Secret to understanding Thai language

My Mother in Law knows the secret to farangs understanding Thai language.

She has not bothered to learn any English and she makes no attempt to slow her speech down, speak clearly or use a simplified vocabulary. She just rambles on to me in her normal way. Normally she chooses a time when I am busy trying to do something else.

She will come over and talk at me, perhaps making some joke that she herself laughs at. This will last about 5 minutes and at the end I will have a confused look or maybe even explain “Mai Khao Jai” / I don’t understand.

Take note, these next couple of steps are vital in her secret plan to help me understand Thai language.

After I haven’t understood the first time, she simply repeats herself again. Again at full speed and again going for about 5 minutes.

Again I have a puzzled look and try to explain to her that I cannot understand.

Next she says the same stuff again, but this time louder (presumably just in case I am deaf) and she emphasizes things with the use of her finger.

By about now I am getting ready to understand Thai. Perhaps she will need to repeat herself again even louder and then by that time I “understand” or agree to whatever she is saying. I make understanding looks and nods and say “OK” in the hope that she stops talking at me.

She usually adds a few more sentences just for good measure and then having my agreement and “understanding” she wanders off to annoy someone else.

So there you have it. How to “understand” Thai with ever having to study.

6 responses to “Secret to understanding Thai language

  1. This is an fascinating story and I’d be interested in other people’s perspectives on this kind of behaviour.

    It reminds me of a couple of phone conversations that I’ve had with my friend’s mother. I think in that case she feels there are things she wants to express to me, and so she just says them. She knows I don’t understand,but there seems to be some satisfaction or need to just say it. Last time it happened I surprised her by managing to string a couple of sentences together, but I still didn’t understand most of what she said…

    My charitable reading of the blog story is that she really cares about you and wants to include you. This is the only way she knows how.

    Makes an interesting variation on the apocryphal English-speaking tourist approach of “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

  2. On the flipside of that, when I met Brandon’s family from Texas for the first time, before I actually get to say anything, a few of them take to speak to me loudly and slowly. LOL. And then I opened my mouth, and they were sort of perplexed for a second.

    It’s refreshing to find that it is not only with Americans who’d speak louder to someone who clearly isn’t deaf but simply just doesn’t understand the language!

    Thanks, Paul. Now I know that Thai people do it to!

  3. Penny Lee Sihoe

    I have two children living in Thailand. One is a daughter age 19 almost 20 years old Named Tayya Nicole Law.Patanapong. A son named Michael Lee Law.Patanapong who is 16 almost 17. They live in Ubonratchane and Bangkok. Write me soon. Penny

  4. I am a tai ai famely (ahom)I hark&seek 2 raed ahom came b4 600hunderd year ago acoross the patkai rang from thailand (mao long) Ahoms 1st king Name was Su-ka-fa
    Thai land is a holly place 4 the all tai peoples
    thailand is the haven 4me nothing other haven 4 me

  5. Paul … 🙂

    I’m beginning to have the feeling all mothers, regardless of their nationality, have the same training.

    Italian-American Mothers love to repeat … and repeat … and repeat …… instructions to their offspring.

    I tell non-Italian-American women who are dating Italian American men …. that they can’t expect to tell their man something once and have him understand them.

    Italian-American mothers will tell their kids to: “Take out the garbage.” …. And 20 seconds later … they will tell them again … “Take out the garbarge …..” And don’t think it ends there … Eight hours later and 1400 repetitions later .. if you challenge your mother ….. “Are you SURE YOU TOOK OUT THE GARBAGE ???”

    My mom now-a-days (although she is getting up there in years) … tells stories … and 15 minutes later … tells the same story …… and the next day … and she’ll leave the story on your phone …

    Now … if your mom does something that helps you improve your Thai … now .. that’s something I’m really interested in …..

    After a year of searching (and I live in NYC … 8.5 million people), I finally found a Thai native teacher here. Of course, I did my best on my own and reinforced some really bad mistakes teaching myself … trying to interpret what I hear on tapes … and I’ve learned “NO ONE ON THIS PLANET SPEAKS THAI as CLEARLY as do the THAI SPEAKERS on PIMSLEUR TAPES 🙂 (A joke folks) .. and now I’m playing with some of the softwave programs (Like Courage … Thai Trainer … etc.).

    Now … if anyone has some ‘REAL SECRETS’ or tips on how I can improve my Thai or get me up to speed faster … I’m surely open to hearing them or how you have benefitted learning thai.


    John Petrocelli – C.H.

  6. Penny Lee Sihoe

    Tayya and Michael have come to America and loved it! Tayya will be back this summer and Michael is going to school here in Indiana. Both are doing well. Penny…