Reading Menus, Watching TV (25 Feb 2013)

25 February 2013; AT5 = 855 hours; total time = 1793 hours; TV = 68.3 hours

I just got back from having a meal at the marketplace near my house, and despite still not having started any kind of formal study of reading and writing, my ability to read the menu has definitely improved: I was able to read and understand the names of dishes that I’ve never heard of. (I was, however, already familiar with the individual terms/words that comprised those names, sort of equivalent to reading and understanding the English phrase “ham and cheese sandwich” and understanding it because you already understand and are familiar with ham, cheese, and sandwiches, though this is the first time that you are encountering this particular type of sandwich).

As for my TV and movie watching in Thai:

I haven’t been able to get in nearly as many hours as I’d wanted to. This has been partly because there have been a number of days that I’ve either been away from home traveling, or otherwise occupied; but also because I often find the experience tiring and/or uninteresting. The problem is the same as at the early stages of a new level of class at AUA: comprehension is low, so the ability to follow what’s going on is low, so the experience becomes uninteresting or frankly boring. There are some things that I’ve watched that I’ve understood so little of that I wondered if I wasn’t totally wasting my time. Then again, thinking back on my experiences at AUA, particularly with AT3 and AT5, I realize that I may have to watch several hundred hours of TV and movies before my comprehension abilities come up to where I currently am in AT5 (which itself is still a ways from where I want to be).

I also feel that a lot of the stuff I’m watching would not be terribly compelling even if I understood the language perfectly. Since the ability to absorb the language depends on paying attention, and since the ability to pay attention is related to the level of interest, this could end up being a fairly big limitation on using video as language learning material.

I’m also not getting in as many hours of video watching as I’d at first envisioned because I decided a couple weeks ago, strictly for financial reasons, to go for the bonus which AUA offers and which I’ve always gotten in the past: you get 50 free hours of class time if you manage to complete 200 hours within 8 weeks. So averaging 25 hours a week in class will leave me with a lot less time and energy for watching Thai language movies and TV at home.

So far, since the year started, I’ve gotten in an average of 1.25 hours of video per day (the actual number of hours for particular days has varied from one to over four and a half, except for the days when I didn’t watch at all). And despite what I’ve written above about boredom, I have managed to sustain a moderate level of interest for a lot of what I’ve watched, and have found a few things that were really interesting. So here’s a bit of a rundown on what I’ve been watching, how interesting I’ve found it, and what my comprehension was like.

I’ve watched more movies than TV, so I’ll start with TV.

I’ve watched news shows a number of times and I find them very hard to understand – I often won’t know much more than the general topic that is being covered, for instance, that the story is about water levels in the rivers, or about a drug bust. I’ve wondered if my low comprehension isn’t due at least in part to the style of delivery – news is read very rapidly with few pauses, and seems closer to monotone (ie, is less emotionally expressive) than many other instances of spoken language. Also, the visuals (whether video or still images) don’t seem to convey very much information vis-à-vis the subject matter.

I’ve also seen a couple shows that were more documentary in nature (concerning production of traditional Thai crafts and food products), and these were slightly easier to understand. One show that was really easy to understand was a show that taught small children basic safety, like how to cross the street, how to use a fire extinguisher – but it was so boring that I don’t know if I would watch this level of programming again. And then just yesterday I watched some of an American show (dubbed into Thai) about mining for gold in Alaska – but I understood little beyond the most basic generalities, was bored, and turned it off after a half hour.

Most of the Thai TV that I’ve watched has been lakorn – the Thai equivalent of a soap opera. It’s definitely easier to understand and more interesting than news and documentary shows. For one thing, the language seems closer to the way people usually speak than the rapid-fire near-monotone of the news. For another, I think it’s easier to guess what’s going on, in that the emotional level of interactions is fairly obvious, even if the content is not: for example, it’s easy to understand that two characters don’t like each other and that one is trying to snub the other, even if I understand little of the particulars of what’s being said. Also, both characters and plot seem fairly simple and straightforward.

I’ve basically been watching one particular lakorn, Maneesawat (มณีสวาท), which is on two hours a night, two nights a week, so familiarity with the story and characters probably aids my ability to comprehend what’s going on. And the fact that the show has elements that are specific to Thai society and culture probably makes it more interesting for me than, say, a roughly equivalent American soap dubbed into Thai.

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