This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…
Name: Maarten Tummers
Age: 30-40 (yeah I don’t look like that I know, they all say that)
Website: Maarten Tummers: Obsidian Photography
Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
I speak more street Thai I suppose.
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
Back in the days I planned to live in Thailand but things don’t always go as planned Nowadays one of the main reasons for keeping up with Thai is to be able to speak with my mother in law and with my Thai friends. Also I plan to go back a lot to the land of smiles and life is easier when you do speak Thai (also cheaper).
Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
Currently I don’t live in Thailand. I never know what the future may hold though and maybe one day I end up in Thailand again to give it another whirl.
If you live elsewhere, how often are you in Thailand?
I try to go back to Thailand for holidays every year.
How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
I think I have been “studying” for 7 years -give or take- but it’s not like I study hard every single day.
Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
I did learn Thai right away from the get go. You know how it goes, you learn your first words, pronounce all of them wrong, and get into your first course to get some more words and phrases.
Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
Not at all.
What Thai language learning methods did you try?
I started out with a course at Chiang Mai University and bought Thai for Beginners by Poomsan after the course was done. I used this book to be able to read and write. After that it was merely a matter of plugging away. Read this, read that, talk about this and talk about that. I figured the more fun you have the faster you’ll learn any language.
Did one method stand out over all others?
The method that worked best for me is to find material you’d love to read/watch/do in in your native language but then work with that in Thai. It was quite funny though in Chiang Mai passing schools with big signs saying “Learn Thai the Natural Way” which makes one wonder what on earth could be more natural than -you know- talking with people and do what they do.
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
After a month of “studying” at Chiang Mai University. I figured that it was essential to learn the Thai script and that I couldn’t ever learn Thai without it. The reason is that you can do a lot of studying by yourself without having to bother anyone. Grab a book and read it. Buy a magazine and read it. Walk outside and read what you see. I think as an adult it is important to learn to read/write Thai.
Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?
I thought it was quite easy to be quite frank. Writing Thai (or any language for that matter) is still pretty hard for me though as my hands aren’t used to holding a pen anymore. In other words; my handwriting is terrible and my hands hurt just by looking at a pen. Typing on the other hand…
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
When my wife started to talk Thai to me. More and more and more and more. I know this sounds quite silly but allow me to elaborate as I think a lot of Farangs in Thailand have had this particular issue. My wife, she always used to talk back in English which was quite frustrating (how am I ever going to learn oh the woes), but at some point in time -after hard work- she talked back in Thai. Maybe she gave in or maybe I just grew better in speaking and understanding Thai but this was my first ‘ah hah!’ moment. The other ah-hah moments are that I can just walk up to people, talk in Thai and having a conversation with confidence.
How do you learn languages?
Find all things fun and use that as a resource in learning the language! When I was a kid I used to read gaming magazines, cartoons and all that and I collected quite a few of these in Thailand. Still have to sort them out.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are that I can เลียนแบบ the way a language sounds pretty well. I think I do have some sort of a feeling for that but my weakness is that I am pretty lazy. My other weakness is that I am not really wellspoken in the field of religion (my mother in law talks a lot about religion and I have a hard time keeping up) or professional Thai. I think what I have going for me is that when I find things fun or interesting I learn fast.
What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
That it’s too hard. Unfortunately it’s not only the หรั่ง’s saying that but also the Thai people themselves. It’s too hard and a foreigner will never get it. If I can do it (and let me tell you this; I’m a pretty average Joe) everyone can do it!
Can you make your way around any other languages?
Yeah, my native language is Dutch, I think I am okay in English too and my German is pretty good. I was lucky to live close to German borders. Real Dutch people do have some issues understanding me because of my southern dialect which is an odd mix between Dutch, German and Belgian I guess.
Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
I tried some but never really gotten into it the same way as the Thai Language. So it was a hit and miss.
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
Don’t feel frustrated about all the stuff you say wrong but laugh about it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I know we all have this dream of sounding exactly like a Thai or like the famous Farangs who speak Thai but take your sweet time for it. The more you laugh about your mistakes, the more fun you have, the less frustrated you will be and the faster and more you’ll learn!
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.