The short version: – I’ve been trying to learn Thai for 3 years. I’ve started back at the beginning 3 times. My total bill in money exceeds £3,000 and my total bill in time exceeds 500 hours. And sure I can hold a conversation but I don’t speak it that well – not as well as I think I should for the time and effort invested and I make too many errors along the way. My speech is perforated with small errors of various kinds. What is needed to learn Thai quickly, elegantly and effectively is all that I know about learning European languages and several additional skills I was missing when I started. Nobody I spoke to from native Thais, to non native Thais that have learned Thai to experienced Thai teachers have been able to give me the information I required to avoid the mistakes I have made and there have been plenty.
Thai is a monosyllabic tonal language which is significantly different to European languages – as a result I have made some incorrect assumptions including:
- if I can absorb Spanish at 250 words per day then I can absorb Thai at at least 50 words per day – wrong!
- tones would be picked up by osmosis from listening to Thai people speak – wrong!
- my normal review cycle would work as brilliantly as it normally does – wrong!
- my level of clue making skill would suffice for Thai – wrong!
- my usual degree of precision of pronunciation would suffice – wrong!
- that listening to Thai is only a little harder than listening to Italian – wrong again!
Once more into the valley of death
People often ask me how accelerated learning can even be possible; I wonder how it could not be! Have these people never looked back and thought “I could have done that better”. I’m starting back at the beginning again. I believe this time I can reach a superior standard (the one I want) in one quarter of the time taken in previous attempts and for one quarter of the financial cost all while experiencing a much more emotionally pleasant process that produces better results and greater confidence that I am speaking correctly. If I am right my progress should be exceptional – which was always my goal – to learn Thai elegantly, not just to learn the language.
A big change I am making this time is that I now understand how to sequence the curriculum to reduce the challenge as much as possible. May’s task is to get that curriculum ready and then I hope to start in June.
I’ll publish my results as I go along, successes and failures and tips which should be useful to most language learners but especially those learning Thai.
So “yes”, you can get learning a language very wrong. I ought to know, I’ve done it! Wish me luck – Thai scares me a little.