August 18, 2007

On the name of this blog

I'll admit, some might find the title of this blog, "Thai 101," misleading. But I have my reasons for naming it as such.

I consider myself a perpetual student of Thai. And by "Thai" I mean everything Thai. I've been studying the language since 2002, and I've lived in Thailand for 33 months out of those five years. Just shy of three years. (This sort of astounds me, too. Hardly seems that long.) And even if I've made progress in trying to master the language, I still find myself woefully lacking in many other aspects. The longer I'm here, the more I realize that there is a staggering amount I don't know about what we might term the Thai Experience--all those little things folks know that make a person a well-rounded, culturally literate member of Thai society. No two ways about it, I'm still a beginner.

Hence the name of the blog.

Thai 101 turns four months old tomorrow. This is my 37th post, making for an average of about two posts a week. I'm trying to post more regularly, and to continue to keep the content varied and worthwhile enough to maintain your interest and readership.

In the first "review" of my blog I've seen, user DavidHouston described the blog on the ThaiVisa forum as "
a mixture of wonderment and erudition." I consider this a high compliment that I'll try to keep living up to, and I think the word 'wonderment' perfectly captures how I continue to feel about the language. As an example of my perhaps eccentric interest in the language, I spent 10 minutes transcribing graffiti in a bathroom stall at the mall last week. The cleaning lady hanging out by the sinks was probably wondering if she needed to call an ambulance.

This blog will usually assume its readers are familiar with the Thai script, but I try to include phonetic spellings in square brackets [] whenever I think a certain word is likely to be unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce. Personally, I feel that romanization is a learning crutch that should be abandoned as quickly as possible. I started really trying to learn to read after about two months (I had some limited exposure to the alphabet before that), and I can't say enough about how important I think reading the Thai script is.

Sometimes the script will confuse you--I learned the word อร่อย right off the bat, but once I saw it written, I doubted myself and thought I should be pronouncing the second syllable with a falling tone. I mispronounced it like that for a while, until I understood the spelling rule. But far and away, reading has helped my pronunciation and comprehension from day one. Then again, I am a visual learner. I participated in spelling bees as a kid. Associating a word with its spelling has always been natural for me.

Not everyone learns the same way, though, so allow me to suggest a couple of tools to make my blog a little friendlier:
This website is a struggling Thai learner's best friend. It's the Ellis Island for students of Thai. It beckons, Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to [learn Thai]... Whether you come from the romanization school of Mary Haas, David Smyth, Benjawan Poomsan Becker, it accepts everyone. The ability to set your preferred romanization in the preferences is the true boon of this site, I think. This site can take whole chunks of Thai text (or the URL of a Thai-language webpage). It will parse and space the words, and give you float-over definitions and romanization. It's not perfect, but it's very good.

Increase Thai text size
(Firefox extension). First off, if you're not using Firefox, start. This extension also comes from Mike of You have to save it (right-click, save as) and then run it (open it with Firefox if it asks you). After you've installed it, you can right click on a page containing Thai text and it will increase the size of the Thai text. I don't like to make the Thai larger than the English when I write, so consider this little extension my excuse for doing things the way I like them.

These two links should help level the playing field for all potential readers. There are many other excellent learning tools which I haven't mentioned here. (If you have a website or tool you'd like me to examine in more detail on this blog, drop me a line.)

As always, I welcome input and feedback. This blog is my hobby, so I can keep on my toes with Thai and exercise my writing muscles regularly. On a side note, I'll be debuting my first piece of "professional" work with respect to Thai within the next couple of weeks (though 99% of the work I did on spec last year). It's an online version of a Thai-English dictionary from the 1840s. I'm excited. Stay tuned for that, too. [Update: The Jones Thai-English Dictionary is now up and running. I wrote it about it in this post.]


  1. Above, you say that the longer you stay here, the more you realise how much lies ahead in studying this language.

    I found the same thing, too.

    Once, I read many books which explain (in Thai) how the Thai language works.

    When I started learning Thai eight years ago, relatively few such books were on sale; today, there are plenty.

    However, my interests in the language now lie in different areas - more speaking and general reading, for example, than study of academic books.

    Eight years down the track, I still read every day. I write two blogs, mainly translated from Thai into English, and am contemplating starting one in Thai.

    But even after all that, I know I am but a mere novice. I can't even do basic things right.

    Studying Thai is a fine goal in itself, and my experience here would have been much different had I not started. But if I still can't speak the language properly, then I am likely to get frustrated.

    I am getting too old, and/or I am not studying efficiently.

    Let me put that another way. When is the last time you read out a Thai proverb or saying to yourself, or deployed it in conversation? How much use do you get out of them?

    In time, you will discover your own strengths and weaknesses, and they will influence your interest in the language.

    Ever spent a night listening to friends from Esan talking to one another in their dialect?

    If so, how much do you get? Do you think you'll ever be able to talk like that? If not, what do you want to accomplish?

    The answers to the questions in the last paragraph might well be:

    1. Not much.

    2. No.

    3. I want to communicate. That's hard enough. Sounding clever will take years, because I can't remember anything. This is not my language, after all. I would rather try to understand Thai life and get to know my Thai friends better, which I can do by improving my basic conversation skills. They will thank me for it in the end!

    So if communication is your goal, how best do you study the language?

  2. On reflection, would you remind removing that post? It looks preachy. That wasn't the intention. I enjoy the sense of 'wonderment' that comes across on your blog, and don't want to spoil the tone!

  3. I didn't delete your comments, sorry. I think there's plenty of value in what you say, plus I don't like deleting things. :)

  4. I had to look up that pronounciation vs. spelling of อร่อย you mentioned. It is explained in the special note section at