Learning to speak Thai is tough!

in #culture2 months ago

I wouldn't say that I have put a great deal of work into learning the local language since arriving here over 3 years ago. I wish I could say that I was too busy and didn't have time but that would be a lie. I, like almost all teachers here in Thailand, have plenty of free time, I was just lazy. It doesn't help that Thai has zero similarities to any western language either. I know people that once they know one language such as French, can easily pick up on Spanish or Italian because there are similarities. Thai shares no similarities with these and given the thousands of years that the two groups spent completely unaware that the other existed, it is easy to understand how that could happen.


I know a few people that have taken lessons and they learn a thing or two but for the most part even after years of weekly study, they are only slightly better off than I am. I'm pretty bad, I'll admit. I can only ask for very basic things and I probably do that incorrectly. They understand for the most part but even after years of living here if a place doesn't have an English translation of their menu, I am just pointing at pictures and hoping that it doesn't end up being fish.

One of my more advanced friends was chatting about how Thai uses so many different tones that can completely change the meaning of the word and it is kind of funny when you break it down and can see a word that appears to sound exactly the same to western ears, can actually mean a ton of different things depending on the tone that is used.

To native Thai speakers, this all seems very intuitive but even after trying to hear the differences over and over again, I think there isn't much chance I am ever going to know the difference between the various tones that are used. Here is a basic, but still very true example of what I am talking about.


Now I have been told by westerners that speak the language much better than I do that for the most part the tones are not absolutely essential to get correct. If the listening is reasonably intelligent they are going to understand that you are not in a restaurant asking for a "knee" or a "mountain" but the fact remains that when a Thai person says these words to me, I can barely even notice the difference between them even though they have zero difficulty understanding which is being said.

I think you would have to put me in a room with flashcards and repeat this exercise hundreds of times for me to finally "get it."

The difference between Klai (near) and Klai (far) is so subtle that even the best non-native speakers I know avoid putting themselves in situations where either of these words are needed. Instead they will attempt to estimate the exact distance in meters or kilometers to avoid confusion.

I will soon be leaving this country so it is all a moot point for me now. If I do end up having a love for this country years into the distance and if my plans do actually end up involving potentially moving back here in the future, maybe I will devote some time to learning it a bit. For now, this VERY DIFFCULT one-country language is something I am going to pass on :)

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