For those busting your backside to learn Thai language

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Dale1
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#1 For those busting your backside to learn Thai language

Postby Dale1 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 11:49 am

This fun and relevant read appears in Sunday's BKK Post .... I will try to remember to post chapter two next week.

Thai class flummoxes a university's pride and joy
Memories of early attempts to untangle this twisting tongue By Andrew Biggs

4/02/2018

I have a great story to tell you that will appeal to any non-Thai currently doing battle with learning the Thai language. My life turned a full circle this week as I began a teaching gig at Ramkhamhaeng University Demonstration School. A gaggle of my best teachers are there conducting an extended English camp, and on day one I went to the school to show my face and chat to the students.

It was also very emotional, as it was a return to my Thai language roots.

This school is attached to Ramkhamhaeng University, naturally. What other university would it be attached to? It is named after King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who 700 years ago ruled the kingdom of Sukhothai and is credited with thinking up the Thai alphabet. His statue can be found right in the middle of a roundabout at the centre of the university. It is the one royal image I often finding myself lighting joss sticks in front of to this day -- for a reason I am about to explain.

If the cute and well-behaved students of Ramkhamhaeng University Demonstration School find English hard to grasp, they should spare a thought for every non-Thai who has ever considered seriously learning the Thai language. Thanks to its tone rules, lack of spaces between words and my beloved Siamese King's vast, elongated Thai alphabet -- all 44 consonants, and that's not counting the 32 vowels -- the Thai language is daunting, frustrating and elusive.

For my own experience in learning the language, we need to travel back in time to 1995. I had been in Thailand for five years and was at a level of Thai considered acceptable but not brilliant. And so, in my typical style, I decided to go straight for the jugular. I applied to study Thai at university.

I chose Ramkhamhaeng University because there were a lot of graduates at the office, and they seemed to be hard-working people. Ramkhamhaeng at the time was the world's largest semi-open university with some 300,000 students learning out of textbooks and/or in classrooms. That figure has since gone down thanks to the dwindling number of young Thais and the proliferation of universities over the last decade.

Ramkhamhaeng serves a very useful purpose in Thai society, because anyone who has completed Grade 12 can study there. There is no entrance test. Every Thai knows the saying: "Ramkhamhaeng University: Easy to enter, difficult to leave." I know that sounds like a Twilight Zone episode, but what it means is getting a degree from this university requires discipline and time management, something we all lack at times.

I was the first westerner ever to apply to study at Ramkhamhaeng. I was on page one of Thai newspapers on the day I applied to be a student. There I was, pictured receiving my student ID card. It was fun to be the centre of attention for once, and I walked out of that university feeling like I was on top of the world.

When I opened the textbooks, I came crashing back to earth.

There is a subject in first year that all Thai students fear. It's called English 101. It's all that really interesting stuff in English, like how to conjugate verbs and the 12 tenses of English plus conditional tenses and -- I know, I've lost you already. Just the thought of that subject scares the living daylights out of every first year Thai student.

Except for me.

I was probably the first student that went into the final exam without ever having opened the textbook. I breezed through the 100 questions, even quietly ignoring the ones that had no correct answers, and left early.

There was another mandatory first-year subject, but the feeling towards that subject was vastly different. Thai students giggled at how easy it was. That subject was Thai 101, or basic Thai grammar stuff they had all learned since they were toddlers.

Except for me.

I will never forget the day I opened the Thai 101 textbook for the first time and saw the myriad rules and regulations governing the Thai language. I felt betrayed.

I'd always been told there were no rules to Thai -- no tenses, no plurals, nothing but nice easy one-syllable words. You could put words in any order as long as you smiled or performed a traditional Thai dance as you spoke.

Suddenly I realised this wasn't true. Suddenly I was confronted with 16 different ways to refer to oneself … another 14 or so to refer to "you" … and the most difficult thing of all, the Royal Language used specifically for the monarch. And I was expected to know all this!

The Royal Language scared me the most. It was difficult enough to remember "walk" as dern. Now I had to know that it was praratchadamnern when referring to royalty. Granted it was lovely to the ear, but like a plate of bad somtam, the knowledge went in one end and out the other. Nothing stuck in my brain.

As examination day drew closer, I got the sinking feeling I wasn't going to pass Thai 101. What a terrible loss of face. Here I was, the apple of the uni's eye, their first farang studying there, with all eyes on me … and I was going to fail. I had sleepless nights planning ways of getting out of the test, like stepping in front of a bus on Ramkhamhaeng Road. I didn't want to kill myself, but I would have been happy to be critically injured.

My idea of studying Thai at university level was crazy. I should have spent my nights doing what every other expat does in this city; sitting in Patpong bars, gyrating on a bar stool at Nana Plaza or even sitting in the audience of the latest Bangkok Community Theatre production. Anything was better than being inside the pages of that Thai 101 textbook!

One week before the exam I got a call from my friend Taweesak, who worked at the university.

"So how are you feeling?" he asked.

I couldn't hold back my feelings. "Terrible!" I ejaculated.

"Why? What's happened?"

"It's this subject … TH101. I can't remember the information. Who could possibly learn 16 different ways of saying "I"? One week to the test and I know I'm gonna fail. And I'm going to look bad, and everybody in the whole country's going to know the truth that I'm actually pretty stupid and ..."

Taweesak was laughing by this stage. There is nothing quite as infuriating as a laughing Thai in a moment of crisis, despite their best of intentions, but before I could berate him he said: "Relax. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Here at Ramkhamhaeng, we have a special way to ensure you will pass your subject."

Being a cynical Australian, I immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. "How much do I put in the envelope? How do I get it to the teacher?"

"Nothing like that," he said. "I'm going to make you do something I'm sure no foreigner has ever done before. But it will make you pass. Just meet me outside the statue of King Ramkhamhaeng tomorrow at midday."

And with that, Taweesak hung up.

I am going to reveal to you, dear reader, what I had to do to ensure I would pass. But alas, we are at the end of the page. The thrilling climax to this story -- which involves me embarrassing myself during a clandestine midnight meeting -- shall be revealed next week.

daherk
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#2 Re: For those busting your backside to learn Thai language

Postby daherk » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:50 pm

I love Andrew Biggs column and always find it enjoyable and a fun read in the BKK Post. He's lived in Thailand for a long time and tells the greatest stories without pulling a punch.

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stkyricesf
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#3 Re: For those busting your backside to learn Thai language

Postby stkyricesf » Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:09 am

I hope you continue this thread. The Thai language has always fascinated me and of course could never master.

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thaiworthy
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#4 Re: For those busting your backside to learn Thai language

Postby thaiworthy » Mon Feb 12, 2018 1:16 pm

Dale1 wrote:Suddenly I was confronted with 16 different ways to refer to oneself … another 14 or so to refer to "you" … and the most difficult thing of all, the Royal Language used specifically for the monarch. And I was expected to know all this!

I wouldn't have named this thread ". . . busting your backside to learn Thai . . . " It is more akin to jumping off a cliff in this context. Especially for those among us " . . . sitting in Patpong bars, gyrating on a bar stool at Nana Plaza . . .' as Andrew Biggs states.

He runs his own language school. Biggs completed a bachelor's degree in the Thai language at Ramkhamhaeng University in 2002. This story could have been anecdotal, but is seemingly based on some experience from those years past. It seems as if he enjoys a challenge. In his own charming way, it might be he'd want us to think he's busting something, but that's doubtful.*

This and the latest article are an interesting and entertaining read. But let's not delude ourselves into thinking that most farang among us are really busting our backside to learn how to say "How much do you cost? Is that for the whole night?" in phasaa thay.

The point is Andrew is in a class of his own. Finding difficulty is just part of the story. That is where the humor lies. Those really busting our geriatric backsides, in contrast, are struggling with failing eyesight and unable to see the tiny differences between so soh and cho chang in tiny, tiny type. And don't get me started on poor hearing in a crowded room. Now that's struggling.

--

*In July 2007 on Thai Language Day, the Thai Government's Ministry of Culture awarded Andrew Biggs Excellent User of the Thai Language. It was the first time the award had been given to a foreigner, and it attracted a lot of attention.
"Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things." --George Carlin


Dale1
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#6 Re: For those busting your backside to learn Thai language

Postby Dale1 » Tue Feb 20, 2018 7:17 am

Thanks Christian for the link ...as promised, I posted the piece in full
here on Gaybutton on 11 February


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