Successful Thai Language Learner: Doug


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Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Doug
Nationality: American
Age range: 50-60
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Computational linguistics

What is your Thai level: Intermediate/Advanced/Fluent or a combo?


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


What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Living here, wanted to fully engage, then became interested in computational aspects of Thai, and points of intersection with other languages in the region.

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


Yes, arrived 1994.

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

Since arrival.

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

Began at once.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?


What Thai language learning methods did you try?

AUA conversation, then reading/writing books, followed by U Hawaii grammar, followed by rewriting Noss’s grammar.

Did one method stand out over all others?

AUA approach is most excellent, imho.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

After completing AUA conversation (vocabulary ~ 1,000 words).

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Only as expected.

What was your first ˇ˝ah hah!ˇ˝ moment?

Realization that Thais could not see extremely fine letter distinctions any better than I, and were reading on the basis of shape / secondary or tertiary letter characteristics, and context.

How do you learn languages?

Practice, practice, practice.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Good ear; vocabulary retention could be better.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That native orthography should be learned immediately (for those in more formal programs), and/or that informal methods work over the long run (for those studying informally).

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Previously studied Chinese 2 years in high school (in Taiwan).

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?


Do you have a passion for music?

Sure. (I think the question you need to ask is “do you play a musical instrument?”, or are you not trying to find predictors of ability at learning tonal languages?)

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


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

Use (relatively) formal methods that ensure broad exposure to vocabulary. Don’t neglect grammar. Spend as much time on task as possible.


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.

10 thoughts on “Successful Thai Language Learner: Doug”

  1. Chris, I read early on that you didn’t have the time to be concerned with spelling mistakes so I turned off my spelling radar. And as my own spelling is cacca, that was easy to do! I personally know how much time it takes to try and make sure everything is mistake free, so I do sympathise. And after reading your interesting process, I’m just glad that you are sharing as you go. Mistakes, be darned 😀

  2. Thanks, Catherine

    You probably noticed that the posts on my blog often have spelling mistakes and grammar issues, I cope with the time problem by simply speed typing posts. Having found it very difficult to understand my own Chinese language learning I just want to leave enough information on my Thai learning to know that I will be able to understand it afterwards ;).
    .-= chris´s last blog ..Knowing when to speak =-.

  3. Chris, when I first started reading Thai I couldn’t believe that scanning was possible. It just seemed too hard. But with practice, it gradually happens. What still slows me down is having to go back to see if the meaning of the sentence changes due to context. My Thai teacher often goes back to read several times too, so maybe it’s just a part of it all.

    Btw – that’s an interesting Thai language learning blog you have going. I found it a pleasure to read straight through. I also love the AUA YouTube videos and spent several staggered days downloading them all. They will be in a future post… time…

  4. Interesting interviews these, not sure what is meant by informal methods though, I seem to have done OK by them for Chinese and there is no sign of the progress easing up, working even better for Thai now although still very, very early days.

    Have to agree about the writing though, I don’t expect to start worrying about that until I have enough Thai to map it too (might be a different story if I actually lived there though). Nice to see the scanning thing confirmed though, it seems pretty clear from the way that Thai script is displayed by default on many computing and mobile devices that you would have to get past the exact details and scan for larger patterns t read fast (specially with aging eyesight).
    .-= chris´s last blog ..Knowing when to speak =-.

  5. Talen, I was raised with music – with a producer father, we had a house crammed full with instruments (stage organs, string, wind, etc) – but other than taking voice lessons, etc., it was never my long term thing. I do have a good ear though. Too sensitive sometimes. And that’s why I cannot go to concerts where electric guitars blast away. Unless it’s ACDC (long story).

    Thai is a musical language, so if one is focused on the music as well as the meaning, it should be easier to become a part of you. Just my reasoning anyway. I went around humming Thai for awhile. No words, I just hummed the tones of Thai phrases. It got me out of putting the western question rise at the end of Thai sentences.

  6. Cat & Martyn, I have a very musical ear and have played music since I was 9 and I don’t think it helps with the Thai language…least not in my case. But I do seem to learn more and better being around the language all the time…especially when in rural Thailand as not many speak English too much. Then again that presents the problem of Issan/Thai being fudged together as a language.

    I do agree with Doug on practice though…once you get past the essentials practice makes perfect…or in my case semi understandable.

  7. Hi Martyn, I didn’t realise that you are tone deaf. Difficult for learning Thai, but I’ve heard that a number of Thais are as well (just go into any karaoke bar).

    Oh yes, I do agree with you on the ‘ah hah’ moments. They are what nudge me as well. That and the realisation that I know more than I previously assumed.

  8. Catherine that’s a fair point by Doug about rephrasing your music question. Those with a musical ear would probably be better suited to learning a tonal language than a tone death mutt like me.

    My favourite or favorite (I dislike that spelling) question in your interviews is ‘What was your first ˇ˝ah hah!ˇ˝ moment?’….There have been some great answers in the series and what a wonderful moment it must have been for those it has happened to. Even at my low end of the Thai language learning scale you do get those ‘kind of’ moments now and again. I think it is those occasions which keep many of us going on the uphill road to hopeful language proficiency.

  9. Hi Sophie. It does seem that the basics win out on learning languages – practice, practice, practice. And he’s correct about the phrasing of my question so I will adjust it for the following interviews.

    I searched but could not find what Doug meant by ‘U Hawaii grammar’. I do know that they have a reputable Thai program there is all (I have two of the course books designed by an instructor).

  10. I agree with Doug about the practice element. Oh, how I would love to just “pick it up” naturally just by listening to it being spoken. Doesn’t happen. At least not for me. I have to make an extremely conscious effort of searing it into my brain. Repetition is absolutely the key. I think he pointed out a good distinction about the music. Most people enjoy music and yet if they do not play a musical instrument and have an ear for tones it might not matter whether or not they have a passion for music. To be able to tell when you are off key or hitting the correct pitch would be extremely helpful in learning a tonal language.


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