Monday, October 23, 2006

Coffee Bliss.

Saturday night I finally bought the voltage converter I needed to use the espresso machine and coffee grinder I dragged here from the US. Amazingly, even though I devoted a quarter of my precious suitcase space to smuggling my coffee paraphernalia into Thailand, it took me four months to get around to making the purchase. As I sit in bed, a hint of coffee shop hanging in the air, the crema of my third homemade latte still lingering on my palate, I breath contented breaths and marvel at how I waited so long to reunite with this love of mine.

That the entire rainy season could come and go before I bothered to set up shop here and start making proper espresso drinks is all the more inexplicable given the sad state of coffee here in Bangkok. But that is a subject for another day, worthy of the sort of frustrated rant one can write only after a particularly sweaty day of dodging motorcycles, hurdling soi dogs, and losing patience with constant assaults on the English language. Sitting in a state of latte bliss on a quiet, still-not-dressed-at-eleven morning is no time for complaining.

The voltage converter was quite expensive in local terms, but my hesitation was never really about the money… that was just the reason I hadn’t purchased it on impulse. My life is just so different here that sometimes I don’t know what I should hold on to, what I should leave unplugged for a while, and what I should have left behind.
Attempting to Learn Thai 4

October 22nd, 2006
Months in Thailand: 4
Hours at AUA: 215 (Level 2)
Other study: None since I started at AUA (before that, some minimal self-study and 6 very poor classes at another school)

In Class Progress:

Last week I passed 200 hours and moved to AT2 (level 2).

Although in my last couple weeks in AT1 I was certainly still noticing improvements in my comprehension, and absorbing new words and structures, I could tell that my progress was slowing. I could follow the teachers 95% of the time, even without focusing very attentively. I could also consistently notice when other students were confused. AUA’s method is not about vocabulary and even in my final AT1 hours I still did NOT understand the majority of the words themselves. But I was following nearly everything, and understanding it intuitively, without any Thai to English translation in my head, and indeed, without any real "effort" at all.

When I went to the office to see about moving to AT2, I was given a progress report based on weekly evaluations from the teachers. I don’t know more precisely how they quantify things, but apparently my "Language Acquisition" at the end of AT1 was 21.5%, meaning that I understand that much of everyday language. The move from AT1 to AT2 is supposed to happen at 20%, so I was a bit ahead and could have moved up a little earlier.

My very first AT2 class was extremely hard to follow, and so I thought that the level might be quite a bit harder than AT1. As it turned out, that class was a bit of an anomaly, and the other 14 hours I have so far spent in AT2 have been easier. It hasn’t been at all like starting over… and if I had to quantify it, I would say I feel like I did when I was about a third to a half through AT1. There are major holes in my understanding in certain stories, and I don’t understand certain words or phrases at all, but overall I’m still following the majority of the discussion. Additionally- and I might be mistaken on this- I almost think at times I am following things better than some of the AT2 students who started the level ahead of me.

There is some difference, however, between the levels. The teachers speak a bit faster in AT2 (note though that even AT1 is not unnaturally slow, it’s just on the very slow end of natural speaking), and they use non-verbal communication a little less. The biggest difference is probably just that the teachers seem to be using an expanded pool of vocabulary and structures, and focus on different words, concepts, and situations than in AT1.

Out of Class:

Progress is very slow outside of class, but still perceptible. Each week, I pick up a tiny fraction more of what is being spoken around me, and it is automatic and intuitive, just like in class. I understand many of the very simple, common questions asked me and can automatically respond a nod or single word answer, without thinking about it or translating.

When I’m forced to try to speak more complex Thai to make requests at a store or ordering food, however, it usually doesn’t go well. This illustrates the value of not trying to force things, because you end up speaking Thai that is unnatural, pronounced incorrectly, or otherwise weird and unintelligible in some way. You have to wait until it’s been naturally absorbed.