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

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