When learning a language my preferred method is to absorb a lot of vocabulary quickly and get the the point where I can read enjoyably as quickly as possible. Then read. Thai makes that difficult. Let’s take a moment to look at how the Thai language gets in the way of that goal:

  1. Duplicate letters – there are 3 letter “k’s” still in use and 8 ways to generate our “s” sound.
  2. Letter order – the word ผลไม้ (“ponlamai” = “fruit”) converted to English letter by letter becomes “plim”. How did they manage that? The “p” sounds like a “p” – good start! The “o” is assumed although you really have to know that because “pl” could be sounded as “pl” or as “pon”. The “l” sound is an “l” sound at the start of a syllable but an “n” at the end of a syllable. The “l” is used twice – first as the “n” in “pon” and secondly as the “l” in “la”. The “i” precedes the “m” when written but follows it when spoken. Tricky enough?
  3. Spacing – theydon’tputspacesbetweentheirwordsonlytheirsentences. AndalthoughyoucanreadthisIthinkyou’dagreeitisconsiderablyharderthanreadingwithspacesbetweenthewords. Did you lose your place at all? It takes longer to read without spaces – which causes trouble when reading subtitles. Hilariously, a Thai person told me lately that most Thai people don’t enjoy reading. I wonder why?

However, I have now worked out a set of rules (can be achieved by informed observation) that allows me to convert this –


into the text below – where spaces have been added to separate the words wherever it is possible to determine the start of a word by applying rules. I was hoping that if I were able to identify the start of between one third and one half of all words it might render the task of reading considerably easier.

ชาว เรด ดิท ไทย คิด ยัง ไง กับ ละคร ไทย กัน

In fact all the words / syllables in this short sentence can be separated out. Longer texts show over 90% of words can be separated. My reading speed has approximately doubled before even trying to train the skill – just by knowing the rules. Comprehension accuracy is also improved. Now someone else may have known this already but I managed to get through three years and not one person said that it is possible to separate out 90%+ of all the words with just 15 rules.

I have heard far too often the phrase from an educator that “there are no shortcuts”. Well here is a great example of a profound shortcut for me and I’m astonished that no one has shared it with me despite my having talked with more than 20 people about learning Thai and each has listened to me marvel at how difficult no spaces makes reading a foreign language. To come up with the rules and the work that preceded it did not exceed 2 hours. I’ll get that time back after just 4 hours of reading practice. Now that is a good return on time invested.

I am presently engaged in solving problems before starting Thai again in June. The tide has turned and Thai is starting to yield to endurance and analysis. My curriculum has grown to 2,600 items but I am hoping to be able to prune it at least a little before I begin learning. 2,400 would be a very nice number. Because each Thai word is worth around two English words (there are simply many less words in a Thai dictionary than an English one) that is like having 5,000 or so English words – a reasonable vocabulary not too dissimilar to that of a seven year old. * the title is a reference to Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. I am feeling a touch Galdafian from this latest success.