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Sunday, October 16, 2005


Speaking Thai

Learning another language is always challenging. For a native English speaker learning Thai can be particularly so. European languages have similar roots to English and most have something in common. There is very little of that with Thai.

Thai grammar is quite different from ours. Once you get to understand it, it is usually simpler but that initial understanding can be a challenge.

Thai uses an entirely different alphabet from ours. Some books try to teach you to speak Thai with transliterations into our Roman alphabet. That is how I started, thinking that learning the alphabet would make it harder. I believe now that I was wrong. Many Thai letters have sounds that do not translate into the Roman alphabet. The substitutions are usually a compromise.

I once had a puncture in my bicycle. I took the wheel off and set off on foot to the motorcycle repair shop. Before I left I had looked up my phrase book and written down what I needed to say to tell them 'Could you please repair my puncture.' The bike shop was about a kilometer away from my room. All the way there I repeated the sentence to myself. When I got there I repeated it out loud to blank looks from the mechanic. I had to resort to sign language which was much more efficient.

Apparently our ears are not capable of hearing many sounds if we are not subjected to them in the early years of our lives. I can listen to a friend say something in Thai. I repeat what I think I am hearing but always I get laughs. If I get it right somehow, it is just by chance. I am rarely able to repeat it.

Still, I am determined to improve my Thai speaking skills. I enjoy my Thai friendships but there are many more people I could get to know if I could speak their language rather than expecting them to speak mine. Learning to speak Thai better is now one of my priorities.

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