This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Grace Robinson
Thai nickname: Luk Gate, ลูกเกด
Profession: Postgraduate student
What is your Thai level?
I’m not exactly sure, but I’d say it’s around advanced intermediate.
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
I was taught Thai in an academic way so I have studied texts on Buddhism and politics in Thai and I do feel very comfortable speaking general conversational Thai, however street Thai or slang is still at times a mystery to me, so I am learning all the time!
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
After first traveling in Thailand when I was 18 and then returning the next year as an NGO working on the Thai/Burma border, I felt I had left a piece of my heart in Thailand and had big dreams to live in the country. I also wanted a degree from University, so when I discovered that there was a Thai and Southeast Asian studies BA at the University of Leeds, I was very happy to find that I could combine everything I wanted to do.
Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
Yes, I have recently moved to Thailand to live and carry out research. I was given a scholarship by the Royal Thai Embassy in London, to study a Masters by research. I am conducting a study on the theme of nostalgia in a Thai domestic tourism context.
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
Probably for the last 6 years, but for the last 4 officially.
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
I learnt a few general words and phrases whilst living in Thailand, then went on to regular study of the language on my degree course. In which I studied at Chiang Mai University for one year, it was a really great experiencing life as a Thai student and living in the country is always the best way to learn a language.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
Yes, when I was studying, with regular tests and exams to keep you on your toes and so that progress could be monitored.
What Thai language learning methods did you try?
I studied Thai at the University of Leeds, UK, on a BA course; Thai and Southeast Asian Studies. The course teaches Thai from beginners’ level and progresses to studying Thai at an academic level. We started learning the alphabet and how to formulate the correct tone using a ‘magic key’, which is a kind of mathematical equation the involving consonants and vowels of words. We went on to reading conversations and used role-play. After this we concentrated on reading newspaper articles and listening to news reports, in the final year we studied academic articles and books and did our own presentations in Thai on current world affairs. We constantly learnt new vocabulary and were tested on this weekly. Whilst language learning, we took in depth modules on Thai culture, history and politics, which enhanced and illuminated the language learning process. At home I listen to Thai music and watch films to practice my Thai, I believe that successful language learning should be fun and varied.
Did one method stand out over all others?
Being able to read and write with the Thai alphabet system is key to getting the correct pronunciation. Word association and drawing pictures also helped me!
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
The first thing I was taught was ก,ข etc from scratch, the same way Thai children are taught in primary school. This created the best foundation for authentic language learning, without using ‘karaoke’ Thai.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
No, not particularly, what was more difficult was getting the right tones and sentence structure.
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
Being able to read menus and signs at Thai street food stalls, ordering in Thai and thinking this is well worth it!
How do you learn languages?
Practice! Boring but true. Chatting to friends, listening to the language in any form and surrounding yourself with anything vaguely related, things can be learnt even in the most banal situation, so go and dive in at the deep end, immersion is ultimate! Personally, I have benefitted from getting to know the culture at the same time, this is really crucial, as the two cannot be separated. You will find many connections between language and culture and this will really raise interest and pleasure from learning.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
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.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
Thinking it’s going to be particularly difficult.
Can you make your way around any other languages?
I learnt Spanish at school although was never really in to it. I feel like the language learning part of my brain is like a sponge, which will only soak up one language at a time, when I try to remember Spanish now Thai just comes out!
Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?
Do you have a passion for music?
Oh yes, very eclectic.
Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
I am quite interested in learning words from neighboring countries especially Burma, where my Grandmother is from. So, I have always tried to bank some phrases where I can. Although, I prefer to concentrate on one language at once, that’s enough for me!
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
Stick with it. Don’t be shy. The most important this about learning a language is really wanting to do it in the first place, having the right intention and determination are essential.
The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.
13 thoughts on “Successful Thai Language Learner: Grace Robinson”
“so nice and tender” and what a lovely compliment that is. Sweet.
HI , I’m Thai , I like her voices and accent in Thai , it’s so nice and tender.
Fantastic Megan! I saw those come through but didn’t think to post them here (hindsight). Todd (reviews Thai language schools) was at AUA awhile back to check it out and was impressed.
Thanks, Catherine. I actually bought a block of classes from AUA from TikTokThai, and I hope to start there soon!
Britney, I’m not a linguist, but you can read about the history of the Thai language here: http://www.thai-language.com/ref/Overview
Megan, there is another method of learning Thai that does not involve study: ALG. AUA in Bangkok has classes and there are a few bloggers in my nav (FREE resources >> Thai Language Bloggers) who discuss the method for learning Thai. They often share how easy and enjoyable it is for them and the rest of us just want to slap them silly.
You know…I keep noticing that people say you need to “study” to learn Thai. Is there any way to just, you know absorb Thai, like by osmosis? No?
Sigh. In any case, I think Grace’s point that language and culture can’t be separated is a good one, especially in Thailand.
Based on what Grace said about the mathematics of the language and the related sounds, I’ve always wondered if Thai isn’t somehow related to Hebrew. Hebrew is purely deciphered by harmonics and mathematics. One of the Founding Fathers of the USA discovered conclusive proof that the natives had used the Hebrew language at some point based on the writings that were dug up in Ohio. Since ancient Hebrew was practiced on the other side of the world hundreds or thousands of years ago from where it supposedly originated, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if both Hebrew and Thai are derivatives of an even earlier language that were spoken by highly sophisticated people.
Good luck Grace! Hopefully the Thai slang won’t give you a hard time!
Stay dedicated 😀
Cat & Grace, thank you for a wonderful interview. Grace certainly has taken the right path to her goals and I wish her much luck. I truly hope I can one day be as confident in my Thai language skills.
This is a great interview, I know Grace very well, I’m in the year below her doing Thai and Southeast Asian studies at the university of Leeds. She is correct, it is a great course and a brilliant way of learning Thai! It’s so nice to see someone like Grace, who is not just a brilliant person, but also very successful in Thai.
Thanks Paul. There are not many women in the reviews so I was chuffed when Grace came into the picture. And yes, she is as pretty as a picture 🙂
Well done Catherine on finding such a fascinating Thai learner – it is great to hear about the different motivations and paths people take with the language. The photos of Grace are easy on the eye as well 🙂
Thank you Grace for sharing your experiences and expertise. Your academic studies seem to be benefiting every part of your life, and this must be the ideal situation.