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Introduction to Learning Thai, Part 1 Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in Beginner

For the past year or so I’ve been blogging on beginner and intermediate subjects, assuming everyone is up to speed. For the next month of blog posts I will give an introduction targeted mainly at the ultra-beginners. I will lay out my advice and explain the very very basics.


The Reality

The other day I saw a website selling a book, for only $10, that promises you will ‘learn the Thai alphabet in just 60 minutes’. You do not need to look hard to find a “Learn X Language in only two weeks!” book.

Hey, if you believe that, you deserve to have your money taken from you lol . . .

Learning Thai, or any language beyond the beginner level, isn’t something you can do in two weeks, or barely even two years. Learning another language is a huge investment in time and effort – it could even take a decade or more to reach a level where you can casually discuss philosophy and politics without giving the listener (or yourself) a headache.

Speaking a foreign language is not binary, either. Fluency is not something you either have or you don’t – there is a large grey area in between beginner and native. To be ‘conversationally fluent’ is not the same as ‘natively fluent’, for example. If you’re an English speaker and then learn Spanish and French, you can claim (brag?) that you speak three different languages. But that can’t compare to an English speaker who learns both Hindi and Chinese – an exponentially harder task.


Why learn Thai?

Good question. I get asked that all the time and the answer is never really that simple. The average person in the world learns to speak four languages:

1) the language of their parents

2) the language(s) of their home country

3) the language of the country they are residing in

4) the ‘international’ language (ie English)

For example, let’s say your parents are Chinese and your entire family moved to live in Italy. You’re likely to speak Chinese, Italian, and English. If your Chinese parents are from Hong Kong, you might even speak both Mandarin and Cantonese, meaning four languages. But it’s all out of necessity – there are good reasons to learn each language and many opportunities to practice.

For the typical American, that likely means English across the board. There just isn’t any compelling need or reason to learn another language other than English. Except as a hobby, of course. And in Thailand, Thais speak enough rudimentary English that you can get by without learning to speak Thai. So why learn?

With no strong motivations, it’s not easy to learn something difficult. If you find yourself in this situation, you should spend time to ask yourself all the reasons you’d like to learn Thai: for fun, for your Thai significant other, to make life easier for you here, to make local friends, to show off, to flirt, etc. And whenever you feel like giving up, or feel too lazy to continue, remind yourself all the reasons of why you started.

to be continued . . . 

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