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

Posts tagged ‘Thai’

Thai Day 5

I’ve almost collected the set of teachers at Baan Aksorn 🙂 with a third new one today. It was a completely different lesson, and much more like how I approached learning Russian. This was mostly because I knew I only had three hours left, and therefore wanted to collect as much knowledge and language as possible to help me with my own self-study later.

We started with a list of things I thought it would be useful for me to understand/say which hadn’t come up in previous lessons, such as:

  • What’s your name? My name is…
  • Where are you from? I’m from…
  • What do you do? I’m an English teacher. I’m a teacher trainer.
  • How old are you?
  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t understand.
  • I can’t remember.
  • And you?
  • Can I sit here?
  • How to respond when somebody says ‘thank you’

I also asked about how to talk about the past and future because I know it only needs a couple of words in Thai. I’m not sure how many conversations I’ll end up having where I have to describe actions, but at least this gives me the option to do so.

When I asked about morning/afternoon/evening, I discovered that Thai divides the day into a lot more parts than English. We also looked at days of the week and how to say ‘last/next week/month/year’.

We talked a bit about family and showed each other some pictures. At this and various other points in the lesson the conversation was a mix of English and Thai, with my teacher sharing bits of information about herself and her family in Thai that I could understand, glossing any new words she used. This was great as it felt very personal, and gave me a good reason to concentrate because I was learning more about the person sitting in front of me, rather than thinking in the abstract. I could also try to edit and repeat some of the phrases to talk about my life.

When we’d run out of my questions, there were 40 minutes left. I decided the best thing to do would be to flick through the speaking textbook I had, with my teacher giving me a lightning quick guide to any new language that came up on the page which wasn’t immediately obvious. Thankfully my teacher was happy to do this. Because I have the CD I can go back and listen to the pronunciation myself later, learn the vocabulary, and do some of the controlled practice exercises, so we focussed on grammar and structures. In this way we covered:

  • Where is…? Which one…? Where do you…?
  • What is he/she like?
  • Who? Whose? With who?
  • and, with, also, but
  • Possessives
  • Suggestions
  • How long have you been here?
  • Comparatives
  • Happy birthday! It’s my birthday.
  • What’s this? What’s that? How do you say _____ in Thai?
  • Why…? Because…
  • Tag questions of the ‘…, right?’ variety
  • Basic conditionals for facts and advice. (If this, then this./If this, you should…)

There was no practice, and I remember hardly any of it, but that was exactly what I needed from my teacher. I’ve got plenty of time to practice it myself later, and I wanted to make the most of the short amount of time I had with an expert.

My teacher today was a big contrast to the other two teachers, although I’m not sure how much of this was because of the way I wanted the lesson to go. Very early, she told me not to worry too much about tones. I think it’s important to get the right pronunciation from the beginning though, so I’m glad that my first teacher was strict about this, even though it was frustrating at times. All three of my teachers were happy to answer my questions, but this one actually said to me it’s good that I was asking so many questions, and she thinks Thai students should ask more questions too. She checked at one point whether she was speaking too much English because of the explanations, which I was really pleased about, and she tried to tell me things in Thai whenever she thought I could understand. This was great because I sometimes have to fight to get my teacher to avoid English, especially because I can be lazy about it if I’m not forced to speak the language I’m learning. If I’d had lessons for longer, I’d definitely have wanted to rely a lot less on English, but the information cramming I wanted from my last three hours wouldn’t have been possible just in Thai.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • When you talk about siblings, whether they’re older or younger is more important than whether they are male or female. In fact, the word for sibling translates literally as ‘older younger’ rather than ‘brother sister’.
  • The word for cat is แมว. Go to Google translate and listen to it 🙂
  • There is a different word for ‘year’ if you are aged 1-12: ‘khuap’, not ‘pii’
  • The Thai day is divided into 8 different sections, varying in length from 1-6 hours.
  • In passing: all of the things listed above!

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

It’s good to have a mix of teachers because each one will prioritise different things for you, although you have to be prepared to be adaptable too.

Having clearly laid out notes from the teacher is incredibly useful as a reference.

The world's neatest notes

The world’s neatest notes, and yes, they are handwritten, not typed!

Flexible teachers are key – being able to respond to your student’s needs and moods is important for their motivation.

Having the teacher share bits of their life with you puts you on an equal footing and relaxes the atmosphere a lot. If they do this in the language you’re learning and you understand, it’s another high! If not, it motivates you to try to understand. This also helps to build rapport.

For every structure, you need an example. Otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to know how to actually use the language once you’ve left the classroom.

The end, for now

I’ve really enjoyed my experience of studying intensively, and of trying to put bits of my Thai into practice in the afternoons. I think I’ve got everything I set out to get at the beginning of the week. While it’s nowhere near the immersion that my students had in Newcastle, it was still valuable to reflect on the difficulties of learning a new, completely different language, which has few connections with any language I speak already. At the same time, it’s interesting to see how some bits of language are fairly universal, and that no matter how distant they may seem, you can still find some common hooks to hang things on (for example Thai and French). It’s made me think a lot about the role of the teacher in the beginner classroom, and having three teachers in such a short space of time has taught me something about how personality can affect the lessons too (in a good way!) The plan now is to take away what I’ve learnt this week and the resources I’ve been given, and continue to develop my Thai over the next three months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my journey this week – I’ve certainly got a lot out of it. In case you missed any, here are all of the posts:

Apologies for the bombardment of posts! 😉 Normal service should be resumed next week as I return to Chiang Mai for the next CELTA.

(If you’d like to read about another teacher’s reflections on learning Thai, try these from Peter Clements.)

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Thai Day 4

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 🙂

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya

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.

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 3

I was tired today, and it made a huge difference. It took me a while to get into the lesson, and I asked if we could do some writing at some point as I thought it would be more useful for me to consolidate what I know that try to cram in anything new, since I don’t really feel like I know a lot of what we’ve done so far, unless I already had a vague idea of it before starting the lessons. Because of my tiredness, I also noticed the slight impatience in the teacher’s voice at times, making me quieter when I was unsure, and more likely to use a high (questioning) tone than I probably would have been if I’d been more awake – I was very unsure of my pronunciation and was trying to check everything.

My teacher decided reading practice would be more useful for me, so we looked at one group of consonants, called ‘middle class consonants’. First I read them as their letter names – every consonant in Thai comes with an associated word, since some of them have the same pronunciation but different characters. For example, the /s/ sound can be accompanied by the word ‘pavilion’, ‘hermit/saint’ or ‘tiger’ depending on which character is used:

Three 's' sounds

Three ‘s’ sounds

Three of the consonants were then combined with the vowels, which was good revision from Tuesday, especially as it turned out I’d forgotten most of the vowel characters. Finally, they were combined with random vowels, meaning I had to remember tones at that stage too – a middle consonant plus a short vowel uses a low tone, whereas a middle consonant plus a long vowel uses a mid tone. That whole process took an hour.

In the next hour we moved on to the ‘high consonants’, repeating a similar process but with both middle and high consonants appearing in the final reading practice, adding further to the tonal complexity: high consonant + short vowel = low tone; high consonant + long vowel = rising tone. I got particularly frustrated with myself at various points during this process as I found it hard to get the rising tone right. I could repeat it again and again with no problem, but as soon as I had to produce another tone before it, I lost it completely. I also found it unnatural to have two consecutive rising tones, and tended to use a rising tone followed by a falling one. I need to remember to split it up more, and over-emphasise the initial fall to make the rise more dramatic.

I also found it difficult pluck the sounds out of the air when trying to remember vowels and how to combine them with consonants, added to the challenge of trying to remember which character represents which vowel. I kept having to return to the vowels page in my book to remind myself how to produce them. One thing that did help was thinking about the vowels in relation to each other. For example, อ is a more open version of โ. It was also helpful trying to link things back to the phonology of English, particularly when producing some of the ‘words’ during the reading practice. For example: แกะ sounds like ‘get’ without the /t/ sound at the end.

I’d had enough of reading at this point, and the lack of context for the words, many of which probably don’t have any meaning, was getting me down a bit. It was useful for familiarisation with the script though, and I definitely feel more confident with some of the characters than I did before.

I changed teacher at this point as my Tuesday/first half teacher had another class to teach, so I was back to my teacher from yesterday after a break. I asked to revise some of the vocabulary we’d studied, going back over the nouns from yesterday, then experimenting with making more sentences with the words from Monday. That took 30 minutes, and for the last 15 minutes I finally felt up to looking at something new.

One more vocabulary page added 11 more words, mostly extending my transport vocabulary, and then a brief grammar page introduced personal pronouns and possessive adjectives. With about 7 minutes left, there wasn’t time to add the adjectives from the next page, and I thought activation was more important. I tried to make some sentences using the pronouns and possessives, but was feeling uninspired, so asked my teacher to make questions I could answer. Because you use full sentences to answer a question in Thai, this was a good exercise in sentence manipulation, without me having to come up with the ideas myself.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • There are different types of consonant: middle class, high class and low class.
  • The types of consonant and whether it is combined with a long or short vowel determines the tone of the vowel.
  • The words for ‘today’, ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’, so I can already discuss the past, present and future, rather than being restricted to the present.
  • The words for ‘tiger’ and ‘top’ (as in clothes) are the same but with different tones, as are the words for ‘sit’ and ‘film’.
  • There are only five/six pronouns in Thai. I knew that ‘I’ is different for males and females (there is a longer and shorter one for females, hence 5/6), but I didn’t realise that the third person pronoun is the same for ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ and ‘they’.
  • The pronouns don’t change when used as possessive adjectives (unlike English with, e.g. ‘she’ and ‘her’).

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

Reading aloud is good for familiarisation with sound-spelling relationships. It’s also a lot of work, and I think it’s of very limited use in classes with more than 2-3 students.

Giving students thinking time when they’re reading aloud is very important, particularly in a different script – they need time to process decipher the characters, process the word, formulate the sounds in their head and mouth, then try to produce it.

Separating out ideas and language during productive stages is vital. It’s hard to marshall ideas while simultaneously trying to work out how to express them. This is the stage when I feel I translate the most – I work out what I want to/can say in English within the bounds of my language ability, then translate it to Thai slowly and laboriously.

It’s far easier to recognise new language than it is to produce it yourself. Answering questions is much easier (and more motivating?) than producing sentences.

When I decided to make a question rather than a sentence, but the teacher answered ‘good’ instead of answering my question, it depressed me a little.

The exercise of producing lots of self-selected sentences is motivating, as I can choose what words I want to add to my vocabulary and control the speed at which I do this.

You need to know your teacher’s name so that it’s easier to ask for help.

Playing with the language makes you feel more relaxed – I enjoyed the last 45 minutes of the lesson more than the first two hours, even though both were useful.

As I said yesterday, I’d still like more opportunities to play, not just with the words but with the way the materials are exploited. Reading things again and again is useful, but is a bit depressing after a while. Some variety in the way it’s taken off the page would be interesting. Maybe the teacher could point at random words for me to repeat, or have flashcards, or write things on the board for me to experiment with. Three hours of looking either at the paper or at my eyelids (I close my eyes a lot when I’m trying to remember things) gets quite same-y.

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 2

It’s a national holiday today so I had a different teacher, and she and I were the only people in the school. I didn’t feel too bad as she had another student before me, but I was very grateful for her for giving up some of her free time.

The lesson started with me briefly going over my needs again. I wasn’t able to practise the tones last night as the CD was mislabelled and I ended up with the wrong audio. Early in the lesson, the teacher drew a helpful picture showing how to produce each of the tones.

Thai tones

Thai tones

The teacher started by greeting me in Thai and asking how I was, but although I completely understood I had no idea what to say in return. She taught me the basic conversation, so I just (!) need to learn it and I’ll have no excuses for not replying in Thai now!

We then revised the words from day 1, with me trying to put them into sentences wherever possible. I added more vocabulary to be able to increase my range of sentences at this stage. Every sentence was painfully dragged kicking and screaming from my brain, with much consultation of my notes, questioning glances at the teacher, and overuse of the rising tone again. The teacher also covered the Thai words and tried to get me to remember them – I got about 75%, but that’s an unfair representation of how many I can remember from yesterday since I was already familiar with about half of them. Putting them into sentences helped a lot.

Yesterday the lesson finished before we had time to do the last set of words, all of which demonstrate the rising tone. The first of these, ขอ, will be very useful as it means ‘May I have…?/Give me….’ This gave me the first chance to make a sentence to help with my diet: ‘Give me steamed rice with boiled chicken.’

I was then taught how to make basic yes/no questions, with me dragging more of them from my head to ask the teacher. When I’d run out of vocabulary, I answered her questions and learnt the very useful phrase ‘Say that again.’

We moved onto a basic dialogue, mirroring the one we’d done at the beginning of the lesson, just covering ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ I was also shown the three levels of ‘wai‘ (pronounced ‘why’), the traditional Thai greeting.

Today's classroom

Today’s classroom

The last part of the lesson was two pages of vocabulary grouped into loose lexical sets and accompanied by pictures. There were 39 words between the two pages, and although I’d been exposed to some of them before, it’s a lot for a single lesson. Again, I was encouraged to put them into sentences and to ask questions using the words. The only writing practice I had was writing any sentences I asked for out in phonetics, the most ambitious of which is another diet one: ‘Give me a little pineapple juice with plain water’. I pretty much never looked at the Thai words and relied almost completely on the phonetics. I’m wondering whether I should have chosen the Thai only book yesterday, but it’s too late now.

At this stage, I kept going back and repeating the words myself, and also repeated my two diet phrases ad nauseum – I think I might have remembered both of them now, but I’m planning on reading and re-reading them multiple times this afternoon, and perhaps even trying them out at a restaurant if my mealtimes work out.

We had long gaps in the lesson when I spoke in English for 5-10 minutes at a time, for my needs analysis, describing what I’m doing in Thailand, talking about my diet, and about why I’m on it. The teacher also gave me some tips for getting around the city this afternoon, and told me more about the national holiday, Makha Bucha day.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • Yes/no questions are formed by adding a question particle to the end of a normal sentence.
  • ‘Can’ goes at the end of the sentence, away from the verb it modifies (which is in normal 2nd position in a subject-verb-object sentence). ‘Can’ is negated, rather than the other verb.
  • Adverbs like ‘a little’ and ‘a lot’ are put at the end of the sentence, after ‘can’ if it’s there.
  • How to write ร (r)
  • Many words are compounds of others. For example ‘face mask’ literally translates as ‘cloth close mouth’ – 4 words for the price of one!
  • Bangkok’s name is different in Thai (well, I knew this, but I didn’t know what it was!): Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ)
  • The polite particle added to the end of sentences has a falling tone after statements, and a rising tone after questions.
  • I need to be very careful to pronounce ‘steamed rice’ correctly, otherwise I’ll get spicy Chiang Mai noodles!

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

It’s incredibly tiring, and regular breaks are important.

A variety of activity types is important to increase motivation – I feel like there could be a wider range of things done with the vocabulary in these lessons. For example, there could be flashcards so that we can play games instead of just reading them from the paper and trying to make questions and sentences.

In a 121 class, it would be nice to move around a bit – sitting down for such a long time put my leg to sleep!

Making your own questions and sentences is motivating because you can choose how to use the words and test the limits of what they are used for. It’s also very very very hard work!

Colours and diagrams can help make things clear.

It’s much easier to write things out in your own version of pronunciation, equating it to sounds/words you already know, than it is to try and use the official phonetics. Times that by about 100 and that’s how much easier it is to write it out in your own pronunciation than to attempt to use the still quite alien script.

‘Say that again’ should be taught immediately in a new class – it’s so incredibly useful.

As with yesterday, (about 50% self-directed) repetition and the use of English made a real difference to the lesson.

The teacher needs to be patient when listening to the same sentence repeated for the 20th…30th…50th time, and continue to pay attention because mistakes can still creep in. In fact, as you get tired they’re more, rather than less, likely to happen.

It’s important to move away from the written form and try to memorise things as quickly as possible, just using the written form to check/provide support, rather than constantly reading it.

I wonder whether more drilling would increase my confidence – most of the drilling I’ve had in the lessons has been self-directed. I’ve asked the teacher to repeat it. I wonder if they’d push that if I was more passive as a learner?

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 1

I got to Baan Aksorn school a few minutes late this morning, having not had time to find the school last night because I had to change hostels at the last minute. I was hot, sweaty, and not in the best mood because of the stress of the previous evening, even though it was only just after 8am. Thankfully that feeling disappeared very quickly.

My classroom

My classroom

I was welcomed immediately, and my teacher put me completely at my ease. She was welcoming and very patient with me. After I’d filled in the registration form, we chatted about what I wanted from the classes and decided which materials to use. The school has developed various workbooks. For beginners you can study reading or speaking. The speaking book can be with Thai characters, a kind of phonemic script or both. I chose the book with both, and we spent most of the first hour going through the consonant and vowel sounds, tidying up my pronunciation and clarifying some of the sounds I had trouble with.

ป and ต are still very challenging for me, and we got into something of a cycle of me attempting to repeat the sound with a 50/50 chance of getting it right. My teacher tried to tell me how to make the sounds, but it wasn’t always clear. Neither of those sounds appear in English as separate sounds, but they’re kind of like sounds which follow ‘s’ in the words ‘spot’ and ‘stop’. I’ve tried isolating them but can’t work out exactly how to do that, so if anyone has any thoughts on how to do that, they’d be much appreciated.

After a break (when I got to practise my Spanish and Czech on a Venezuelan who had worked in Brno!) we started to work on tones using lists of ‘words’, some of which don’t carry meaning, to demonstrate the five tones of Thai. Because I’m unsure of my pronunciation I have a tendency to use a questioning tone for many of the words, which is fine if it’s a rising tone, but not if it’s anything else! I could produce some of the sounds/words without a model, but I found it considerably easier when I could mimic my teacher. I tried to watch her mouth to see the changes, but this doesn’t help with tones or tongue position. She was good at using gestures and exaggeration to make it easier for me, but there’s definitely a lot of work for me to do in this area.

The final section of my lesson was based on real words grouped by tone. As we worked through them my teacher helped me to make simple sentences and gave me some grammatical information about patterns that accompany some of the words. This was great as it meant I could attempt to personalise the language a bit, and contextualise some of the words I’d already learnt on memrise.

The view from the classroom window

The view from the classroom window

The lesson was conducted in a mix of Thai and English, with all of the praise and some of the incidental language in Thai (like asking if I was cold when I put a scarf on), but all of the explanations in English. I can’t remember/imagine what it’s like to have a beginner lesson entirely in the foreign language – being able to check things in English really helped, and my teacher could compare sounds and lexical patterns for me, providing very useful scaffolding.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • It has a subject-verb-object word order.
  • There are two prepositions for ‘towards’ depending on if you are in the place the thing is going towards (maa) or not (pai) – hope that’s the right way round!
  • Every vowel exists in long and short form.
  • Adjectives follow nouns.

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner

Pronunciation is incredibly important.

Going through sounds at the beginning is an interesting way to start learning, and this is the second time I’ve done it (Russian was the first). I wonder whether it would work in English, or if it’s only good for languages with a strong sound-spelling relationship? We only have a limited range of phonemes, but perhaps you’d need to know the L1 of your student to do this, or they’d have to be willing to take the plunge with phonetics. You can use them as building blocks for words later, and pronunciation will be central right from the start. I definitely felt more confident with Russian pronunciation right from the start because of this.

Being able to mimic a natural model is hugely important – it’s hard to hold a sound in your head, and even harder to pluck it from thin air when you’ve had other sounds to think about in between.

Repetition, repetition, repetition…

…but it gets pretty frustrating if you can’t work out why what you’re saying is wrong.

Context helps so much – you need meaning to hook things on to in your memory.

It’s important to learn the patterns that go with words. For example, เป็น is one equivalent for ‘be’ in Thai, but it can only be used with nationality, character (e.g. kind), status (i.e. social position – mother, employee, student) and jobs. This could help to reduce mistranslations and/or over-generalisations.

Having a teacher who speaks your language is an incredible safety blanket. I have no idea how people in our English classes do it. Yet one more reason to value non-native teachers, since so few of us natives are competent in other languages!

When you’re writing a new script, it feels like drawing. It’s hard to keep the letter in your head, and even to think of it as a letter (I just nearly wrote ‘symbol’). Copying them takes time and thought, and often scribbling out and rewriting. When I was first learning Thai characters, I had to describe most of them as pictures to differentiate them. For example ด (d) is ‘up elephant’, ค (kh) is ‘down elephant’ and ต (t) is ‘tooth’.

It’s useful to record a few sentences that you can repeat at home.

In a 121 class, having a teacher who can write upside-down is very useful 🙂

I need to do some homework, including listening to the CD that was part of the materials the school gave me. See you tomorrow!

Update

Here are all of the posts:

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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