Lani, a Thai Learning Thai: Part 1

A Thai Learning Thai

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This Thai learning Thai…

Unfortunately there was no mystical transference or osmosis of language from mother to womb. So I am an American born woman who is ironically half Thai and half Chinese. Ironically because my ethnic makeup is very Thai, something I learned when I moved here as an adult. There are many Thai-Chinese in bra-tet Thai including the reining King.

So it is the great unanswered question: why did my mother not teach my brother and I Thai? We can look to historic events and circumstances surrounding my birth. The Vietnam War had ended and the good people of the United States on more than one occasion asked my parents, “Are you Vietnamese?” Did this have any bearing on my mother’s decision?

We can look to education or lack thereof. Do educated parents normally, bo-get-tee, teach their children their native language if it differs from where they are raising their children? Consequently, do undereducated parents decide it is best for their children to learn only the dominate culture? While my father was college educated, my mother was not. Her family was too poor to send her to school so she dropped out around the fifth or sixth grade. We don’t really know. Her birth wasn’t even recorded.

She was born in Lamphun situated a little south of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. My father died in a motorbike accident when I was six during a family vacation. I never asked my mom if he tried to teach us Chinese or what he thought about us learning Thai. I will have to ask her the next time I speak to her. It might seem odd to never ask my mom these questions but it is odd to think of them.

If you’ve ever lost a close family member like a parent or a sibling when you were young (or whenever?) you would understand that information about the deceased somehow gets lost until you think to look for it. Information is sometimes offered or shared which then provides more questions you never thought of before. It’s a strange storytelling dance that is full of surprises.


It is not like I didn’t ask my mom to teach me, especially when she was around her Thai friends in Hawaii. “What are they saying? What are you talking about? Teach me”. “I don’t know how”, was her answer. “Well, how do you count?” I learned how to count to ten and it didn’t go any further than that.

Well, I learned how to say you got small balls. Apparently this is a Laos slang saying. Oh, you want to know? It’s tonal you realize and I’m not sure I can convey a tone through print. Ba-hahm-noi (mid, low, high) just think of all the ways a set can sit. Little boys are called this as well, so I’ve learned, although I have never heard anyone say this and I’m not about to be the one who starts.

Of course I have asked my mother: “why didn’t you teach us?” Heck, she’s been asked the question from family and friends and probably strangers although I don’t believe she knows any. My mom seems to know every Thai person on the island of Oahu and it’s a healthy community. Her response to the dreaded question – “they wouldn’t have used it or they wouldn’t need it, when would they use it”, etc.

So now that I’m living in Thailand, what’s my excuse? Right about now – it’s a lack of motivation. I’ve gotten by all my life. And that, my friends, is a hard habit to break.

Lani Cox
{the missing teacher}

10 thoughts on “Lani, a Thai Learning Thai: Part 1”

  1. Thank you for the compliment and comments. It is an interesting world of first generation Americans and I never tire of hearing (anybody’s really) their stories.

    I’m glad you raised your son bilingual ~ I think that is one of the best gifts you can give your child.

    And if you enjoy my writing you can always head over to my other blogs 😉 and

    ~thanks for the encouragement Amy.

  2. Lani – thank you for such an interesting article on Women Learn Thai. Our next door neighbor (here in the USA) is an American-born Thai, both his parents are educated professionals who immigrated to the US when they were in their 20s. They never taught their son Thai. He understand quite a bit, but does not speak it.

    However, Gosit (the neighbor) doesn’t have any desire to live in Thailand and so doesn’t have much incentive to learn Thai. My (Thai) husband enjoys Gosit’s company, though and encourages him to engage in Thai language now and then.

    We have a son who was spoken to in Thai since the day he was born. He’s fully bilingual.

    I hope you get the opportunity to become fluent in your ancestor’s language. Please post again on Women Learn Thai, I really enjoy your writing style. 🙂

  3. @Talen: Yes, it is AMAZING how many people speak to me in Thai. I can blend in sometimes (or at least I think I do). I’ll have to check out your blog too 😀 Thanks for reading.

    @Matt: I had no idea you had learned Tagalog and forgot! I’m sure you could easily get it back, right?

    @Hollis: Definitely, live as if it is your last moment. But isn’t it interesting how we don’t know what we want to know until we think of it.

  4. True about losing someone and the “storytelling dance”… well put. You really start to try to understand someone once they’re gone, I guess a lesson to learn there is to try harder when they’re around (if possible). They’d probably be best at explaining them selves to you anyway.

    Thanks for the read, as always. =)


  5. Thanks for sharing your experience Lani. I can relate because I spent the first 5 years of my life in the Philippines and could speak Tagalog and English, but when the family moved to the U.S. my mom stopped speaking the native tongue to me (for fear of confusion in school) and I’ve forgotten everything! Perhaps, like you, I’ll take classes to learn. I’ll be on the look-out (listening for) Ba-hahm-noi in the classroom!

  6. Lani, Thanks for sharing your story with us…and for teaching me Ba-hahm-noi. I will use this and probably get in trouble 🙂

    I would think your Mother might have had it somewhere in her mind that since you were in the States that you would most likely stay there and English would be more important for you.

    I can completely understand the lack of motivation but it must be a bitch being Thai in Thailand and having people assume you know Thai.

    Now I’ll be heading to your blog to read some more about you…if it’s as good as I suspect it will be I’ll be adding you to my links section very shortly.


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