This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
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What are your strengths and weaknesses?…
It’s been said that if you are aware of both your strengths and weaknesses with learning languages you can shore up one with the other. But is that always true?
Aaron: My pronunciation is pretty good. The Thai that I speak is fine for ordinary conversation. I have found it useful to use a little bit of Thai when teaching English. I speak some Thai for business. However, my vocabulary is limited to my experiences. Very fast teenager talk is a bit perplexing to me. When I hear the Southern dialect, I’m lost. It would be wonderful to study great works of Thai literature and poetry. I’m not there yet.
Aaron Le Boutillier
Aaron: Having a vocabulary of obscure words that make Thai people laugh as they tell me I speak like their Grandfather and my weakness would be colloquial off the cuff Thai.
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Adam: My strength is my ability to have a conversation with anybody about anything. My weakness is sometimes saying something in say 5 words that could have been said in 3 words.
Andrew: Catherine, are you serious? My strengths are I am creative and manic obsessive so when I put myself into a task I stick with it. My weaknesses … you simply don’t have enough room in your column to list them all. Kate Bush is my greatest weakness.
Celia: I “get” a language very quickly, but I am not good at paying attention to rules.
Chris Pirazzi: I can analyze things well so I can get to understand grammar and certain spelling/pronunciation rules quickly. But I do not like to speak “off the cuff” or improvised so, unlike some learners who can learn huge amounts of Thai vocabulary by “winging it” in nearly-one-way conversations with Thai people, I learn most vocab much more slowly through self-study.
Christy: I think reading is a strength for me and it’s something I really enjoy. Jonas is a better Thai speaker than I am, especially in regards to vocab and usage.
Pronunciation is more of a strength for me as well it seems. I’m nowhere near “there” yet, but I do work hard at trying to pronounce things correctly, and perhaps also being a singer and/or musical helps me somewhat in hearing and identifying the tones and sounds correctly (although I know many non-singer expats who speak Thai very well too).
On a more personal level, I would say a weakness is still sometimes not being brave enough to go ahead and try a new word or something I want to say that I’m not 100% sure of or haven’t said before. This has often held me back in my Thai speaking over the years, and definitely having improved in this area for the most part has been one of my greatest breakthroughs in learning the language.
Colin: My greatest weakness is that I’m not prepared enough to admit when I don’t understand. I still bluff my way through conversations hoping that I pick up the facts I’ve misheard along the way. There are a lot of situations where it just doesn’t matter and it really isn’t worth going through the ‘Could you repeat that’, routine. But losing face really isn’t nearly as bad as grasping the wrong end of the stick and making dumb mistakes as a result. My strength is a sense of humour. People respond to humour in any language and there’s far less stress in a happy conversation than in a serious one.
Daniel B Fraser
Daniel: Strengths are a good memory for difficult words or phrases. My tones are also quite good (for a Canadian!). But general structure and grammar is all very home-made for me, so I tend to not be so precise or clear with complicated dialogue.
David: My strength in Thai is being able to use it without forethought- I simply use it like I do English. My weakness is in translation. When someone asks me what a phrase or word means, it’s often the case that I’ve never thought about what it might mean in any other language, so it’s very difficult sometimes.
David Smyth: At first my hearing was not good. If I asked a Thai, ‘What was that word you just said?’ and they repeated the word in isolation, I had no idea what tone they had produced and therefore mispronounced it when I tried to repeat it. I had a farang friend who could not read Thai but could always repeat what he heard perfectly, much to the admiration of Thais. He made me feel inadequate. I eventually got round the problem by asking Thais to write the word down for me, and once I could see it on paper, I knew what the tone should be. Suddenly the roles were reversed. Thais saw that I could not only pronounce Thai correctly, but could read, too. Victory was mine! Happily, over time, my ears gradually got more attuned to what to listen out for; and I learned how to pass the blame – a bad telephone line, going slightly deaf, so-and-so not expressing themselves clearly.
In the end I think it is important to recognize that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses in language learning and that by working on the weaknesses we can always improve – if we want to.
Don: An analytical mind has been for me very useful. I still receive (the spoken language) with great difficulty.
Doug: Good ear; vocabulary retention could be better.
Gareth: My pronunciation is generally pretty good (although some friends say I sound a little Isaan at times – I put it down to me having a strong native English accent). My vocab is not what it should be for the length of time I have been here.
Glenn: I always tend to think about thinks spatially and related to the fact that, like English (and unlike, say, Chinese), Thai uses a phonemic alphabet. In fact, my fascination with reading and writing, combined with the nature of my work on thai-language.com, has put me in the unusual position for a student of knowing how to read and write Thai better than I can speak it. I have not had enough opportunity to practice and correct speaking with correct tone.
Grace: Weakness is definitely spelling in Thai and I also need to improve my typing. A strength is that I have built up confidence and try to speak even though it could be wrong.
Hamish: Strengths: good pronunciation, motivation to learn (I live here, to not know the language would be disgraceful), and genuinely no fear of making a fool of myself.
Weaknesses: code switching with my wife (whose English is excellent) when I can’t find the Thai word, rather than trying to talk around the word or look it up.
Hardie: My strength is probably good visual memory and the mathematical aspects of language- e.g. alphabet as code, sentence structure as equation, and the connections between related languages.
My weakness is processing acoustic information, which is highly imprecise. This is how most languages mutate over time, of course.
Herb: My strengths are in the areas of pronunciation and (until recent years) spelling. My linguistic background prepared me, through phonetics and a knowledge of how languages work, to get right into Thai sounds and structures. My applied linguistic background helped provide a framework for understanding second language acquisition and practical ways of learning a new language. So the academic background and some success in learning has provided motivation to continue and confidence that given the effort I can be reasonably successful.
One potential weakness is that I am generally more introverted than extroverted. I have two younger brothers who are very outgoing, and I’m not. But I loved learning Northern and Mien by visiting people and talking with them informally. It was low key, but it brought out that while I am naturally reserved, in one-on-one or small group situations I could be relaxed and communicative because I knew how to proceed independently. I have not kept up on reading and writing Thai to the extent that I should, perhaps due to a lapse in motivation now that I’m living in the States most of the time. Still I always pick up a manageable sized book (means relatively thin!) each time I come out here and read at least some of it while I’m in the States.
Perhaps a major weakness at my stage in life is that I either don’t notice the gaps (or differences) between what I’m saying and how Thai are saying similar things, or I notice something that I really should learn, but I forget to write it down or forget to actually take the time to learn it. Not noticing gaps is an indication that I could be on a plateau in my learning of Thai and that I’m not progressing. But trying to make progress in all three languages is becoming more difficult.
Hugh: Strength: Tenacity. I never give up. Weakness: It takes me about 100 repetitions to begin to remember a new word. Lucky for my tenacity.
Ian: I am extremely determined and will never give up. My theory at the outset was that if Thais could read that crazy script, there was no good reason I couldn’t too. My weakness is I get bored if something doesn’t hold my interest. That’s really why I stopped regular classes, because they had become reading magazines, watching videos and doing translation.
James (Jim) Higbie
Jim: I’m better at analyzing than at remembering vocabulary. Especially at first, I thought Thai words were hard to remember because they were mostly a single syllable and they all sounded the same to me. My ear wasn’t good enough to pick up tones just by hearing other people speak. I developed the visual transliteration system in my books at first to help myself visualize the sound of the words. It helped me learn to speak with the correct tones and vowel lengths.
Joe: My Thai is strong in most fields of reference nowadays, but my best areas are probably politics, tourism, cuisine, music and Buddhism, all areas I’ve had a lot of experience researching in Thai. I’m weaker in medical and scientific Thai.
John: I think my biggest strength is reading. My pronunciation of consonants, vowels, words, tones, etc. is usually pretty good. I can follow conversations fairly well, but I still have trouble following rapid-fire dialogue in TV shows, newscasts, etc.
My biggest weakness is thinking in English while trying to construct a sentence in Thai. My conversation is definitely not up-to-speed with my reading. A lot of that has to do with not living in Thailand and not being able to practice speaking Thai in everyday situations. Same with vocabulary. Words I don’t use consistently I tend to forget. It seems in my case that quantity time would be more beneficial than quality time at this point.
Jonas: By far my strength is speaking Thai and colloquial usage. I’m at kiddy levels with the written language.
Jonathan: Not sure. I think in general I’m a quick learner when it comes to languages; however I would say that even now I have good days and bad days. Comprehension is a tricky thing, and sometimes you’ll just not know a word or just not understand somebody. Usually context and more overt clueing can help one determine the meaning, but at times I simply have to get used to the way an individual speaks. In the end exposure to different registers, media, and dialects/sociolects is the best way to improve on those weak areas. At least, that’s what I believe.
Justin Travis Mair
Justin: My strengths are that I love to learn new things and I am totally willing to admit I am not good at something. It does me no good to learn things if I think I already know everything.
I think a weakness would have to be follow through. I get so excited to do things that unless I have a responsibility partner or some sort, I would easily get distracted and start 10 projects and finish none.
Larry: After working hard on this aspect of the Thai language, my pronunciation is pretty good. This leads people to believe I understand more than I do, which means they speak to me in a natural manner. I count this a strength, because in the course of these conversations, I can pick up new vocabulary and sentence structure through context.
I also speak and react quickly, another advantage, because again native Thai speakers also converse with me in a natural manner.
After forty years, getting basic grammar right remains a glaring weakness. For example, I still make mistakes on when to use “go” (ไป) and “come” (มา).
Luke: I’ve become quite good at just sitting and spending hours working on something, I think a big part of that is the focus and concentration that I have developed through my yoga practice. At the same time this can often be a downside as I’ll get so lost in the way that I think is correct, that I’ll fail to see the shortcomings.
Marc: I have a natural knack for languages; however, as I am not the most patient person I am sometimes challenged by the speed in which I become conversant in a foreign language. I have a tendency to try and move too fast sometimes.
Marcel: As a speaker, when I’m tired or nervous, I make mistakes; I know too much slang for my own health. As a translator, you tell me.
Mark: My enthusiasm for learning is probably my greatest strength. Weaknesses? Vocabulary retention especially those with irregular spellings such as loanwords.
Martin: Strengths: Big vocabulary, grammatical insight, depth in general, a good accent when concentrating.
Weaknesses: Sometimes, not bothering to make the correct pronunciation because I’m being lazy. I found, as a non-native speaker of this language, I’m using twice as much brain power to process a Thai text than an English text, so it gets tiring after a while.
Nils: One strength is that I am good at mimicking sounds, though I must admit that tonality is still quite difficult. My basic programming, using tones for emotion and emphasis, is hard to disregard, and the habit of listening for tones in the way you need to when speaking a tonal language requires much practice. One major problem was that the word ‘tone’ mislead me for a long time. It was not until I looked at the relative length of the vowel sounds in the Thai tonality that my ear for tonality improved. Not starting by combining spoken and written Thai was also a mistake that hampered perfect learning. Sitting in a school bench and learning from scratch consonant classes, memorizing words, and building a varied vocabulary may sound boring, but it certainly is effective. besides, with a good teacher it can probably be a lot of fun.
Peter: I’m good at producing the sounds accurately, and have a pretty good memory. At this point I’m finding, though, that when speaking fast I sometimes unwittingly use the wrong tones. I usually correct myself, but the mistake has been made. Also it’s surprising how hard it still is to catch fast conversation between other people. Final consonants p, t, k, are often hard to tell apart. In English we’ll pronounce those fully, with a release at the end, but in Thai the syllable will just end without a clear final sound, and there are other problems like that. Usually I have no problems one-on-one. But watching TV and catching most of the words is a big challenge. And I need a lot more vocabulary: working on that pretty hard now.
Paul: I never give up is my strength and my weakness is that I’m easily distracted.
Rick: I am a systematic student that is able to take bits of information and create patterns of knowledge which stay with me. On the downside, I am not particularly confident about taking my spoken Thai out on the road — I tend to use it only when I need to.
Rikker: I’d say a strength of mine is that I have a good ear for mimicry. One “secret” to my success has been to carefully observe and internalize how and what native speakers say. This includes tones, stress patterns, vocabulary, idioms. And then reproduce what I hear.
One of my weaknesses is retention, especially taking the time to review and solidify my knowledge. I am not good at finding the time to go back over things I jot down, nor do I typically use things like flash cards. Generally for me it’s what sticks, sticks and what doesn’t, doesn’t. I guess this is why reading was so helpful to me, because the important words invariably show up repeatedly. But these days I feel like I don’t actively read as much as I’d like to, either, so my vocabulary stagnates.
Ryan: Strengths are probably reading and writing. My biggest weakness is probably remembering new words if it isn’t a word that I’m actually going to use when I talk.
Scott: Strengths: I can pronounce the tones pretty well, and can make myself understood pretty much anywhere. Weaknesses: I am hopeless at ‘formal’ Thai – it’s like a whole nother language!
Stephen: I used to dread having to speak Thai on the telephone. It’s still more difficult, though not as bad as before. I have a hard time with telephones in general. After all this time you’d think they would improve the sound. I know it’s possible because when people talk on Viber it’s 1,000 times clearer. Even in English you can’t discern between S and Th or V and F on the telephone. You only know because of you know what the words are supposed to be, same as speaking to someone with a lisp or speaking in spoonerisms.
The lackadaisical habit of substituting ล for ร or dropping ล after ก has led to my confusion on more than one occasion. I love Joey Cheuancheun’s routine about Ror Reua is Ror Reua and Lor Ling is Lor Ling. But it’s the same as americans substituting D for T or the New York and London use of glottal stops or substituting N for Ng at the end of verbs. That’s why learning in the street is so important.
I hate forgetting vocabulary that I don’t use as often, but again this happens in English too, only you usually have another word to fall back on in that case.
As for strengths, the only strength I can really say is that I’m not afraid to make mistakes. I’ll try out a new way to say something or make a joke, and if it works great, if not then I learn from that.
Stickman: I think one’s strengths and weaknesses when using a foreign language and inextricably related to their personality.
Probably my biggest strength is that I am gregarious. I talk a lot and am happy to talk with pretty much anyone about anything.
I can be a little impatient and when asking more modestly educated Thais for explanations of things related to language, I find their lack of knowledge frustrating – but with that said I learned a long time ago who to ask such questions to and who not to!
Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Stu: Strengths – have passion about languages. Weakness – when learning, get obsessed by whatever it is I’m learning and won’t let it go until I can conquer it.
Terry: Strengths: Pronunciation, general vocabulary, humour, knowing what is appropriate in different situations.
Weaknesses: Making the same mistakes for 20 years. They become noticeable when dealing TV scripts. The sentences are not quite what I would normally say. Inability to communicate fluently in certain more technical subjects.
Tod: My strengths are reading, understanding compound Thai words where the meaning isn’t always what the stand alone words would mean separately, knowing a TON of common idiomatic expressions. Typing Thai is another thing I feel is a strength, even though I can transcribe Thai quite fast (as in type something from a book into a document). My typing on the fly is far behind that due to my errant spelling, although MSN and other chat sites are bringing me up to speed on that.
My weaknesses are my erratic toning of words in my spoken Thai. I’m okay with vowel lengths now and my pronunciation of beginning/ending sounds are pretty clear. Unfortunately due to the way I taught myself to read (forgoing any consonant classes or learning the tone rules), I’m finding it’s way harder to ‘un-learn’ an improper pronunciation than it would have been learning it the right way first time outta the gate.
If I approach unfamiliar Thais who I need to talk to, I’ll use what I call the ‘Thai Language Dance’. In Thai I’ll say, “Hello, how are you, can you speak English, I can speak Thai a little bit, can you understand me?” This does two things, first it makes the Thai you’re engaging switch their ears from listening for English words, back into listening for Thai, and it lets them get a handle on how accented and poorly pronounced your spoken Thai is. Believe me EVERY foreigner here speaks Thai with a foreign accent, no matter how much the Thais praise your abilities.
(FWIW; take ANY praise about your Thai language skills from a Thai and discount it completely. If I had a baht every time a Thai praised my spoken Thai ability I’d be a billionaire here.)
Tom: My weakness is still my limited vocabulary, although I can hold a conversation in Thai on most topics a few words always trip me up and when Thais hear that you pronounce Thai well they do not hold back on speaking with rapidity! My strengths are my pronunciation, which still needs some tweaking, and my ability to read well, although I have still not achieved my aim of being able to read Matichon newspaper fluently.
Vern: I seem to be good at getting my own message across! I can speak about what I want to speak about pretty well. I can direct the conversation well. My vocabulary is pretty good, I know a wide range of words.
Due to the variability in the way Thais speak across the country, and even between any two Thais – it can become difficult to understand some people at all and they get the tripping Red Bull look. Add to that the rate of speech that someone uses, and I can get lost easily with a fast speaker.
The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…
- Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation
- Contributors: Successful Thai Language Learners Series
- What were your reasons for learning Thai?
- Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
- What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
- Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
- What Thai language learning methods did you try?
- Did one method stand out over all others?
- How do you learn languages?
- How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
- Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
- What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
- What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?