This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
What does science have to say about the most effective way to learn Thai (or any language)?
I am writing on behalf of Lanta International Language School, a Thai language school located on Koh Lanta, a small island along the west coast of Thailand. Our methods of teaching are fun and effective, and embrace the latest findings in educational science.
Whilst researching the existing market of Thai language courses we stumbled across Women Learning Thai, and felt you may all be interested in reading about the recent findings in educational science, especially when it comes to learning a second language.
Many of us struggle to learn a second language. Why is this? When you consider the extremely high success rate of children under the age of six when learning their native language, you have to wonder why we find it so difficult as adults. Dr. James J. Asher was so intrigued that he embarked upon an in-depth study of the learning processes of children, particularly when learning their native language. His findings, along with other scientists, including Blaine Ray, Prof. And Stephen Krashen, led to a breakthrough in brain research, especially in the arena of learning a second language.
Here’s a brief overview of the latest findings in educational science when it comes to learning a second language.
1. Learn by engaging all of your senses
As children, we learn to speak our native language by doing, touching, smelling, tasting, experiencing, looking and listening. For example, if we touch something that is hot, our parents will say “hot”. They will repeat this every time we go to touch something hot, until as children we understand that we use the word “hot” to express the feeling of heat.
Your brain is able to learn from all of your senses. By involving all of your bodily senses in the learning process, you gain a deeper understanding of every word, and multiply your learning speed and retention. PLUS, the experience is far more fun than if you were only reading from a book, or memorising vocabulary lists.
2. Learn to think Thai
Many traditional Thai language courses will teach you to translate from your native language; however, it is far more effective to learn to think directly in Thai. If you learn to think Thai, you move from having the thought to speaking Thai, in one-step. If however you have the thought in your own language and then translate to Thai applying the grammar rules and vocabulary that you know, it takes a lot longer, and it inhibits a flowing conversation.
In order to think in Thai, you need to be taught in a particular way. By associating a word with a feeling or experience, rather than what it means when translated to your own language, you will gain a much deeper knowledge and memory of the word. Effective courses will therefore deliver commands in Thai, and will involve acting, imitation and doing, using ONLY the Thai language. This approach also imitates the way we learned our native language.
3. Learn by varied repetition
Repetition is the best way to learn anything, and this is particularly the case with languages. Traditionally repetition has been applied by providing vocabulary lists to be read and repeated until all of the words have been memorised, at least until the next day. One of the problems with this method is that the situation in which you use the word does not change. Your brain cannot get any help from remembering where you were or what you did when you were learning.
A good Thai language course will introduce you to Thai words through numerous experiences and media. Let’s take the word “door”. To learn the word door your tutor could tell you to; “close the door”, “open the door”, “knock on the door” etc. “Door” could be repeated several times in many different situations during a number of lessons.
In addition to this repetitive use of the word “door” during classes, if you also hear “door” in videos loaded onto your computer, and meet the word in computer games, sound files and in wordlists, you will have a very varied experience of the word “door”.
Due to the variation in your learning, you will not be bored by repeating the same word tens of times. On the contrary, your memory traces will grow deeper and broader until your Thai words become a part of you.
4. Your learning rate will improve if your brain has sufficient energy
When you study, your brain uses a lot of energy. Actually, even though it makes up just 2% of your body weight, your brain can consume as much as 20 – 30% of your total energy intake if you are studying. Glucose is the fuel that your brain needs to be able to think, and your body generates glucose from what you eat and drink. If your levels of glucose run low you will think more slowly, which means that if you study Thai, you will learn the language more slowly. Make sure you have regular snacks while studying to top up those glucose levels. Melon is great for a quick release of glucose, and banana is good for a slower release, keeping you fuelled for longer.
We hope that you find some useful tips in this article to help you on your journey into the Thai language. It’s a beautiful language, and becoming fluent in Thai will help you gain a deeper understanding of the Thai culture. Good luck with your studying, and most importantly, make sure you have fun along the way!
Lanta International Language School