Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Thai Day 0

Ever since I first found out that it was possible to study a language intensively, I’ve wanted to try it out.

48 hours ago I put two and two together and realised that my week off between CELTAs 1 and 2 in Chiang Mai is the perfect opportunity to finally do it. A few hasty emails letter, a quick-off-the-draw reply from a language school, flights booked at the last minute (less than 24 hours ago) and a hostel with a kitchen located, and I now find myself sitting at Chiang Mai airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok.

The plan is 3 hours a day of private Thai lessons every morning from tomorrow (Tuesday) until Saturday, making a total of 15 hours.

Because of my limited time frame, language learning experience, and the fact that I can be very picky about what I want from my classes, private lessons are the only way to go. I’m just hoping I get a responsive teacher, and one who’s willing to adapt to what I’m looking for.

The story so far…

Before I came to Thailand, I had a quick look at memrise, discovered that the alphabet was huge, and decided that since I’d only be here for a few months there wasn’t much point studying the language.

I changed my mind within a couple of days of arriving, and have since been studying using memrise. I’ve found three courses which have differing levels of usefulness:

Basic Thai

The first level is particularly useful, but I got very frustrated to start with because I kept having to type the words and got really stuck. It’s much easier doing this on an iPad than a computer.
I ended up giving quite a lot of the letters funny names to help me remember them. For example: สวัสดี (hello/goodbye) was ‘worm under a tree, flower in the wind, worm under a tree, up elephant with a feathered hat’ until I could remember it! There are some words which I’m much more able to write than say because that is where the onus of memorisation lies in order to continue with the level. However, I definitely know the words I know because I’ve had to repeat them so many times.
Another frustrating thing with this set is the complete lack of context – I now know a set of decontextualised words, but no full phrases.
I’ve nearly finished the set. Memrise says I’ve learned 53/79 words and have 41 in my long-term memory, although the last few to learn are random school words like ‘electric light’ and ‘blackboard’. A couple of days ago I didn’t see the point of these, but now they might actually be quite helpful!

Mrs Yanisa’s Thai for Foreigners

This is based on a set of books written to teach Thai to native speaking children in the 70s. The main character is called Mannii/Manee. It’s given me the basics of the alphabet, and quite a lot of reading practice. Unfortunately, there’s no audio to accompany the written form, which is a particular issue for me because of the tonal nature of Thai.

It’s been good for putting some of the verbs from ‘Basic Thai’ into slightly longer sentences, given me a basic idea of syntax, and I definitely feel more comfortable with the alphabet because of it. There’s a little more context, but the sentences are very random:

มานี พา โต ดู ปู
maa-nii paa dtoo duu bpuu (Maanii bring Dtoh look for crab.)

Fundamental Thai

This is the last of the three courses I found. It has much more useful vocabulary sets, like numbers and colours. For some reason numbers is level 6 – I never understand why this is left so late when it’s generally the first thing people need when they go to a new country. Unfortunately it suffers from the same issue as Basic Thai, in that you have to type the words to progress. Again, I’ve found it quite frustrating, and have been annoyed with myself when I miss one tiny part of the character.

With both Basic and Fundamental Thai some of the audio is missing, but what’s there is generally useful. Sometimes people have tagged the words with a Romanized transcription of the pronunciation too, although that can be more of a hindrance than a help at times.

The daily targets you can set on memrise have been quite useful, although I’ve only kept that up with Basic Thai and the Polish course I’m also doing, Polish being considerably easier!

Progress on memrise

Progress on memrise

Sitting at the airport I can now pick out some of the flight numbers from announcements, the first time I’ve really had the chance to try out the Thai I’ve learnt beyond the occasional hello or thank you. Yesterday I saw a sign outside a computer shop and recognised the word ‘and’: และ Such things make me happy 🙂 It also shows that despite the problems with the sets above, they’re definitely teaching me something.

What I’d like to learn

Having a teacher will hopefully help me to get to grips with the following:

  • the rest of the alphabet;
  • how vowels work (they can be before/after/above/below consonants, and I’m still pretty confused by this!);
  • the basics of the tone system, mostly within my own pronunciation (I know it’s not there at all yet);
  • being able to have a basic conversation in certain situations, like getting to know someone, coping with shop transactions, finding out about touristy things for excursions and stays;
  • dealing with my diet.

I know that it’s going to be very tiring to study to intensively, but at the same time I’m really looking forward to the experience. I’ve even bought a nice new notebook to fill with all of my Thai notes. 🙂

And as you’ve probably guessed, I’m hoping to blog about the experience too, so watch this space…

Update

Here are all of the posts:

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Comments on: "Thai Day 0" (7)

  1. Cool! That’s the problem I have with Memrise with my Icelandic – I get lost on the phone trying to find the non-English characters, then get it “wrong” when I know the word or could write/ type it perfectly happily! Good luck with the learning, I’m really looking forward to reading about it!

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  2. Yay for new notebooks and yay for new languages 🙂 I tried to learn some Thai when I went on a tour around the country back in 2013. I ‘borrowed’ the Routledge Colloquial Thai book from work (which has a CD) and used our tour guide as a pronunciation practice buddy whenever I could – but I did find it very hard beyond my experience of German, Spanish, Italian, French and minimal Japanese and Chinese! Good luck with it – I look forward to reading about how you get on 🙂

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  3. I taught English in Bangkok for 18 months a while ago and tried to learn some Thai. It is a bit of a mad language! The script is beautiful to look at but hard to learn, just like you mentioned about all the possible vowel positions, and of course, tonal languages are difficult anyway. I also know what you mean about being picky about language classes. I now live and teach in China, and before I came I had 2 weeks of Mandarin lessons in Hong Kong. It was terrible! Since then, I’ve more or less taught myself through reading, podcasts and chatting with people, and I also found informal language exchanges really helpful too. I really hope your Thai classes are good and you learn lots of interesting things. Looking forwards to reading about it soon…..

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    • I tried to teach myself some Mandarin before, and I have to say the memrise sets were brilliant for that. The first thing I ever completed on there was learning to read a Cuinese menu, although again tehre was unfortuantely no sound. Good luck with your studies, and I hope your next classes are more successful. Private is definitely the way to go if you can manage it!
      Sandy

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  4. […] are some other recent posts reflecting on language classes both one-to-one and in groups by Sandy Millin, Alex Grevatt and Laura Phelps (this post shows control to the […]

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