Category Archives: Learning to speak Thai

“Learning thai, the hard way…”


This is not a Wit blog. I didn’t write it nor inspire it or any other such thing other than receive it. This was actually an e-mail sent to everyone on the listserv of our DC Thai Language Meetup Group from John a fellow member. I thought it was well written and worthy of a blog so I convinced John he should post it here on Thai-blogs for everyone to read. He agreed with me and didn’t even put up an arguement! I was disappointed I didn’t have to twist his arm, err persuade him to post it. He even asked me to post it for him, something about mentioning he was too kii giat to do it himself. Be that as it may John is mai kii giat when it comes to the drive to master the Thai langauge and don’t let him kid you he is a lot better than he lets on (so be warned ladies)! In addition he also builds robotic fish for the United States Navy, yeah, he’s got coolness in spades! So here it is, unedited and worthy of a good read and perhaps even an inspiration to some of you aspiring Thai speakers out there so take heart and enjoy.

And for those that remember I have not fallen off the face of the earth although some mornings it can feel like it if I haven’t had my coffee. Look for a long overdue blog of my own coming soon, maybe this weekend if all the words finally come..


“Learning Thai the hard way…

Watdee tuk kon krab (whats up, everyone)

So I figure this should be of some interest to those in this email list.

A little more than 2 years ago a Thai friend of mine asked me to come
stay with him in Thailand. I decided to start studying a little
survival Thai two weeks before my trip, just to get by and all . . .

But for some reason I kept saying, ‘well, ive done all this work, cant
quit now or it would have been a waste . . . gotta study more!!! gonna
be fluent any time now!’

And motivated by a 2nd trip to Thailand 6 months later, I continued to
study . . . Was really fun to do things a typical tourist couldnt, to
not just be with locals, but to almost be one myself . . .

I am about a week or two from my 2 year anniversary studying the crazy
language we call Thai . . . And I am still going with that carrot on a
stick dream of one day being able to confidently call myself fluent .
. .

Being such a momentous occasion, I have been reflecting . . . So what
have I learned from all this?


I would admit even infinitely harder than building a robot to get a
Singha beer out of the fridge (yes, I would know).

I studied 1 hour a day for 1.5 years, and for a 6 month period even
managed 2 hours a day. That comes out to about 900+ hours of studying.
Extensive research shows that one must study at least 600 to 1000
hours of anything complex to become a so-called ‘expert.’ Whether it
be chess, the guitar, or multi-variate calculus – doesnt matter.
Unfortunately, no research says how many hours a farang needs to learn
thai fluently, but I can assure you it isnt less than 1000 hours. That
means if you are really dedicated and study one hour a day for 3
years, you still wont be fluent. Sorry =P

Then again if your nuts like Cornell and study 6 hours a day . . . you
would reach fluency in like 6 months . . . =P

So why am I writing this? This email may sound more of like a
discouragement to those who are learning, but I think it is more of
useful knowledge to those who want to learn. These are the facts,
being bilingual just isnt an American trait =P

A bit of encouragement . . . those who have studied an equivalent of
about 210 hours (an hour a day for 7 months) know that you can
communicate in complete Thai sentences. Perhaps you can just barely
get by, but at least you can. Its a much easier, much more tangible,
yet still very rewarding goal for many on this list to reach. At least
3 or 4 of you already have passed this point. I highly encourage
everyone to set this goal.

Anyway, being my two year mark, I have decided to dedicate myself for
the big plunge . . . I am going to move and live in Thailand for a
year. This new journey will happen around March of next year. Fits
perfectly between a career transition, and right after I finally pay
off my gagillion dollar tuition. Still gotta iron out tee rak issues
tho (thats you, Jenny).

I pray it will finally help me catch the carrot thats so elusive.

Anyway, signing out, and best wishes to those who desire to undertake
probably the hardest single task anyone can undertake. =)

Choke Dee Krab (good luck)

John Palmisano

Practical Thai Conversation

Sawasdee Krap!

Good day class, today on Wit Blogs we’re going to try something alittle different. Last weekend was our latest meeting of the Thai Language Meetup here in DC. The previous month Oop one of our members went back to Bangkok on business but before leaving asked if he could bring back anything for us. Bad move knowing me!

It was an effort but I did resist giving him a laundry list of stuff to bring me back if he could. I was looking for a couple of books though, The Judgment by Chart Kobjtti and Time by Chart Kobjtti and Marcel Barang. These are english translations of his two books that I’ve found online at this Thai book and magazine website.

*Shameless plug* The reason I’m bringing them up here is in case someone on Thai-blogs can help me get copies of these two books without having to pay upwards of %110 the cost of the books just to ship them! Oy! Peing mahk mahk!

Oop didn’t have a chance to do much shopping back home in the land of pu ying suay let pu chai lor ผู้หญิงสวยและผุ้ชายหล่อ so he couldn’t find the books but he did bring me back something cool hence the topic of this weeks lesson plan, er blog. Everyone paying attention class? Good! There just might be a test plus sooner or later I’m bound to say something funny, Murphys Law y’know 😉

Last Sunday at the Meetup Oop and I, well, finally met up and he gave me what he bought for me in Thailand. It was a DVD for learning Thai by Benjawan Poomsan Becker this was so cool and a really nice surpise too! This had been on my shopping list of ‘must buys’ from Richards online bookshop Buy Thai Books along with lots of other goodies for awhile. But seriously, knowing this compulsive shopper anything that is Thai can be a ‘must buy’! Oop even got the DVD for only 450 Baht (about $10 US) which is pretty cheap. Sorry Richard, but don’t take my picture off the wall as your number one customer just yet!

The DVD plays 10 different scenerios or chapters. Thai and farang ‘actors’ talk you through basic situations you might hear in everyday conversation in Thailand, hence the name of the DVD. Each chapter is divided into two parts, the first is at normal speed for Thai. The first conversations are pretty basic so you can get your feet wet but the speakers talk at ‘bullet’ speed so if your not familar with Thai much at all you blink and everything is all over. Your left scratching your head still trying to follow the first sentence! Not to worry though in the second part the conversation is repeated again but at a much slower, sometimes waaay slower, pace for folks to follow along. To help the DVD also has subtitles for the second part and you can choose from the feature menu what subtitle you want, English, romanized Thai or Thai script. The chapters hit some basics like Greetings and Introductions, Asking for Directions and Taking a Taxi- part I and II, Asking for Personal Information, In a Thai Resturant, among others.

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Learning Mai Bpen Rai

It all started with a salad. When you start seeing eyeball to eyeball with 40 plus years of living and eating you start putting on a few extra pounds, but in my case just a few mind you. Seriously!

Like most people I’ve reached a certain age where it’s easier to put the ounds on than take them off, so much so that I decided I really needed to watch more carefully what I eat. Hence I’ve started eating salads a lot which are actually pretty good even though they would by no means be mistaken for Thai food. That being said let’s keep my salad munching a secret ‘k? I’ve got my reputation as an all-things-Thai fanatic to think about!

I needed a few things from the store to make my salad so it was off to the Safeway. This was Saturday night so of course the place was packed and it’s a small store so there is not much room to move anyway. The lines at each register were very long. I took my time getting what I needed then browsed some more until the lines got shorter so I would not wait long to pay and get back home.

When I finally got in line a lady was in front of me with a shopping cart. We were in the ’15 items or less’ lane so I counted my selections twice to be sure I didn’t go over the limit. I’m kinda weird on the consideration thing that way. I didn’t notice how much the lady had but I did notice the cart. I remember another couple was in front of this lady but not 5 feet away in front of our register was the corral for putting your cart when your done with it.

Imagine my surprise when this lady finished emptying her cart then instead of holding onto it until the couple in front of us finished so she could return it she started backing it out of the check out lane, turned it around and pushed it over into one of the food isles! She actually went out of her way to push the cart FURTHER away into everyone elses way than if she just pushed the cart over to where it belonged! How rude and inconsiderate! She got back in line in front of me and I just stared at her for a minute.

I know it’s not a Thai way to start a confrontation but I couldn’t just let this go without saying something. I looked at her and said “You know that’s not where that goes don’t you” to which she just ignored me but looked like a kid busted her hand caught in the cookie jar. “Well?” I prodded but still she said nothing. She knew she was wrong but she blithely just paid for her stuff then left. I said something to the cashier about it and he replied ‘oh she’s a regular’ like that makes it ok!

Maybe I’m just a naive country boy living in the big city too long but things like this really bug the crap out of me. Where are peoples manners? What about being considerate of others? Am I being too uptight or have things really gone down the toilet here as far as we treat people? Someone get me to Thailand! I knew I needed to get a grip but I griped about that ladies rudeness all the way home with my groceries. I WAS being too uptight and I needed some stress relief. I needed Mai bpen rai!

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More heart talk – lessons in Jai

When I wrote my blog last week on Jai ใจ, the Thai language of the heart, I don’t think I realized potentially just how big a blog I planned to take a bite out of to chew! Writing about Christopher Moore’s book ‘Heart Talk’ I learned there are just so many really cool and uniquely ‘Thai’ nuances to express the heart. I mean tipping the scales at just over 450 different phrases to convey about 400 different kinds of feeling… that’s a lot of feeling! I was being way too optimistic to do a fairly decent write up on this and be anywhere near complete in just one blog there are just too many good examples to pick from.

Looking at the scope of what I could write about in several pretty decent blogs I was at a loss just what to do. Chop everything up into bits and blurbs of Jai like curry? Some spicy, some sweet or some hot? Write and write and write until my cracked and bleeding fingers can’t type anymore? Oui, the checks my brain writes that my body has to cash sometimes. And I have to go to bed in about 5 hours!

Therefore I decided rather than trying to tackle the whole book in one go I thought in ode to Stevesuphans ‘do and don’t’ series I’d do something similar. Yes, Virginia when in doubt or facing a deadline plagiarism (sort of) is alive and well in America, I mean just look at TV!

I’m thinking there are 13 chapters in the book so why not pick a chapter or two to write about at a time? That enough blog material for each month at least for a year! Like the saying goes, ”How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. How do you write a blog this big? One chapter at a time. Nguu nguu, bplaa bplaa. Same thing. This way a little over time actually says a lot, perfect for a perpetual talker like me, chai mai?

That being said here now is part 2 of Heart Talk my new on again, off again (like my coffee habit) series of blogs on Jai, the Thai language of the heart so let’s get to the good stuff starting with today’s line up. However, if you’re like me and not the patient sort to wait till the end of my blog series to learn everything about Jai you can always buy the book from Richard’s bookshop. I’m sure he won’t mind just tell him Wit sent ya 😉

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Language of the Heart

Hands down without doubt the thing I love best about Thailand is the language. Listening to spoken Thai and reading written Thai can even edge out a deliciously so-spicy-will-kill-a-normal-human plate of pad gra pao from my affections.

Thai language is such a beautiful language and really, when you think about it, such a simple language. In Thai you can say the same thing in two words that in proper English would take a dozen or more words sometimes. Example? Thai: Bpai Nai? Meaning: Where are you going? In Proper English: I say old chap where are you popping off to this evening? It’s no wonder Thai kids may sometimes not be thrilled to learn the old pasah Ankrit! 😉
Richard and Steven – My apologies for a little poke in the English ribs there lol

On the other hand Thai is one of the only languages I know where you can say the same word in only a slightly different way 5 times and come up with 5 completely different words like the Thai tongue twister I posted last time maai mai mai mai mai ไม้ใหมไม่ไหม้มยั้ (meaning “New wood doesn’t burn, does it?”).

Be that as it sometimes may when I hear someone speaking Thai my reaction is automatic. I start to physically draw my body into the conversation as if I could absorb the language by osmosis. If I am sitting down like in my Thai class at Wat Thai I start to lean forward more, elbows resting on the table, my head resting in my hands with all the rapt attention of a spellbound child. I listen to the rhythm and cadence of the Thai words that flow out gently like wind or water. Especially when listening to the monks talk about Buddhism in such a peaceful relaxed tone unlike anything, no matter how poetic, that can be said in English or dare I say any other language.

I would swear a look of dopey puppy love crosses over my face. When this happens I wonder if my Thai teacher, Phrapalad Ampol, must think I am his most attentive student or maybe I have a crush on him! 😉

It fascinates me that classic Thai is like a lyrical poem of metaphor, like the epic Ramayana or even the true name of the City of Angels Bangkok. But Thai is also much like modern English in that it can speak its own language within a language in a code of slang and innuendo.

This is a level of true Thai that you will never learn in Thai language books or by listening to Thai audio tapes. It’s only by getting verbally ‘down and dirty’ on the mean streets of Bangkok or ‘sweaty and gritty’ with the hill tribes and farmers outside the city. I can understand this even though I have never been to Thailand before, the only Thailand I know from books, tapes and CD’s stacked up around me here so I know I don’t carry the same Thai ‘street cred’ as most of the veterans here Thai-Blogs. Still this makes sense to me because it is the same way here in America. Different cultures all speaking their own language of solidarity. But I am getting off the point here..

Just as fascinating and a heck of a lot easier to learn is the Thai language of the heart. Metaphors have been a part of written and spoken language since the time of the Egyptians but I’ve never run across a language before that expresses the heart and emotions in so many ways and can be compressed into so few words yet once you learn them can envelope you in such a universal understanding of feeling.

Therefore one of my favorite books on Thai language is Heart Talk: Say What You Feel In Thai by Christopher G. Moore and available at Richards school bookshop. Written by a farang no less, Heart Talk is quite a comprehensive list of the many expressions of ‘Jai’ ใจ, or Thai heart. The book lists from A to Z about 450 heart phrases or words to express over 400 moods and feelings. And you thought learning 44 consonant and 32 complete vowels of the Alphabet was hard? Pish-tosh!

The heart phrases, perhaps ‘phases’ being an equally important label, in this book cover everything from the ‘absentminded heart’ to the ‘zen heart’ including the most common and some of the pretty obscure along the way.

Each chapter usually lists a dozen or more Heart Talk expressions for categories such as Good Times, Hard Times and Condemnations, Heart Talk in Relationships and in Society. As well as expressions for Heart Talk Warfare, Body Talk, Self-Control, Perception, Heart Talk Choice and Romance. Whew! Could anything possibly be left out?

Therefore without further ado is my short list of some of the best, most intriguing (to me) or flat out odd (me again) from the list.

Heart Talk for the Good Times

Pleased Heart

Kruem Jai ครึ้มใจ or Kruem ok Kruem Jai ครึ้มอกครึ้มใจ

When someone gives a special gift or bestows a favor, the one receiving feels a sense of pleasure or ‘please heart’. This is like whenever I get more books or CD’s from Thailand, yeppers I’m always pleased about that!

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