How Much Thai Can You Learn in a Week?

Posted on 29. Oct, 2014 by in Beginner, Travel

This month I had to get out of China for a visa run, something that anyone who has lived abroad probably understands quite well. With not a whole lot of time or money on my hands, I had to give this some serious thought. There’s always the typical Shenzhen-Hong Kong border crossing, but I had already been there twice just this summer. From my new home in Kunming, it’s a bus ride to both Vietnam and Laos, but both of those countries also require visas. Thanks to the cheap flight that I found, Bangkok won out in the end. Since I just spent two months in Thailand earlier this year traveling all over the place, I decided to do something different this time – learn some Thai. After having traveled so extensively there, I was a bit embarrassed at my complete and utter lack of the language. Plus, since I’m back on the Thai language & culture blog, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn some Thai myself. Rather than be a backpacker or tourist, this time around I wanted to be a student.

Thanks to my available dates and a Thai national holiday (Chulalongkorn), there would only be six days where I could take class at the center where I had made plans. It was time for a mission – how much Thai can you learn in one week? The answer, simply put, is not very much. I did, however, find my 20 hours of class very rewarding, and I was able to speak at a very beginner level by the end. It was great to get back into a classroom on the other side (I work as an ESL teacher in China), my teachers were very patient and helpful, and I feel like I learned a lot more about Thailand and the culture in addition to picking up some language basics.

The teacher becomes the student.

The teacher becomes the student.

Based on my experiences in the classroom, here are some of my impressions and tips on learning Thai for absolute beginners:

Try to Learn Thai Script from Day One

Thanks to my very short course, my teachers didn’t bother trying to teach me Thai script. Instead, we used phonetics to focus primarily on pronunciation and other speaking skills rather than reading or writing. Now that I’m back in China and I’m trying to continue with my Thai studies and put together some beginner videos for the blog, I can see how much more beneficial it would be to know the written form. It may look intimidating, but learning Thai is nothing like learning Chinese – there aren’t even close to as many symbols to remember. Unlike in Chinese, learning Thai script will help you with your pronunciation. We’ll have some videos up shortly teaching the Thai consonants and vowels, so study them and your Thai will improve much more quickly.

It looks intimidating, but give it a shot.

It looks intimidating, but give it a shot.

The Tones Aren’t That Hard

Sure, Thai is a tonal language with five different tones. People always freak out about a language having tones, but if you think about it, we use tones all the time in English! Just think about how your voice rises at the end of a question, like poor Ron Burgundy when someone slipped a question mark into the teleprompter…

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Seriously, though – the tones in Thai and any other language can be tackled with lots of listening and repetition. This is where having a native speaking teacher or friend really comes in handy, as you can just go over and over them until you’re comfortable. I was already familiar with tones after learning Chinese for a few years, but the falling tone in Thai gave me a bit of trouble as there isn’t a tone like it in Mandarin. The tones are important and all, but you’ll be able to get your meaning across most of the time even if your tones aren’t perfect.

The Grammar is Pretty Easy

At least at an absolute beginner level, there were no big hurdles for me to jump when it comes to Thai grammar. The structure “Subject + Verb + Object” is also followed (for the most part) in Thai. Verbs do not need to be conjugated, tense can be understood from context, there’s no need for articles before nouns. That being said, there are a few aspects of beginner Thai grammar that can be a bit tricky. For one, you have the countless noun classifiers, which are a pain in the butt to learn. You also put a noun before an adjective, so you have to get used to saying things like “shirt green.”

Don’t Forget “Ka” or “Krap”

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If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you should already be familiar with these two words – ka and krap. These are particles used at the end of a statement or question to make it more polite. Krap is used by men, and ka is used by women. Add the word to the end of just about everything if you’re a newb traveling in Thailand – it’s better to be overly polite than even slightly impolite. If you think you’re overusing it, just listen to Thai people – you hear these words all the time!

People Love it When You Speak Thai

Thailand is one of the most popular countries in the world to visit, and millions upon millions of tourists from all over the place come here every year. Of course, very few of them speak even a single word of Thai (myself included before this most recent trip). If you try to speak Thai with locals – even if it’s just a tiny bit – they’ll appreciate it. I had a few very slow and funny conversations with cab drivers on this trip thanks to my less than mediocre Thai skills, and they seemed to be quite entertained and happy to see a farang trying to speak their language. Thai people are some of the friendliest you’ll ever encounter, and they’ll definitely open up more to someone who speaks Thai.

The End Result of 20 Hours

In the end, I took 20 hours of one-on-one Thai classes in Bangkok. Considering about 4-5 hours of that time was spent with the teachers doing voice-overs for our new “Beginner Thai” video series, that means I had around 15 actual hours of class time. In that time, this is what I managed to achieve:

  • pronunciation based on a phonetic system
  • the five tones
  • counting up to one million
  • simple sentence structures
  • self-introductions
  • time, days, weeks, months, years
  • family members
  • countries/nationalities/languages
  • using question words
  • food and drink vocabulary and basics

For such a short time, and being the notorious slacker that I am, I’d say that’s not half bad. My Thai still sucks, I’m sure, but it’s better than being non-existent! I hope this post encourages some people to make a similar decision and begin to study Thai. Even though I don’t live there or even plan to move there anytime soon, I think it was a great use of my time to learn a bit of the language. After all, Thailand is an amazing place to travel, and it’s even better if you know some Thai! Luckily we’ve got you covered here if and when you decide to learn Thai.

 

Chulalongkorn Day in Thailand

Posted on 24. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, History, Thailand Politics

Rama V

Rama V

Yesterday (October 23rd) was a national holiday in Thailand. This day commemorates Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch of Siam from the House of Chakri. Also known as Rama V and considered one of the country’s greatest kings, he passed away on this day in 1910. Although he was just 57 at the time of his death, he had already ruled over Siam for 42 years, as he took the throne when he was a mere 15 years old. Chulalongkorn is the grandfather of the current king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. During his time as king, he was known amongst Siamese people as Phra Phuttha Chao Luang (พระพุทธเจ้าหลวง – prá-pút-tá-jâo lŭang), which can be translated as the “Royal Buddha.” Many Westerners may already be familiar with the king as well, who is the inspiration for the boy prince in the famous musical “The King and I.”

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An introductory video into the holiday, the king, and modern day celebrations.

At the time of his reign, European colonization was dominating Southeast Asia – French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, the British in Burma and India, and Portugal in Timor and Malacca. Although some parts of Siam were ceded to France and Great Britain, Rama V managed to stave off European colonization. As such, Thailand is the only SE Asian nation that was never a European colony. He managed to do this by traveling frequently to Western nations, where he learned of new innovations that he brought back to modernize his country. The first railway was built, communications were improved thanks to a postal service and use of the telegraph, and the government was modernized with power being stripped from local rulers and instead centralized in Bangkok. He helped to create the Thai nation as well, bringing the Thai language to corners of the country that previously spoke different languages. In addition, slavery was finally banned – a huge change considering that 1/3 of the population were slaves before his reign. Chulalongkorn was also a man of the people – he would often disguise himself in plain clothes and immerse himself in the crowd to get to know his subjects, their thoughts, and their hopes for the country. Thanks to the vast improvements that were made under his time, his ability to prevent European colonization, and his great reputation as a man of the people, he’s also known in Thailand as Phra Piya Maharat (พระปิยมหาราช prá bpì-yá-má-hăa-râat) – the “Great Beloved King.”

Rama V Statue in Bangkok

Image from Keng Susumpow on www.flickr.com

The holiday is also known in Thai as Wan Piyamaharaj (วันปิยมหาราช – wan bpì-yá-má-hăa-râat), and it’s a short one-day affair. Government buildings, banks, offices, and schools will have a day off, but many people go about business as usual. Thai people all around the country pay their respect to Rama V by visiting a memorial to him and taking part in a ceremony. Many people gather in the Royal Plaza of Bangkok, a public square located in front of Dusit Palace where the beloved king once lived. Even though he’s been gone for over 100 years now, Rama V obviously still holds an important place in the hearts and minds of Thai people. You can view some photos from the celebrations in Bangkok yesterday here.

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Learn more about the king in this short documentary.

White Temple and Black House Video Tour

Posted on 14. Oct, 2014 by in Uncategorized

Tour the “Heaven and Hell of Architecture” in northern Thailand – the White Temple and Black House of Chiang Rai – in this short video.

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