Monday, March 19, 2007

Attempting to Learn Thai 9

March 19, 2007
Months in Thailand: 8.5
Hours at AUA: ~750 (Level 5-10)
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:

Every 8 weeks or so at AUA the teaching schedule changes, which means that the teachers get shuffled around to different times and paired up differently, and that for levels 3-10 the subjects/topics/themes for each hour change as well. Anyway, we started a new schedule at the end of February and after a couple of days, I felt that I had reached the same plateau that had occurred towards the end of AT1 and AT2. In other words, I felt bored and that it was time to move on. I went in to the office, and though my "Language Aquired" was currently rated at 57% and usually students move to AT5-10 at 60%, I was told that if I did feel bored and ready to move on it was close enough. Chai yo! Dee jai mak! All told, I spent 283 hours in AT3-4 and moved to AT5-10 at 683 hours total.

It is pretty amazing that the ALG system has resulted in an almost identical progression in each of the three levels I've been through. Leaving aside the first 30 hours or so of AT1 when I didn't know or understand ANY Thai, in each level I've experienced the same process.

For maybe 30 hours, I have felt that the new level ranges from feeling similar to an average to hard hour in the previous level (maybe ~75% comprehension), to noticibly harder but still able to be followed (~50-60%?), to too difficult to follow well (~30%).

After that, the difficultly seems to gradually reduce each week, and I slowly move from struggling to comfortable to confident. Each week things get easier, though obviously it's never a simple, straight line progression. This is the majority of the time I've spent in a level, roughly 30-100 hours in AT1 and AT2, and maybe 30-175 in AT3-4. This is just to give some vague timeframe though... it is impossible to really quantify any of this precisely.

In the next stage, the level feels pretty easy, but I have yet to plateau and still feel that progress is occurring. There are moments of incomplete comprehension (say, 50%) but most of the time it feels like 75% or better. This seems to have lasted from about 100-150 hours in AT1 and AT2, and about 175-225 hours in AT3-4.

The last stage is the plateau. It is hard to quanitify this, but it seems that although I don't understand every word, I always understand what is being talked about, even without focusing. In this stage it has always felt like I am not making any more significant progress. Understanding seems to range from 80%-90% or higher at almost all times. AT1 and AT2 I waited out the 200 hours, so it occurred from 150-200 hours, but by AT3-4 I was familiar with the pattern and knew the plateau had arrived, so I moved up at 283 hours rather than waiting for 400.

I started AT5-10 at the beginning of March and really, all I need to do is refer to the above pattern. The first week was rough, and though now (about 60 hours into it) things are still difficult, they are falling into place. Sometimes my comprehension is 75% or better, even 90% in an easy hour; other times I follow but there are gaps, so it feels like 50%-70%. There is a bit of 30-50% comprehension too when I am pretty confused, but not often. Initially there were also moments of 30% when I was thoroughly lost, but these have just about disappeared. The only exception is "News" class... this is consistently over my head, but other students feel the same way, so I'm not too concerned.

Out of Class:

Many real conversations, with far greater fluidity and depth, and with far fewer bumps than I was having 1-2 months ago. I've also had very encouraging moments in which I've understood 100% of fully native, full speed conversations happenning around me. Additionally, people are understanding me better when I speak, and a few different people who I hadn't seen in a month or two have commented that my Thai has really improved recently, almost going so far as to say that I can genuinely speak now. Thai's like to compliment anyone who can even say a few words in Thai, but these have been honest comments from people I know, and lately around town people have lately been surprised by my Thai and giving me compliments that are not the usual cookie cutter ones. In particular, people lately are commenting that I speak Thai very "chat," which is like accurate or correct, and this is something I had NEVER heard until recently. Granted, I realize it isn't so "chat," but still, this isn't the typical comment that a Thai just trying to be polite or friendly will make.

I've also had moments when I cannot understand a single word coming out of someone's mouth. This seems to happen mostly when someone realizes that I speak Thai and jumps from speaking slowly and with overly simplistic language to letting me have it with both barrels, 100% pure and idiomatic speech. I can deal with this sometimes, but sometimes I'm just clueless... Likewise, I've sometimes tried to express something and been completely misunderstood, or the person listening can't make out at all what I'm saying. So, I'm conversational now, but I'm still miles and miles from fluency. Daung jai yen yen... (I must be patient).

TV: I may have blogged some misleading figures about TV in previous posts because there were moments even some months ago when I could understand a lot, but overall TV is still over my head. An accurate description would be that TV is noticibly harder to follow than AT5-10 classes. Currently I can pick out a lot of words at all times, but the basic gist of things comes and goes. I also cannot understand many utterences at all... we are talking 0%. Nevertheless there is still noticible progress with TV. Things are slowly, slowly, slowly but surely falling into place.