Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Learning Techniques: Part 2

Thai Language

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Outing the Energy – Thai Learning Techniques…

As I promised last time, today I want to share exercises I use to improve my reading and writing.

If you haven’t gotten around to studying reading and writing yet I know exactly how you feel. I went for about 20 years thinking that simply speaking Thai was enough. But at some point it was like running a marathon (I myself have run 2 marathons with stratospherically high finishing times.) There comes a time when you just “hit the wall”. You reach a kind of plateau in your studies and you just don’t get any better. So when I moved back to Thailand full-time I decided to begin reading and writing – and that is when I broke through the wall. I only wish I could have done the same in my running career.

Following are a couple of techniques that might help.

Reading Workout…

Reading is often referred to as a “passive” language skill. What they mean by that is that when you are reading you aren’t really doing much except opening your eyes and letting stuff enter into your brain. But I am one of those kinds of learners that has to “do” something for it to sink in. So I looked for a way to make reading a little more active. My answer came from a new book I recently came across. The book is the award winning The Interpreter’s Journal by Benjawan Poomsan Becker, Paiboon Publishing. That’s the same Ajarn Benjawan who writes those dictionaries and textbooks. As if she doesn’t have anything else to do, she is also an interpreter for the State of California and the Journal is her personal memoir.

So I thought, why not turn a reading activity into a translation/interpretation exercise. Instead of just reading for information, I could try to write in English what I had just read in Thai. It would force me to really know what I was reading, and at the same time pick up lots of new vocabulary. Definitely not a passive activity.


Translating can be done at any reading level from simple children’s stories to newspapers and magazines, from simple phrases to complete articles, and maybe even books. Here is how I do it.

  1. I do everything on the computer now and even though I love real books that you can hold, this exercise is best done in the digital ether.
  2. I find something at my target reading level on the Internet. For me that’s Thai newspapers. My favorite is The Daily News since they have less of the political news and more of the fun tabloid type news (I just read a story about a Thai beauty queen reporting to police that her boyfriend slapped her upside her head, perforating her eardrum. The guy who did it is now in big trouble. Good for him. But I digress.)
  3. I find a story I like and copy it and then paste it into a Word document.
  4. I enhance the font so that it is large enough for comfortable reading.
  5. I then look over the article/story and look for words I don’t know, at the same time trying to understand the basics of what’s going on. When I come across a word I don’t know I underline it.
  6. I take the underlined words and paste them into an online or software dictionary to get their English meaning. If you use a dictionary with recordings you’ll also be able to hear the correct Thai pronunciation.
  7. I paste the English translation right next to the underlined Thai word. Often words have more than one meaning, so try to choose the meaning that works for the reading you are working on.
  8. Now I read with the idea of really trying to understand, using the translated new words to get me over some confusing humps.
  9. The hard part comes when I try to write in English what I have been reading in Thai. It is best to take small sections at a time. Just type the English right after the Thai.
  10. I then copy the underlined Thai words with their translations and paste them into another document which I study later – my Translation Word List.

You’ll find that when you try to put something you have just read in Thai into English (or whatever language you are translating into) things that at first seemed very confusing will begin to clear up and like a cloud lifting, you’ll know what’s going on. That’s the plan anyhow. Show your translation to a Thai speaker who knows English and see what they think.

I do this exercise once a day. I hope my Thai reading is improving but I do know that with all these mental calisthenics I’m doing I’m at least holding off senility for a while.

Here’s a sample from a translation exercise I just did. In order to add additional examples I’ve highlighted more new vocabulary words than I normally would; it’s actually “interpretation” and not true “translation”.

โดยแพทย์แจ้งว่าเยื่อแก้วหูด้านซ้ายฉีกขาดเป็นรู ต้องใช้เวลารักษาประมาณ 2-3 สัปดาห์

Beginning the exercise:
โดย แพทย์ (doctor) แจ้ง (inform) ว่า เยื่อ (tissue) แก้วหู (ear drum) ด้านซ้าย ฉีกขาด (tear) เป็น รู (hole) ต้องใช้เวลา รักษา (heal) ประมาณ (approximately) 2-3 สัปดาห์

English translation:
The doctor informed her that the tissue in her left eardrum was torn leaving it perforated and it would take about 2 – 3 weeks to heal.

Writing Aerobics…

(Full disclosure: I cheat when I “write” in Thai)

When I was in third grade I failed “penmanship”. And when I took the New York State Regents English Exam in high school I left the spelling section blank, getting a zero on that part. Writing and spelling are not my strengths, in English and definitely not in Thai. So any writing that I do in either language is seriously hard labor.

But thank god for computers and spell checkers. And now I give thanks to online and software dictionaries and virtual keyboards, because that is how I “write” in Thai.

As you can tell by my posts I probably write in Thai more than most people. If you’re a perfectionist, please forgive my disclosure.

  1. I think of what I have to write in Thai. Let’s say I want to say, “The doctor said her eardrum was torn?
  2. I know how to say it in Thai but now I need to write it so I take each word and plug it into a dictionary. Then I find the Thai word and paste it into my document.


Doctor: หมอ
Say: ว่า
Eardrum: แก้วหู
Her: ของเธอ
Tear: ขาด

Put it all together and voila, you have “written”: หมอว่าแก้วหูของเธอขาด.

An added benefit is that there are never any spelling errors (it took exactly 2 minutes 30 seconds to complete).

Now let’s say you really want to “type” something in Thai. No need to learn the Thai keyboard or get special Thai fonts. Just do a Google search for “online Thai keyboard” and all you need to do is use the mouse and click and voila, you are “typing” in Thai (hopefully you know how to spell). Then just cut the completed Thai word out and paste it into your document.

I hope these exercises pumped you up some, making your Thai language muscles stronger. I’m tired from all this working out so will go for a nap. Enjoy the workouts.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

8 thoughts on “Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Learning Techniques: Part 2”

  1. I do want to eventually start to use the keyboard to type in Thai, but right now I am at the “cheating” stage mentioned here of looking up individual words, cutting and pasting (though I now plan to take Liam’s advice of using Word and auto-correct). This works well enough on my computer, but recently I have started chatting with a couple of Thai friends on LINE and the cheating method doesn’t work so well because going back and forth in apps is a pain. Does anyone have any tips? For example, is there any app that will let you make multiple “copy” actions that will append each to the prior? Or perhaps there is an app that will auto-correct misspelled Thai? (I am starting to get comfortable reading in Thai but my spelling is beyond awful). Any other ideas? BTW, I have an iPhone. Hoping since this post was written back in 2011 tools have advanced to help with this issue…

  2. Liam, apologies for it taking so long for your comment to appear. My comments setting flags any urls and I forgot to check.

    I totally forgot about getting a Language Pack for Thai! To spell check, what I do is drop everything into Tedious, I know, and it slows the process down enormously.

    I do know of Josh’s typing game but it’s been awhile since I played around with it. I’ll sit with it again this Xmas holiday when needing to come up a decent excuse to get quiet time.

    Thank you for your kind words – you made my day (and I’m sure you made Hugh’s too 🙂

  3. Hugh, I don’t have an ice cream excuse (or your fabulously humongous garden to take care of) but your explanation made me smile.

    Keith, you are so right. Typing does force one to remember how to spell – and my spelling, in both English and Thai, is atrocious! So I might bring a bit of it back in (but not the bulk).

    I used to listen to Thai courses (Pimsleur, due to the repeats) and type out what I thought I was hearing. It was slow going (and I often cheated by cut and paste then too) but my aim was to teach myself how to hear. Hearing Thai is crucial.

    In my early typing days it came to me that a Thai typing tutor sounding out each word would be a hot seller. Any programmers out there?…

  4. Kieth,

    I am 65 now and if I can keep my ice cream intake down to let’s say 3 bowls a week I might make it to 82 like my father did. That definitely isn’t enough time for me to learn to type in Thai. So, as I said, I cheat. I might have enough time to learn if I cut out ice cream from my diet and lived longer (just finished a bowl so it is currently on my mind), but it just isn’t worth it. If one has enough time to learn to type in Thai then all power to you. I am sorry but I have flowers to smell.


  5. That is true enough for learning to type in English as well. 🙂

    My first Thai teacher in the States said she learned to type in English using a printed out keyboard map for reference while keeping her hands on the real keyboard. My Thai/English keyboard often ends up being used in a similar fashion.

    I try to avoid cut and paste, except when I am too lazy, or in a hurry, as I hope it will help me remember the new word a little better.

    My teacher’s husband said chatting online really boosted his typing skills.

  6. I love this blog. Thank you Catherine and all your contributors for putting out so much great information.

    I just wanted to say that learning to type was one of the many things in Thai that was much easier to do than I initially thought it would be. It literally took about an hour to learn, and then just a few days practice to be comfortable with. It was much easier than when I first learned to type English because my fingers already knew where the keys were. I think a lot of people don’t put in the effort because they think it is going to be too difficult, but it really isn’t.

    I tried a couple of typing tutor programs, but by far the most useful I found was Josh Sager’s typing tutor game ( I started with just the tone marks, then added the vowels, then the consonants, then graduated to words. I’m not kidding when I say it takes about an hour to learn, and there are few things that have returned so much benefit in exchange for so little effort.

    Once you’ve learned to type, you can install the Thai Language Pack ) into Microsoft Office and use proofing tools in Word to check your spelling. I generally try to spell the words on my own (unsuccessfully), but Office will underline them in red if I spell them incorrectly, just as it does in English.

    Thanks again for all the great content.

  7. Keith, I started out learning how to type but like Hugh, I slid back to cut and paste. I just don’t type in Thai consistently enough.

    Btw – I have a Thai keyboard (Macs sold in Thailand come with English/Thai) but I do agree with the suggestion (in linked post) that it’s not needed. If you are constantly looking at the keyboard you are slowing down your progress.

    If you haven’t already, check out this Thai Typing Tutor: aTypeTrainer4Mac

  8. Hi Catherine,

    I like your method, except I am not to sure about virtual keyboards. I think in the long run it is better to learn to type on a real keyboard. I got an Apple Thai keyboard here in the states, but had to buy a regular one and then exchange it for a Thai version. Not sure why, and I nearly got a Taiwan keyboard instead!

    I just wish my three dictionaries I bought for my iPod had the same keyboard!


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