This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Tips and suggestions needed…
Last week I received an email asking for help:
Question: I’m currently an exchange student living in Thailand. I’ve had an issue where I can’t seem to learn any more Thai, and when I try my minds strays and I get tired very quickly. I was just wondering, do you have tips to help overcome this mind block I’ve developed?
I took a stab at the answer, and then went one step further: I put the question to those interviewed in WLT’s Successful Thai Language Learners series, and more…
Tips and suggestions to overcome mind block…
He/she should find a girlfriend/boyfriend who can’t speak English. That will help expedite the learning and the mind won’t stray.
You don’t really have a mind block. What you are experiencing is what we call a “Plateau”. This is a very normal experience with all learning and especially with language learning. Basically, your mind is telling you that it has had enough input for a while and it needs time to process what it has taken in (which is one reason I hate language testing).
Plateaus can last for a considerable time, or they can be quite short. I once plateaued for more than a year. It all depends on how much and how quickly your mind processes all that stuff it is storing. But it is no reason to stop studying. You may want to focus your studies differently, such as using what you already know to develop a fluency at that level, or simply practice your tones, or if you have been speaking mostly then change to reading, or vice versa. That way you’ll be using a different part of your brain.
Here is the good thing about plateauing. There is always another, and higher, plateau up ahead that you will eventually get to if you don’t give up. There is another interesting experience in language learning that I call “quantum leaping” where one day everything just seems to click and you instantly know so much more than you did yesterday. It’s like a dark veil has been lifted. It comes from all that studying you did while you were sitting around on your plateau, and your mind telling you, “OK, processing complete. More input!” Those days are fun. Just have patience, don’t give up, and wait for those “quantum leap” days ahead.
In fact, most of us have low limits when it comes to benefit from study. We quickly reach that point where we’re forgetting old things as fast as we’re remembering new ones. We then patch up our feelings with a new course, or extra effort. So you’re not alone.
For me the important thing is to assess what you’re doing. Below is a list of areas to assess with some goals I find helpful for myself.
What do you consider learning to be? With language, we must gain exposure to its natural use. The problem for many of us is that it’s very difficult to find Thai used in understandable contexts. So when we don’t understand, we tend to tune out. We may also believe that if we don’t study, we won’t learn anything.
– Goal – realize that life is the classroom – soak up what’s happening around you every day without being too focused on what the language is. You’ll begin to see and hear much more.
What are your expectations for yourself? Often, we can be very cruel taskmasters to ourselves! 🙂 It’s important to set realistic expectations.
– Goal – children are the best language learners ever and they don’t even have expectations about how much they’re learning. Develop a child-likeness on the inside. You’ll be a lot happier and releasing yourself from these expectations will open the door for you to really learn.
Are the practical things you’re doing to learn the language fun? – Study can be very hard work – and language study is one of the hardest sorts of study there is for most of us.
– Goal – Quit the study, and learn to play. Have fun with the process by turning every situation you don’t understand into a guessing game. Through watching expressions, body language and with the understanding you already know, make guesses about what’s being talked about.
Do you have Thai friends you talk with? Usually, Thais want to learn English, and foreigners want to learn Thai. This can turn into very boring exchanges that are focused on language.
– Goal – Turn your conversation to things you enjoy, and let the language be there. Use what you know, and find other ways to communicate what you don’t. They need to develop their English skills so use English with them. Encourage them to use Thai with you. Because language acquisition is input based, you need to hear Thai and they need to hear English. This makes for the perfect combination for improvement.
Successful Thai Language Learners: Peter Montalbano
It’s not clear what this person is studying, or at what level. But it sounds as though the formal studies are not in the Thai language, as she/he seems to be going the self-teaching route here. In that case, I would suggest that she/he take a real course in the language, with homework, the whole nine yards . . . having a teacher looking over your shoulder is a great incentive to get past the mind-straying stage, and also having other students to interact with and compete with. As I noted before, the Chula course is a great one, and you test into it and get put at the appropriate level from the beginning.
Certainly an abrupt change of environment, especially to one where there are even fewer people who can speak English (where the student will need to speak more Thai for everyday survival) would be effective for resetting the student’s enthusiasm/motivation, if possible.
Let’s Talk Thai (formerly Learning Thai)
Go back to basics.
Every January in my martial arts class is “basics month.” We cover only the fundamentals and refine our foundations specifically to start over and work with a fresh perspective.
Try reading and speaking for fun for a few weeks. Don’t TRY to learn anything, just enjoy the language for the sake of communication. Absolutely do not force it. Plateaus can only be broken in their own time, not by force.
My thanks for their tips and suggestions go to: Benjawan Poomsan Becker, Hugh Leong, David Long, Peter Montalbano, Chris Pirazzi, and Josh Sager.
As an insomniac, I fight similar battles studying Thai. When I got bogged down last year, my 30 Day Thai Language Trial in January eventually injected what was missing. You see, I had to keep studying no matter what, or fail. Potential embarrassment. Yeah. Along the way, I found the needed reserves and a few new tricks too. A language challenge might not work for everyone, but it worked for me.
Note: If you too have questions, just drop me a line via my contact form, and I’ll see what I can do about getting someone in the know to share some tips. And while I’m at it… if you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to answer a few questions, please let me know (and I’ll make it so).