Successful Thai Language Learner: Mark Kent

Successful Thai Language Learner: Mark Kent

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Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Mark Kent
Nationality: British
Age range: 40-50
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Diplomat
Web: | Blog: FCO Blogs > Mark Kent

What is your Thai level?

A bit of a mixture really. Certain subjects I am pretty fluent in (e.g. politics, economics, official vocabulary). In others I am lacking vocabulary. So while watching or listening to the news is not a problem, I quickly get lost with Thai soap operas!

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

Professional Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?


Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?


Yes I live in Bangkok. I arrived in Thailand in Aug 2011.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

Since December 2010 (about two years).

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I started learning Thai in the UK. This was interrupted for a little while when I helped out on the FCO crisis reaction to events such as the Arab Spring and Japanese tsunami. I started again in Thailand in August 2011.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Yes I had lessons most days and homework plus self study. Now I study 2 to 3 hours a week, mainly at the weekend.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I tried a variety of different courses, books and CDs. I tried fairly early on to watch Thai TV, including on the Internet. Now I try to practice my Thai most days with my Thai colleagues, as well as listening to Thai radio on my MP3 when I exercise or go running. I also try to watch Thai news programmes on the days that I do not have evening commitments.

Did one method stand out over all others?

Not really. It was a question of continued practice and making mistakes!

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

After about a month – prior to that I was learning the Thai alphabet in parallel with reading phonetics.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I have found learning to write correctly more difficult than to read. I guess this is because when reading it is easier to get the gist of a passage rather than to write completely correctly.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I realized that there was little point in writing Thai in phonetics, as the only Thai people who would understand “Sawasdee krub” or “Korb khun mahk” were those who could read and pronounce English. So use proper Thai script or English!

How do you learn languages?

More slowly with each year! It’s generally a question of continuing to practice.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My official work-related Thai is probably okay. I need to improve my informal Thai and also my Royal Thai vocabulary. I would also like to tweet more in Thai but I get a bit nervous in case I make some faux pas – which has already happened a few times! Generally I can understand and read Thai better than I can speak or write it. But I think that is the same for most languages.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

It took me a bit of time to learn about the structure of Thai. In particular that it was different from the Western languages I have learned. You cannot directly translate Thai into English in the same way that you can translate between French and English. Instead you have to read the whole passage to understand the concepts and ideas being talked about and then put that into English. I think having some understanding of Thai culture, history and society also helps with understanding of the language. Relationships are very important in Thailand and the language reflects this.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes. I studied French Spanish Portuguese Dutch German and Vietnamese previously. But while I can still speak some of them fluently, such as French, I will need time to readapt to others. Often now when I try to speak another language I find Thai words coming into my head first. I have tried to avoid speaking any Vietnamese because that would interfere too much with some of my Thai vocabulary. And while I studied German at school, I haven’t really used it since so that has gone completely.

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

No. Learning one language at a time is the limit of my capability now!

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

Keep practising, look for as many opportunities to speak as you can and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Also try to write, even if it is very difficult. I found that by writing it helped me memorise Thai sentence structure and pronunciation better.

Mark Kent,
Twitter: @KentBKK |

Successful Thai Language Learner: Mark Kent

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.

6 thoughts on “Successful Thai Language Learner: Mark Kent”

  1. I’m largely in the same camp as Catherine on this one. Learn to read as soon as possible, to get yourself out of the bubble of the Thai teaching industry and make the world your classroom instead.

    Once you can read Thai script then every moment is a learning opportunity. Every sign, every book, every menu, every website, even those spam text messages on your cell phone.

    When I first learned I used a romanization system, but as soon as I mastered the alphabet I found the quality of my Thai improved drastically, and the speed of my learning accelerated vastly. I was reading novels within a year (Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, etc), and my pronunciation improved accordingly.

  2. Tip: One of the quickest ways I’ve found to learn the Thai alphabet is with Damian’s 60 Minute Thai Alphabet. Before I discovered 60 Minutes Thai I’d stare uselessly at Thai alphabet wall charts posted all over my house (even in the bathroom). Also, by using his method, it took me about ten minutes to learn Thai numbers.

  3. RD, there are two camps – those who believe learning to read Thai script right away helps with proper pronunciation, and those who feel that using the crutch of transliteration is the better way to go.

    I’m in the Thai script camp. Transliteration was the bane of my early days. I didn’t start hearing the nuances of Thai tones until I learned how to read Thai script. Even today, if it’s not a common Thai word, I can’t read the transliteration (too many versions out there) so just blank most out. And really, learning to read Thai isn’t rocket science so why not just get it over with already?

  4. “What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?”
    “When I realized that there was little point in writing Thai in phonetics, as the only Thai people who would understand “Sawasdee krub” or “Korb khun mahk” were those who could read and pronounce English. So use proper Thai script or English!”

    I like this interview, yet would suggest that writing Thai in phonetics is actually a very useful device. It is used by Thai people teaching spoken Thai and speeds up the learning curve immensely for somebody learning in English from a Thai tutor… It’s also vital in helping to pronounce words properly.
    Sorry, but It is misleading to suggest that Thai phonetics are useless by citing that most Thai people can’t read them as that doesn’t relate to why one would use Thai phonetics for in the first place.

    Happy new new , Sabadee-bee-mai , ปีใหม่มีความสุข


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