I’m so happy about my Thai. It used to be that each review of a Thai word would take 2-3x longer than reviewing any other language I know. Today, I was having to slow down my reviews because I was under the minimum recommended exposure time per fluency unit (3 seconds). How’s that for a turn up for the books?
The most important change however, is not speed. My mind now (finally) sees the tone as integral to the word and not an addition to the word. That is what is making speaking, listening and learning easier. How did I get there? I went back to the beginning and relearned everything with the first focus being on the tone and the second being on the word. I believe, this is the natural and unconscious experience of 99% of Thai children and 1% of farangs (western people).
What should we conclude from the above? I’ve met a fair number of people who went to language schools to learn Thai. They came out of those schools very unimpressed and not very capable. These are not lazy foolish people, these are hard workers, sincere adult students. Why did they not make better progress? The best coaches are the most conscious. They not only know what they do, but they know how and why. Native speakers are like naturally good golfers – they are often brilliant but don’t really know why they are brilliant and thus don’t teach the most important sub-skills of any action. To most native Thai speakers, tone is so instinctive that they don’t realise that they knew the tone BEFORE they knew the word. I’ve never heard the advice or seen it anywhere but for anyone who wants to learn Thai who is NOT a native speaker of a tonal language, focus on the tone BEFORE you focus on the word. It’s made all the difference for me. And looking back, I understand why.
The primary focus of teaching should be to give students a more elegant, valuable and efficient path through a subject that the one used by the teacher. If you are not doing that, why is anyone paying you? If you want an elegant path for learning a tonal language – tone first, word second.