I think it is fair to say that Cracking Thai Fundamentals, written by polyglot Stuart Jay Raj and available on CreateSpace and Amazon, is the most anticipated Thai language book to come out in a very long time. The Interwebs have been abuzz with excitement for months, and students have been waiting (mostly) patiently for its release. Happily, the time has come, the book has been released, and students are starting to dig in to see what tricks of the trade Stu has provided to help us become more fluent in one of the most beautiful languages of the world.
An Operating System for the Mind
It’s important to mention right off the bat that this is not a Thai language learning “system” as you are perhaps accustomed to using. Stu himself is adamant in making this point clear. The book does not give you vocabulary lists to memorize, lessons on sentence structure, or quick phrases you can use while visiting Thailand as a tourist. Cracking Thai Fundamentals is a suite of tools designed to ultimately provide you with a deeper understanding of the Thai language; it’s a way to take what you already know, what you are currently learning, and smooth out the rough edges. Think of it like expanding your paint palette from 8 to 128 colors to help you paint more vivid pictures.
There are six main sections of the book, taking readers through an interesting route describing the features of the Thai language. The main gist of Stu’s book is to get you to go beyond simple memorization. By using several mnemonic devices including stories, colors, and symbology, Stu provides a wide range of teaching aids for “rent to own” – use what works for you, but try everything before you decide what to keep and what to throw away.
Proper pronunciation is a huge theme throughout Cracking Thai Fundamentals. A healthy portion of the book is dedicated to explaining the importance of what your body (mouth, throat, etc) is doing when pronouncing Thai, and how understanding these physical characteristics will improve your ability to speak and understand Thai. I found this section to be fascinating, albeit slightly over my head. I think the ability to speak properly is arguably the fundamental theme running through the book.
My favorite section of the book is called “Meaning Building Block Body Signs.” In this section, Stu associates eleven “high frequency components” of the Thai language with visual and physical clues. Each clue is used to explain grammatical nuances that will immediately improve your Thai ten-fold. This section is full of fascinating information, and is without a doubt a sure-fire way to take you from beginner to intermediate level Thai in a short time. To be honest, (Stu, are you listening?) I really hope Stu’s next book is a grammar book that focuses on these concepts but in a much expanded format. If such a book were to be published it would in my opinion immediately eclipse all other Thai grammar books without exception. And that’s saying a lot considering how excellent the other resources currently on the market are.
But I digress…
In the Building Block section you will learn about the following components:
Going through this information expanded my knowledge and curiosity by a factor of hundreds. So much information packed into eleven words/components!
Indic Language Systems
The bulk of the book and, from what I could gather, the bulk of Stu’s teaching in general, is centered around the idea of understanding the historical connection between Thai and other Indic based scripts. Many correlations between Thai words and their Chinese, Korean, etc… counterparts are given to illustrate similarities, and all the idea of proper pronunciation is again reinforced. This is where Stu takes you on a journey of Indic writing systems to show the derivation of Thai writing from other languages, again with the hope that a synaptic connection will be made to aid in your language study. You don’t even have to be a student of Thai to appreciate the anthropological treasure trove contained within the pages of this section.
Everyone’s favorite stumbling block, non-native Thai speakers are well aware of how difficult some vowels are to pronounce. Vowels are introduced before consonants on purpose, and once again physical mnemonics are introduced along with several other devices to provide us with a deeper understand a deeper meaning. “Vowel Frames” and “How the Thai Vowels Actually Work” are two other stand out sections of the book for me. Knowing how and why the Thai language has their vowels will certainly help you to see vowel frames more easily.
Overall, and understandably, there is not much a tremendous amount of content in the vowels section of the book; this information can be found in hundreds of other places, including in my free Thai Cheat Sheets download.
More time is spent on consonants than vowels, and this section has a lot of meat. Not only does he return to his explanation of Indic systems, this section also includes information on syllables, consonant classes, and he suggests what I think to be an excellent way to organize your study of consonants to improve retention. (You’ll have to buy the book to find out more about his method.)
What really stands out for me in this section, however, is that Stu breaks down every consonant in the Thai alphabet in detail. Forms in different fonts, traceable letters to practice with, some notes about each consonant to help you understand and remember them. I wish I had this information when I was learning the consonants; I suspect I would have memorized them much faster.
Cracking the Thai Tones
If your head has not exploded by this point, Stu takes us on a journey of discovery for learning the proper tones. It is understandable why Thai language learners have so much trouble with tones, and short of brute force memorization we could use all the help we can get. In this part of the book, Stu provides us with historical reference on tones, physical characteristics of speaking the tones, and a wonderful explanation of the tone markers. If you have trouble with tones, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time here.
Putting it All Together
The supporting Appendices round out the book with a large quantity of supporting information, from building vocabulary lists to describing Thai numbers, and more helpful hints to get you beyond just functional fluency.
All said and done, this book will surely become one of the gold standards. I firmly believe if you apply the suggestions that resonate with you into your personal study routine, you will progress exponentially faster.
One last important note: Stu has intimated that he is in the process of creating an errata page to address errors from the book. Apparently, there were some issues between Stu and the publisher in terms of getting errors corrected before print time. Having a publishing background, I can certainly attest to how stressful those situations can be. Stu said, “I hope the content outweighs the errors.” I am quite certain that it will.
So what are you waiting for? Go get your copy of Cracking Thai Fundamentals and get Cracking!