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Published: January 25th 2020
Private Thai Language Class
Thrilled to be a student again, after a lifetime of being a teacher. And mostly just thrilled to be continuously learning. Gratitude abounds.
My Thai Language teacher has a delightful sense of humour and a razor sharp whit, and is not too shy about whipping her private class student - me - with it. An example of this came about in a recent lesson. She would recite a sentence for me in English, and my task was to verbally give it back to her in Thai. This exercise worked fairly well, as I could spit out the translations with a fair amount of speed for the shorter phrases: “How are you?”, ”What is your name?”, “Where do you live?”, “Do you speak Thai?”, “What day of the week is it?”, etc. But as the exercise continued, the phrases became longer and more complex, and my thinking and speaking wheels slowed considerably. Finally, my astute teacher - feigning falling asleep on a bar stool - said I would need to find someone very drunk to practice my Thai conversations with if I did not pick up the speed, because any normal speaking Thai person would have long ago left me. 😂 So no surprise that my next homework assignment is to practice reciting a half dozen complex sentences in 60 seconds. She is good. And
Greeting, Entering a Temple or Greeting a Monk
Fingers together, thumbs touching forehead, between brows. Bowing down low.
we have lots of fun.
But I must mention how ridiculously difficult the Thai language is. The first challenge is that its a tonal language. There are five tones. Five of them. Simply put, this means you can say the same word - spelt exactly the same way - five different ways and guess what? You’ve got five completely different meanings. Or the way I see it, five perfectly good ways to screw up on any word.
Second challenge, the word order is pretty much a juggling act compared to English. It very nicely messes you up and often leaves your brain feeling like a bunch of dropped juggling balls.
But then there is the third challenge - a whole system of classifiers which make no particular sense, but must be used every single time a number is included in a phrase. For example, one classifier (there are 42 of them) applies to anything with a tail, or a body. Hence, all animals fit in that category. But of course, there are exceptions, like tables, which don’t really have tails, but they do have legs, so therefore they have a body. Go figure. So, if you want
Greeting Elders, Parents, Teachers, Authorities
Fingers together, thumbs on nose, bowing down slightly.
to say, for example, two cats, you say “cat 2 tails” or “meow 2 dtua” . (Yes, the word for cat in Thai is pronounced “meow” ☺️).
Then there’s that remaining minor challenge - that being the written language, which is comprised of 44 consonants and 32 vowel sounds. That adds up to 76 sounds to learn. It looks very pretty, but also completely illegible - somewhere between Chinese and Arabic. That fun challenge I have yet to encounter, as a new student of Thai language must first spend at least three months getting a foundation in the oral before the written language is introduced. I am looking forward to this intro next month - possibly - depending on how well those speed tests and the vocabulary retention goes.
My guesstimate is that I could probably become fluent in this language if I had a couple lifetimes to work at it, so fluency is definitely not the goal. Then why am I doing this? I suppose precisely because it is not about an end product, but more about the opportunities this learning experience provides to live in the moment; to delight in the joys of communicating with someone
Greeting, General Public
Fingers together, index finger touching nose. Very slight bow of head only.
- however poorly - in the language of their country, in which I am a guest. It is a way of saying thank you for the opportunity to visit, and the efforts are always appreciated and received with a smile.
That, in itself, is enough of a reward. The fact that it may help my brain ward off dementia for a few years is an added bonus.
I can’t wait to experience the language wrestling matches my brain will be undergoing when we get to Indonesia in a few weeks and I switch to studying and practicing that language again. I just know my Thai vocabulary will be figuratively waving its hands and jumping to the front of the line to mess up my Indonesian conversations for at least the first week or two. It definitely did last year. What fun! 😬
Of course it goes without saying that language learning also incorporates cultural awareness, and as such I was shown the various prayer hand gestures that are part of Thai culture, more known in the west as the “Namaste” form of greeting. My teacher introduced me to the three appropriate hand positions to be used depending
Thai Cultural School Language Teachers
This photo was taken in February 2019, after completing my first two months of Thai classes. Next to me is my first teacher, Kru Duang. In the forefront is my second and current teacher, Kru Cherry. They are both excellent.
on whether one is entering a temple or greeting a monk; greeting an elder, parent, teacher, or other person deserving of respect; or simply greeting an airline stewardess or member of the general public. She captured the photos during our lesson, and apparently they are now posted on the Koh Phangan Thai Cultural College Facebook page.
And so it is the cultural adventures continue to unfold. Thank you for your interest in our travels.
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