Sunday, 30 May 2010

First Eight Weeks Learning Thai Summary


Well eight weeks and a bit, as usual this post is a little later than hoped and unlike before, technically a couple of things mentioned would be at eight weeks and a bit. A jump as the last progress report was at four weeks, but I have severely underestimated the resource required to try to analyse my progress in this way. Going to summarize some findings here in this post, run a few more posts through the mill and then make the blog public. I have to say I am enjoying learning Thai and intend to continue for sure. The landscape for learning Thai for me is quite different to learning Chinese, and the language is quite different, but there are some distinct similarities to Chinese learning.

Learning Thai has robbed time from my Chinese learning but also allowed me to analyse my Chinese learning to-date. I can easily see now where I am with my Chinese and formulate a plan for taking my Chinese to the next level.

I have been greatly surprised by how much faster things have happened than I expected, I expected to spend a lot longer listening to Thai to feel that I had got used to the language.


In as much as there is a method, it can probably be summarized very simply. I listen to and watch (although I have more time for listening) a lot of Thai, radio, tv, podcasts, anything. A large amount of this listening is in the background whilst I am doing something else and a huge chunk of that so far, I haven't been paying a lot of conscious attention

When I do pay attention I am looking for characteristics of the language, common sounds, words etc. This is increasingly moving into word usage, meanings and phrases.

Alongside the pure Thai I have listened too a lot of lessons on Youtube or podcasts, I don't try hard to learn the words of phrases but over time they sink in and start to connect with the real Thai. Sometimes I use subtitles on video (in English or Chinese)

I try not to assign concrete meaning to words, some people may say that I am harming my learning by using vocab lessons, subtitles etc. (they may be correct). I am hoping that keeping things loose will offset damage, I need some vocab. particularly as I am doing so much listening (very hard to get context with no vocab to work on).

I have starting talking, talking with Thai people as with my Chinese is the thing that makes it easy to keep going. I have started talking Thai considerably earlier than I would have done with my first language, more importantly for me at least I know when I am ready to speak a language I am learning. Again talking early may cause damage, I keep it loose, just becasue someone understands what I say I don't assume the story is over at that point. I don't spend much time saying things out aloud or practicing pronounciation.

I am not learning words, no vocab lists, no testing, words are aquired, another benefit from listening to lots of lessons is that if makes it easier to aquire words that can be used in initial talking practice with Thai people.

I have not started reading or writing Thai, I strongly feel that it is crazy to start learning to read and write a language you cannot yet 'hear', although I have started to acquire some knowledge of written Thai.


I am freezing the timings now, they are a pain to monitor and hard to define (how do you define thinking about Thai at random times), after the first week I was averaging well over three hours a day, over the the eight weeks this dropped about an hour a day, very quickly the non-attentive and semi-attentive listening is dropping off (I am sure that some part of me was attentive but I don't seem to need this anymore). Acquiring a feel for the Thai language was much quicker than with Chinese.


I have found a number of resources to help, recently, a recent blog I have looked at that has interesting posts being Women learning Thai A recent post on there being about the Learn Thai podcast that I have listened to a lot of the free lessons from.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Help with Thai (more observations)


I can both understand and sympathize with the principles of the ALG method I have problems though. I am not going to be able to devote a large amount of time to video, but I can find time to listen, I am not in Thailand, I do not have Thai relatives so my opportunities for experience are limited. I have aggressive plans for learning languages and a scary big number on my last birthday card. I need help.


A women has been kidnapped in a Thai drama series, in the car that is carrying her away she cries out choi doi, choi doi. Whilst watching one of the excellent ALG videos, the teachers are discussing swimming wai nam, and the female teacher can only swim a little nid noi, she mimes swimming badly whilst shouting choi doi, choi doi.

Right then I don't know if choi doi means "help me" or "save me" actually it just means whatever choi doi means in the situations it is used. Later I hear a phrase float out the mostly meaningless Thai of something I am listening to kun choi pom dai mai? it seem to me that this means something like "can you help me". Maybe I have misheard, I check a dictionary and a phrasebook (Ipod phrase book with English search). The phrase book has choi doi for help. Forget the transliterations I am only approximating the sounds I don't want to get too good at transliterations. So now I know that choi doi has been translated to "help" in English and is seem that choi is detachable. I don't assume that it has the same characteristics as help in English and I don't make a strong connection to the English word.

Next I come accross Choi being used for "please" it seem this word does range beyond the English meanings for sure.

I need help

Some words and phrases come from listening, some from video, some from lessons (internet freebies) a few with the aid of a dictionary or sub-titles. Like a small child that watches TV with help from an adult to explain what is going on I am attempting to boost my impaired learning environment.

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.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

ALG and TV method


I have heard a lot about the ALG method in the past with regards to language learning and having read a lot about it and with it's basis originally in Thai I was keen to find out more.

The TV method is derived from ALG method principles although many people who have reported some success with it already have some knowledge of the language they are studying. There seems to be plenty of material available in Thai that would allow somebody to follow this approach.

I find it very easy to agree with the principles of ALG however I am not in a position to adopt all of them, I will certainly be watching a fair amount of video also but if the TV method doesn't include subtitles etc. them often I won't be following the TV method (this is a question of time).

How it relates to me

Great news, there are a bunch of videos of ALG classes on Youtube, I have embedded the first part of a level one class below.

The video lessons are amazing, to the extent that I have virtually stopped watching other Thai videos until I have got what I can out of these ALG videos. I am sure I would enjoy living in Thailand and learning from these lessons. Despite this there are some things I have to do differently. A major difference for example is simply that I will talk earlier than it seems ALG would recommend. I will need to talk Thai to get Thai experiences, Thai experiences will help me learn Thai. As a time poor family guy with no Thai connections, speaking Thai will be my best source Thai experience (there is a kind of catch 22 there). Whilst I can see the attraction of the ALG method, I personally don't have have classes I can walk into and follow the course, I don't currently wish to invest money in my new hobby and having had a family relatively young I am looking forward to the freedom of many years of potential travel coming up in the not too distant future (just not right now). So all things considered although I may borrow from ALG I cannot follow it.

The reason for not following a pure TV method is one of time. ALG suggests an important milestone occurs around 800 hours of lessons. Even the videos of their lessons are much more effective in teaching me Thai than normal video, if I say three times more effective then that means I would have to watch 2400 hours of regular video to hit that milestone. I would find it hard to find time to watch one hour of video per day, do the math. I am 40 something, my kids are growing up rapidly soon they will no longer need their parents on a day to day basis, I want to start travelling and using the languages I am learning well before I am 50.

Note 01/06/2010: As Bakunin has pointed out some types of Video can make good substitutes for ALG type input. is a good source.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

First use of a Thai dictionary


Dictionaries are very useful, but they are also liars, they pretend that words have rigid meanings or that a word in one language maps directly to a word in another language. Despite the lies they can be very useful of course, for Chinese I used pinyin a lot to look up words I heard in radio shows etc.

I don't expect to have to use a dictionary very much to look up basic vocabulary, dictionaries come into their own for specialized language, but there are of course many varieties so if I am lucky I will find a dictionary of colloquial phrases.

The only reason to use a dictionary at all was because of the requirement applied from planning to and trying to practice speaking.

The Dictionary

And the dictionary of choice was the one at I had already come across this site. I am likely to be practicing in restaurants and don't like the phrase book "can I have a table for X please?" type of phrases because I don't feel enough ownership of those sentences. At some point I have come across 'saam tee' as 'table for three', trouble was I couldn't remember where, it seems compact though. I wanted to look up tee so that I could confirm I wasn't completely mistaken.

First problem I don't know the official romanisation so started with tee and finally got to thee, which gives me ที่ with potential meanings including seat, location etc. that must be it. It seemed to work in the wild even when I was not prepared, but I had to replace 3 with 1 of course.

Second problem, intellectually I knew this was not Chinese, but with the vowel rammed on top there, I panicked for second and thought this "character" has too many meanings ;). After I calmed down it was obvious however that like Chinese many composite words are formed in part from singles meanings of this syllable. English is often like this also but it is much harder to spot as we don't know the original Latin or Greek parts. What the dictionary page was showing me was bunch of meanings that contain this particular sound which looks scary for a second when you associate 'foreign' writing with characters that have meaning rather than sounds.

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned Thai script yet much at all, there is a reason for that.

Monday, 3 May 2010

An accidental conversation in Thai


Conversation practice is about the only cause of stress and effort in learning Thai (apart from blogging) at the moment. So why bother?

Accidental conversation

Well conversation is pushing it somewhat, last Thursday I was wandering around at lunchtime I thought I would try one of the Thai restuarants I have targeted for potential conversation use in the future (they have lunchtime specials). The intention was simply to get the lay of the land, check they were actually Thai staff etc.

Problem was they greet everybody with sa-wat dee, on hearing that I kind of brain froze and the only response I could come it with was sa-wat dee krap. That went down ok I asked for a table (well seat) for one in Thai and the person I was talking with looked confused, and spluttered back a half English half Thai sentance that I had no chance of understanding, assuming I had been completely mis-understood I reverted to English and apologised, they apologised in English.
Apparently I had been understood fine, this place always greets everyone in Thai and they are used to some people learning how to greet back, so my continuing in Thai wasn't immediately registered.

Ok so no long real conversation but I had a few minor exchanges commented on the food, complimented a waitress on her English in Thai, said that Thai was fun and I like learning Thai in Thai. I was not set up for recording though (dang).

How am I going to make a more flowing conversation occur? Apart from just waiting to have another Thai naturally available to me.

Why make the effort?

That sounds rather defeatist, why make the effort? However only two things about learning Thai so far are an effort. The main effort is blogging about learning Thai, the next main effort is trying to work out how to have conversations and what I am going to be able to say. I could guess possible conversations and cram words for them, but right now I am not learning words, just aquiring the ones that come easily. I could do some research, find a better source of potential Thai conversation, but right now I don't feel comfortable having nothing to say. I could cram my short term memory with phrases prior to a conversation but that is hard and stressfull, the conversations I have enjoyed in Chinese are the ones where I just relax and clear my mind beforehand, relying on words and phrases that are deeply embedded.

Some people would say I was being negative, negative about finding good conversation. Looking at poor conversations with a "glass half full" mindset. The problem with this is that it is my language learning, if I order a pint of Guiness and I am given a half glass of orange juice then yes I am going to be quite negative about it actually.

Besides I am confident in my approach, I know it is not fear that is holding me back, I have had plenty of conversation in Chinese, and I know that the "positivity message" is far too blunt a tool to be applied in complicated circumstances, after all I can sit and listen to real Thai and enjoy getting tiny handholds into the language and understanding the occaisional word and phrase, this is more like "WOW I am so happy, there is a detectable trace of moisture on the bottom of the glass" ;)

I am going to pursue conversation, and attempt to get a better audio, for two reasons.

Firstly, I am experimenting with myself somewhat, putting my own personal language learning under the microscope I am intersted in seeing what will happen. If I have some audio I can refer back to it at a later date.Secondly, there may come a time when I will spend some time in a country with short notice if I wanted to get some ability in the language, could I start learning the same way? could I then use that as a springboard into speaking earlier than I normally would?

Saturday, 1 May 2010

I don't know krab about Thai

There is a lot of talk about knowing words, learning words from vocab lists or flash cards. It seems that knowing something is black and white, on/off. Very little information and learning is like that at all, it makes people feel better though, it makes testing easier (though less accurate).

First of all apologies, I am not sure of the official romanisation of the word krap / krup / krub but basically I am talking about the polite word that males attach to the end of some sentances. I probably know more about this word than any other Thai word but I still don't know krap.

I know the word is high tone in Thai, I know what it is supposed to sound like after much exposure from many speakers (audio and video + 1 waiter). I know that despite what the lessons tell me, Thai male speakers don't put it on the end of every sentance but I need to get more a feel for that. In video they don't use it much when talking with friends or family, with themselves, to their dog, etc. On various forms of radio it almost seems as if it is thrown in every few sentances when the pressure of not enough krap exceeds a certain level. On one of my Tony Jaar movies when they interview the actors and actresses, they use Krab (and ka) a lot at the beginning and then stop using it as they answer later questions. I know you can roll the r, pronounce the r as an l, lose the r entirely, loose the k and end up with something like hup which isn't much at all to end up with as the p is usually unvoiced (I think the technical term is unvoiced anyway).

Having heard the word in many guises, I can say it to a point, I suspect that in a few months time I will hear me saying it now and thing farang! In my head it sounds Thai (having just watched Britian has got Talent on the TV whilst typing this, some people "think" they can sing because they can in their head).

I know the word is not used (or to a much less extent) in the Lao language

Ultimately I still don't know the word in any full sense, I feel I "Know" very few Chinese words, and there a lot of words I don't know even in my mother tongue. I don't expect to know any Thai words yet.

I still don't know so much about this word but that is not a problem all I expect that as with all the words I will keep learning more about it.