Learning the lingo

Over the many years that I have been visiting Thailand I have met many farang who have been living here for some time, but could not speak more than a few phrases of the most basic of Thai, often picked up from their bargirl girlfriends, and often obviously so because of it’s colloquial crudity. The Thai language reflects the multi-layered social culture of this country, with more formal language for the higher class of society, different terms of address for older or more senior members of society, and so on. No doubt some foreigners from more egalitarian countries think that’s all a load of rubbish, but it’s the way things are here in Thailand.

Often these linguistically challenged foreigners live in the farang ghetto of lower Sukhumvit road, where basic English is widely spoken by shop and restaurant staff, so there is no real need for these resident foreigners to learn Thai while they stay in their comfort zone, wandering between their condo and their favourite bar. If that is how they want to live their time in this exotic land, then OK for them, but on moving here I was determined that I would not be living in the ghetto, and would at least make an effort to learn “proper” Thai.

So when finding a place to live I chose a condo in a mainly Thai neighbourhood, although there are several westerners living in the district, where the shop staff will give you the price in Thai not English, and where most of the food stalls at the night market have a menu in Thai only. Next task was to find a Thai language school, with many to choose from. I used the reviews at www.womenlearningthai.com to filter out some schools, and then went along to check out a few of the rest.

A couple were rejected because they did not wait for a new course to start, but just put new students into a course that had been running for a few weeks, expecting them to catch up …. no thanks ! Another favoured the “total immersion” method of speaking, reading and writing Thai all at once, some people say this is the best way to go but I was not so sure. Eventually I settled on Pro Language ( www.prolanguage.co.th ) at Times Square, near Asoke skytrain station which made it very convenient for me to get too. To qualify for the Education visa I signed up for the year long course, which is 180 lessons of 50 minutes. The lesson schedule was 4 lessons every Saturday, I was a bit worried that 4 lessons in one go might be a bit too intense for my ‘older” brain but so far, so good …the time seems to fly past.

The first 60 hours are just spoken language, then we will start reading and writing as well. Then I’ll see how intense it is ! To the uninitiated, the Thai script is just a lot of squiggles, with nearly 3 times as many letters as the Roman alphabet, many of them looking remarkably similar at first glance, ie ลส or ปบ ฟผพ ดศต and with vowels that can be in front or behind, above or below, their attached consonant !! I have begun to recognise some of the letters and their associated sounds, but there are still many more to go.

We started off with 13 students in the class, which is perhaps a few too many, but  8 weeks later we were down to just 8, and a couple of them joined us from another class. There are a couple of students who do not turn up every week, by missing just one class while we learn the basics they are way behind the rest of us, which does slow the class down as the teacher has to try and get them to catch up.

I am the only native English speaking student left, everybody else already speaks at least a couple of languages. One guy speaks Indonesian, English, Chinese, Japanese and now he is on Thai !

The lessons themselves are good, although I did have a couple of mild gripes/worries at the start. Because there are more letters in the Thai alphabet than the Roman one, transliteration can be difficult and varied, there is no “one size fits all” universal transliteration for textbooks and phrasebooks and the school uses a couple that I found strange to begin with, such as “ay” for the “eye” sound, so that Thai is written as thay, or the tone marks they use …^ is a falling tone marker. But I’ve got used to their quirks, so no big deal. But I do think some of the exercise texts could benefit from proof reading by an English speaker :

John asked Jim’s secretary to speak to Jim on the phone

Many of us took that to mean John wanted the secretary to speak with Jim, but no, it was supposed to be John talking to Jim. Perhaps something such as :

John asked Jim’s secretary if he could speak to Jim ?

It’s just a bit frustrating to do your homework, only to find out you were translating the wrong meaning.

The lessons emphasise polite Thai, perhaps over polite, ie  koor ……noy day may khrap  ( I would like ……please ) where normal polite Thai would drop the day may, and those farangs I mentioned at the start would probably say ao …khrap ( I want …. ) ! Anyway, all things considered I would recommend anybody who might want to study Thai at least check out Pro Language.

In other news  :

The shambles that is Thai politics is still dragging on, a month after the general election and there is still no announced winner as many constituencies have not yet held elections due to boycotts and blockades. The Thai constitution says that Parliament must meet within 30 days of an election, but also says that 95% of MPs must have been declared and eligible to sit. At the moment they are nowhere near that figure, and the ‘experts” are arguing over what to do as the constitution does not say what happens if those 2 conditions cannot be met. The former govt naturally say that former PM Yingluk Shinawatra should just keep on as caretaker Prime Minister, but it could all be moot as she has been charged by the Anti Corruption Commission with negligence over the rice subsidy scam, and could be banned from office at the very least anyway.

Some of her supporters have said that if she is banned, she should go up north and set up a government in exile, even to the extent of suggesting an independent Lanna state in Chiang Mai. That did not go down at all well with the Army Chief, who has laid charges of insurrection against at least one person.

For at least a month the boss of the “Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order” has been saying that the leaders of the PDRC anti-government protesters would be arrested “soon” but they are still roaming free. They did shut down most of their stages, opening up the roads, and consolidating into one big camp at Lumpini Park. Other groups are still protesting though …a radical monk has closed down the main govt offices, a student group controls around government house, a union group is blockading the Labour ministry, and some of the rice farmers are protesting about the 6 month overdue payment from the government rice subsidy scheme.

If it was not for the people that have been killed and injured in these protests it would be hilarious, something like Monty Python meets Yes Prime Minister meets Fawlty Towers. The sad reality though is that people have died, including 4 young children last weekend in attacks on the anti government protests, presumably by red-shirt thugs supporting Yingluk Shinawatra. The real tragedy is that none were actually involved in the protests, 2 were at their family’s noodle stand and 2 were going shopping with an aunt at a nearby supermarket. The red shirts were having a rally when news about the first attack came through, and live on TV somebody (allegedly a police officer !!) said on stage “ I have great news, some anti government protesters have been killed” to cheers and loud applause ! The sooner it’s all over the better, but somehow I don’t think everybody will be happy with upcoming decisions by the Anti Corruption Commission, Criminal Court and the Constitutional Court……the military might have to takeover whether they want to or not. In previous times the tanks would have rolled in long ago, but the Army Chief keeps saying “no coup, no coup”. He is retiring later this year, and he is probably wishing that the day would come sooner !

About Mike

A recently retired "Baby Boomer" , looking forward to having more time for my photography and travel.
This entry was posted in Language, politics, Random musings, Thailand and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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