Learning Thai: the motivation and skill, I

Sometimes I manage to confuse people with my language skills and my ‘come from’ explanation and I think it’s about time to spill the soy sauce on me and the Thai language. In my intro blog, I mentioned the order of languages I had learnt or had some knowledge of. Thai was ranking #6 of my learning order.

It may seem surprising and some people wonder how this is so. I say I don’t know Thai well but I manage to write it somehow. It surely makes people wonder and they ask “But your mother is Thai, isn’t she?” with the impression that I should ‘get it’ so-to-speak.

What started me off was often going to ethaimusic.com and trying out the sample songs. My mother used to play old tapes of the late Pumpuang (a famous Thai country singer) and Bird Thongchai. I continued listening and singing along with the words, reading the Romanized lyrics or translation. But after a while, I thought “Hey, I can’t keep reading those, I should learn to read Thai script now”. So one day, I printed off a lyrics sheet of some songs and started looking at the words. The Thai lyrics on ethaimusic.com were not that hard to differentiate between separate words because they were for sing-a-long and had little spaces in between unlike normal Thai script where sometimes there’ll be one long line without any spaces. Of course I wondered how that could possibly be read. Where do you stop reading? How do you know what is a question, opinion or statement?

Anyway, I kept looking at the lyrics with the Romanized words while listening to the song and started getting the hang of which word was pronounced as what and where. So then I wanted to make sure I was doing it right and asked my mom and she said “Yes, that’s right, good”. My thoughts then were “Hey! This isn’t so bad. Here’s a fun way of learning it”. I could listen to music that I liked and try to read the real Thai words.

Several times before, I looked at learningthai.com and always read the intro of the ‘learn to read’ section that said exactly what I kept thinking “When most people see a Thai book or newspaper for the first time they are amazed and puzzled by the strange letters and no gaps between the words. Most foreigners think it is impossible to learn how to read. But really, after a short while all of the strange looking letters and no gaps between words will start to make sense”. I wondered how soon and what the secret to reading Thai is? But I could never find enough motivation of why I should really learn it.

I can’t remember exactly when but after a while, I got more interested in Thai music and eventually became a fan of different artists and wanted to know more about them and so forth. But I realized that most things were written in Thai. I could just stare at the words (or ‘noodle shaped alphabet’) or ask my mom each time to read it for me. I didn’t like the idea that I had to be helped each time I wanted to know something that was written. I realized that I should start making the effort to learn and do it myself because I really wanted to know what was being said for myself. That was likely one of my fuelling motivations.

It looks like this entry will be longer than expected. I will post the next part at a later time.

8 responses to “Learning Thai: the motivation and skill, I

  1. I am really glad that you have found the truth:
    Learning Thai from music means
    learning without fear
    and learning without tears!

    Well , you will soon amuse yourself and others
    by switching the gears.

    Hope to see you soon on the translators list .

  2. Watdee, I am only 1/8 Thai, and I find learning Thai as a very good challenge. However, when it comes to writing Thai, I still have a problem, because, I find it hard to spell. Reading is not too bad, as you can still guess words that you do not understand…..

  3. Hello! My name is Rachel and I am also half Thai and was interested in knowing how far along you are in acquring the language which other languages you speak. I’m twenty years old and live in the US.

  4. Hi, thanks for the comments everyone. I didn’t get to go online lately so I couldn’t reply earlier.

    @ Smiaw: Learning Thai through music is fun, I’ve already been learning by trying to translate lyrics myself, maybe I should bring that up in a future blog. Thanks ja.

    @ Kitjar: Thai is a really good challenge, sometimes gives me a headache too, LOL. The spelling I don’t find too bad once I know the words and seen them in the right order, it’s just that I need to work on my word order… Anyway, if you’re still learning Thai, keep going like I am.

    @ Rachel: Hello. In my first blog, I said I am fluent in German and English, and have learnt/still learning Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese and of course Thai right now. In Thai, I am progressing quite well especially the reading and the writing is not too bad. Speaking is where I require more practice although I think I’ve gotten the hang of acting or switching into ‘Thai mode’ once I know what I’m talking about. If you have more questions, you can also e-mail me at jen@thai-blogs.com.

  5. Travis Romero

    Hi there, I am a farang who has been learning Thai for the pas three years and I agree with you 100%. I tried many things to help me learn but ethaimusic.com is a lot of fun and it’s been a lot of help. By the way, Thai culture is something very special, it’s cool you’re getting in touch with it.

  6. Please keep doing what you are doing. I’am half
    Black and Half Thi. My mother died when I was 5
    and I have been doing every thing I can to learn my thai culture. Lucky I have a Thi God mother who helping to learn more everday. And maybe as your already know its very hard to be excepted anywhere when you have any black in your blood.
    Reading some of the things your have written is so inspiring just to keep pressing forward. Good Luck with your quest. I really wonder how many of us half Thi’s are out there doing what we are doing.

  7. Hi Im not Thai , but luv learning it.
    I also learnt thai from listening to Thai songs. The Thai language is such a romantic language when used in songs and Thai karaoke cds are sold as much as thai music cds in Thailand.
    I initially thought I could never learn to read Thai, but its funny how the brain sees shapes from groups of letters, even though Thai have few spaces, when other people ask me how do you read that, I say, its like reading English with no spaces. Once you know the consonants and vowels.

  8. Hi Jen,
    It’s really funny because I can relate to your learning thai so well. I’m half thai as well, and at some point decided that it was about time to learn to speak, read and write Thai.
    I never considered doing it by the karaoke, but now I’m definately going to try it out. I used to keep a notebook by my side always and write words I’d stumple across, and make my cousins help me spell it. Unfortunately, getting back to Denmark, I always forget it. Do you speak Thai fluently?