Interview: Daniel Styles is Getting By in Thai

Getting By in Thai

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Getting by in Thai…

Name: Daniel Styles

Nationality: Australian

Age range: 30-ish

Sex: Male

Location: Chiang Mai

Profession: Teacher

Web: Language Exchange Chiang Mai (website pending)

What is your Thai level?

I guess intermediate but a lot still depends on situation and where I am and what we are talking about. I can still be quickly reduced to a startled rabbit in the headlights if a conversation takes a wrong turn. But still I can chat.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

Again depends mostly on what we are talking about. I can follow the plot (if there is one) of many comedy movies although many jokes won’t make sense.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

Much to my teacher’s disappoint I have to admit that I mostly speak street Thai. I have been really keen to learn more Northern Thai as I am often surprised to find out that I already know many words.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?


Opportunity. I am here so what better thing to do then learn the language. I have always wanted to learn another language so after living here for a while it just seemed natural. I just wish someone had have told me how hard it is. But then if it was easy I would have lost interest. I’m sick like that.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

Well it probably happened 2 times. First when I came here and was exposed to the language and culture. And then second over 2 and a half years later when I decided that I was actually going to learn Thai.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I study 2 times a week for an hour and a half a time. I’d like to say I spend a lot of time in the week studying but my teacher will probably call me out on that saying I always hand in homework late, if at all. It’s one thing I really am trying to find more time for. But I am lucky enough to have lots of opportunities to practice. For example, twice every week at the Language Exchange I organize that continues to become more and more successful.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Study? Schedule? What are they? I’m basically the worst student you can imagine. I gave my text book away to my friend’s son the other day because he was interested in it. Wasn’t a productive thing to do for my next lesson, but he enjoyed it.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I have started procrastinating about using ANKI although I do really do like it. One of the things I have really enjoyed lately is telling ghost stories in Thai and learning more. It relates to learning through interests. I have always been a story teller in English. So being able to retell stories in Thai is really natural and enjoyable for me hence I make an effort to learn more.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes! The method that you enjoy and take an interest in. For me I like challenges and tests more than study. I need to interact with things more than read about them. So knowing how you learn is important. My teacher gave me 1 week to learn to write the Thai alphabet. She bet me 2 beers I couldn’t do it. That’s my learning style. Needless to say they were 2 of the best beers I have ever had.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, and I strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn Thai. It will make your life so much easier. Plus it’s a beautiful written language. Can I even go so far as to say artistic?

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Of course it’s hard. But it’s not impossible.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I think I was using it as I was learning it. Living in Chiang Mai gives me lots of chances. And of course everything is just a test. Can I say that word correctly? Can I use it correctly?

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai?

Actually it was not being able to be understood that prompted me into learning Thai seriously. I was playing badminton and going to dinner with some teachers from the school I taught at often. Only 1 of them spoke English well, so usually the conversation was in Thai. At one point they told me that even though I could follow a lot of the conversation and join in, many of them struggled to understand me because of my tone, vowel pronunciation and grammar were so bad! So that was a big motivator for me to invest time learning instead of just picking things up.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

Many Thai words have closely pronounced words with awkwardly embarrassing meanings and care needs to be taken that you don’t mispronounce the wrong one at the wrong time. For example, it’s crucial to get the ด sound and not the ต sound when talking about the heat of the sunshine. And the more Thai you can speak the more people will assume that you meant to say the thing you said!

One story I can actually repeat without changing the family rating of your website happened when I’d just been here for a little while. I had learnt the Thai word of ice and confidently went to 7-11 and ask for some ice. The young girl looked at me, oddly walked off, and come back with a sausage in hand! Turns out I had asked for แหนมแข็ง and not น้ำแข็ง.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

After running the Language Exchange for over a year and a half now, 2 things stand out as common mistakes. 1) Ignoring the tones and saying that they aren’t important or Thai people speak to fast to hear them therefor they aren’t there. And 2) trying to translate everything or find an equivalent word or series of words. Sometimes in Thai it just doesn’t work like that. One friend of mine whom I admire and is fluent in both Thai and Northern Thai said to me that sometimes you just have to feel what something means rather than translate it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Realizing that before you can speak you have to listen. And I mean really listen. And look at how the sounds are made with the mouth and tongue.

How do you learn languages?

This is the only language I’ve learnt… Umm that sounds wrong obviously I learnt English, somehow.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Weaknesses; I’m lazy and too good at procrastinating. I don’t like being wrong, which I turn around and use as a strength that I will go and learn something and when I do I really try to understand it so I can avoid being wrong.

Can you make your way around any other languages?


How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?


Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

Nope and no way. Thai is hard enough.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

I’ve been living in northern Thailand for over 5 years now.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

I struggled using my computer to write this.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument

I love Flamenco and play it poorly on the guitar. But love is deaf also so it’s ok.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

I guess the first and most important thing you should understand is how you learn. And find a teacher who is flexible and understands how you learn. There is an ever growing number of resources available to us – thanks to the amazing work of people like Catherine from Women Learn Thai they’re easy to find. Try as much as you can. Use what you like and discard what doesn’t feel right. Listen to native speakers and really listen.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I plan to dedicate 2 hours a day to improving my vocabulary grammar structure and another 1 hour working on my tone and pronunciation. Of course that’s what I plan to do. What I will actually do will surely vary.

Daniel Styles,
Language Exchange Chiang Mai

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

3 thoughts on “Interview: Daniel Styles is Getting By in Thai”

  1. Daniel, love your approach and sense of humor. Cat, keeping the flag flying high.

    Takeaways: be a storyteller, take on beer bets, always ask the RIGHT questions and REALLY listen.

    Did I just see a ‘I tawt I taw a puddy tat’ joke in there? Laughing out Loud. (feels good to write it out in full once in a blue moon)


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