Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Attempting to Learn Thai 17

April 29, 2008

Months in Thailand: 22

Hours at AUA: ~1500 (Level 5-10)

Reading and Writing: AUA Level 4 (~8 months/~200 hours in class time)

(Not) In Class:

I haven't attended classes at AUA since the end of February. I didn't plan to stop at exactly this point, but as a result of a number of factors (i.e. life outside of AUA), what was meant to be a one week break turned into what is so far a two month one.

By the time I stopped going, I was only attending a few hours of Listening class per week, and doing so mainly out of habit and for their entertainment value. Level 5-10 was, by this time, usually helpful only in providing some specialized or unusual vocabulary, as I would normally understand 99% of the discussion and perhaps 95% or more of the words and grammar used. Additionally of course, classes still continued to give listening exposure, which, even when it is easy, never hurts. But there was little real benefit and I would definitely say that time spent with other sources of exposure- TV, movies, news, conversations, etc.- was by this time vastly more useful to me.

Please note, however, that this is not a criticism of AUA or its methods. Not needing to go anymore was always the goal, and really in terms of Listening class, this had already been the case for 6 months.


I took AUA's writing through level 4, and then repeated level 4 (most students do this), though with a number of absences, before I stopped going to class. Levels 4-5 are essentially just daily practice and do not have a linear progression through rules etc. as did levels 1-3, so "repeating" is just a matter of getting more practice. In class itself, Level 4 included reading outloud from (roughly speaking) elementary level passages, learning vocab and grammar from these passages and related excercises, and taking dictation of these passages to practice writing, spelling, etc. Homework involved writing sentences, paragraphs, or very short essays. I was getting lazy during level 4 though and as a rough estimate, only did about 30 mintues of homework per class.

Outside of class, I finished "Mee Why Pua Sap," the book of short stories that I previously mentioned, about 2 months ago. Overall, I was reading faster and with better comprehension as I progressed through it, though this would vary according to the content of the different stories. When I was reading with full attention, I'd say I had the most basic gist 80-90% of the time and understood the majority of the language used, but would still find many sentences and phrases that I didn't understand. And it still took something like 5-10 minutes on average to read a page.

I also read, back in January, a cartoon novel called "Firehead and Bean Sprout" (don't ask). The book had illustrations on every page but also large blocks of text, sometimes whole pages, written at a similar level as "Mee Why Pua Sap" that I mentioned above- so it wasn't really a kids book. Because of the illustrations I could follow this better, rarely losing the most basic gist but still constantly encountering words, phrases, idioms, etc. that I didn't understand.

Beyond these, I've read some magazine articles with varying success, understanding anywhere from 50-90% depending on the topic, style, and vocab. The newspaper though is still more like deciphering a code than "reading." Another interesting benchmark is my speed at reading Thai subtitles for English language movies has vastly increased. I remember typically only being able to read the first one or two words before the words changed, but can now sometimes read half or all of the subtitles before they disappear, dependent of course on the level of vocab and how quickly the text changes.

Out of Class:

Noticing progress from day to day is becoming impossible, but I still often have moments when I realize that I am speaking more fluidly, or more confidently, or just faster than I used to, or using vocab, slang, or structures that I previously didn't. Furthermore, though I can't really quantify it, I think in Thai more often now and in more extended, advanced ways.

I recently hurt a friend's feelings during a serious conversation by using a phrase that, while it had the correct meaning and was not strange to say, was just a little too direct and not exactly what a Thai would typically have said if they wanted to be sensitive about it. The difference really was slight, the sort of slip that occurs all the time with people speaking the same native language simply because someone doesn't think quite carefully enough before speaking, and so I asked her to cut me a little slack since after all, I'm speaking Thai.

In turn, however, she only got more insistent that I can't say things like this if I don't know the exact implication or level of directness implied. Then she told me that if another foreigner had said this, she would not have been upset, but because my Thai is so good she hadn't considered whether or not I had actually intended to be as blunt as I was.

Having said that, the more I hang out in 100% Thai situations in which I'm the only foreigner and no one is adjusting their speech on my behalf, the more I realize I have a long way to go. Just last night I went out with 4 Thai friends, one of whom speaks notoriously fast (his girlfriend doesn't even understand him sometimes), and while I followed some conversation 100% and participated easily, sometimes I was pretty lost. But whenever someone addressed me directly and we talked one-on-one, the confusion always cleared up. It's not even a speed issue actually, because talking one-on-one people who accurately access my Thai don't slow down much or at all. It's more about slang, idioms, and the sort of bad pronunciation that natives (of any language) use when speaking to each other. I mean, I sometimes don't even follow everything being said between two British guys. So in fact, it's parallel to what I see with my better students. I can talk to them directly without much trouble, even joking and speaking quickly, but if I start talking to them as if they were an American friend of mine, they get completely lost.


Blogger Namtan said...

I was just wondering what you are doing and how your thai is by now ... i searched for some infos about AUA and found this, nice to read, good infos, really!

2:57 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I left Bangkok in June to return to the US to start a master's degree. After I graduate I hope to return to Bangkok to work, probably in consulting or finance.

I stopped taking Thai class in March 2008, and I believe my blog covers my progress almost until the end. At that point I was able to converse about non-academic and non-technical topics without almost any problems, and even after I stopped taking class my listening and speaking continued to improve just by living in Bangkok and using Thai with friends. My reading and writing got weaker after I stopped taking class, however, because I rarely practiced them. Reading didn't change much but writing really left me after a few months of never using it.

Today I know a few Thai people at my school and can still speak/listen almost as before, but my reading and writing continue to weaken since I never use those skills.

I still firmly believe that an AUA style all listening method is by far the best way to learn to speak and listen! If I ever have the chace to study another language in the future, I will use the same method for sure.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hats down to you buddy!
"an AUA style all listening method is by far the best way to learn to speak and listen"
If not than it's at least in the top 3 in the world. :o)

4:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dan, Yours is one of the few blogs detailing their AUA studies. So... I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing the highlights of your AUA experiences elsewhere.

I have a learning Thai site where I write about the different methods. But other than interviewing David Long, I don't have a background with AUA so I'm looking for those who do.


1:39 PM  
Blogger jun.nsj said...

Hello, I'm from Japan.

A friend from Thai recommend the books of "Beansprout and Firehead" and I got interested, then found your blog.

You seem to be able to read Thai, and you got and read it, but do you have any idea if I can get copies of them in English?

2:38 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

At Jun: Sorry dude I have no idea about English versions. Try Amazon?

11:30 PM  
Blogger cheapestairtickets.co.uk said...

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3:53 PM  
Blogger alex chiang mai said...

hey Dan, I was hoping for some advice from you in learning thai.

I have a bet going with a friend of mine that I my thai will be better than his at the end of October this year. I started going to language school (visa school)in November last year, while he has had a 6+ month head start over me. Currently I can slowly read thai, but my speaking is very limited. He is still ahead of me. Im currently taking tutor lessons as well where we are focusing on reading to base a foundation for my speaking etc.

What do you feel would be the best way to make sure that I win this bet against him? I feel that conversation and especially listening and understanding thai will be difficult. Btw, we will be doing writing/reading tests as well as speaking/listening tests so each thing counts as 50%.

Hope you can help :)

10:15 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

@ Alex: You don't have your email address in your post or profile. If you can post it, I will write to you.

Otherwise, my short answer is that I still fully support the method of study I describe here in the blog. You need massive listening exposure to develop listening and speaking skills that will serve you in a natural way in the real world. If you can't attend AUA, I recommend watching as much Thai TV/movies as you can every day. Focus on it and try to get into a zone of paying 100% attention without focusing on what individual words mean. If you review my blog from the beginning you will see what I mean.


2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from thai, there are many financial courses which has very good scope. A friend of mine did Finance Course and he got good placement.

6:34 PM  

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