job

The next three days learning Thai I am working, I have some chance to listen to Thai whilst at work. And some free time. For this period I am going to log 10 hours inattentive listening, 2 hours attentive listening, and 4 hours listening to various pod casts and lessons on Youtube or Itunes. Mostly I am letting the lessons wash over me but picking up a few things. All the various timings will be summarized at some point. Conversation 0mins. I can't log speaking in my head or thinking about Thai (that will happen a lot). Speaking to myself means out aloud, I don't do this much there is little point (imho) worrying about or practicing to pronounce a language I don't know the sound of yet (would I expect to be able to play blues guitar from a book and listening to a few riffs If I hadn't listened to and appreciated blues music?).
Most of the free lesson stuff won't help much in the long run, it will load me with some vocab. though, generally there is far too much English, the following youtube lessons from Bon suffer from far too much English however they are better than most and Bon's English ability shows that she at least understands about language learning from a personal perspective.

The web is littered with sites that say they have methods and courses to teach you perfect Mandarin etc. in the shortest possible time and yet have sound clips and articles from their teachers in poor English (why not use the same methods themselves). Go for it Bon...


Most of what I get from listening to real Thai is going to be sub-conscious but still very tangible to me. I also strongly suspect that thinking about it too much is counter-productive. Remember that a lot of this listening is in dead time where I couldn't have studied in any other way.
  • Still sounding a little Welsh or Norse (whatever that means). Mostly doesn't sound Cantonese at all now (so something has resolved in there).
  • Based on a few words I know I can hear a little variation and funkiness with some sounds b/p endings ch/t beginnings to words, similar to how I sometimes hear a little p in the ta of Mandarin, specially with some speakers.
  • I knew that sawatdee could be used for goodbye as well a hello and that krab/p or ka could be used for yes before anyone told me (the best way to find out).
  • looking for more easy to spot words, still don't know what roi means but my timmi  (closer to tini) means here or similar. The first time I heard it was said a little like the cry of "Timmmy" from the South Park character. Basically I suspect that every language has a bunch of words that are distinct enough to be picked out easily (I found gongzuo, pengyou .... in Mandarin).
  • Going out on a limb (and I know it is a perilous limb) I suspect that Thai speakers generally pronounce words relatively clearly (with a range of course) compared to other Asian languages I have heard. In a similar way that French speakers find it acceptable to slur their own language yet German is usually pronounced fairly clearly even when spoken fast. If true this is going to be a huge help :).

Monday, 22 March 2010

The First Two Days Learning Thai

In the light of potential comparison to the speak early, learn in the country approach, I will need to adjust my intended method somewhat, within an eight week period I would only expect to be listening with very little other learning. I have already blogged about how how important listening was to me when I started learning Mandarin. The problem with just listening for 8 weeks is that it is hard to analyze the advantage I get, even if I know it is there. Besides I think I known how to avoid damage from attempting to talk too early... or rather I hope I do.

Having said that the last Saturday and Sunday, the free time I had was devoted almost entirely to listening, I don't look for explanations or vocab. I am going to log 2 hours for each day of attentive listening to a variety of sources (variety is important here) but also have fixed on a small selection of spoken stories from that I found as podcasts on my Ipod (these will be one of the sources I return to often).

How can I listen to hours of material I completely fail to understand? Because I am actively getting used to the sounds slowly the mush of sounds starts to resolve and unravel.

  • listening for common sounds
  • listening for word boundries
  • listening for sentance boundries
  • male sounds, female sounds, children, old people
  • listening for conjugates and loan words
  • listening for names, emotion, formal speech (news) etc. etc.
How can I explain, the language slows down the sounds become more distinct, and I notice things.

The rolled r (some speakers seem to drop this). The tones, at least one funky one there. The similarity to Cantonese (I speak very little Cantonese but I know the sound. The more formal spoken language sometimes sounds a little Welsh (bizarrely). Some females especially seem to put those Cantonese type noises on the end. I don't know the romanization but hearing some numbers sipgao sipsam (youtube had a video, Thai numbers for Cantonese speakers, had a quick first intro. already). A guy and a girl say sipgao she put a little Cantonese feel and stretches out the gaaaooo (but also just slightly Welsh ;)). What does roi mean (love the sound) what does tiimmii mean?

I have improved at this even after six hours or so it has all slowed down, almost to a point where if feels they are speaking too slowly (it will speed again when I start to understand a little unfortunately), even so I have the suspicion that the Thai radio presenters speak a little slower than Chinese ones, bit more laid back.

Writing this I am logging some less attentive listening, listening to Thai radio online.

I meet so many language learners who have been learning for years and yet moan that they still can't cope with understanding the language they are studying at full speed. Why not sort that out first, ironically I think it is easy to get used to it when there is no burden of attemped understanding.

A good start, game on Thai, I have no fear, I have no pressure, no stress, no danger.

There is so much more I could have written, I bet Thai has more sounds than Mandarin more than Cantonese, I hear some loan words (Nuclear, Europe etc. etc) the Thais seem to be armed with enough sounds to pronounce these types of words better than the Chinese and significantly better than the Japanese discovering these things for myself is far more important than reading about it.

I am concious of learning so much this way, imagine how much I may be absorbing unconciously.

Why Thai?

I have blogged as mandarin_student for some time now Mandarin was the first language I selected to learn and is likely to be the language that I will make the most progress with. I wanted however to learn more than one language and experiment with what I have discovered learning Mandarin. I regard my Chinese learning as a moderate success so far. Starting to learn languages so late, with the normal time constraints that most people have and not being based in a country that speaks the language I am reasonably pleased with progress so far, however I feel that with experience and the things I have learned since then further language learning should be much smoother.

Why did I pick Thai for my next language? lots of reasons. I think that each language presents a number of unique challenges but Thai would seem to have many similar aspects to Chinese. I know no Thai so can start from scratch and most importantly the are some interesting language learning methods and linguists directly connected with Thai. I intend to document my thoughts quite extensively over the next eight weeks, and am just catching up with the notes I made over the last couple of days.

My Objective? simply to start the Thai learning process in what to to me seems the best way and make observations about it. The main challenge as with Chinese will be fitting learning in, finding gaps in normal life. I am under no illusions, full time study and study in Thai land would undoubtably be faster for me but there again I think language learning is accessible as a hobby.

I started learning Thai on Saturday 20th March 2010, at that point I knew very little about the language. If I had an opinion at all at that time I would probably have said "it sounds a little like Cantonese?". I guess I would recognize Thai script as Thai script but I might have got fuzzy and said Burmese (what does their writing look like now I come to think about it).

This blog is a place to put my thoughts in enough detail so that it will be clear to me what I did when I revisit it in time to come, I will make it public with an analysis of my conclusions after about eight weeks, I don't need encouragement etc. assuming I don't take a dislike to Thai language for some reason I intend to follow it through.
Let the Thai begin.........

The first phase of this blog is all about the first eight weeks, posts to do with the first eight weeks will have the tag eightweeks. You can also jump straight to the summary of the first eight weeks.