Sunday, 16 May 2010

Books for learning Thai?

Not a language book lover

I am not a language book lover, but I have a lot of language books, I find them interesting but usually for the wrong reasons. For Chinese I have a bunch of books that have either been donated to me, or have been discovered in 2nd hand shops.

I came across a book called "Thai in a Week" a book from 1990s. I find the optimism of the title amusing, but there were other interesting elements. I quote "Don't let a fear of getting a tone wrong inhibit you from practicing Thai" actually there are a whole load of positive messages all around about learning languages but some people prefer to focus on the negative and then make a big fuss about being all positive about it.

Personally with Chinese I have found it is sometimes nice to read about things once I already have a fair idea about them. I am not alone in this Steve Kaufmann has often mentioned the same.


I have been surprised by how much I have learned from phrases in phrasebooks or phrasebook style lessons, especially once you can start to break them down and remix the language, but those have come from audio lessons. I don't see the immediate usefulness of phrase books for languages that are completely new to you, the "phonetic" transcriptions will be a poor way to learn words in the case of Thai this is touched upon by Stuart Ray Raj. A prime example is pinyin and Chinese. Pinyin romanisation of Chinese is highly phonetic (but not exactly like English) it is very common to see people consistently mis-pronouncing words even after hearing them many times because they remember the writing not the sound. Lao shi is pronounced wrongly as lao she (the English she) even shortly after hearing it again. The solution I feel for pinyin is to first get a feel for the sounds of Chinese and then to learn pinyin well prior to using it for memory. Phrase books for Thai for example are giving you a broken approximation of the sounds when they try to tell you how to say the phrase. Apparently the Thai written language is highly phonetic so it would seem to make more sense to wait for learning that for interacting with the language in writing.

At first the Thai book was of little interest but after a few weeks I found picking it up a few times quite useful, I knew the sounds of some of the word so could apply those to the phonetic system used in the book.

Ultimately I guess I will keep looking at language learning books optomisticall, I like books, they have not been a huge help for language learning to-date though, but can be very entertaining.

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