As a programmer, I essentially type for a living. In a nerdy sort of way I pride myself on my ability to pump out thousands of lines of code and text without having to look at my hands. That is, of course, right up until I have to switch languages on my computer and try to type Thai…
Let’s take out of the equation the most obvious challenge, which is the fact that we’re trying to type a foreign language. In addition to that, I think the biggest challenge lies in the order in which you have to type the vowels and tone markers. For example, a typical word like this can present issues if you aren’t familiar with the order in which you have to input characters:
For the initiated, you know that you first type the consonant (ย), then the vowel (ยู) and then the tone marker (ยู่). For the uninitiated, it’s a struggle to get things in the right order.
(By the way, in case you were wondering, the word I used in the example is /yùu tîi nǎi/ ["Where is it/he/etc."])
Another challenge is the memorization aspect; how to train your fingers to “learn” the position of the characters with muscle memory so you don’t have to start at your hands while you type.
Luckily, there are solutions to both of these challenges. First, let’s talk about the learning method itself. There are two very good online Thai typing websites that have been around for a short period of time:
There are others, but I’ve found these two to be the best for practicing. ThaiTyping.com, in particular, is very helpful and highly recommended.
There is also the virtual keyboard at type-thai.com, though it is more of an emulator rather than a teaching system.
How to Get Started
Rather than having me say “jump right in, the water’s fine,” I believe there should be a method to this particular madness. When I was teaching myself to type English, I literally turned off the lights in my room and forced myself to not look at my hands. There is that method, of course, and if that works for you then I say go for it; it certainly helps. With that in mind, I think the ThaiTyping.com website provides the best introduction to understanding through repetition where the characters are located. The site even provides a scoring system to show your typing accuracy. (Very frustrating at first, but a good measure of your progress as you practice more.)
After using ThaiTyping.com for a while I suggest you move over the to the Thai Typing Trainer for extra work. The interfaces are different enough to provide you with unique challenges without getting boring.
Once you feel like you have them down and your typing has become consistent, grab a Thai book or magazine, head over to type-thai.com and start typing what you see. Over time this will be the best way for you to practice. Don’t worry about understanding or reading what you are typing, just type for the sake of typing. Check for accuracy and take your time. (If you want to stop after every paragraph and say aloud what you typed, I certainly won’t fault you for the extra practice!)
It’s All About Consistent Practice
You will get it, but ya have to practice, consistently. It’s just hard enough to be frustrating if you don’t spend the time up front to get it right, and also just hard enough to be a pain in the butt to relearn if you haven’t done it in a while. (Yes, I speak from experience.)
As I say many, many times in my posts, just keep going.