Friday, August 12, 2011

Learning Thai

I'm writing this instead of studying Thai but I want to get back to  that soon because I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would. It's a challenge to apply myself to a new field of study. It's been a long time since I've tried to learn anything new. I once quite liked working with computers and software but the thrill in that has long gone. Now, I'm like almost everyone else out there -- I just want to use my computer as a tool. Now that I've said it, I guess I'll be held to task if for some reason I cannot learn this difficult language. I'm going to give it an honest try though. Luckily there are a ton of language resources in the Internet to help me. Many of those resources include sound files to help with the pronunciation. Several knowledgeable people I've asked suggested that the best way to learn the language is to learn to read it first. Wow, that's huge!

I've spent about 8 months in Thailand since I first went there in February of last year, enough time to suggest that I would really benefit from learning to speak at least a bit of Thai. Their  spoken language is especially baffling to the novice because unlike European languages it uses tones to determine the meaning of words. The example I always use to demonstrate this is the short, simple word which we can spell phonetically as maa. Said straight out with a flat tone of voice it means "come" (to reach, arrive). However if you say it with a rising tone, which sounds like you're asking a question, it means dog. Said with a falling tone it means horse. These rising and falling tones are what give the Thai language it's sing-song effect. There are countless words like this one. Another example, and one that could get you in trouble, is taken from a blog entry written by an American I've been emailing with lately, Stephen Cleary, who teaches Thai in my neighborhood in Bangkok. He uses the example of a farang who asks a Bangkok cabbie to take him to a shop where he can buy a ticket for some event or for transport. The Thai word for "ticket" is tua and is pronounced with a rising tone. If however, he were to incorrectly use a falling tone, then tua means body. The cabbie might end up taking you to a shop where you can buy "body", perhaps to a certain kind of massage parlor.

To make matters worse Thai characters are like nothing I've ever seen before and the Thai alphabet contains 44 consonants and 11 vowels. Returning to my example above, the word maa is written like this in Thai script:  มา, while horse is written ม้า. The little "hook" over the "m" is important but at my level, I haven't reached the place in my studies where I've yet seen it in use. The first character in both words sounds like our letter "m" while the second is a vowel that essentially adds a long "aa" to the base sound. Incidentally, the Thai character for "n" is . And there are 42 others to become familiar with (moan).

Stephen suggested I start by learning to read what is essentially a Thai nursery rhyme. After all, I'm really much like a baby when it comes to this new language. Might as well start off like one. The story is called Manee and Friends and is more or less a Thai version of the Dick and Jane stories I read as a small child in first grade, that is, a story composed of simple short sentences made up of very easy, common words. You can see the first chapter if you follow this link: Manee Chapter One or just look at a screen shot of a small portion of Lesson 3 below:

I also bought a Talking Thai-English dictionary that runs on a computer, one that pronounces Thai words correctly. I already own the paperback version of this dictionary but this one with it's well integrated sound files is much more useful. Here's a screen shot of the entry for "come". I also pulled up the Font Samples entry for this word so you can get an idea of the various ways the word might appear in handwriting, newspapers or signs. The dictionary is available as a 275 Mb download for about $30 from Paiboon Publishing and Word-in-the-Hand! Its authors are the well known Benjawan Poomsan Becker as well as Chris Pirazzi,and the website is here: Word in the Hand. Of course, when I'm in Bangkok Nut will be a huge help as I slowly progress in my studies.

So far in about 12 hours at my desk I've only covered four lessons in the Manee book. But in addition to my reading I've made flash cards, alphabet cards, looked up many words in the Talking Dictionary, done a ton of reading about the Thai language online, and made tentative arrangements to study with Stephen when I get to Bangkok next month. To get only the briefest glimpse of what's available online in the area of learning Thai, check out this very helpful site: Women Learning Thai...

Leaving aside my Thai studies for a while, today I gave away my Lazyboy recliner. I have spent countless hours in this chair, both reading and napping, in the years I've owned it. I bought it at a yard sale back in the mid 90s and the fact that I'm giving it to a friend has some significance. I'm really not sure at this point if I'll come back to Alaska next summer. No, I'm not ready to move to Thailand but I do want to spend the spring in Europe and part of the summer with friends and relatives in the "lower 48".  If I end up buying that nice van I want, there won't be room for most of this "stuff" I've been hanging onto for all these years. I've been, as I said before, giving away, selling, and otherwise compressing my belongings all summer. Having lived quite well out of two suitcases for 9 months last year I had to ask myself why I find it so necessary to keep all this stuff in my life. So, the chair must go. And the lamps, the extra clothing and all those books I've been moving around for years. I've read them once and will not read them again so why the hell keep them? So it goes. It will be weird staying here on that last day before my flight. This cabin must be totally empty by September 10th. I leave Alaska on the 11th.

Summer is rapidly winding down up here on Diamond Ridge although it's a perfect morning right now. It looks as though I'll get down to the courts to hit balls with my machine later today. Last Saturday, however, was brutal with windy, rainy, cold weather. Many of my friends went to an outdoor concert in Ninilchik that weekend but I was happy to stay in my cabin watching the cold rain slash the trees in the meadow. A few entries back I included a shot of the sky at midnight. Here is a shot of the same skyline a month later and an hour and a half earlier in the evening. Clearly, the long days of summer are inexorably morphing into the short days of winter.

Sunset Aug 9, 2011 - 10:30 pm

I hope all of you are doing well. And thanks for reading.