Don’t Beat the Bushes Around

Back in 2005 I was taking Thai lessons at Language Door in Irvine and Wat Thai in Los Angeles, but I made most of my (limited) progress through self-study. The problem was that my classes were full of people of all levels, so despite hours with teachers, I was only listened to and corrected about fifteen minutes a week. Worse, we tended to focus on greetings all the time. I don’t blame those schools — there just isn’t enough demand for Thai classes out here to justify separate beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes. I learned enough to order food, ask where the bathroom was, and complain that something was too expensive; I spent a month in Thailand, then came back and redoubled my efforts in Spanish.

Now that my Spanish is strong enough that I can split my focus, I’ve decided to take on Thai more seriously. This time I’ve hired a private tutor (I had my first lesson with her this morning via Skype) and I’m focusing my energy on listening and reading more than on speaking. If I had the time, I’d love to spend a year taking AUA’s classes because I’m fascinated by the idea of acquiring rather than learning a new language (check out their level 1 sample videos here — I bet you’ll understand at least 70% of it even if you’ve never heard a word of Thai before). Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility, so I’m stuck with hilariously inaccurately subbed lakorns like this.*

I’d like to be fluent eventually, but I know fluency takes time, so I’m in no rush. If I can have some simple conversations with my in-laws before they go back to Thailand in April, I’ll be perfectly happy with my progress. (I should note that my definition of fluency is nothing like this guy’s. I’m not knocking him; I think traveling around and learning the beginnings of languages is pretty cool, but I think he tosses around the word “fluent” like it means the same thing as “functional.” I also disagree with his definition of reading. First off, he confuses the word reading with decoding. The former implies comprehension while the latter is just sounding something out. In the post I linked, he says he can read Thai and then immediately follows that with an admission that he can’t read the tones. Ummm… in a tonal language, that’s not even decoding, let alone reading. That would be like me saying I can read English except for the consonants.)

I can decode words in Thai that start with middle or high consonants and have simple vowels. I made some headway with the complex vowels and the vowels that change their form this morning with my teacher, but I’ve got some serious studying to do before I can decode any of those with anything approaching automaticity, and I have a very long way to go before I dare say I can read.

The plan this week:
-Master the vowel sounds that don’t exist in English (reading and speaking)
-Review middle and high consonant tone rules
-Master low consonant tone rules
-Improve my ability to distingish between short and long vowels (mostly listening)
-Memorize the false clusters that create an invisible ั sound (like in สวัสดี) so that I know everything else is an invisible โ-ะ
-Practice typing the home keys on the Thai keyboard
-Pimsleur lessons 17-20 (I plan to write a post about the pros and cons of Pimsleur Thai soon)

Next week I’ll post my progress.

*Where I got the title of today’s post. :).

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