8 Myths Thai Language Fluency
There are a lot of people who claim fluency in the language, but there are degrees of fluency and just because someone is fluent doesn't mean they claim to know everything about the language. I've been in Thailand 7 years now and I've only ever met 3 people who I thought impressed me with their Thai ability. At the same time, 7 years in Thailand and I've only ever met 2 Thai people who i thought spoke English as well as those 3 westerners who spoke Thai.
Here are a few myths people believe about Thai language fluency:
1. Fluency is the same as Native
Some people think that if you claim fluency you're also claiming to speak exactly like a native. Language Fluency and Native Speaking are as far as I know two different things.
2. You Need To Think In Thai To Be Fluent
Not at all true, I've found it all too natural to come up with decisions in my head with English but still spit answers out in Thai, doesn't slow me down the slightest and I truly doubt it makes no difference to how you think. However the exception for me at least is when i'm reading or writing in Thai I tend to "think" in Thai.
3. Fluent Thai Speakers Don't Make Mistakes
People who are successful at learning Thai or any language know that to improve your skills you have to make mistakes, a Tonne of mistakes! People who speak Fluently still make mistakes with grammar, spelling, tones, what I've found to be true is that even Native people make these mistake. Ask a 100 Thai people how to spell Kratoey (ladyboy), truth is there is no R in it (กะเทย ไม่ใช้ กระเทย). At least a dozen Thai's will get this one wrong.
4. You Need To Live In Thailand To Be Fluent
Once I get to Thailand I'll start learning the language. (heard that before?) Why do people think that just by coming through swampy airport that they are magically going to acquire a special language learning gift that's going to make it easier for them to learn Thai. Sorry folks, you can even become fluent without stepping a foot in Thailand. You can easily find Thai speakers willing to teach you Thai on Skype.
5. You Need A Certificate To Be Fluent
Papers ar meaningless, you don't need a certificate to know if you are a fluent speaker, you just need to practice. If you want to be fluent in writing then hit the books, you want to be a great Thai speaker then talk to someone who speaks Thai. There's no magical number of hours, days, weeks, months, or years that you need to become fluent. There's no magic fairy steps that you can grade yourself from a beginner to fluent speaker. One day you wake up go through the whole day without even a hiccup in the language, then other days you find new challenges that test and improve your ability. Fluent language speakers are continually acquiring the language. You know when your a Fluent language speaker when you can speak with the same momentum as Thai people.
6. Thai Fluency Comes When You Know Every Word
Being Fluent, and knowing every single word are two different things, do you know every word in the English dictionary? No, so don't assume that if one is fluent that they know everything there is to know about the language. In Fact, I know Thai L2 speakers who speak Thai with such proficiency even skeptics to the idea of Fluency being anything but happy calling him a fluent speaker, yet, ironically, he can't read a word of Thai.
7. Your Either Fluent Or Your Not Fluent
People oversimplify the meaning of being Fluent. Fluency is a personal experience and not one that can be put into any box. Take two native speakers, one studied law, another studied mechanics. How fluent do you think the mechanic would sound trying to deliver a off the cuff speach about law. He would likely sound as bad as most Thai's English. Everyone's experience is an individual one, the business man may have no trouble talking about deals, yet have difficult kicking the shit with the isaan farmer. Don't judge your own ability against someone else's.
8. You Can Only Be Fluent If You Learned As a Child
The biggest myth surrounding fluency is that you can only be fluent if you learn Thai as a child. I first learned Thai when I was 16. I would have to say that learning at a younger age the pronunciation of the words can be much easier to master, but I also argue that if you wanted fluency in written Thai, it would be much easier for a 30 year old than a 10 year old simply because one has a much deeper understanding of language @ 30 than a ten year old.
I recently went on a trip to HCMC Vietnam (highly recommend) while we were sitting at the bar this English guy sat down overhearing my conversation in Thai to my girlfriend. He was talking to his sweetheart in Vietnamese, just listening to the flow of his speech I could tell that he spoke the language really well and sure enough he had lived in a rural part of the country and spoke Fluently. Fluency isn't about your overall knowledge but the speed at which you can write, read, speak, and comprehend the language.