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Thread: Learning Thai - how did you do it?

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    Senior Member stupscott's Avatar
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    Learning Thai - how did you do it?

    I've been trying to learn Thai, pretty unsuccessfully so far, I can say the usual hello, thank you, etc you'd use on holiday. I've got as far as numbers, the human body (facial features, arm and legs) and a few other things but not anywhere near enough to hold a conversation in Thai.

    I've a couple of books and used a few online resources (learn Thai with Mod on YouTube) but the only way I can get it to stay in my head is by using word association (e.g. leg being Kha in Thai, Kha sounds like car, we use legs and cars to get around)

    It's be easier living there and using it all the time, I do talk to the GF daily and pick up the odd new word.

    If you can, how did you do it? what did you use and how long did it take? any tips or recommendations appreciated!

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    Senior Member dontpanic's Avatar
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    Not that I can speak it anyway fluently but I found learn Thai with Mod very good. Being there is usually the best way of learning too, I usually pick a couple of words and just repeat them when driving, learn days of the week by just repeating them on the particular day. I found learning numbers very useful and just the basic phrases can go a long way. Pick the words in English that are useful in Thailand and concentrate on them but you can't beat being immersed in a language to learn it.

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    Senior Member Geespot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stupscott View Post
    I've been trying to learn Thai, pretty unsuccessfully so far, I can say the usual hello, thank you, etc you'd use on holiday. I've got as far as numbers, the human body (facial features, arm and legs) and a few other things but not anywhere near enough to hold a conversation in Thai.

    I've a couple of books and used a few online resources (learn Thai with Mod on YouTube) but the only way I can get it to stay in my head is by using word association (e.g. leg being Kha in Thai, Kha sounds like car, we use legs and cars to get around)

    It's be easier living there and using it all the time, I do talk to the GF daily and pick up the odd new word.

    If you can, how did you do it? what did you use and how long did it take? any tips or recommendations appreciated!
    Have a few years in Isaan that should do it, you don't have much choice but to learn Thai. If you have time when in Thailand join a Thai language school / course; without reading and writing Thai you are pretty much confined to a farang world in Thailand. It has become easier for people with Google Translate etc but not so useful when you're out and about

    Living in Thai centric areas that dont have a lot of English is best, tourist areas much more difficult to learn and in many cases discouraged

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    Quote Originally Posted by Geespot View Post
    Have a few years in Isaan that should do it, you don't have much choice but to learn Thai. If you have time when in Thailand join a Thai language school / course; without reading and writing Thai you are pretty much confined to a farang world in Thailand. It has become easier for people with Google Translate etc but not so useful when you're out and about

    Living in Thai centric areas that dont have a lot of English is best, tourist areas much more difficult to learn and in many cases discouraged
    That does make it more dificcult to learn doesn't it? They seem to quite actively want you not to be a ble to speak Thai in many places.

    I've never cracked it, I know a bit more than the usual tourist stuff but it doesn't take long in the boonies to realise just how limited my Thai is. I've tried one to one lessons via skype with a bit of success. I'm currently looking for a teracher here, face to face lessons with a real person might help so I want to try that now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Geespot View Post
    tourist areas much more difficult to learn and in many cases discouraged
    Amen to that. When I try to order food or whatever in Thai, they always answer in English. I think having a Thai girlfriend that is willing to help you with new words and to correct the pronunciation is paramount. Or you have to be a very outgoing person, speaking to a lot of people and get them to help with new words and pronunciation.

    I have more or less given up. I have no girlfriend, and I am not an outgoing person. I do use Google Translate app on my phone to check words, but I hardly ever use them and my pronunciation is probably way off.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve@thaib View Post
    I'm currently looking for a teracher here, face to face lessons with a real person might help so I want to try that now.
    It does help, but you have to use what you learn outside of the classroom too. I took some lessons in Patong last year, and I did learn a lot of new words. But when you are not using them on a daily basis, you forget most of them again. I chose not to take any lessons this time. Mind you, I am old, not very good with languages, and as mentioned before I do not have a girlfriend to help me.

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    Senior Member Geespot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Greatdane View Post
    Amen to that. When I try to order food or whatever in Thai, they always answer in English. I think having a Thai girlfriend that is willing to help you with new words and to correct the pronunciation is paramount. Or you have to be a very outgoing person, speaking to a lot of people and get them to help with new words and pronunciation.

    I have more or less given up. I have no girlfriend, and I am not an outgoing person. I do use Google Translate app on my phone to check words, but I hardly ever use them and my pronunciation is probably way off.
    You will find pronunciation much easier once you understand the tone rules but that said it can still be difficult so face to face and positive feedback is always best. My Mrs spends alot of time these days slowly pronouncing words i don't know, then I look at the Thai script to verify

    Google translate is useful and it does speak back the words so you listen carefully and repeat and at the same time look at the syllable structure

    Where i struggle the most is long sentence of words and maybe some I don't recognize

    Phonetics are a complete waste of time, Thinglish might make you understood in English better and give you a nice Thai accent 555555555555555
    Last edited by Geespot; 14th March 2014 at 14:04.
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    Senior Member nelsonone's Avatar
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    yep...full immersion method works best..when you have to speak it to eat it becomes much more of a priority 555

    I don't have a GF either but I do my best with the local Thais....generally they are pretty receptive to me speaking Thai and a few folks like my favourite waiter, fruit vendor and TG friends will help out with pronunciation and vocab

    still its rare here that you can't get by with english in most cases so it does slip even after it gets committed to memory

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    Rule one: If you use on a written resource use only one that was created by someone from your own country that learnt Thai and is now teaching others - I have "Learn to Speak" Thai books from the USA, England and Oz and find that our individual accents have a marked impact on how a Thai teacher will transliterate Thai into written English - for example if you are Australian I can teach you to say thank you as a male by saying cobb as in cobb & co, coon as in cheese and cap as in baseball cap - cobb coon cap - but that won't work for a Pom or a Yank as their pronunciation of those words are different to ours (my fellow Aussies that is).

    If you can find a fellow countryman who has learnt Thai and get one on one classes from him - even if he is only an average level teacher - you will get to fluency a lot quicker than any other path.

    Real fluency will only come from learning the Thai alphabet and getting a handle on the five tones of the language (I never did) - meanwhile it is surprising how much you can say sticking only to Thai words that have a middle tone...555

    It is normal to be shy about trying to speak another language. Alcohol is a good cure for shyness.


    (P.s IMHO having a Thai spouse or GF makes you lazy and you let her do the talking and forget most of what it took you a decade to learn - or maybe that was just me...555)

    Enjoy....
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geespot View Post
    Have a few years in Isaan that should do it, you don't have much choice but to learn Thai. If you have time when in Thailand join a Thai language school / course; without reading and writing Thai you are pretty much confined to a farang world in Thailand. It has become easier for people with Google Translate etc but not so useful when you're out and about

    Living in Thai centric areas that dont have a lot of English is best, tourist areas much more difficult to learn and in many cases discouraged


    The problem with going up to Issan to learn..so I've been told..is that you are learning Issan (Lao) and not Thai..and they quite a bit different...as many of us are aware...the dialects vary from the north to Issan and to the South......many of us farangs pick up words or phrases form different Thais that we meet and we have to be careful that when we are talking..we can end up piecing together words into a sentence that come from different dialects..thus we sound like idiots

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    Super Moderator LivinLOS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Minder View Post
    Rule one: If you use on a written resource use only one that was created by someone from your own country that learnt Thai and is now teaching others - I have "Learn to Speak" Thai books from the USA, England and Oz and find that our individual accents have a marked impact on how a Thai teacher will transliterate Thai into written English
    Very much agreed.

    (P.s IMHO having a Thai spouse or GF makes you lazy and you let her do the talking and forget most of what it took you a decade to learn - or maybe that was just me...555)
    I find this to be true also.. I end up learning more when I go out and have to struggle..

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    Super Moderator LivinLOS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrFeelgood View Post
    The problem with going up to Issan to learn..so I've been told..is that you are learning Issan (Lao) and not Thai..and they quite a bit different...as many of us are aware...the dialects vary from the north to Issan and to the South......many of us farangs pick up words or phrases form different Thais that we meet and we have to be careful that when we are talking..we can end up piecing together words into a sentence that come from different dialects..thus we sound like idiots
    Yeah and you have a Isaan dialect / accent on everything..

    Northern Thais love it if you drop a bit of Lanna Thai tho.. Khop Khun jao has them grinning ear to ear that your doing it their way. So works both ways.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ub2yoo View Post
    Iv'e got the slight feeling we do regardless ... but who cares, just don't give up, it's fun, too ;-)
    LOL..I agree

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    Quote Originally Posted by Minder View Post
    Rule one: If you use on a written resource use only one that was created by someone from your own country that learnt Thai and is now teaching others - I have "Learn to Speak" Thai books from the USA, England and Oz and find that our individual accents have a marked impact on how a Thai teacher will transliterate Thai into written English - for example if you are Australian I can teach you to say thank you as a male by saying cobb as in cobb & co, coon as in cheese and cap as in baseball cap - cobb coon cap - but that won't work for a Pom or a Yank as their pronunciation of those words are different to ours (my fellow Aussies that is).

    (P.s IMHO having a Thai spouse or GF makes you lazy and you let her do the talking and forget most of what it took you a decade to learn - or maybe that was just me...555)

    Enjoy....
    Having a little Japanese growing up and minoring in Spanish, I found some of my "American" Thai books became difficult. I didnt know if the ow was ow as in cow or ow as in row. I ended up buying a Thai Japanese as well as a Thai Spanish book so I could identify the ow was a (ah) + u (oo) au. Then I spent time learning the characters with the various books. There was a really good book that offered some good instruction as well as cultural tid bits. It was called What you see is what you say. They went thru the series of Kau (white, rice, him/her, news.......etc, with all the tonal markers. This is where being with a local really helps.


    There is a good series from Benjawan Becker. It helps you get vocabulary while working exercises in reading and writing. There is a beginning, intermediate and advanced version.
    I also spent a lot of time in beer bars with a Thai in Thai script / English dictionary and a small note pad.

    Foreign languages arent difficult. They just require a lot of time and dedication. Investing as little as an hour a day, making flash cards to thumb through during wasted times such as standing in line or on the sky train.

    Living in Cambodia for 14 years, my Thai was a good foundation for some Khmer, but my Khmer really sucks for as long as I have lived here. Too much time with westerners and zero time in the books. One day I will make the effort to bring it up to speed. Surin works well for me as I can mix and match, but in any hierarchy one will reach his level of incompetence and remain there.

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    I fully agree regarding the transcripts, much better to try to learn the Thai letters in order to know how to pronounce words. I can recommend this:
    Learn Thai the Rapid Way

    Very easy to remember the letters, well at least most of them, this way. I am sure you will never forget how to say า (aaah) after checking his intro. The guide does not teach you the name of the letters, only the sound of them. You should be able to read a text from learning the letters this way, although you will not understand what you are reading. Learning words at the same time will make it easier to learn the letters, and vice versa. I have bought the course, which I do not regret, but it is still a good idea to have somebody to correct you when trying to pronounce the sounds.

    The guide is not that good explaining the tones - or maybe it is because English is not my natural language. His intro to the tones:

    1. Question Tone ("why?", "how?")
    2. Skeptical or Uncertain Tone - asking a question where you're not sure or doubt the answer: ("are you sure?" "OK?", "is it ...?")
    3. Emphatic or Exciting Tone ("wow!" "yeah!")
    4. Low, Sad, Chanting Tone ("ommmmm...", oh "dear...")
    5. There isn't really a fifth tone. I call it the No Tone. It's boring and monotonous.


    Elsewhere they talk about falling, rising, low, high and no tone, which was not much of a help for me either. It took me some time to realize that a falling tone goes up before going down (like ^), and the low tone (\) is what I would call a falling tone. Of course, if you have musical ears, you can easily hear this yourself from listening to the language, I'm more or less tone deaf.

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    Senior Member WarProfiteer's Avatar
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    Gave up when my Thai gf couldnt make herself understood (in Thai) one day to another Thai down in Phuket.

    Happened again one time in Chiang Mai. What was funny was, she turned to me and said "this lady cannot understand me" and I said "maybe we should find someone who speaks english?" and the same girl said "oh, sorry, I speak english. How can I help you?" hahahaa...

    After that I dropped any ideas about learning more than the basic greetings and a few common sayings. If native speakers cant even make themselves understood to people in their own country, I figure I dont have a shot. I'll stick with Spanish as my eventual plan is to end up central america anyway.

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    Super Moderator LivinLOS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WarProfiteer View Post
    Gave up when my Thai gf couldnt make herself understood (in Thai) one day to another Thai down in Phuket.

    Happened again one time in Chiang Mai. What was funny was, she turned to me and said "this lady cannot understand me" and I said "maybe we should find someone who speaks english?" and the same girl said "oh, sorry, I speak english. How can I help you?" hahahaa...

    After that I dropped any ideas about learning more than the basic greetings and a few common sayings. If native speakers cant even make themselves understood to people in their own country, I figure I dont have a shot. I'll stick with Spanish as my eventual plan is to end up central america anyway.
    Was just discussing this last night.. I am stunned by the amount of times that Thai on Thai communication fails, either totally fails in not understanding the actual statements, or otherwise fails due to the Thai dislike of any form of precision or clarity. So whatever it is thats being organised fucks up. The way the language dances around issues and leaves statements vague and with 'wiggle room' is something I think holds the country back immensely.

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    Senior Member marc26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WarProfiteer View Post
    Gave up when my Thai gf couldnt make herself understood (in Thai) one day to another Thai down in Phuket.

    Happened again one time in Chiang Mai. What was funny was, she turned to me and said "this lady cannot understand me" and I said "maybe we should find someone who speaks english?" and the same girl said "oh, sorry, I speak english. How can I help you?" hahahaa...

    After that I dropped any ideas about learning more than the basic greetings and a few common sayings. If native speakers cant even make themselves understood to people in their own country, I figure I dont have a shot. I'll stick with Spanish as my eventual plan is to end up central america anyway.
    Maybe it is because our is so Spanish centric and i took 2 years of Spanish.....but damn does Spanish come so easy to me

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    Senior Member nelsonone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marc26 View Post
    Maybe it is because our is so Spanish centric and i took 2 years of Spanish.....but damn does Spanish come so easy to me
    or perhaps because Spanish has latin roots the same as english....many words standing alone can be understood by speakers of both languages...sentence structure is similar and there are no tones..Spanish is much less of a foreign language to english speakers than Thai
    Last edited by nelsonone; 15th March 2014 at 15:19.

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    Senior Member soupdragon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nelsonone View Post
    or perhaps because Spanish has latin roots the same as english....many words standing alone can be understood by speakers of both languages...sentence structure is similar and there are no tones..Spanish is much less of a foreign language to english speakers than Thai
    Ain't that the truth. My dad taught Spanish at university level so I picked up a lot from him just growing up without any formal. I know I was a lot younger then but so much easier than this mystery of a language called Thai 55555

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