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Thai - How difficult?


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I was fortunate to have begun learning Thai at the age of 22 as a US Peace Corps Volunteer. I'm 65 now and still learning.

 

Learning to speak, hear, and think tonally is much harder than learning to read Thai. Learning a character set is no big deal. This random letter represents this certain precise sound. Got it! The European alphabets are a poor approximation of Thai sounds. 

 

Anyone who says you can ignore tones doesn't know what he's talking about. The tone is an integral part of every syllable of Thai, as much as the correct consonant or vowel sound. To jou upterpant shif fengeng? Let me repeat, do you understand this sentence? Why not? I got all the vowels right, and a couple of consonants. That's what wrong tones sound like to Thai people. Do they get it from context? Sure, about as well as if you mumble and point. Your family members learn your limited vocabulary like they do a toddler's. Take it from someone who, 42 years ago, asked a little girl if she could poop (ขี้, khee, falling tone) a bicycle, when of course I meant ride (ขี่, khee, low tone). Made a lasting impression on me. 

Edited by LawrenceN
Little grammar fix
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My opinion after 30 years of Thai study.   To learn Thai presents many challenges to a speaker of a Western language beyond simply hearing and making the correct tones.   The five "tones"  b

Of the two foreign languages I’ve studied extensively, French and Thai, I’d say that for me at least, Thai’s around 20 times harder than French - ie for every hour of study to improve my French, 20 ho

My biggest issue is actually hearing the tones, I'm deaf in one ear and pretty crumby in the other (I'll spash out for an aid one day). Of course when speaking I invariably get the tones wrong and (li

1 hour ago, AlfHuy said:

Everybody is "hansum" here, even if you look like "Catweazle".

The bigger the wallet the more "hansum" you look.

Yes, that is how the saying goes  ( which we all know already)

 

The thing is,  some of us can tell by observing the couple......... how much of the "hansum"

is wallet ......... and how much just might be something to do with the traits of the man .

 

i am more cynical than most here............. but there is always an exception or two.

Usually a man with good Thai skills will have a better chance of meeting a match based

on something other than keeping the lady and her family's buffalo well taken care of

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36 minutes ago, LawrenceN said:

The tone is an integral part of every syllable of Thai, as much as the correct consonant or vowel sound. To jou upterpant shif fengeng? Let me repeat, do you understand this sentence? Why not? I got all the vowels right, and a couple of consonants. That's what wrong tones sound like to Thai people. Do they get it from context? Sure, about as well as if you mumble and point.

You assume that every tone of every syllable is totally random, but this is just not the case. Just by copying how Thais say it many tones will probably end up right. A wrong tone also doesn't change the whole structure of a word.

Using wrong tones results in something comparable to this: Tumorrow I wood like too go fishing. About everybody can figure out what this is supposed to mean.

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3 hours ago, Bogbrush said:

There have been a few posts here recommending Internet courses/electronic translators;  whilst I’m sure they have a place (particularly the courses) I am dubious, in that all those I have investigated use females and therefore “chan” as opposed to “pom”.  I understand using “pom” and why, and could adjust for that, but would the female tense cause any other difficulties further on in a sentence?

As far as I’m aware ฉัน “chan” can also be used by male speakers in some contexts (experts please correct me if I’m wrong), which may be why the courses use it. I don’t know what you’d sound like to a native speaker if you used it, someone here might know. Thai is exceptionally rich in pronouns, and their use is exceedingly complicated, although they can often be omitted entirely where English would require them.

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33 minutes ago, CygnusX1 said:

As far as I’m aware ฉัน “chan” can also be used by male speakers in some contexts (experts please correct me if I’m wrong), which may be why the courses use it.

 

You are correct.  However, the reason courses use it is because it can be used by both genders.  It really doesn't reflect appropriate personal pronoun usage.  At a basic level men should use phǒm and women dìˑchǎn.

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1 hour ago, jackdd said:

You assume that every tone of every syllable is totally random, but this is just not the case. Just by copying how Thais say it many tones will probably end up right. A wrong tone also doesn't change the whole structure of a word.

Using wrong tones results in something comparable to this: Tumorrow I wood like too go fishing. About everybody can figure out what this is supposed to mean.

I don't see what point you're trying to make by plugging in homonyms. What you wrote makes that sentence slightly more difficult to read, but sounds the same. 

 

I also don't know what you mean by "You assume that every tone of every syllable is totally random." I don't assume that. Please quote for me the sentence that I wrote that gave you that impression, and I'll clarify. 

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1 hour ago, CygnusX1 said:

Thai is exceptionally rich in pronouns, and their use is exceedingly complicated, although they can often be omitted entirely where English would require them.

That sounds like a plan!

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On 10/21/2020 at 11:09 AM, kenk24 said:

How does it compare to Vietnamese? 

No idea about Vietnamese, but I was much, much better with Japanese. I feel that I'm a dumb regarding Thai. Japanese was much easier for me to catch words from speakers and repeat them about the same. It did not work for me with Thai. I'm always wrong, eventually gave up. I believe learning language is just like other things. Person to person it works differently and it is depends on different things + talent in language. 
 

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7 hours ago, jingjai9 said:

My problem is remembering which words get which tones. I know in Thai they have the same word for rice and news. But I cannot remember which tone to use for each word. Rice is chao - is it rising or falling? How do you remember? I have some vocabulary but it is not of much use to me.

 

 

You can remember by learning to read Thai and learning the tone rules.  This is the only way.  It takes a lot of time, but eventually it begins to start making sense.  

Now that I can speak with a tiny bit of fluency on occasions, knowing the tones and speaking accordingly, when the Thai listener knows that I am speaking Thai and not English, I am usually understood.  I know how to keep it simple and use words that are easy to pronounce.

There is hope.

 

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2 hours ago, The Theory said:
On 10/21/2020 at 5:09 AM, kenk24 said:

How does it compare to Vietnamese? 

No idea about Vietnamese, but I was much, much better with Japanese. I feel that I'm a dumb regarding Thai. Japanese was much easier for me to catch words from speakers and repeat them about the same. It did not work for me with Thai. I'm always wrong, eventually gave up. I believe learning language is just like other things. Person to person it works differently and it is depends on different things + talent in language. 

 

It's probably going to be harder for a Westerner to pick up spoken Vietnamese than spoken Thai - the number of totally new sounds is about the same (I think there are actually a couple more, if we're comparing with English) but the tonal system is quite a lot more complex. On the other hand, reading and writing is a lot easier - the spelling is pretty regular, the characters are obviously the ones we're already familiar with (or pretty much), there aren't really any tone rules, they use spaces and there aren't any unwritten vowels or syllables. I say that based on a month or so of learning - I went over thinking I might spend quite a bit of time there, but as it turned out I wasn't that into it.

 

I've only spent a couple of weeks in Japan but the language is known for having a relatively simple sound system, so it makes sense that it would be easier to pick up the pronunciation of Japanese than Thai (or Vietnamese). Reading and writing is obviously a different matter...

 

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On 10/20/2020 at 10:45 PM, cheshiremusicman said:

I have had exactly the same problem, I just cannot get the 'tones'. I've always been told that I'm a good mimic when it comes to languages, but for the hell of me I cannot speak Thai correctly even after trying for some 14 years - I must just be thick!

Years ago, I was learning French and I was told that I had a accent that was from the south of France - Marseille I think, but I've now forgotten nearly all the French I learned. The other language I had the utmost difficulty with was Swedish. I think with some languages you have to train your vocal chords from a very early age to get the hang of them. I'm definitely not tone deaf as I cannot stand out of tune music or singing - drives me mad and my hearing is still OK at 77 albeit one ear is better than the other. I think that I will buy one of these 'Auto Speech Translators' - thank goodness for modern electronics!
 

When in France I was complemented many times on my French pronunciation, but the tones are a whole different thing. When I accidently hit the right tone and my Thai friend "oh so clear" I am bewildered.

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On 10/22/2020 at 4:34 PM, LawrenceN said:

Anyone who says you can ignore tones doesn't know what he's talking about.

I wouldn't recommend people ignore tones but if they don't know or can't remember a correct tone they will often be understood by the context.

 

A very simple example:
A driver asks you "which way?"
If you reply เลี้ยวทราย the driver will almost certainly turn left even though you just said "turn sand." But you're in a car with no sand in sight so left it is.

 

เลี้ยวซ้าย is correct for turn left.

 

I know my tones aren't perfect, I wish they were, but I get by just fine speaking only Thai where I live in the boonies.

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