This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Aaron Handel
Location: Thailand, sometimes Bangkok, Pattaya, or the mountains north of Chiang Mai
Profession: I’m the author of two books, Thai Phrase Book with Tones, and Thai Language Course, Speaking and Listening, 4th Edition. Recently, I received a Master’s Degree in Economics from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. I have worked as an English teacher and as a Thai teacher.
Website: Thai Language Course
Twitter: You can follow my Thai Tweets on twitter @Thai_Language
What is your Thai level?
Thai people tell me I speak fluently, but part of their culture is to say nice things. My pronunciation is pretty good. My vocabulary is moderate. I read, write, and type Thai at “turtle level.”
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
The answer to this depends on which street you are referring to, as there are many Thai dialects and local nuances. I speak Central Thai. I’m quite comfortable with Bangkok Thai. My Thai is colloquial, but a bit more formal than ‘market Thai.’
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
When I first came to Thailand, very few Thais spoke English. I traveled extensively in the North and in Issan, as an amateur photographer. I learned Thai because it was necessary. If I were to ask in English for “fried rice with chicken,” Thai people would show me to the toilet or bring me their baby pictures. This just would not do. I had to learn Thai.
Beyond basic survival, I found that Thai opened up a whole new world of light and color. Speaking Thai helped me to feel that I was present and involved, rather than just a passive observer. I became part of the picture.
Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
I have lived in Thailand, off and on, for more than 30 years.
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
I’ve been studying Thai for decades, but I have never been a student in the formal, classroom sense. I have never had a Thai teacher. A few Thais have attempted to teach me some Thai, but I found this to be counter-productive. Almost without exception, Thai people cannot tell you the tone of a syllable.
I once met a Thai teacher who could identify tones. She taught Thai to US Marines in California. If you’re lucky enough to find a teacher like this, stick with it. I firmly believe that to learn a tonal language like Thai, you need a drill sergeant!
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
In the beginning, I only learned a few words and phrases, but I did something much more useful than that. I traveled all over the country with a tape recorder. I recorded various Thai speakers as they read from a text book. This provided me with the tools that I needed to actually learn how to speak. Later, I used those tapes to drill.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
My schedule was determined by chance. Initially, I was not really learning Thai, but learning how to learn. I was collecting information. Whenever I would meet a Thai person who was kind enough to help me record a tape, I would seize the opportunity. Usually, I would also make a tape in English and share it with that Thai person.
What Thai language learning methods did you try?
Her name was Nók (pronounced with a high tone, it means “Bird”). She was neither a school nor a product, but rather a quiet young woman from a Vietnamese family. She lived in Nong Khai, near the MaeKong River. Her parents spoke very little Thai, but Nok’s Thai was perfect. She was university educated in Bangkok and understood that if you want to fully integrate into Thai society, you have to speak Thai like a Thai. She also seemed to have an instinct for teaching. She spoke slowly and clearly, but with a natural conversational sound.
Nók and I produced our own tapes using the AUA text book, by Marvin J. Brown, 1969. After all these years, I still believe it is the best book for learning Thai, although AUA’s own tapes sound like they were produced under water and there are no CDs. Unfortunately, AUA no longer uses this text book and its drilling methodology in the classroom.
Did one method stand out over all others?
I find it difficult to separate the idea of “learning how to learn” from actually learning to speak Thai. I stumbled upon the best method (for me) through a process of trial and error. At first, I ‘picked up’ a little bit of Thai just by traveling in Thailand. Occasionally, I listened to the tapes that Nók and I made. After a few months in Thailand, I could only say a few phrases. My pronunciation was not very good.
I think it was on my second or third trip to Thailand that I made my big breakthrough. I was up in Mâe Săi during the rainy season. It rained all day, everyday. I rented a room for one month. I had assembled the tools to learn Thai. I had a good book with tone marks on every syllable. I had the Thai tapes that Nók and I had made. And I had motivation. I was inspired by the friendliness and generosity of Thai people. I was intrigued by the language and the culture. I told myself, “I’m going to try this. I’m going to learn to speak Thai.” I locked myself in the room for 30 days, going out only for food and water. I drilled the tapes as I read the text. Drill! Say it again. No, that’s not right. Do it again! Drill again, with better pronunciation. Focus on the tone. Even if it is only one syllable, drill that tone again and again.
After 30 days, I emerged from my room, pale and exhausted. Had I learned anything? Yes. Although I didn’t realize it yet, I had broken the tonal barrier. I learned most of the Thai that I now speak, during those 30 days.
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
I learned to write about 15 or 20 years after I learned to speak.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
Learning to read and write was not too difficult, because I had already learned to speak. Spelling remains a challenge, because many consonants have the same sound (there are five letters that have the ‘s’ sound). At first, vowel position is a bit confusing. It helps to have a good book. I used Reading and Writing Thai, by Marie Helene Brown, 1988, DK Books. Many years later, I wrote a chapter about writing in Thai Language Course, 4th Edition. I focused on how Thai spelling determines the tone of a syllable. Learning to read and write can improve pronunciation. Written Thai offers more precision than transliteration.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
I do remember my ‘ah hah!’ moment. I was alone in my room, practicing tones. There were some Thai people lurking outside in the hallway. They could hear me stumbling and struggling. Suddenly, the Thai people out in the hallway began clapping and cheering me on! Somehow, I had managed to hit the sweet spots of the five tones.
How do you learn languages?
I was never particularly good at learning languages in school. I was a ‘C’ student in German. Frankly, I did not have much interest in learning.
Thai is different. Thai is a tonal language. This makes it fascinating and challenging for a native English speaker. Because Thai is so different from Western languages, it must be learned with a different method. That method is, essentially, drilling tones. (There are a few consonant and vowel sounds that also need to be practiced.) Develop good tone pronunciation right from the beginning, vocabulary and grammar will follow in due course. I use the same method for teaching Thai. The first chapter of my book consists of tone drills.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
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.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
People tend to cling to what is familiar to them. They are most comfortable with the sounds of their native language. The tonal characteristics of Thai are seen as cumbersome, trivial, and alien. Some people actually convince themselves that tones are unnecessary. This is a great misconception.
I have met many foreigners who communicate quite well with their Thai girlfriends, but are not understood by others. Usually, this kind of “Thai” is spoken in a mono-tone or it may have an inflection that conveys the English speaker’s feelings. This is not Thai.
I once met a Chinese gentleman who spoke “Thai” at lighting speed. He had learned it in 6 months, from Chinese teachers. There was only one problem. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not understand him. His Chinese influenced tones didn’t make any sense to me. Some Chinese dialects have as many as 13 different tones. It seemed to me that he was using at least 13 and maybe more! It made my head spin. I felt a bit sorry for him. It will take him a long time to unlearn what he had learned incorrectly.
Speaking Thai is not just a matter of using tones, but using the correct Thai tone for each syllable. Fortunately there are only five tones in Thai. The tone of a word is an integral part of its meaning. Consider this. Suppose you go to a restaurant and want to order roasted chicken. You should ask for gài yâhng (literally, chicken roasted). Yâhng is the verb meaning to roast. It is pronounced with a falling tone. However, if you were to pronounce yahng with a middle tone, you would be requesting a rubber chicken!
Usually, Thais have a good laugh when a foreigner bungles the tone, but sometimes the wrong tone can lead to confusion. The tonal distinction between near (glâi, with a falling tone) and far (glai, with a middle tone) has caused many a foreigner to wander around aimlessly.
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
You can learn to speak Thai. You don’t need to be a genius. You do need perseverance. For some, it helps to have a good teacher. Others learn with CDs and a good book. If you want to start by learning to write, all I can say is good luck! If you want to start by learning to speak, you will need a book with transliteration (Thai written with English letters or symbols). The transliteration must have tone marks. You must have sound that follows the book. There are many books to choose from. Frankly, I think it’s beneficial to have several books for learning Thai. You might prefer one transliteration system over another. Whatever tools you use, you will need to break the tonal barrier. It simply cannot be avoided. Put some effort into tone pronunciation right from the start.
Not everyone learns in the same way. Learn at your own pace. Seek quality, not quantity. Remember, the turtle reaches the finish line before the rabbit.
Dtòw mah tĕung sên chai gàwn gràdtàai
เต่า มา ถึง เส้น ชัย ก่อน กระต่าย
Literally: Turtle come arrive line victory before rabbit.
Thai Language Course | Aaron on Twitter
The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Getting advice from experienced Thai language learners is important. If you are a successful Thai language learner who would like to share their knowledge with those coming up, please contact me to make it so.
36 thoughts on “Successful Thai Language Learner: Aaron Handel”
My understanding of Thai has evolved quite a bit since I first did this interview. If I could do it all over again, I would put more effort into practicing fast fluent speech. What script you choose is secondary. Tones are primary.
Aaron, my hat is off to you and all the other crew that learnt in the days when there were limited resources and no internet. Your book has been a great resource for me.
Your month in Mae Sai, coming out knowing Thai at the other end, sounds like how Handel wrote The Messiah. We only have a few of those periods in our lives and we should take advantage of them. Way to go.
Aaron: That video is great; as well as hearing the speaker you get to see the facial expressions as the sound is produced. I found that it reduces boredom while drilling too!
David: Nice to hear that you find it helpful. The new Thai Language Course, 5th Edition is designed for drilling tones. It includes both transliteration and Thai script – with Html5 Video!
I’m weighing in a bit late on this, but I wanted to mention that I’ve found the transliteration in Aaron’s Thai Phrase Book with Tones quite helpful in practicing working out tones. I cover up the transliteration, pencil in the tones, and then check my accuracy. As tone drills go, it’s pretty interesting.
I still maintain that use of transliteration is the quickest way to learn Thai, but I have been influenced by the discussion on Catherine’s website. Consequently, I put up a scroll of the Thai Alphabet along with an mp3 sound link on my website.
Jon – sample sentences are exactly what I am looking for. Excellent! The book fair will be in August of this year I believe. I’ll be there this year, gathering in what I can. For one thing, I believe they have Sesame Street for Thai (fingers crossed)
The older and larger So Sethaputra dictionary has very good and simple example sentences that almost a textbook unto themselves.
I picked up a copy of the two volumes for a couple of hundred baht at the book fair last year.
Rick – thank you so much for sharing the url. When I checked amazon, I wasn’t absolutely sure if Spoken World was what you meant. I’ve ordered it from amazon.com so it should be here in a few weeks. And I’ll be sure to include it in my Thai language course review so you can see what it contains.
If you want the overview sooner, just let me know and I’ll send it via email.
Thanks Rick. I just remembered to put your site on my Thailand bloggers page too. Yours is a good read (so if anyone is reading this, please take the time to check it out).
Jon – you and me both on the purchasing. I pick Paypal if I have the option (it’s easier) and I really dislike being forced into a bank transfer. I take that back. I won’t be forced into a bank transfer.
You’ve really got my interest up on the So Sethaputra dictonary. I have a post in the wings focusing on pronuncian resources, and this dictionay sounds perfect. And with him (I assume it’s a guy) writing a dictionary in jail? Icing on the cake 🙂
Thanks for the links Catherine.
Sure wish these people who sell things over the internet had some alternative way of purchasing.
The So Sethaputra dictonary is only 250 baht in a purple CD case. They had someone pronounce every syllable in Thai and then combine these spoken syllables into words. Move cursor over syllable for sound. So Sethaputra has an interesting history. Wrote dictionary in jail. Will find article.
Oh, I just realized I need to put the link to your blog up on my site. I meant to do this some time ago, but yada yada yada . . . Great resource on Thai language.
It is Living Language isn’t it? I made a title mistake in my earlier post. I have the URL from Amazon but don’t know whether it works on your comment section. Sorry if it screws up:
And thanks for the welcome. I’ll be back . . .
Good idea Aaron. Thanks. I’ll check around to see if I can find anyone who learned to speak Thai at a decent level without depending on transliteration.
I know I’m a special case (that’s what my Thai teacher says ;-). I went round and around with her about my learning to read without translteration as I really disliked it that much!
Her opinion (and it is a learned one as she’s been teaching for a long time) is that expats cannot learn to read without transliteration.
But she finally admitted that one does. Me.
Nothing clicked for me until I threw the tranliteration away and depended solely on Thai script with sound.
And if you think about it, Thai children do not learn to read Thai with transliteration. Just like western kids, they start with the alphabet song when they are around a year old, and build up from there.
But agreed, each person needs to find out how they learn best. And if it feels right to you, do it.
Learning Thai script is certainly a useful thing to do, but I have never met any non-Thai who learned to speak Thai without transliteration. (Perhaps Cat could interview one.)
How do you tell a good transliteration from a bad one? Look for distinctions between consonant sounds such as p ผ, pb ป ,b บ and t ท, dt ต, d ด. Look for vowel length distinctions. Useful transliteration must have tone marks. Differences between Australian, American, and British pronunciation are a minor problem. You can adjust to differences in a few minutes. If not, find a transliteration that suits your accent. Some prefer a transliteration that uses IPA symbols, personally, I do not. I use all English letters in my transliteration system.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from learning to write, but I often find that those who try to learn to write, never learn to speak. Of course, the bigger problem is not transliteration vs. Thai script. The greatest obstacle to speaking Thai is tone pronunciation, which is greatly assisted with transliterated tone marks.
Hi Rick! Welcome to WLT. David Smyth has some great Thai resources out there for sure (I have them all here).
Living Language? I couldn’t find it so could you please share a link?
Thanks for the heads up on PRO Language. I have not started reviewing Thai schools in Bangkok, but as it is one of my aims, I’ll add them to my growing list.
David Higbie is a legend and very difficult to locate. I know because I’m trying to find him for the successful Thai language learners section. Apparently he’s in Laos somewhere…
David Smyth has graciously agreed to send in an interview. As I’ve been a huge fan of David’s from the beginning, I’m especially looking forward to reading what he has to say.
On each interview, I learn a great deal about my Thai learning process. It clearly helps to have knowledgable people put their experiences out there for us!
Great blog Catherine and fascinating interviews and comments.
I’ve tried many different CD/Book systems and found the Teach Yourself (David Smyth) one with its basic language and further Thai conversation sets very helpful for tone. I am curious about a new one from Living Learning, just released at Amazon. Quite pricy though.
As for transliteration, I’ve found them very helpful. One I quite liked was the latest system I became familiar with through 20 hours of Thai class. It’s developed by PRO Language. Hard to reproduce the tone indications though with typical keyboard. Don’t know how they do it in their workbooks.
An American friend who speaks fluently due to extreme diligence (!), recommends David Higbie.
Look at that, so many paths to choose 🙂
What I really like about Byki is how it works with your own stuff. I have a decent microphone, so pulling new sentences in was no problem. But I do have the pay version as the free one cannot be edited. It was cheap, so no problem.
Regarding BYKI. I found it a great way to learn (for me) but the actual Thai language production is less than stellar. The first defect is that some of the language is not relevant, summer, winter, spring and fall for example. Secondly one of the speakers, male, may not be a native speaker. He is certainly not a native speaker of Central Thai because his tone production is non-existent.
The paid version produces a graphical display of the tone produced and other visual cues. You can produce your own cards if you have a good source of material including the sound as produced by native speakers. You can record your own efforts and check your tone production graphically. Your own recording must be in either WAV or OGG format, MP3 is not supported.
You can try it out free but the free download has a limited number of cards, no graphical tone display, and no ability to add your own cards.
NB the version I have is possibly 2 years old now so things may have changed since.
Jeff, good point about having to switch back and forth between transliteration systems. I don’t know anyone who uses just one resource for learning Thai so they will always need to do a rethink between each one.
For videos, there is YouTube (hit and miss). But learning videos, if they are out there, are hiding from me.
The only organised selection for general videos that I know of is what Rikker is putting together.
I also like to watch Thai Tv. But not so much now that my favourite Thai soap is over (which reminds me, I need to get energised to watch TV again).
I agree with the thing about transliteration systems being accent biased. I’m Australian & find I have to think in an American accent to see how the transliteration relates to what I hear. I’m with you on reading Thai characters.
The thing that really bugs me about transliteration is that there is no agreed standard. Everyone seems to have their own. This, more than anything else, convinces me this method is flawed. I know it can be a useful key to sounds, but if I read multiple methods at different times, I won’t know what the clues are.
I’m very much at the beginning, so I’ve been using Read With Manee at learningthai.com. This old kid’s book with audio teaches me the alphabet. My Thai friend thinks it’s hilarious, but I love this little series. Learning like a 6 year old is fun 🙂
I want to break through the barriers of tone & the alphabet first. At least I can use my Thai friend to tell me when I’m getting it right.
I know a lot of people find audio CDs good for learning, but I struggle persisting with this method. I seem to find it better to watch videos – maybe stimulating 2 senses makes it click better with me.
If anyone has any suggestions for DVDs or online videos that are worth looking at, that would be great.
I think once I get past the early stages, books will be of more use, but now I need to understand the sounds & be able to reproduce them. If I was in a class, books are fine, but on my own I need to take a different approach.
Jon, welcome to WLT! Your mention of Vocabulearn brings back fond memories. I used it when learning French and it was indeed handy.
I don’t know the So Sethaputra dictionary though, so I’ll grab a copy when I’m at Panthip next.
Have you tried Byki for quizes? It has some of the best quiz offers I’ve seen for those putting in their own words and phrases. You can’t use it walking around though (yet), just on your computer and iPod (sound only).
I have a review here: Byki Thai Language Course
‘Thai dictionaries with audio for computers, smartphone, or electronic dictionary, such a review would be nice.’
Agreed. Chris Pirazzi put together an electronic dictionary for Thai. Have you seen it? I need to pick his brain on the subject as I’m curious at how it works. I’ll post my findings here.
Another review I’m planning is for the iPhone. In preparation, I have a large number of iPhone aps for learning Thai. After playing around with them since May, there is certainly room to grow in that market. Loads of room.
Sure agree about early tone drills as absolutely essential. Bookworms like me be warned, if you put reading before listening, you’ll have to struggle to be understood and play a catch-up game.
Sure wish there was a lot more audio out there for learning Thai.
I’ve taken to using the So Sethaputra dictionary purchased at Fortune (or Panthip) which has sounds for words, recording the sounds of Thai words with open source Audacity audio editor, then cutting an MP3 file and then listening to it on my little MP3 player when i walk around.
Vocabulearn has audio vocabulary lists you can listen to and quiz yourself with as you walk around, commute, but only for Chinese and other languages like Tagalog. Too bad there isn’t a Thai version.
Thai dictionaries with audio for computers, smartphone, or electronic dictionary, such a review would be nice. This blog is great Catherine. Thanks.
Robert – Thai friends are the absolute best sometimes. Much better than depending on the errant taxi driver to give you their impression on how to pronounce street signs.
I’ve had some hilarious encounters with Taxi drivers. Some even admit, when pressed, that they are from Laos…
Talen – I punched up my purchasing of Thai courses last year. I believe I have two more courses to arrive and then I’ll write a review on Thai courses.
It won’t be opinion based as I’m not qualified. Also, everyone learns differently, so there is that.
But it will list the methods they use, their contents, etc.
Then I’ll write a post on language learning styles (I already have all the research here).
That way you can see what is on the market, what the differences are in learning methods, then go from there.
I’ve enjoyed grabbing a lot of different ways to learn Thai. But maybe if I’d settled on one or the other, I would be further than I am now?
Oh, and getting more than 3 hours sleep per night would be a grand help too 😉
My brain cannot process transliteration at this point in my learning and unfortunately I keep flip flopping back and forth between learning techniques. I need to get back to Thailand and lock myself in a room for a month with my girl…ok, that probably wouldn’t be a conducive learning environment.
Some day’s I feel like I am getting a handle on it and others I feel like I’m flailing helplessly.
With street signs I prefer to read the Thai when I can, but when there are implied vowels that I don’t know then I am forced to go to the transliteration. Then back to the Thai script to try to find the pronunciation. After that I try to say it to a Thai friend with mixed results but successful enough to persist.
‘I’m not sure what you mean about transliteration teaching bad pronunciation habits’
I do mean the inconsistent transliteration found around (not just on the street signs in Thailand).
Confession time… I admit that my opinion may be clouded by my strong feelings against transliteration. But those feelings are all down to my own experiences.
I started off with AUA (the course books). AUA demands that you learn a mini language (their transliteration rules) before you start learning Thai… And that was not going to wash with me at the time – the G/K and J/C thing threw me off in the beginning – so I searched out the style that suited me best.
And I found one. And it did help.
But proper Thai pronunciation did not fall into place for me until I started to read the Thai script. That is when my personal ‘ah hah’s!’ came into being. The rest I compare to Karaoke Thai.
Even now I want to see the Thai script. It may be because my brain cannot process transliteration. I know, it’s personal.
I do agree that the correct transliteration style (and this changes from student to student) does help in the beginning. It helps keep away the confused feeling you get when you are looking at all those squiggles. And I know this personally.
But I also have an (unsubstantiated) belief that too many Thai learners never move beyond using karaoke Thai. They depend on the words they create from reading straight from the transliteration they see, and (again, unsubstantiated) I believe a number will be hit and miss with a higher percentage being a miss. It’s an accent thing. An Australian will not have the same aye as a Welshman or an American.
‘the failure to spend enough time listening and speaking the language’
I’m in total agreement. If you can combine anything – Thai script or transliteration – with listening and speaking, you will come out ahead.
But depending on transliteration only (which you are not advocating) shuts you out of the grand world of reading Thai.
Catherine – I’m not sure what you mean about transliteration teaching bad pronunciation habits. If you mean the completely inadequate transliteration on street signs in Thailand, for example, I could not agree more. On the other hand it is hard to argue against adequately produced transliteration when even English language dictionaries use it to describe the sound of the contained words. Of course no system of transliteration will adequately teach the sound of a language but neither will the native script. But transliteration of Thai using reasonable combinations of English letters together with tone marking can be a great help in getting a jump start on a challenging task. All of it fails of course if you do not spend time and plenty of it listening to educated native speakers. And practicing speaking the language also.
The greatest barrier to correct pronunciation is not what is written, but rather the failure to spend enough time listening and speaking the language. I am guilty of that. I spend an hour or several each day using my computer. There is no reason at all why I should not be listening to my Thai Language Course CDs and other material. The sound does not need to be very loud.
I’m not knowledgable enough to comment on transliteration being better than the actual Thai script (do you mean where we get to ignore all the painful rules because the transliteration converts them for us?)
But the problem I see all the time is this… how do those new to learning Thai know which ones are good or bad transliteration? All they may know is which ones annoy them and which ones don’t.
AUA’s transliteration drove me to distraction until my teacher explained that ก is K not G, not because it sounds like a K, but because of the shape your mouth (and more) when saying ก is just like we say K…
Until then, I thought my ears were not hearing what the advanced learners were hearing, so the grrrrrrrrr factor was in place.
If I might add just a bit… I have great admiration for those who learn to write, but even Thais learn to speak long before they learn to write. Transliteration isn’t inherently ‘wrong’ any more than Thai script is wrong, when it may fail to represent a sound. In some cases, good transliteration more accurately reflects the actual sound of Thai than does Thai script. There are of course, some very bad transliteration sytems. Avoid those. I like to think the system that I developed is a good balance between accuracy and ease of use. The point that both Chris Pirazzi and I are making is that you cannot rely exclusively on transliteration. You must try to replicate actual sounds, which are not always perfectly represented by writing. If I had only Thai script with which to learn Thai,I probably never would have learned to speak.
Hi Robert, welcome to WLT! And apologies for your comment taking time to appear – I have to approve you the first time, then after, no prob.
71 years old and pounding away at a tonal language? Impressive. While I do have Aaron’s phrase book, what I don’t have yet is his Thai course. I meant to get it this week but lack of sleep got in the way.
Even without reviewing his course, I was totally confident at interviewing Aaron because 1) I’d already read his phrase book and 2) Chris Pirazzi told me how much he respected Aaron’s Thai skills. And that was all I needed really.
It is great to know that the Thais are using Aaron’s book too. Yet another reason to pick up my own copy.
And if I get a chance, I’ll pick one up tomorrow or Friday.
Jeff – transliteration is the bane of my life. Sure, it helps the beginner (and I even have it on WLT) but I feel that it also slows down the learning process and teaches bad pronunciation habits.
I can see why he would consider his vocabulary moderate. And a lot of Thai learners will say that too. I believe (but I could be wrong) that it is because regular, daily Thai only needs a part of what is possible to communicate. And there is that modesty thing to contemplate too…
Ben – do you honestly believe that I would stop hounding you about learning to read Thai? Even in 20 years? 😉
This series is turning out really well. I won’t say better than I dreamed of, because it is exactly what I was hoping for. I’m totally chuffed.
Phew, learning to read and write Thai 15-20 years after learning to speak. That’s a relief. I have a while to go yet 😉
It’s fascinating to read Chris & Aaron’s differing approaches. They each find what works for them.
What’s common is “learn the tones”, don’t pay too much attention to transliteration methods, & drill regularly.
It is fairly scary that he’s been working on this for 30 years & considers his vocab as moderate. I guess in any language getting from the moderate level up to where you can read things like poetry is a big leap that you don’t need for day to day speaking.
I am amazed that he learnt writing 15-20 years after starting. I guess it’s just not needed, so why put in the effort?
This is a very interesting series – I look forward to the rest of them.
I first started to learn Thai from the 2nd edition of Aaron’s book along with the companion cds. That was three years ago. After a year on holiday from the language I started again using the 4th edition. In the interview Aaron is still hammering away at the real issue we westerners have to overcome. Thai is a tonal language! Of course English is somewhat tonal also but the application of tonal stress in English is entirely different from the tones that need to be used in Thai. I have found that I have a lot to unlearn as well as a lot to learn. On my recent return to Thailand I picked up the challenge again, this time using edition 4.
At 71 years of age I learn slowly but in spite of that my Thai is improving. When I speak to a Thai things have been moving from blank looks, “Why is this person talking to me in Martian?” through “Mâi kôw-jai” when I am simply misunderstood to helpful corrections when I get close enough that my meaning is understood.
When I bought the 4th edition I gave my old 2nd edition away to a Thai friend whose native language is Northern Thai of the Chiang Rai dialect. She wanted it for the sake of the “Idioms and Common Expressions” chapter. I was stunned at that! Thais using that book to learn Central Thai!