Interview: Talen is Getting by With Learning Thai

Learn Thai: Getting by in Thai

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Talen is getting by with learning Thai…

Name: Timothy Bull ( Talen )
Nationality: American
Age range: 45-45 soon to be 46-46
Sex: I like …Oh… errr… Male
Location: Chonburi, Thailand ( Pattaya )
Profession: Construction Management, currently unemployed and finding my way
Web: Thailand, Land of Smiles (no longer online) | Twitter: @landofsmiles

What is your Thai level? Intermediate / Intermediate + / Intermediate ++

I would say my Thai level is intermediate. While I am speaking and understanding more and more Thai and the proper grammar there is still a lot to learn.

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

I would say I understand 50% of what is spoken to me. Often times I find myself picking words out of the conversation and then filling in the gaps with what I already know about the people speaking or the situation. What makes it difficult at times is the speed in which conversations take place ( Thai speaker speaking too fast ) and or when the speaker is using both conversational Thai and the Issan dialect.

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

I would say I speak more street Thai with a small mix of Issan at times.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?


I love Thailand and through my travels and trips which led to ultimately living here I recognized that I really need to learn Thai so I can better understand whats going on around me. As my trips to Thailand became longer I began to get more and more frustrated because I couldn’t convey simple thoughts easily. When you are just a tourist you can get by and get the information you need easily with a word or two of Thai but when you have made Thai friends the conversation needs to go beyond simple phrases and words.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

I guess technically I became a student of the Thai language before I made my first trip to Thailand. I began looking at word lists and handy phrases on the Internet that I could use. Before I made my first trip I also bought Benjawan Becker’s Thai-English English Thai Dictionary which really helped greatly. After my first trip I bought several books such as Teach Yourself Thai and started playing around with audio and video Thai language tools. I Started taking formal Thai classes in September of 2010 at Pro Language School in Pattaya.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

I have classes 3 days a week for 2 hours each of those days. I started off very strong studying and hour or two each day on my own as well but I didn’t keep that up. Studying on your own is fine if you can recognize where you are getting it wrong but if you can’t then you just start to reinforce bad behaviors, bad grammar and bad pronunciations. Even though I still sit at times and go through exercises with certain Thai programs I use on the computer I would much rather be out and about using what I know with the Thai people I know who always make sure to correct me and teach me knew words and phrases.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Besides the 3 classes a week I have started a private course of 2 classes a week to help with reading and writing Thai. Other than that I’ve found that trying to have a regular study schedule just doesn’t work for me. I learn much better when I am not forcing myself to learn. When I have a quiet moment I’ll often work on words and grammar and it seems to flow more naturally and be retained at a much better percentage.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I am currently taking formal classes as well as utilizing online language tutorials such as Byki Deluxe and Learn Thai Podcast. I also have several Thai language apps for my iPod that have been very helpful in aiding with my studies such as Talking Thai Dictionary by Benjawan Becker, Dr. Wit’s Library Edition Thai and a few other smaller apps that help reinforce Thai vowels and consonants like Read Thai.

Does one method stand out over all others?

While all the methods I have used have given me aha moments and glimmers of hope that maybe one day I will speak Thai fluently the one true method that stands out for me is immersing yourself in Thailand. Speaking with Thai people daily is the real equalizer, you know right away if you spoke correctly or not because you will either get the answer or a strange look. The one great thing about Thai people is the fact that they are not shy about correcting your language on the spot and helping you to speak the word or phrase correctly. I have spent countless hours learning Thai this way and what I learn sticks.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, At school the second hour of every class since November has been dedicated to reading and writing Thai. Now both hours are spent reading and speaking Thai. I have also taken up a private class 2 days a week for 4 hours total just to concentrate on reading and writing Thai.

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

Yes, I find reading Thai to be very difficult for me. While Some things I can read and understand easily many words and sentences leave me scratching my head. My reading and writing skills are far behind my spoken Thai and will probably stay that way for some time.

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

I started right away on my very first trip. I asked a Thai lady where the bathroom was in Thai, I said it backwards and with the wrong tone bet she corrected me and showed me to the hongnaam.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

The very second time I asked where the bathroom was in Thai 🙂 You know, this is actually a tougher question than it seems. By the end of my first trip I had a stockpile of phrases and words that I could speak and easily be understood but the longer I am in Thailand I have noticed that even Thai’s seem to speak or hear the same words a little differently at times and depending on who you are talking to you might not be saying what they think you should be saying which can make it tough at times.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

My most embarrassing moment in speaking the Thai language happened at the Mukdahan night market a few years ago. I happen to love a Thai dish called Hoi Lai which is clams or mussels in a spicy roasted chili sauce. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have the exact name of the dish correct at the time so I was walking around the market saying “Pom kwaam dong gaan Hoi, Pom chop hoi, Hoi aroy mak mak”. It turned out Hoi, as I was speaking it was actually the Thai word for the lower female anatomy. So I was saying: I want *****, I like *****, ***** is delicious. To make matters worse I was in the company of my then girlfriend’s entire family and at one point I mentioned that my girlfriends Hoi was the best 😛

I learned 2 very important things that day. I learned that the dish I love is called Hoy Lai, and, I learned the meaning of the Thai words Pee Baa (crazy) as the girlfriend’s grandmother spent most of the day looking at me and saying pee baa.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That they don’t need to learn to read Thai. Yes, you can learn to speak without reading Thai but reading Thai really nails down the tones and pronunciation of the word. There is no guesswork, if you can read the word you can speak the word properly.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I don’t think there has been one big a-ha moment for me, it’s been more a series of many small a-ha moments that have come together. It’s all the little things like finally getting the dt sound right or understanding the relationship of certain words to certain objects.

How do you learn languages?

Slowly… I think I learn languages best by interacting with people using the language and learning while I stumble.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my love of Thailand is my biggest strength in learning to speak Thai, it pushes me because it’s important to me. My biggest weakness right now is reading Thai but I hope to have that in hand over the next few months.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I can speak Spanish to a certain extent but other than that, no.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Not in the slightest.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use)?

None, unfortunately for me I used to have the typical American attitude towards language which is if you can’t speak English why should I speak your language. Obviously that has changed.

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

No, Thai is more than enough for my plate at the moment.

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

Yes, I currently live in Chonburi, Thailand ( Pattaya ).

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

I am not a computer programmer but I have programming experience.

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

Yes, I absolutely love music. Everything from classical to heavy metal and swing to jazz. I have played the guitar since I was 9 years old.

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

Take everyone’s advice about learning Thai with a grain of salt. What works for them may not work well for you. Find a class or program that you enjoy and works for you and you will be rewarded with a much better learning experience. Also get out there and use what you know, speak Thai as much as possible with native speakers even if you aren’t confident in your speaking skills you will see improvements fast.

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

I will continue taking Thai language classes at Pro Language School in Pattaya for the foreseeable future and continue to speak Thai as much as I can daily.

And the clincher: Do you agree to report back with your progress in six months?

Sure, and maybe next time I can answer all the questions in Thai 😛

Timothy Bull ( Talen )
Twitter: @landofsmiles

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Talen and Greg Jorgensen. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

18 thoughts on “Interview: Talen is Getting by With Learning Thai”

  1. Hi Jon 🙂 I’ve so been there with the ‘too tired and not enough caffeine!’

    Going back to back with private tutoring and classwork, Talen is indeed becoming an inspiration with his Thai studies.

  2. Wow, wonder if I can use the word great any more times in a comment ever again…it’s late, I’m tired not enough caffeine in my system 😉

  3. Great interview and great to see Talen showing everyone that great progress can be made, just takes a little motivation to get things moving, esp re reading/writing.

  4. “Talen is one of the hardest langauge studying dudes I know”

    I’m getting that impression as well 🙂

    (no italic came through – at least on this browser anyway)

  5. Yes, Thai words are vastly different by a change of tone. Another easy (though non-anatomical) faux pas is suay for “beautiful” and suay for “forgetful” (as in, not a nice way). Rising tone and it’s a compliment; falling tone and you’ve just brushed off your girlfriend in front of her friends. Don’t ask! Fortnately, they could laugh at the farang for being so stupid.

    Anyway, Talen is one of the hardest langauge studying dudes I know.

    PS Cat, hope HTML for italic is correct 🙂

  6. Great interview! Keep up the good work Talen/Tim/Land of Smiles. Why must you remind me of my slacker attitude! Agg.

  7. Martyn, Talen is indeed going great guns with his Thai. And when we finally meet up, I’m going to have him do all the talking. I’m not kidding either 😉

  8. Catherine and Talen – Starting at the top of the page with Talen’s age. Isn’t 45-45 a famous Thai song or was it 44-45, I can definitely remember hearing a song a few years back with those numbers in it.

    Now to the interview….

    Talen has certainly got to grips with the language very well and taking extra lessons shows the determination he has to succeed. I like his point about talking with Thais on a daily basis as being a good corrective way of learning Thai. That and the necessity of learning to read and write Thai would be my chosen path to tread. The language class would have to be a must as well.

    A very enjoyable read. I love the market story and a very good interview too.

  9. LOL! Such a funny post. I can’t help myself from laughing particularly on that anatomy humor. Great post anyway!

  10. I am becoming hysterical just seeing Khun Talen’s face. I need time to compose myself before coming back to read this interview.


  11. Hugh, Come to think of it I was talking about a no parking sign the other night and was being lazy with my tones and immediately was asked why my male member was not parking tonight.

    Cat, thank you for the wonderful opportunity to tell my side of the story 🙂

    Snap, I’m certainly trying but it does get me frustrated at times.

  12. I could write a book on how many times I’ve said a word in just the wrong way, changing it to a filthy anatomical term. But it seems that if one says a Thai word wrong, it’s never an innocent change – like, saying my friend Jim’s nickname wrong doesn’t turn it into ‘firecracker’ or ‘turnip’ – it becomes dirty. I think the language was designed this way by early Thai tricksters. 😀

  13. Oh my god, that story about the “lower anatomy” is hilarious!

    I once had a student from Taiwan who wanted to describe his dog as looking like a peanut…only he said ‘t’ like ‘s’. I about died inside from laughing, but tried to keep a straight face as I corrected his pronunciation.

  14. Isn’t it funny that whenever we make a faux pas when speaking Thai (I’m quite experienced with this) it always has something to do with the “lower anatomy”?


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