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long time in Thailand and my thai still sucks


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Guest Gandtee

When I moaned to my friend about my lack of ability to speak Thai, his reply was "You may learn it enough to get yourself into trouble, but will you learn it well enough to get yourself out of trouble"? I have used that as another excuse, in addition to my wife speaking very good English, so I never had the need to, laziness and old age. The good thing that has come out of it is that my foster son speaks very good English and came top in the Eastern Seaboard examination. If I were able to speak Thai and our conversations were in Thai, maybe he wouldn't be so fluent. That is another of my excuses nowwhistling.gif

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I felt exactly as you do and have a great deal of difficulty tuning to the tones. I just put my head down and studied, and listened and I also did formal training in a Thai language school which reall

Learning a language is mostly about memory, and its well known peoples memory isnt as good as you get older. The main issue I think for westerners is the tonal system, because we never learned to lis

You are not alone. I gave up a long time ago.

I'm absolutely convinced that personality plays a huge role. If you're are secure, self-assured, aggressive and don't care about making mistakes or looking foolish, you can learn a new language quickly.

But, if you're like me: weak, insecure, reticent and terrified of making errors and looking stupid you'll never learn a new language.

What I need is not more study, but a personality transplant.

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I am coming to the end of my life. What possible use is learning to read/write/speak Thai to me? If I had a grave and a headstone I'd much rather it told visitors that I taught my family to speak English and being able to do arithmetic than that I was bilingual. My limited vocabulary is all that I need. My lack of a comprehensive means of communication has not prevented me from maintaining good relations with the locals or in dealings with shopkeepers. I see no mileage in trying to be more Thai than the Thais.

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I'm absolutely convinced that personality plays a huge role. If you're are secure, self-assured, aggressive and don't care about making mistakes or looking foolish, you can learn a new language quickly.

But, if you're like me: weak, insecure, reticent and terrified of making errors and looking stupid you'll never learn a new language.

What I need is not more study, but a personality transplant.

Noooooooo, you are like me, need a brain transplant................whistling.gif ....................smile.png

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I'm absolutely convinced that personality plays a huge role. If you're are secure, self-assured, aggressive and don't care about making mistakes or looking foolish, you can learn a new language quickly.

But, if you're like me: weak, insecure, reticent and terrified of making errors and looking stupid you'll never learn a new language.

What I need is not more study, but a personality transplant.

Well, I agree that you have to be able to laugh at yourself when you inevitably make mistakes. Aggressive? Not so much, especially for Asian languages. People in most Asian countries I have visited really like people who speak with all the polite frills and that, so that could be your angle in (assuming this isn't a sarcastic post). But, yeah, if you take yourself very seriously and can't handle mistakes, it will be difficult.

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I am coming to the end of my life. What possible use is learning to read/write/speak Thai to me? If I had a grave and a headstone I'd much rather it told visitors that I taught my family to speak English and being able to do arithmetic than that I was bilingual. My limited vocabulary is all that I need. My lack of a comprehensive means of communication has not prevented me from maintaining good relations with the locals or in dealings with shopkeepers. I see no mileage in trying to be more Thai than the Thais.

I don't think it has to be a "more thai than the thais" type of thing. It seems like you have figured out the level you needed and you have more or less achieved it. I still have a way to go, but I also won't be up in the higher levels of guys who actually work using high-level Thai writing, reading and speaking everyday, because it doesn't make sense for me. Each person is different and has different purposes when it comes to learning.

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I'm not ashamed to admit that I tried and I failed.

I've always been a numbers person and tended towards being an academic. Fast tracked at school until I got bored and dropped out. Now, my memory is shot (officially, due to medical condition/complications) and I just can't do it. After buying the same fruit, vegetables and cuts of meat for 3 years from the local market, I have finally nailed most of the things I buy day in, day out, but that's about it. And the market women usually have a good natured laugh at my incorrect pronunciation and try to help me.

My husband, who isn't at all academic, who scraped through school to get the qualifications to be an apprentice toolmaker and who gets embarrassed because his spelling and grammar when sending emails to his mam are far from perfect, has been going to YMCA for 2 years now to learn Thai and is doing great at it. Top marks in the exam at the end of each short course, but when he speaks Thai to people on the street the can't (or I suspect don't want to) understand him. He does OK giving taxi drivers directions, but this is usually just turn left/right or go straight on - two or three words in a sentence.

Good on anyone who has mastered it, it's quite an achievement, but please show empathy to those of us who, for whatever reason, can't.

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To speak a tonal language you actually need to "express" the sounds, not just say the words. You kinda have to sing the sounds which, IMHO, is why a lot of westerners ... esp. men ... are actually shy about pronouncing the tones.

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My Thai is far from OK. I've been lazy over the many years I've been here often using the excuse that I'm working overseas for half of that time and don't retain what Thai I have picked up.

I've reached somewhat of a 'Plateau' - any improvements I now make are slow.

Taxi's, restaurants, shopping malls etc I have no problem with my Thai easily covers that, its when I get into a conversation and the subject matter becomes more challenging that I struggle.

I spend most of my time in Thailand in Bangkok - However, I'm currently 'up country' and the Thai which I thought is fairly fluent is not so readily understood up here. I am faced with replies I can't understand... it seems the actual language up in Isaan is different... So while some up here are pattering on about what great Thai I speak I have great difficulty understanding them !

Add into the mix that when / if I don't understand the 'Isaan' dialect it's repeated, faster and louder - this doesn't help at all and its not just Thai's.. the Louder approach is a Western one too !...

Dialects, also a lack of complete necessity to speak Thai, also the nagging issue that its a one nation language and really of no use outside of Thailand make it easy not to learn...

I wish I had taken up formal courses to read and write Thai when I first arrived here moons ago...

They speak Laos up here in Isaan. Those in BKK speak central Thai.

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Your hearing is at its peak at the age of 12 and thereafter it's downhill all the way, so tones become ever more difficult to determine. If for example you have noise induced hearing loss, due to aircraft noise for instance, then hearing the tones is nigh on impossible.

My Thai is non-existent and even if I ask for water in a restaurant most times the waitress cannot understand me.

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My Thai is far from OK. I've been lazy over the many years I've been here often using the excuse that I'm working overseas for half of that time and don't retain what Thai I have picked up.

I've reached somewhat of a 'Plateau' - any improvements I now make are slow.

Taxi's, restaurants, shopping malls etc I have no problem with my Thai easily covers that, its when I get into a conversation and the subject matter becomes more challenging that I struggle.

I spend most of my time in Thailand in Bangkok - However, I'm currently 'up country' and the Thai which I thought is fairly fluent is not so readily understood up here. I am faced with replies I can't understand... it seems the actual language up in Isaan is different... So while some up here are pattering on about what great Thai I speak I have great difficulty understanding them !

Add into the mix that when / if I don't understand the 'Isaan' dialect it's repeated, faster and louder - this doesn't help at all and its not just Thai's.. the Louder approach is a Western one too !...

Dialects, also a lack of complete necessity to speak Thai, also the nagging issue that its a one nation language and really of no use outside of Thailand make it easy not to learn...

I wish I had taken up formal courses to read and write Thai when I first arrived here moons ago...

They speak Laos up here in Isaan. Those in BKK speak central Thai.

mmm....I find that most people in Isaan can switch back and forth between the two relatively easily. I know some Laos, so it doesn't bother me, but now I just tell people that I am focusing on Thai and they say "oh...ok" and immediately switch over to Thai, even way out in the sticks. except for very old people, I haven't met many Isaan people who cannot speak, write and read Thai. For all of the deficiencies of the education system here, they do seem to do a decent job of teaching students to get to a functional level of literacy in Thai. That said, I do know just a very few who have trouble with it and feel awkward speaking Thai, but they can speak if they really need to.

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you go to school?

try to self study 1-2 hours everyday and it will take you a year and you fluent speaking..

BS, he might be able to make himself understood BUT he will never be fluent (not as an ethnic)

I was in a restaurant one night with my bird and a very long term resident was speaking (out of her sight) and she thought it was a Thai. That is an exception to the rule.

Perhaps 1 case in a 100,000 could claim to be fluent or ever hope to become fluent.

Not BS. I know quite a few fluent speakers. It is possible to become fluent in 1 year. I have friends who got fluent in that time and even less with full-time study. Myself, I'd say about 10 years but I've never been to a school. Some foreigners I know speak Thai better than many natives.

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imagine,you can speak thai perfectly.

Now what are you going to discuss with thais?

You can only speak to them as you would speak to a 10 year old,

they dont know nothing of your culture,your music,actors...

There is not much common nowledge.

The same as you dont know any chinese or thai singer by name ,or

chinese or thai movies......it's a complete other culture and i doubt

that you as farang would ever be intrested in chinese singers ,actors,politicians.....

So thais are not intrested in our culture.

Exception exist off course.

How on earth would you know if you can't speak Thai? You really don't know any Thai singers by name? Are you a tourist?
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I started learning Thai language after some 10 years visiting Thailand, and even 6 months at a time in the last 5 years.

When I had thai girlfriends, no way to learn the language.

They want to spaek english, and learn the language.

And they have no interest in teaching you the thai language.

In the last 2 years, I have a neighbour who speaks some english. She is not my girlfriend. She is not in the business of learning english to meet farangs,,,

I went from saying Sawasdee Khap, to having some conversations in thai language in 2 years.

Never trust a Thai girl who doesn't want you to learn Thai!
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I have good days and some bad days: on good days I will speak Thai clearly, on bad days I don't, even though I would be saying nothing new.

I never actually studied Thai, just picked up words, and still do, and apply them, and listening closely to how Thais do it,

how they form sentences.

My impression is that Thais also use a lot of phrases.

I work with Thais that don't speak English, so I have to use all of my vocabulary, however limited, to converse.

Thais will always say I speak Thai well, clearly, a lot.....but I would still rate myself as beginner, ok maybe above beginner level.

Due to my work, I have to speak Thai a lot, too much, I find I am more and more bored of it.

I cannot read/write Thai.

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imagine,you can speak thai perfectly.

Now what are you going to discuss with thais?

You can only speak to them as you would speak to a 10 year old,

they dont know nothing of your culture,your music,actors...

There is not much common nowledge.

The same as you dont know any chinese or thai singer by name ,or

chinese or thai movies......it's a complete other culture and i doubt

that you as farang would ever be intrested in chinese singers ,actors,politicians.....

So thais are not intrested in our culture.

Exception exist off course.

How on earth would you know if you can't speak Thai? You really don't know any Thai singers by name? Are you a tourist?

Some of us are somewhat morre cultured than you appear to be. I know many singers from Japan, China and Thailand by name and happen to be able to at least parts of songs in all these languages that I like. I also have a collection of over 6000 Asian movies including over 1000 Thai movies ( despite being 100% English ). Whilst I do admit most of them know little of non Thai culture, why should they ?

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Thread started well and well downhill quickly.

Some priceless pearls:

"Learning to read Thai that is not that difficult, it only takes a month".

"Screw the tones, I'm talking about my new shiny car, they will understand".

"I've to speak so much Thai daily, that it get on my balls. Plus, I can't read or write"

And the prize winner:

"It's because that stupid standard Thai. I speak my way and my employees understand and praise me".

Edited by paz
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I can't be bothered to read all the posts.

1) give yourself permission to speak a new language.

2) get a good online language course.

3) load a bunch of MP3 files on a tiny portable usb style player

4) spend as much time per day as possible letting it play

5) don't try to remember anything

6) just let a bunch of words "soak in"

7) change the MP3 files for sentences and repeat the above

8) change to grammar and repeat

I started aged 70, I used an online course :- Learn Thai Podcast

Not expensive but fantastic. There are many to choose from.

There are MP3 files and videos of the same content which show the Thai characters along with phonetic spelling and English.

My Thai family is amazed at my progress in just a few months.

Just go for it!

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I'm one of those who's both gifted & cursed at the same time. Throughout my naval years, whenever my ship would pull into a foreign port, I could quickly learn up to 100-200 words almost over night. I know a lot of this had to do with my very passionate desire to communicate with the ladies & to be able to get around on my own. But even in college years later, my ability to grasp language fundamentals has always hit a brick wall -- also fairly quickly.

I lived in Thailand for seven years; I doubt I know more than 300 words unless you include numbers. Still, I can handle myself in almost any situation without much fuss. What works for me is to focus on small, specific goals. Obviously, greetings are the first phrases you learn. Then, I learn to count all the way to infinity. Monetary denominations are also important, as are days of the week & their correlating colors (a Thai thing). Next, zero in on the five W's & H of journalism, paying particular attention to the tone: who, what, when, where, why, & how. This is important; those six words have made all the difference in whether a Thai slowly nods their head when I speak or looks at me in bewilderment.

After that, I just sort of go with the flow. As things come up where I need to learn how to say something (e.g., I need to go to the bathroom, my wife or friend can't follow me, so they teach me how to ask), I commit to always saying that in Thai from then-on. Food items is another example, though it took me a long time before anyone could understand my "cowpod." Certain landmarks help for direction-asking questions, such as "ha-yek nam-poo" or "hor natikha" in Udon Thani.

The result? Though I may not know how to properly speak more than about 300 words, I can usually get the jist of what a Thai conversation is about. After time, you just start to grasp some of the meaning.

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I'm absolutely convinced that personality plays a huge role. If you're are secure, self-assured, aggressive and don't care about making mistakes or looking foolish, you can learn a new language quickly.

But, if you're like me: weak, insecure, reticent and terrified of making errors and looking stupid you'll never learn a new language.

What I need is not more study, but a personality transplant.

I tend to agree with you on this. I have a good friend in Canada in his late 40s that picks up a new language (very well) every few years. When I met him back in the 90s, he was learning German. He would bring his study books and journal almost everywhere he went and surrounded himself with German-speaking people. Next was Russian. Again, through self-immersion, he became fluent in that language. Now he's on to Chinese, and doing well with that. Three things stand out about this guy:

  1. He fully devotes himself to learning the language... not just a couple of hours put aside a week. He has a clear goal in mind.
  2. He enjoys the process of learning the language. When he talks about the idiosyncrasies of a language, you can hear the passion... he finds this stuff intrinsically interesting. He's not simply learning the language to get a job or a girl etc etc.
  3. He's very socially outgoing and has zero sense of embarrassment or shame. He sees each interaction with a native speaker as a chance to learn and practice and doesn't care if it slows things down or he gets things wrong.

#3 is my big shortcoming too, I think. Sometimes it's just easier to switch into English to speed things up and spare yourself those minor embarrassments or awkward moments. This is one reason my Thai gf of three years has motored ahead of me... we started at roughly the same place in the other's language, but now we speak English 90% of the time and her English is vastly superior to my Thai. Shame on me....

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With the tones, it helps, while you're learning, to exaggerate. Make that falling tone really falling, like a trombone pushing the slide out, or one of those penny-whistles with the slide. After a while, it will seem more natural. Remember to mimic what you hear, like bird calls, and convince yourself that tones are an integral part of every syllable, just as consonants and vowels are. Ask your wife or a friend to tell you the Thai words for near and far for the best example, then mimic exactly what she says. Also remember, as you mimic, that each vowel has a long and short version, so if you hear it short, keep it short.

Reading and writing are key, because you learn the rules of pronunciation along with the classes of consonants. The Western alphabet is a handicap, and misleads you.

You're right, though, that it helps to start young. I learned to read, write, speak Thai when I was 22 years old. I'm 58 now (and still learning).

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Languages were never my strong point. I studied French at school for 5 years and can barely string a sentence together. I admit i am lazy, especially as my tgf speaks good English. I am not proud to say it but at my age am not prepared to commit thousands of hours of study for something i don't need.

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