As i think I mentioned a few posts ago, my wife has finally taken the plunge to help me with my Thai in a more formal, structured setting. Rather than just helping me when I ask her specific questions, she has taken the initiative to start teaching me Thai the way she learned in school. Obviously I have been studying Thai on my own for a few years now, but to be honest I haven’t had much success. I mean, I can read/pronounce Thai very well, but I am horrible at vocabulary. I can write Thai very well but I can’t necessarily tell you what I’m writing. I guess my wife got tired of watching me struggle so much and decided to show me how you’re really supposed to learn.
Our first lesson was centered around the alphabet; you can read about it here if you are feeling cocky about your own language ability. I had thought that once we started getting the consonants down again we would move onto the stuff that I have been doing on my own — translating Manee, for example. But I was given a rude awakening when she started pulling out some very simple, elementary school level exercises. It took me a little while to get over the ego aspect of completely starting from scratch, but then I realized that we’re talking about foundations here. We all know the adage of building a house on a poor foundation; learning a language is exactly the same.
So at the risk of sounding superior, I pose this question to you: are you strong enough, are you willing enough, to tear down your language house and rebuild your foundation by learning Thai the way the Thais learn Thai?
I think I am, but it was a bit of an ego crusher. Then again, the goal is not my ego so I’m willing to do what it takes. Each lesson so far has been comprised of the following:
Consonants, to be more specific. Using a worksheet from the Karn.tv website, every session begins with a quiz to make sure I know all of the consonants, in order. Some of the consonants are already given; I have to fill in the rest. This is just like the example I gave at the end of my article on consonants back in the early blog days. Assuming I don’t make any major mistakes, I then have to write down all 44 consonants in order without any clues. Though I still have trouble knowing the names of some of the consonants, the list, in general, has become much easier to remember and write down.
This exercise is where my ego got in the way the most. I was given a series of syllables; for example, กา. The exercise was to separate the components, say them out loud, and then reassemble them and say it out loud again. Kind of like this:
ก า กา /gɔɔ aa gaa/
Each part of the syllable spoken separately, then spoken together.
Yes, this seems very easy and possibly even a waste of your time. But, think of the benefits as you move onto the more complex vowels and dipthongs that are not a part of your native language. As I’ve said a hundred times before, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
I would think of this as a combination of listening, writing, and vocabulary. Part one of this exercise is having my wife say out loud a consonant name, to which I have to write it down. It’s not as simple as you think when dealing with four different “s” consonants like they have in Thai. After that she gives me 10-15 words that I have to spell. For each consonant and/or word that I get wrong, I have to write them down for a half page each, along with the translation of the words. This helps to retain the definition of the word.
Next, I get a list of words — some of them are the very same words from the previous exercise — and I have to use them in sentences. This part and the next are the only parts of the lesson where I get to cheat and use a dictionary, but since this part focuses on sentence structure the dictionary offers little other than to look up words I don’t know. If a sentence I write is grammatically incorrect, my wife goes through and corrects my mistakes.
A Picture Tells a Thousand Stories
I know that’s not how the line actually goes, but I think mine sounds better. In the final part of each lesson, my wife gives me a picture. My objective? To write out several sentences about the picture. Again, this is for grammar and sentence structure.
Each lesson takes about an hour to complete, which isn’t bad. The great thing is that I’m not only learning from a native Thai speaker, but I think in general the interaction with another person helps to speed up the learning process. It’s certainly better than pouring over a dictionary under a hot desk lamp trying to translate every single word and not really being able to get the exact meaning. I’m not saying that work doesn’t have benefits, but I think after having a few of these lessons I have a much better understanding of foundation-building and making sure that the language house I build will be strong and last forever.