Learn Thai by Reading Your Language

Learn Thai by Speaking Your Language

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Speak Your Language…

It is no secret that I advocate a method of language acquisition called Speak Your Language (after writing 3 posts about it you would kind of get the hint, right?) I encourage all language learners to try SYL, especially when you aren’t ready to speak in full sentences. Start using what you know now, even if all you know is อยากไป (want to go). When you want to go to the store say, ” I อยากไป to the store!”

It may feel corny, but it’s amazingly powerful how SYL creates intuitive links in your mind. And as an added bonus SYL lets you know what words you to learn next. So you won’t be wasting your time on learning how to say octopus when you could be learning more useful words and grammar.

Learn Thai by Reading Your Language…

Someone from useallfive.com must have read my posts, because they recently created a free extension to the Google Chrome browser that follows that same concept of Speak Your Language, except it is used for reading instead. After installing the extension, the program will translate varying amounts of a web page, in the languages supported by Google Translates. Thai included.

The amount of the page translated depends on the level you set. The novice level will translate hardly any words and phrase parts. Each level adds more until you get to fluent, which translates the entire page.

I know what you are about to say, because it was what I thought at first too. Google Translate’s ability to translate whole sentences into Thai is hit or miss. Compound that with trying to translate a whole web page and you have some pretty useless Thai. Read Catherine’s post, The Fourth Google Translate Challenge to see what I mean.


For beginning Thai learners, GT translates fractions of sentences. The benefit is that the context remains, but you still learn while reinforcing your Thai.

This is a single paragraph I took from the Bangkok Post. I set the tool between intermediate and fluent, the highest you can go with out translating the whole page. This is what I got:

The Taliban said the เหมือนกัน evil ชาวต่างชาติที่ helping to เช็ดออก one of the world’s worst ในวัยเด็ก diseases ยังเป็นresponsible for โจมตีทางอากาศ killing ผู้นำของพวกเขา It is unclear just วิธีที่พวกเขา draw a การเชื่อมโยงระหว่าง helping เด็กand ของพวกเขา battlefield losses, but they do.

And here is the original:

The Taliban said the same evil foreigners helping to wipe out one of the world’s worst childhood diseases were also responsible for air strikes killing their leaders. It is unclear just how they draw a link between helping children and their battlefield losses, but they do.

It doesn’t show it here, but each of the Thai words are highlighted to allow you to instantly translate back into English. As you can see, even at this high level there is enough of the English maintained that Google translate doesn’t mangle the context, making it incomprehensible. At the same time, you get to practice using Thai that mostly stays true.

Is it perfect? No. It doesn’t move sentence parts around, such as ‘ของพวกเขา battlefield losses’. And it doesn’t always understand context. That said, it can still be useful for language learners of all levels.

Using the Speak Your Language approach by reading your language isn’t about getting things right all the time. It’s about using as much Thai as you can. The more you use a language, the more confident you will be. And the more confident you are, the more you will use it. And ultimately, the better you will be.

Justin Travis Mair
I Want To Speak Thai
Successful Thai Language Learner: Justin Travis Mair

7 thoughts on “Learn Thai by Reading Your Language”

  1. Hi Jack, The tool should automatically translate at that point. When you go to a web page, it will automatically translate various words/phrases. I have noticed that, just like google translate, not everything will translate on a web page. It all depends on how the site is coded, I believe. For the most part, most blogs/facebook/twitter/news Should work.

    Have you gone to several different sites?

  2. Justin,

    I just sent arequest for help in using “Language Immersion for Chrome” which is put on, set up, and activated with no problem. I can’t make it do anything with a word, sentence, or paragraph. Catherine said you could help. The reply I just sent was more detaile, but I didn’t see the “Notify me via e-mail” box. Thanks,


  3. Justin,

    Catherine said you could help. I hope so, I need it. I read your post yesterday in WLT and put “Language Immersion for Chrome” on, set it to “Thai”, and the level I wanted. I activated it and it shows status on. No problems. I can’t find ou how to use it for a word, sentence, or paragraph. I must be a “retard”, but I still really want to use it. Thanks,


  4. Rick, I agree. Doing what you normally do on the internet (check facebook, read news or whatever) you can build your ability to read and use Thai. It’s fun reading my own words using the immersion tool.

  5. And to give another taste of the Chrome extension which Justin mentioned, here is the first sentence of his final paragraph half-translated:

    I am glad you like my โพสต์, but they wouldn’t be ครึ่งหนึ่ง as good ถ้า Catherine didn’t ให้พวกเขา a ดี read through ก่อนที่จะ post.

    I think there’s some learning benefit to be gleaned from this.

  6. It really is a much more powerful method than it seems, especially for beginners. You know so much more Thai than you think you do, but you just are missing a few words here and there to complete the sentence. Why should that stop you from using it though. I can walk into the kitchen and instead of saying “I forgot to buy milk,” one could say “ผม forgot ซื้อนม.”

    That just one word missing and most would not try to speak because of that, which means you are missing wonderful opportunities to practice what you do know.It so fantastic that that the Thai school used the SYL method. I hope that helps them build their confidence.

    I am glad you like my posts, but they wouldn’t be half as good if Catherine didn’t give them a good read through before they post. So, yes it’s my writing, but Catherine makes sure it’s intelligible. Plus I always enjoy your posts as well. I read all your Thai school reviews and loved your wall of Whyz post as well. Keep posting!

  7. The SYL method you recommend to start “using the Thai you know” is valuable as it gets people talking and gives them something to build on.

    I showed one of the earlier posts to some teachers at a Thai language school. It piqued their interest so much they did an in class exercise based around it. If the students already knew the Thai word for something they had to speak it, and they could only use English if they didn’t know the words. It turned out to be really good fun. All the students came out of the class laughing and talking about it during the break.

    I think what impressed them the most was just how much Thai vocabulary they already knew. It just hadn’t coalesced enough to form completely coherent Thai only sentence constructs.

    I didn’t know about the ad-on dealy, only about Google Translates. I mentioned before that early on I had high hopes for their program because in theory it was “self-correcting” insofar as the more people used it, suggested better translations, it should have over time straighten itself out to something far more accurate than it is.

    Still great post Justin, always an enjoyable read. Plus you write in “real English” unlike my whacky style of writing how I speak..


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