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Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Speaking the language

When I first returned to Thailand my head was full of Khmer. I would try to communicate in Thai but when I opened my mouth what came out was often a mixture of Thai, English and Khmer—all in one sentence. I had to start getting my brain to think in Thai again.

The first night I was here I went to the local market. On the way I was running numbers through my head. 'Nung, sorng, sahm...' I was OK up to nine but somehow I could not remember the word for ten which meant I was also stuck for all numbers from 11 to 19. After a little while I remembered yii-sip for 20. Thirty-plus was easy. Sahm-sip, sii-sip, etc are almost the same as Khmer but the units are the Thai ones, not moi, pii, bai.

It's one thing to think it through like that but when speaking spontaneously, that's not always what comes out. Slowly, as I listen to people around me Thai is returning to my brain. I hear a word and think, 'Yeah, that means...' And now, after two weeks back here, when people speak to me in Thai, I usually answer in Thai. I'm not saying I'm fluent. I never was. But the Thai words are coming to me—most of the time.

Still, when I need to say 'thank you', I find that 'orkun' often slips out instead of 'kob kun'.

I know there are people who speak fluently in many languages. I wonder if they ever have problems like this when switching from one to another.

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