Steps Taken Toward Reading Thai: 2014 Summary

5 January 2015, TV = 1034.6 hours

I really enjoy tearing things down in detail, and going into the minutiae of my encounters and collisions with the Thai language. I only get to write about a fraction of the things that I’d like to, and I usually have vague sketches of ideas or even whole posts knocking about in my head. But sometimes it’s hard to get down in words the things that I most want to write about.

Well, the main impetus for my even starting this blog was to document what AUA’s ALG Thai program is like, and to try to give some idea of how well it works in terms of actually learning Thai. And then as things progressed and I began learning more outside of school — and at present it’s been a year since I last attended classes at AUA — the goal shifted slightly, or perhaps grew to encompass writing about using ALG’s “no study / no practice” approach outside the classroom setting as well.

Anyway, the point is that I want this blog to, whatever else it does, document some of the major aspects of learning Thai via ALG both within and beyond AUA classes; but I’ve kind of gotten behind in terms of describing my learning to read. So I’ve decided to list some of the steps I took toward being literate in Thai over the course of 2014, in a kind of summary form without too much detail. Some of these are things that I’ve already posted about, but some aren’t, and though I’d really like to explore these new points in more detail, I’m not sure that I’ll ever get around to doing so — so at least, here’s the quick rundown:

April: I discover that I can use google translate in reverse (i.e., going from English to Thai) to look up Thai words that I already know from the spoken language; as a result, I start using some (fairly limited) written Thai in blog posts, online chats, etc. (See A Very Short Message and How I’m Using Written Thai Even Though I’m Only Protoliterate).

May: Attending chanting and sitting meditation services at Buddhist Wats (temples), for the first time I try following along in the chant book — and find that I am able to do so. The chants are mostly in Pali, the liturgical and scriptural language of Theravadan Buddhism (the predominant form of Buddhism in Thailand). Pali is not Thai, though Thai has borrowed a lot of words from Pali; but it is written (at least here in Thailand) with Thai letters. Anyway, sometimes I can follow really closely — down to the exact syllable — while at other times it’s more approximate, with me  keeping up with the current word or phrase that’s being chanted.

June: I buy my first book, a children’s book called หมูน้อยขี้หวง. It’s aimed at three year olds, and is part of the same series as กระรอกน้อย ไม่มีระเบียบ, which I blogged about in โครม! I can recognize/read most of the words (maybe around 90%?), though reading it aloud is a little difficult — the reading aloud process somehow messes with my pronunciation. I subsequently buy several more children’s books aiming at the same age group or maybe a little bit older, and I make recordings of a Thai friend reading them, which I then listen to when I feel like it (i.e., not too diligently!). I also go through a couple of the books in more detail with the same friend, who explains to me some of the words that I don’t know. Then for several months, though I sometimes listen to the recordings, I pretty much ignore the books themselves.

June/July: I start in on learning the Thai alphabet; my goal at first is just to learn the names of the letters, and I assume that this will eventually help me in figuring out what sounds the letters stand for. I mainly watch short videos on youtube that are aimed at young Thai kids (see กขฃ — Music (etc) Videos and some of the following posts), but then also start using computer apps, which leads me to playing around with some of the Thai vowels as well (see More กขฃ: Fun ‘N’ Games With พยัญชนะ — And สระไทย Too). After gaining some familiarity with the Thai consonants, I start to practice writing them out (see กขฃ — Writing Out The พยัญชนะไทย).

Probably around the same time I start to occasionally watch AUA’s reading and writing videos, as well as similar material from other sources, but eventually decide that I don’t want to go the route of learning the rules that explicitly describe the sounds that result from specific consonant-vowel (and other diacritical marks) combinations. Then at some point later in the year, I play around  a bit with the syllable section of the app mentioned above, which gives the sounds for certain monosyllabic words (i.e., consonant + vowel combos). Unfortunately, the app only has a fairly limited number of words, and I am unable to find an app that covers a more extensive set of vocabulary.

December: I start making lists of Thai words and practice writing them out. I choose words that I already know really well from the spoken language, taking their written forms from several sources, including my small collection of children’s books plus street signs and advertisements. During this process I end up going back and spending some more time with the actual books themselves, which I’d been ignoring for a while.

In late December I come across Sook, a Thai magazine which focuses on things such as healthy living, an environmentally conscious lifestyle, art and design, products and events, etc. I am surprised to find that I understand a very good percentage of the words — usually enough to get a decent idea of what an article (or advertisement) is about, and often with a fair amount of detail. There are even some things where I understand the majority of the words. And a few of the words are ones I recognize from the word-lists that I had just started practicing.

Also in late December, browsing books on the rack at a 7-11, I discover a series of small 39 baht books from the publisher Pailin. There are a variety of topics, and I read bits and pieces from a book on love and heartbreak, and another on ASEAN. Again, I am surprised at how much I understand, though it’s also true that I read sentences where, although I know a lot of the words used I still can’t figure out what’s going on.

* * *

I’ve posted before about how my reading isn’t “real reading”, but more of a recognizing-guessing at words, and how I’m highly dependent on context. I think that that’s still true, in that I cannot figure out the correct pronunciation of written Thai words that I don’t know (or cannot recognize) from spoken Thai. But what’s been changing is the nature of the context: before, I was more dependent on extra-textual or nonverbal context: pictures, say in advertisements; and the setting — for example, reading a menu I expect to encounter words having primarily to do with food and drink; or, expecting that street signs will deal with things like vehicles and speed.

Now although I’m still context-dependent, that context is largely supplied by words — i.e., words that I can already recognize. So now I’m often able to get things where there isn’t much of a “non-text context”, or where the accompanying pictures (etc) don’t relate very specifically to what’s actually written.

* * *

Summary of the summary: In 2014 I pretty much learned the Thai consonants and got more exposure to the other signs and characters (vowels etc) that written Thai uses. I began (sort of) reading simple children’s books but have recently made a tentative foray into fairly simple adult reading material. (I expect to heavily use children’s books for quite some time, but would also like to see what I can get away with in terms of dipping into the more adult-level stuff). I decided not to learn the system of rules for reading, but instead to continue with a more natural/intuitive approach to getting the hang of how the written language works, with one strategy being to learn (by practicing writing) the core set of Thai words that I’m already fluent in from the spoken language.

* * *

Note for anyone who has made it this far and is actually interested in reading further (!) about my experiences with reading, not reading, and postponing learning to read Thai: two posts from 2014 in which I really delved into these issues are How I’m Using Written Thai Even Though I’m Only Protoliterate and Still Thinking About Learning To Read; and a way-back post describing my initial decodings of the writing system was Fuzzy Comprehension in AT5 + Starting to Figure out the Writing System. Have fun! — I know I am!

5 thoughts on “Steps Taken Toward Reading Thai: 2014 Summary

  1. Nick

    It looks like you’ve had a really impressive year with learning Thai! I completely missed the crucial part where you started having fun with recognising the shapes of the Thai alphabet and playing an app to help you with this. It seems like that has opened a lot of doors to learning more about the culture.

    I’m actually teaching the Thai alphabet to my students here in Denmark at the moment, and I was looking for an activity exactly like this to bring a bit of fun into the process (it can be extremely daunting for them!).

    Good luck with learning Thai in 2015 โชคดีครับ ขอให้เรียนไทยแบบสนุกๆ

    1. adamf2011 Post author

      ขอบคุณครับ! I really like the Thai characters — they’re so cool looking — so สนุกสนาน 🙂

      Are your students basically the children of Thai expatriates/immigrants?

  2. Nick

    In the Copenhagen Thai community, the children of Thai expats and immigrants actually get taught by native Thai teachers. I teach in the ‘farang poot Thai’ class, teaching basic Thai to Danish adults. We cover a very similar syllabus to the kids classes, so they can strengthen the bond within their families and learn the same material together with their kids. It’s a really rewarding thing to do!

  3. Pingback: Acquiring New Words | learning thai without studying

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