September 18, 2007

Get to know your blogger

I've been tagged for an internet meme. A while ago, in fact, but I'm only now getting around to responding. I'm supposed to post eight "random" facts about myself. Scott Imig, whose blog Journey to Thai I've read and enjoyed for a while now, did the tagging.

So here are 8 facts about me:

1. I'm 24.
2. I'm married with a kid on the way.
3. I have a B.A. from Dartmouth College.
4. I've lived 3 of the past 5 years in Thailand.
5. Studying language is what I want to do for a living.
6. Thai is my language of expertise. I've been studying it since May 2002.
7. I'm mostly self-taught in Thai. I had a two-month crash course in Thai, before I ever set foot in Thailand.
8. I am fascinated by dictionaries and want to be the Noah Webster of Thailand. That is, I want my contribution to be a modern lexicographic work of significance. Looking back in ten, twenty, fifty years, I might chuckle at myself. With any luck, though, I'll smile with the satisfaction of completing what I set out (oh-so-naively) to do. Cue that song from the Muppet Movie, "life's like a movie, write your own ending..."

I'm going to decline to tag anyone else, because I don't like chain-letter-type things. But feel free to carry on the meme, if you please.


  1. Thai is my language of expertise. I've been studying it since May 2002.

    Language of expertise? After six years, you can hardly call yourself an expert.

    I hope you make a point of telling foreigners the same thing, when they ask if you are 'fluent' yet.

  2. Would you be happier if I had written "specialty"? It's my area of specialized study, basically full time for six years. It's my area of relative expertise. I'm not a world expert (yet).

    One can learn a lot in six years of focused study. I don't know anywhere near everything, and I'm not trying to intentionally overstate my skills. However, I do communicate and interact at a fairly high level on a daily basis. I read, write and speak Thai without difficulty (that doesn't mean perfectly--I learn things every day).

    Could it be you're overestimating the difficulty of the language?

    Also, I'm not sure what you mean in your last line. Why exactly should I make a point of telling foreigners how long I've studied the language?

  3. Westerners who know that a foreigner lives in Thailand often ask if the foreigner is 'fluent' in the language, because they assume that after living here a while he must pick it up.

    Fluency is measured in many different ways, as I am sure you are aware. The catch-all term 'fluent' can't do the job of measuring how well someone performs as a second-language learner, because it's not absolute.

    I was joking, really, as I am sure you do not claim you are 'fluent'. Personally, I think that privilege belongs to a native speaker.

    Your assertion that you read, write and speak without difficulty (albeit not perfectly) tells me all I need to know.

    If I was in any doubt, I need only look at the intellectual content of your posts.

    I have a foreign friend whose Thai reading skills are not strong, and cannot write Thai, but speaks the language every day in his workplace, where he is the only foreigner present. He designs electronics goods, markets them, sells them, repairs them, and tells people how to use them...all in Thai.

    You say you study full-time. I would have much more faith in the fruit of your studies if I knew you were in a learning environment which forced you to learn. Ever studied a practical book in Thai on electronics, or engineering? Cooking? Aerobics?

    If you are not forced to put it to use, or making practical, every-day use of what you have learned, it just doesn't go in the same way, does it? You have to tell yourself over and over again to be a diligent student - and even then the words might not go in.

    There's a world of Thai learning out there - six years does not even come close.

    And the sad thing is, you will never be the perfect student - no one is. In some areas, you will excel, in others you will lag. It's just the way we are.

  4. I meant to reply to your comment long before this. Anyway, here goes.

    Actually, I do characterize myself as fluent. By your definition, fluent = native, and clearly that's not how most people understand it. If we compare it to the Thai word คล่อง, I have no qualms about saying I can speak คล่อง, and Thais often say the same thing (which is less likely to be polite flattery than saying you speak ชัด, wouldn't you say?).

    This isn't meant to overestimate or exaggerate my skill level. Simply to say that in my experience, fluent means something like 'able to converse with ease'--Merriam-Webster says 'capable of using a language easily and accurately'. I think that's a fair description of me. Or were you joking again?

    Also, when I said 'basically full time', I meant that I am always in a learning situation, not that I do a lot of formal study. I try to read a lot. I read academic articles in both languages, and work for a research center on projects related to Thai language pedagogy, lexicography, epigraphy, and other things related to Thai linguistics. So it both enables and forces me to be continually learning.

    I also read for leisure, mostly short novels and short stories. I tend to start longer Thai books and never finish them, but not because I can't understand them, more because there's so much stuff competing for my attention.

    Your assessment is correct, and I'm not trying to boast or even defend myself. Just explaining, I guess. So there you go. Now y'all know even more about me. :P