talking Thai

Bangkok Travel Blog

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friendly thai students

I had the small dilemma of everyone assuming I was local. It was the same in China except I could speak Chinese like a local. The Thais are an ethnic mix not everyone is dark brown/black. With my unpretentious style, I always wear local market bought clothes and avoid brand wear, and my talent for imitating the local mannerisms and I can blend right in. This helps me to gain a more “insider” look (not to mention more interesting experiences) but communication was a problem.

At the market and on the street the locals would start speaking to me in rapid fast Thai. “uh..right” I’d answer with a blank smile. It did take me long to start learning the lingo.

Thai is curious language it always makes me laugh it’s a lot of fun to speak.

Like Chinese it’s tonal but this isn’t a problem for me as imitating voices is something of a hobby of mine. Many people speak foreign languages with dreadful accents. I trained my tongue and vocal chords on a variety of sounds since childhood so I catch on quickly to most accents.

I started with the children in the community. I had them tell me the words and I copied. I also got a lot of help from Pbae a friend of ours who would come over often. She could speak very little English so I would try the words and phrases the children taught me on her. For me women and children are the best teachers as they are so patient and try hard to understand my muddled attempts. I always try to make a game out of it. Some things must be tackled with earnest sobriety (forgot exactly what) language learning isn’t one of those things. I always exaggerate accents and this always gets plenty of laughs around. With kids and women I can make a fine fool of myself without any care. I also borrowed a book from Peter and attended his classes with his kids (I got a lot of gold stars and shiner prizes) to learn grammar and conversation. The book “Speak Thai for beginners” was also an excellent help. The Internet also had some good learning sites with recorded voices of primary school students this trained my ear for listening comp. I soon realized that learning the writing system was a waste of time (didn’t plan on living in Thailand too long) so I just went for conversation. At any opportunity I used my slowly growing vocabulary with Thais, the more proficient I became the more I spoke.

Some of the best people to learn form are university students they are (or should be) mature, urbane, curious intellectuals who are eager to exchange knowledge and views. I went to a couple universities in Bangkok. The campuses in Bangkok are crowded (like Tokyo) and overflowing with the friendly people. I’d approach some random person sitting outdoors or in the canteen and strike up a conversation.

“Hi there. How are you? Do you speak some English?” I’d say softly with a smile. Most Thais are reticent but with some unassuming coaxing they’ll warm up (they don’t respond well to overbearing mannerisms) “I’m sorry I don’t speak much Thai yet but I would like to learn. I’d like to make friends with the Thai people.” After a shy smile they would ask the usual preliminary questions “Do you like Thailand? Etc” unlike many other poor countries they don’t ask too much about money, which is nice.

Thailand is a very religious kingdom and heavily spiritual this is something important in my life as well so I like to talk about this subject. Fortunately Thailand is a country that has freedom of religion and expression of it. Buddhism is also supposed to be a religion of tolerance so I never had any Thais throwing stones at me. I know a bit about Buddhism and Taoism the whole lot of Asian religion being from Asia myself. I’m not a religionist myself, I share with them about the personal faith I have and how it applies to my life in a practical way. Many Christians don’t talk to others about their faith even though it’s something Jesus himself commanded. I don’t like the frothy “come to church” style folks, I don’t go to church myself. I don’t believe anymore in sitting in a cold lifeless building as I do in bowing down to a terracotta image of a cow. I try to show them what an alive and personal thing faith can be as opposed to the archaic rituals and anachronistic tradition of religion. I’ve found many people in my travels that recognize spirituality but are put off the institutionalized religions, I’m put off too. I think it’s a matter of personal conviction not mainstream dogma. It’s a change of heart not name.        

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friendly thai students
friendly thai students
Bangkok
photo by: Deats