Things feel like they might be clicking, at least a little. Every time I woke up last night I had bits of Thai in my head, and there was some internal monologuing when I was having my breakfast this morning.
I asked to do numbers today as this is the set of vocabulary which I think is most useful on a daily basis. I was familiar with 1-10, but didn’t know the tones, I was getting very frustrated with myself because I was having trouble with falling and rising tones again. My teacher was also frustrated at times from the tone of her voice and the way she said ‘no’ to me. She would tell me which tone it should be, which I normally knew, but I just couldn’t work out where to start the sound or how to get it out of my mouth. I couldn’t ‘hear’ what I was meant to be producing confidently enough for it to come out. As before, copying them is normally fine, but plucking them out of thin air is really difficult. We spent over an hour on the numbers, including a little bit of controlled practice with me saying numbers based on digits in the book. This was a real challenge because of the different way Thai approaches large numbers (see below), plus remembering the word, plus remembering the tones. A lot of processing had to happen here!
We spent 70 minutes on numbers, then moved on to time. This was only 20 minutes, but felt like a whole lot longer! At this stage I discovered that I can produce the falling tone with very little problem when saying เที่ยง /thiang’/ (noon), probably because it has a diphthong (a vowel sound made up of a slide from one vowel sound to another) in the middle of it. Changing tones in a diphthong feels much simpler and more natural than doing it in a monophthong (single vowel sound). Using that as a reference point I was able to produce falling tones in other words much more consistently because I got the sound in my head and could play off it. Now I just need to find a word I can use as a reference for a rising tone. Using the numbers to tell the time also helped me to feel more confident with them, and it felt more useful doing this than producing random numbers large and small (that context thing again).
The last hour was with my second teacher again. We did adjectives, with a break in the middle for some diet-related phrases. I also asked for a sentence structure to go with the vehicles I’d learnt, so now I can say how I travel(led).
I’ve spent the afternoon in Ayutthaya, a town full of temples just north of Bangkok. During the day I’ve had a few opportunities to use my Thai, both actively and passively. I understood numbers I heard over the station tannoy and on an advertising truck that was blasting out over loudspeakers as I walked around Ayutthaya. On the train, I told the people opposite me where I was going and understood some of the vendors as they walked past. I ordered food at a restaurant using my new phrases and was understood, and I understood when the woman passed on my order to the cook, although it then turned out she spoke English anyway! I also said a couple of phrases in Thai to the people at the restaurant as they were trying to get me to book a room – I managed to tell them I’m studying Thai in Bangkok and I go back today. I did a boat trip, and heard the woman organising say the time it would leave to her friend. All of these bits of speaking and understanding were little highs, exactly why I keep studying languages 🙂
Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning
- 1 is หนึ่ง /nung/, but every other time 1 appears in a number (11, 21, 31 etc) it’s อ็ด /et/
- There are distinct words for 10,000 and 100,000, rather than being multiples of 1,000 as in many European languages. I think this is a feature of many Asian languages.
- Thai time works in six hour blocks. The most confusing section for me is 7pm-11pm, where the hours are counted 1-5 again.
- (I think) Conditionals just involve the use of ‘if’ plus a basic sentence structure, which can be as short as a single verb.
Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121
Numbers take a lot of thought, and we don’t practise them actively anywhere near enough in class.
I’ve thought this for a long time, since even at very high levels of proficiency in some of my languages, I still have to think hard to process numbers. For a beginner, it’s a real struggle.
Having reference words that you’re confident with the pronunciation of can make you feel much more sure about transferring that sound to other words.
Frustration is cyclical. Just because you’ve got it right once, doesn’t mean you’ll get it right the next time you say it. Repetition, repetition, repetition, as long as it’s improving your confidence. If it’s not, drop it, move on, and come back to it, or both the teacher and student will get depressed and frustrated. Something later in the lesson might just be the necessary trigger to solve the problem.
Sometimes my teacher was doing other things in the lesson, like filling in the register or making notes about non-lesson-related things. I know she was listening to me because she could correct me, but it was a bit demotivating, as I felt like I was boring her. I also know I’ve been guilty of doing exactly the same thing as a teacher in the past. I’m not sure how to keep the teacher engaged in the lesson more, since they/I have probably done this hundreds of times before and will again. It’s hardly the most cognitively engaging part of being a teacher to listen to somebody maul very basic bits of your language repeatedly, even though you know that sometimes, just sometimes, they’re capable of producing it correctly.
When I was producing sentences which I was 100% sure I would need to use in real life, I was much more motivated and engaged.
Being able to use some of the language today has made me feel like all the effort this week is worth it.
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