For about a year and a half now, language learning has been my favorite way to relax.
Every morning, after waking, I eat breakfast, drink coffee, and study language for an hour or two. It sets my mood to ‘calm’ for the day. If I get overwhelmed or stressed out with life or work- my preferred remedy is to sit down with the language books.
Something about the process of language acquisition must set the brain into a calming state. Or at least it’s that way for me. I’m sure, in part, the complete lack of deadline or purpose helps…it’s not like this is schoolwork or homework.
But onto the details:
Thai has proved, no surprise, MUCH MUCH more difficult that German. After a couple months studying german, I could partake in simple conversation, and write daily in past and future tense in my journal. Far from perfect, but intelligible.
For about the first month of studying Thai I just focused on learning the alphabet, reading, and writing. It’s a more complex system than ours, as I described before and, of course, just learning a new alphabet is tough.
Furthermore, Thai doesn’t use word spacing (!) and many of their words are really compounds. i.e.:
shop-cut-hair = barbershop
shirt-keep-out-cold = sweater
large-building-car = garage
and so on. In a way, it’s nice, because you can try to guess what new words mean. The tricky part is figuring out where the new words begin and end since they are all clumped together.
(that reads: I wear a sweater to the barber shop and my car is in the garage.)
Another kind of amazing feature of the language- and I’ve heard this is kinda common in asian languages, though thai has a special abundance of them- is the numerical classifier. I’m not even going to try to attempt to explain what it is, but you can mentally compare it to needing to learn a different way to say “the” or “a/an” for every single noun. There’s a better explanation of this part of language here: Thai-Language.com (my favorite online dictionary.)
One really cool thing about Thai is that there are lots of online, super-comprehensive language learning tools. Excellent dictionaries, online tv, etc. I just found this site the other day, written by a native-english speaking woman living in Bangkok- and her awesome list of free online resources: womenlearnthai.com.
So far, my approach to studying has been:
1. learn to read and write the alphabet, even without knowing hardly any language.
2. study with an SRS (I use Mnemosyne)
3. Rosetta Stone level 1 (the only level available. I used Pimsleur levels 1-3 for German and prefer it; I think it better prepares you for conversation. But I wanted to see what Rosetta stone was like. Both systems are really expensive.)
4. Thai for Intermediate Learners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker- going through the lessons and doing a lot of handwriting
5. Thai, an Essential Grammar by David Smyth – just reading this one.
6. Newest tactic: just listening to thai TV, even though I can’t understand a thing- at fukduk.tv
7. reading blogs about thai culture and current events at www.bangkokpost.com -to stay inspired.
Final thought: as I’ve mentioned, my non-arts schooling post 9th grade was minimal, and while I tend to speak and write english well, I have no idea how to identify parts of speech, let alone diagram a sentence. Trying to understand subject/ object/ indirect object (necessary to speak German correctly) has proved REALLY difficult. verbs and nouns I’ve got down, :) -but structures like cases (in german, nominative, dative, accusative, genitive) have been a mystery. I was always trying to understand them through my understanding of english- and it wasn’t until my Mom explained this last month- english doesnt even have cases.
thai doesn’t either, thankfully.