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.

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