Friday, November 21, 2008

Mai koy de tow rai

(but not that well)

I don't think of myself as particularly competitive, but now that the linguistically adventurous Bunny is here, I'm feeling.... um... motivated to step up my own language acquisition pace. I have a two month head start and I don't think I could live with myself if she became more fluent than I in the six months she plans to be here. Well, I probably could live with it... but you know... the SHAME!

The problem is, when I express interest in learning some Thai to a local...I get language overload. It happened with my fruit guy up in Chiang Mai. I asked him for the word for pineapple one day, and he told me. The next day I asked for the word for mango, and he told me but then he rapid-fire started pointing at all the other fruits and giving me the names for them as well. To this day the only fruit I know how to say "pineapple".

It happened again last week, in the car with Key, I asked her the word for shirt (I'm getting a bit sick of my current wardrobe). She told me the word, but then went on to tell me the words for skirt and shoes, short sleeves, long sleeves, long skirt, short skirt, grey skirt, black skirt etc. From that exchange I only remember the word for "skirt" which wasn't even the word I was trying to learn.

The other day on the way to my off-campus class I decided to try to learn a few new words. I couldn't think of anything I particularly wanted to say so I just stuck out my hand and said "nee arai?" The driver grabbed my hand and told me the word, then grabbed my fingers counting them off - and told me the word for fingers, then up to my arm, elbow & shoulder. "Ah!! Poot cha cha!" I told him. "Speak slowly!" (I can't tell you how excited I am now that I know how to say "speak slowly" and "say again".) I went over the words he'd taught me, slowly, and he corrected my pronunciation. And then, you know I spent the next 10 min mentally repeating the words.

Recently, I've managed to pick up a pronoun and a couple verbs, so eventually it occured to me that I could probably make a sentence. I spent a good long while thinking it through, and it took a good long while longer to work up the courage to say the sentence - I feel like such a moron randomly spouting off the few Thai words I know. But eventually I told him, timidly "I have ten fingers." "Chai! Chai!" (Correct, correct) he responded excitedly. "I have two hands." I continued. "Chai. Chai." And then, having exhausted my body vocabulary we continued on in silence.

Today I learned a new word, without even trying, while having breakfast at the B&B. It has been getting colder here... 'cold' being a relative term of course. I no longer start sweating bullets the moment I walk outside my apartment building; now I can actually walk a few blocks before the sweat starts. So I was sitting there feeling quite comfortable and not disgustingly sweaty when the owner came over and said "now" wrapping her arms around herself to mime coldness. I didn't actually know that word...but she did an excellent job of conveying the meaning. So I replied "nit-noy" (a little bit) and she replied "now...adflkjer werljy" pointing at the slightly cloudy sky and rubbing her arms again. And quite unannounced an appropriate word popped into my brain "Comfortable" I replied... sort of. She corrected my pronunciation and nodded smiling "Comfortable". Now *this* woman should be a teacher!

As I sat there eating my breakfast I, as per usual, picked up my Thai phrase book and started flipping through it. Usually I just look at the words, but lacking any reason to use them they never actually stick in my brain. But emboldened by my oh so cogent "I have ten fingers." and "Comfortable" remarks, I decided to try to put together another sentence. When I got to school this morning I proudly announced to the office manager "I have two older sisters." "Chai, chai... but mai chai." (correct, but not correct) she replied, laughing. Apparently they use a different word order for this so she taught me the correct way to say it. The literal translation is "I have older sister two person."

I finally feel like I can start making progress with the language. I'm still limited by how much my little brain can absorb in one sitting, but I can ask what things are, and for the speaker to slow down & repeat themselves, and I have the very first building blocks of the sentence structure. Even if it's something lame like "I have 10 fingers." "I don't have a chicken." being able to put the words together in a logical, communicative way is helping them to start sticking in my brain much better than simply reciting the noun over and over again. (It also makes me feel better about making my students drill sentences.) I fully realize that I have a LONG way to go, but at least I'm moving forward.

Oh... and for what it's worth, at dinner tonight, I did teach Bunny how to say "I have three younger sisters." Maybe I'm not that competitive afterall.

Code Pineapple - I still have a head-cold, and that on top of my young learner classes tomorrow might just push me into Durian territory!


Exuberant Color said...

I have heard that other languages have a different order to their sentences. I think that would be the most difficult part of the learning curve.

Karin said...

"being able to put the words together in a logical, communicative way is helping them to start sticking in my brain much better than simply reciting the noun over and over again."

You're in prime learning mode. Well done. And this likely informs your teaching methods: teaching vocabulary within meaningful context in conjunction with relevant usage forms.

I get so exciting about teaching and learning. I'm such a teacher geek.

Michael5000 said...

You should have taught Bunny how to say "I have three younger sisters".... WRONG. You need to slow her down so she doesn't catch you!

Another awesome post...

Rebel said...

EC - it's all difficult for me, hearing the differences between the words (don't get me started on the tones), pronunciation, remembering everything! I am not a linguistics champ!

K - I've started complaining about how the text teaches certain structures, so I'm on my way to becoming a Teacher Geek myself. =P

M5K - no way no how, I believe in karma now and wouldn't want to bring any additional problems onto myself! I could just see myself walking into the restaurant and ordering fried snake intestines by mistake.