Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thai for Dummies

This is Kaew our language tutor and Shelly at the local coffee shop "Wawee" where we meet for our thrice weekly lessons. That means lessons three times a week. We initially picked this coffee hang out for its tranquil environment with birds chirping and the soothing sound of their rock waterfall. Not to mention they have great coffee and they are experts at IV's to get the caffeine in just that much quicker. We take turns each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I mangle the language for 2 hrs first to warm Kaew up and then Shelly gets to hurt Kaew's ears for an additional hour.

I started learning to read and write in Thai months ago and now Shelly is just starting to learn. I feel her pain and frustration at the start of learning how to read and write. I know it seems crazy, but they do have rules in their language. Just getting a grasp of those rules is the fun part.

In the Thai language they have 44 consonants and those consonants are divided up into classes. High class, Mid class, and Low Class. This is important because each class has specific tone markers attached to it and this shows you how to pronounce the word. The names of the consonant classes (high, middle and low) are completely arbitrary. For example, a low class consonant can generate a high tone and a high class consonant can generate a low tone. Neat, huh!!!! There is an algorithm that you can follow to decipher how to pronounce a word in a easy to follow manner. Oh, sweet innocent Brett, so trusting, so loving. I would almost rather have shards of glass in my eye.

Oh, hey look here is the Thai bible! It is a great book and does explain things in simpler terms which is great for a simpleton like me. Just to let you know there are 32 vowels and 4 tone markers in Thai. Every Thai syllable starts with a consonant. Although the consonant sound comes first, the vowel may be written before, above, below, after or around the consonant depending on the vowel. Also the Thais have no breaks in between words so it is one continuous stream of letters. That is why it is so crucial to memorize where the vowels are located because that will help you know where a word ends or begins. Ahhhh...... good times!
You probably can't tell in this serene picture of two people having a conversation and enjoying some smooth rich coffee, but Shelly's brain is actually imploding at this moment.

There are some pluses too, it's not all negative. For one thing there are no verb conjugations in Thai, we just add time markers. There are no articles like(a, an, the). There is no verb "to be" with adjectives, so she is beautiful would be "She beautiful. I like this one the best because it fits my Cro-magnon mentality. "Me go store", "Me like food"
This is a page of reading exercizes from the "Thai bible" and astoundingly Shelly and I both can read and understand them. I guess there is hope for us after all. Of course it takes us a couple of hours to read one page, but we can do it.
Ahhhh.... learning languages. Thai has been an extremely difficult language to learn mainly due to the tones. Thai language has 5 tones (mid, low, falling, high and rising). The same word can be spoken with 5 different tones and they mean completely different things. For instance (Mai) could be mile, new, no/not, ...,right, and silk depending on the tone you use.
So, sometimes it's frustrating when you are talking to someone and you know you are using the right word, but they keep looking at you like you have an arm growing out of your back. Some people can't seem to figure out what you are trying to say because of the wrong tone used even though the context is clear.

Even though I'm complaining about the language I do love studying Thai with Kaew. We have good days and bad days when it comes to language, but we are going to stick with it since we know we will be here a long time and we think it is important to really know the language. Maybe when the girls have another year under their belt they can tutor us. It's just a thought.

Sawat dii khrap gap choke dii na khrap
Love Brett


sandyvandylittle said...

OH MY GOSH!!!! How hard is that!! If you can say even 1 thing in Tai it's more than I'll ever master. WOW! AND you can read the pretty little scribbles...fantastic.
love, Sandy

Peter Varvel said...

This is fascinating!
I am extremely impressed with you both! Don't give up, even when you're frustrated.
I was very lazy about practicing my Japanese when I was in Japan because I was constantly around my American coworkers. I wish I had been a little more 'isolated' and forced to use/practice the language more.