Friday, July 17, 2009

Progress Report: Language Skills

I've been here a while now, and I have to say, I'm disappointed by how little Thai I've learned. I had intended to take a class, and when that didn't happen, I promised to devote an hour a day to actively studying the language. Well, I broke and remade that last promise a dozen times. Despite the different books and resources I've purchased I am just *not* disciplined enough for independent study. I guess I'm not so much disappointed in what I've learned as I'm disappointed in myself for not devoting more time & effort to it. But even lacking any kind of formal study, I've managed to pick up a basic survival level of Thai.*

I can:

Greet people and exchange a comment about personal well being:
"Hello, how are you?"
- "comfortable / not comfortable / hot / cold / hungry / drunk"
- "I'm sick / I have a cold / I have a stomachache."
- "happy / sad"

Exchange a word or two about the weather:
"It's hot / It's very hot / It's raining" (really all you need to know to discuss Thai weather!)

Get where I need to go:
"Where are you going? / Where do you want to go?"
- "to work / home / to eat rice / to the beach / to Bangkok (other cities / stores etc.)"
"wait here five minutes"
"go straight"
"turn left" (interestingly, I never have to say "turn right." All of the places to the right of my apartment are well known by name. I only ever need to give directions when I want to go home again and I'm using a taxi driver who doesn't know my apartment building.)
"red light"
"go slow slow!"
"go fast fast!"
"Where is the bathroom?"
"here / there"

Make plans:
"I want to ..."
- "swim / walk / dance / eat / buy / speak"
"When?" (but I only understand the answer if it's a day of the week, yesterday, today or tomorrow, or a matter of minutes. I can't ask or understand the answers to "What time?" because times of the day are counted differently here.)
"Sunday is my day off."

Spend money:
"I want / I need / this one broken"**
"have / don't have"
"How much is that?"
- I know the numbers 1-20, and how to express tens, hundreds and thousands of baht.
"Pink / red / blue / green / black / white / big / small"
"big / small / a lot / a little bit"
"skirt / shoes"
"don't put" (... it in a bag)

Observe the local wildlife:
"What's that?"
- "elephant / cockroach / dog / chicken / pig / horse / rabbit / crocodile / tiger / cat / mouse / snake / water buffalo"
"Crocodile, don't eat me!"

Impersonate a kindergartner:
- read the alphabet (A-apple, B-ball) as long as I have a picture chart or flash cards to look at***
- sight-read and write the words "Rayong", "Pharmacy", "Chicken" and "Egg"

Communicate the depths of my ignorance:
"Say again?"
"not correct"
"I don't know."
"I don't understand."
"I don't speak Thai."
"I'm sorry!"

"What would you like?"
- "Fried rice with pork / seafood / grilled chicken / sticky rice / plain rice (directly translated as "beautiful rice") / thick noodles / thin noodles / papaya salad with one chili and no crab / curry, not spicy / fried egg / omelet"
- "iced tea / hot tea / water with ice / Pepsi" (say what you will about globalization but it's nice that I don't have to learn the words for Pepsi, Coke, beer, or whiskey)
- "one plate / one glass / one bottle / one person / Yes damn you, I am eating alone. Do you have a problem with that, mutherf*#$er?" (ok, I can't actually say that last part in Thai, which is probably a good thing.)

Discuss politics:
"I'm an American person. / You are a Thai person."
"Obama is very smart."
"I don't like Bush."
"good / not good"
"it doesn't matter"

Have brief but meaningful conversations about the nature of romantic attachments:
"Do you have a girlfriend / boyfriend / friend with benefits?"
"Tell the truth!"
"Man has two women, not good"
"Want a good man, handsome, good heart"
"Kiss kiss"
"A fun game"

Pose existential questions about the universe:

Yeah, it looks respectable when I type it all out like this. But I'm sitting at a cafe, and have been listening to the folks at the next table chat for a good hour and the only words I've been able to understand are city names, numbers, and the word 'person'. If I decide to travel abroad again I'll make it a point to take at least one formal class in the language before I get there... or maybe only travel to countries that use the Roman alphabet!

TAG: Code Watermelon

* survival level for someone who spends a good bit of each day surrounded by English teachers, English students, or the English speaking Thai staff at my school.

**You may notice the paucity of nouns on this list (with the exception of food items), it's surprising how seldom you really need to use them. When I buy something, I either take it off the shelf, point to it, or bring the broken one with me to the store.

***consonants only (there are 44!) I don't know the vowels by name (there are dozens) but know the sounds of two or three when I see them in a word I know.


Cate said...

I'm really impressed! Thai is soo hard. I got to the point where I could recognize the names of some differet foods, and my survival Thai was MUCH more basic (how much? thank you...not much more!)
I've completely given up on learning Korean (mainly because I don't want to stay!)

Rebel said...

Cate - the vocabulary, especially pronunciation is difficult, but I find that the grammar is pretty dang simple, "Want what?" and "Go where?" are complete sentences as far as I can tell. And you can effectively communicate the past tense just by adding "already" to the sentence. But don't get me started on the tones.

IamSusie said...

This is an amazing list! You have learned a LOT! It sounds like you are even starting to get a handle on how the language works, and not just vocabulary.

I think that if you were there to do something else besides teach English, you would have had to learn. Like if you were doing community development or well, anything else but the English, you wouldn't be able to speak English with as many Thai as you do with this job. Does that make sense?

IamSusie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
IamSusie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bezzie said...

Very impressive! Still a ton more than you knew a year ago right?

Michael5000 said...

You are toooo funny.

Jeannette said...

That's about all the Japanese I can speak.

But I can read and write and type it, too.

I dont know how people study on their own like that.

Rebel said...

Bezzie - it's true, and I'm glad for every word I can understand.

M5K - Yes, but am I funny in Thai - that is the question!

Jeannette - I'm impressed that you can even type in Japanese! That takes talent! =)

Seffliva said...

This is a well-written post. Very informative and comprehensive information on languages. A lot of people interested on a benefit from your post. Great job!

legal translation services