25 June 2014, TV = 818.0 hours
I haven’t found music to be a very effective way of learning Thai, though maybe that will change in the future when my comprehension abilities have improved. I’m guessing that I’ve got quite a ways to go before I reach that point.
Before I came to Thailand I did a number of things to try to learn at least a little Thai (as I wrote about here), and listening to Thai music was one of them. I figured that at the very least, it would be a fun way to get used to how Thai sounded.
Well, I was right: it was fun, and I did, at least to a certain extent, start getting used to the way Thai sounded. But I don’t think it really did anything for me in terms of language learning.
Yeah, there were a very few words – I could count them on one hand or less – that I got to know in terms of their sounds, from having heard them so often; but I had no idea what they meant.
I didn’t really think about it at the time, but it now seems to me that the sound and the meaning of a word need to come together if the language is to really stick (and grow) in your mind. Listening to sound without being able to discern any meaning – even if it’s a limited set of sounds that are ordered in certain patterns, the way a language’s phonemes are strung together in certain ways and not others – didn’t really seem to lead anywhere, not even to the acquisition of just the sounds in and of themselves (other, that is, than the less-than-one-hand’s worth of words mentioned above).
And of course back at that point, I didn’t understand any Thai at all.
Well, my listening was just for fun and because there didn’t seem to be much else I could do to get going with Thai (short of, well, actually studying). I didn’t think it would hurt, but didn’t really expect much either and who knows, maybe it somehow did do some good. Or maybe it would have had more of a discernible effect if I’d kept it up for longer. Anyways….
Anyways, cut to the present: I don’t listen to all that much Thai music these days – maybe because my time and energy is taken up elsewhere (lakorn! lakorn!); but I do go through phases where I’m in the mood for it and do some listening – strictly for fun, though.
I’d say that my ability to understand the lyrics of Thai songs is pretty variable, the same way that my ability to understand TV shows or real-life Thai conversation is pretty variable. Sometimes I understand a fair amount, sometimes very little.
Some songs I hardly understand any of. I don’t think that’s so surprising, given that my Thai is really still quite limited. Especially when you consider that songs don’t come with much (if any) context or non-visual cues – even music videos often have imagery that doesn’t correlate very closely (if at all) with the lyrics.1 And – at least in English – songs often have poetic language, language that can be elliptical, allusive, indirect, non-standard, syntactically unusual, etc. – i.e., not the easiest language to understand. I’m assuming that at least some Thai songs are the same.
So there are a lot of songs I’ve heard where I understand words here and there, phrases here and there; I might even have some impressions of what the general theme(s) or topic(s) of the song are; there might be some details that stick out here and there. But it’s all very fragmentary; my understanding is pretty fragmentary.
Sometimes I have no idea what the song’s about. It depends.
But: there’s some Thai music that I really like. I listen to it just for enjoyment – I don’t expect to learn anything from it (though that would certainly be a nice bonus!).
The song used in the music video above is มาจากดิน by a woman named ต่าย อรทัย (Tai Orathai). This genre of music is called ลูกทุ่ง (lukthung); it originated in Isaan (the northeast) and is sometimes called “country music,” which might be accurate in terms of its having a folk origin, but is (I think) misleading if that term makes you think of U.S. country-western music – the two genres don’t sound at all alike to me.
(Or is this song หมอลำ [morlam]? I’m actually not clear on the difference between the two styles, and have the impression that most singers who employ one will sing in the other as well).
This is the only song that I can think of that I actually learned some Thai from. Maybe it was somewhere around roughly a year ago, I was listening to this song and realized oh, so that’s how you specify a certain quantity of bags. And then at some point later on, I heard someone (a “real life” someone, not a “music video” someone) using this construction – confirming for me that I had understood correctly.
So it was really just a tiny little instance of micro-learning, but notable because it took place within a language context that’s fairly challenging given my level of Thai. Also, it gives me an excuse – not that I really need one – to post a song that I really like onto my blog.
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1. I actually think the visuals in this particular music video correlate pretty well with the song’s overall theme – and at some moments, with its details – but I have to qualify that statement by admitting that my understanding of the lyrics is kind of sketchy/fragmentary at best.
(There are also a number of homemade videos for this song online, such as this one).