Signs of Progress + My Old Friend, English (8 Feb 2013)

8 February 2013; AT5 = 812 hours; total time = 1750 hours; TV =  54.1 hours

I’ll start this entry by noting a couple things that I take to be signs of my making progress with Thai, and that actually happened around the time that I wrote the last entry.

The first was that I got through a ten minute phone conversation, all in Thai. I really dread having to speak on the phone in Thai; past telephone conversations have basically gone like this:

Thai person: blahblahblahblahblah (in Thai)

<awkward silence>

me: mai cow chai (Thai for “(I) don’t understand”)

This time though, I basically understood what the other person was saying, and they seemed to have no problems understanding me – the conversation went back and forth pretty smoothly, albeit with the other person having to rephrase every once in a while when I didn’t understand. Also, the subject matter was fairly simple – wishing each other a happy new year, my inquiring about a mutual friend, being asked about future travel plans, questions about America, etc. Still, I would consider any conversation that lacks visuals to be quite challenging, and this went well.

The other thing that happened was that I dropped in on a political rally that was going on in my neighborhood and found that I could understand the gist of a speech that was being given (basically, to use taxes to improve health care, education, and retirement benefits). This was a definite first, though I think it was actually the first time I’ve heard (or really listened to) a political speech in Thai. Also, it might be the case that the speaker was employing fairly easy-to-understand language; I say this because I understand a lot less in two situations that to me seem roughly comparable to listening to a political speech: watching the news on TV, and listening to a talk being given at a Buddhist temple.

So, I also recently took a trip to Laos, where I used some English, but mainly Thai, to communicate. Thai and Laos are related languages, and the Laotians seemed to have no problem understanding my Thai. My understanding of Lao, however, is way lower than my understanding of Thai, but I often did get the main idea of what people were saying to me.

Classes at AUA: I think it’s been a long time now since I felt totally lost in class; I can consistently follow the main ideas being presented, and to a fairly decent level of detail. Nonetheless, I feel like I’m still quite far from a word-by-word understanding of what’s being said; there’s still a lot of stuff going by that I can’t quite catch; I hear a lot of words that I either don’t know or only have a vague idea of what they mean – this includes words that I’ve been hearing for quite some time; and overall, my level of understanding still feels vaguer than what I remember having achieved at the end of AT3. I think there’s still a lot I can pick up from classes at AUA, so I plan to keep attending.

Things going on with the learning process itself:

Even though I’ve been immersed in ALG-style learning for over a year and a half now, there’s still that voice in the back of my head that pops up quite often and spits out English translations, either of individual Thai words, or of whole phrases and sentences. Basically, I just try to ignore that voice and disengage from it. It seems like sometimes I get really absorbed in the situation (ie, the class I’m attending or the movie that I’m watching) and then usually that voice isn’t there. I think that observing, analyzing, processing, and commenting on my experiences via English, my native language, is probably really deeply ingrained because I’ve been doing it for so long and because that voice is used to being “on” almost all the time. Even though ALG, unlike other language learning methodologies, not only does not try to take advantage of that English language voice (ie, via translation), but actually ignores that voice – even so, that voice just has a tendency to turn up, like an appliance whose faulty switch sometimes turns to the “on” position all by itself.

I suppose from the standpoint of ALG, the main problem with learning a second language is having a first language to fall back upon, instead of dealing with the second language on its own terms. I guess it’s only a problem insofar as you actually use your first language to try to get a handle on the language you’re trying to learn. However, I have noticed instances of “interference” between English (and other languages that I am somewhat familiar with) and Thai – I’d like to write more about this topic in a future entry.

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