15 June 2013; AT5 = 1036 hours; total time = 1974 hours; TV = 196.2 hours
Yesterday I finished my fourth complete lakorn, the 12 episode Sawan Bieng (สวรรค์เบี่ยง) (2008 version). I felt like I was understanding a significantly greater amount of the dialogue between characters than I had in previous lakorns; in fact, there was a lot of information that I was getting in terms of plot development, relationships between the characters, etc, that was available only from the dialogue.
I’ve ended up watching a few movies over the last week or so at times when my internet connection was down and I was unable to watch lakorns on YouTube. I note once again that movies are generally harder to understand than lakorn. I’m guessing there are three main reasons why this is so. One is the sheer length of a lakorn, which means that as you watch it you’re building up an ongoing context – what’s going on plotwise, motivation and relationships between characters, etc – that makes it easier to figure out what’s happening. Whereas the typical movie is only an hour and a half to two hours long, the lakorns that I’ve been watching have ranged from 12 to 20 episodes of about 95 minutes each. In terms of time, at the point that a movie is ending, a lakorn is just getting started; in the time that it takes to watch one complete lakorn, you could probably watch at least a dozen movies, but the movie-watching would be a more discontinuous experience – with each new movie, it’s a whole new situation, whereas with a lakorn it’s the same situation being developed slowly and repetitiously over a long stretch of time.
The second reason relates to the hyperemotionality of lakorns. The high degree of emotion can help you understand what’s going on (ie, how is this character reacting, how are they relating to the other characters?) and can also help sustain interest even in scenes that are incomprehensible in terms of the language.
The third reason is that characters in lakorns are fairly obvious in terms of their nature, motivations, and intentions with regard to other characters. It’s easy to see things like, this person is jealous of that person, these two people hate each other, x is in love with y, a is deceiving b, and so on. This goes back in part to reason two above (the emotionality of lakorns – and their characters), but it also relates to a style of acting in which the actors use facial expression to telegraph their characters’ true feelings and intentions to the viewer. Also, you can often tell whether someone is “good” or “bad” just by looking at things like hairstyle, makeup, and how they dress.
All of this helps make it easier to figure out what’s going on, and to remain engaged with the show even when you can’t understand what’s being said.
I’m starting to realize that lakorns present a very different language situation than do AUA classes, and this has to do with lakorns consisting mostly of dialogue between characters, whereas AUA classes – at least at the advanced levels – consist of monologue.
I’ve heard that in theory AUA classes are supposed to always have two teachers, but at least since I’ve been there they’ve never had enough staff to do this. The lower level classes (AT1 and AT2) tend to get two teachers, but the more advanced AT3 and AT5 usually get just one. This means that students in AT3 and AT5 don’t get much exposure to conversation between people. It’s something that I’ve never really thought about with regards to English, but the language that you use when delivering a monologue isn’t quite the same as the language used when engaging in dialogue. (However it’s entirely possible that some of the new language I’m picking up from lakorns is stuff I’d never get in the classroom even if AT5 were always taught with two teachers).
A few examples occur to me. One is asking with concern if something’s going on, akin to asking “what’s the matter?” or perhaps “is anything the matter?” in English. Another is politely excusing yourself when leaving others – this coming specifically from the many (many!) scenes in Sawan Bieng that take place in the hospital after someone’s been injured or had an episode of what seems to be stress angina after confrontation with another character; etc, etc! Anyway it’s the doctor who, after giving a quick update on the patient’s condition, formally excuses himself before walking away. And the other bit of language that I’m starting to get has to do with certain ways of referring to someone else – I guess these are pronouns? (The ways that you refer to people in Thai differs markedly from, and is much more varied than, the English “equivalents”, and it’s one of the things about Thai that I’m really fascinated by). Anyway, there are some words that the characters use to address one another that I’m hearing over and over in lakorns that I hadn’t heard, or at least hadn’t noticed, elsewhere.
I’d hesitate to use some of these new words / terms at this point – they’re still kind of unclear for me, I feel uncertain as to when they’d be appropriate or not – but they’ve come up on my radar and I’m hearing (and starting to understand) them now.
In contrast to my lakorn watching, there’s class at AUA. Since going on a tourist visa back in late april, I’ve basically been taking a break from school, but this week I did a few hours of class just for a change of pace. It’s hard to tell if anything has really changed for me – I follow what’s going on in class fairly well and hardly ever get lost in terms of the overall meaning, but there are still plenty of words that I don’t know; but that’s been pretty much my experience in class for a number of months now. What I have noticed is that the language in class feels somewhat less “dense” than the language in lakorns. By “density” of language, I mean a feeling of the words being crowded together, being literally dense. Obviously this is a very subjective feeling, and I think it’s coming partly from speed – literally, how fast is the person speaking – but also from the proportion of language being used that I don’t know or don’t really understand. My overall impression is that compared to AT5, the language in lakorns is both faster and has a higher proportion of words that I don’t know. In other words, it’s a more advanced language situation.
Also, I think I’m finding the lakorns more interesting than class at this point; they’re certainly more dramatic (though I have suffered through some that really dragged – I found the last three to four episodes of Sawan Bieng increasingly boring, and there are other lakorns that I’ve sampled but stopped watching because they just didn’t hold much interest for me).
As a kind of experiment, I recently watched about 15 to 20 minutes of an AT3 class that’s posted online. If AT5 language is less “dense” than lakorn language, the language used in this AT3 video was pretty “thin” (undense, uncrowded) in the sense of both being slower paced and containing very few unknown words. I understood virtually everything, with the meanings of some words that I didn’t know being completely clear due to the surrounding context. This is similar to what I remember of my experience watching an AT2 video at some point early on in AT5.
On a side note, and probably only of interest to AUA students: AUA changed the names of the classes a few weeks ago. Instead of AT1, AT2, AT3-4, and AT5-10, there are now Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced level classes, all with further subdivisions (ie Advanced levels are A1, A2, A3, and A4). I’m kind of fuzzy on how this works, I think that the subdivisions are being used to more precisely rate students in terms of language proficiency; but in practice, only the Beginner level class is occasionally broken up into two separate classes (B1-B2 sometimes being separate from B3-B4), and the Intermediate and Advanced levels are often combined. Just looking at the current schedule – the first that uses the new scheme – I don’t see any real practical difference in terms of how classes are held; I’m guessing that B1-B2 is the same as AT1, B3-B4 is AT2, Intermediate is AT3-4, and Advanced is AT5-10. If anything, this schedule seems to have more combined classes (ie, B1-4, or Intermediate+Advanced) than previous schedules, which I’m guessing is due to there not being enough teachers. In any event, I now attend the Advanced class instead of AT5 (or sometimes the Intermediate-Advanced class instead of AT3-4+AT5-10), but for simplicity’s sake I’m going to continue to use the term “AT5” when referring to the number of hours that I’ve done at the current level.