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You can’t learn Thai from a Thai

If I go out somewhere sit down and start talking to waiters the barmen or the bar girls laughing and joking people often come up to me in amazement wondering how on earth I learned Thai. Most don't believe that I learned Thai by teaching myself. Even though it's true I learned Thai by reading books and listening to Thai people. I tried to learn from a teacher and classes but it was a waste of my time because Thai people can't teach Thai!

Just because I'm Australian studied in America doesn't mean I can teach English better than someone from India, nor does a Thai person automatically qualify them to Teach Thai. In fact if you go to Australia or the USA and ask around for ESL courses (English as second language) you'll find that almost all of the teachers are not native speakers. Why, because only someone who learned the language as a second language knows the difficulties and exactly where to start when learning a second language. Same goes for Learning Thai. The only problem is if your in Thailand the government wouldn't dare allow say a foreigner like me to Teach Thai it's their language so only they know how it works! Total BS. I know heaps of guys who speak Thai better than Thais do!

I think the part is foreigners would make great Thai teachers, they'd certainly have more passion about it and would be able to explain how and why things are done in such a way that foreigners will be able to understand.

A perfect example would be the word traffic lights. If your learning Thai from a Thai person go and ask them what Traffic lights is in Thai. I bet you they will tell you that it means Fai Dtang. WRONG. That means red light. Really traffic lights is สัญญาณไฟจราจร or ไฟจราจร Fai Jarajorn (sorry i'm not good with the karaoke). Now nearly all Thai people say Fai Dtang because it's just simple quick and easy to say kind of like how Aussies speak English. The next thing your teacher will tell you is that's only for (written language) and when they say that just makes me cringe. Speed through a red light and I guarantee you the police officer will refer to it as a traffic light (สัญญาณไฟจราจร). There is no written language and spoken language in Thai that's all BS. It's an intellectual speech apposed to a colloquial speech. If it was only a written language then they would say Fai Dtang on the news instead of Fai Jarajorn. Or how my buddy likes to say, talking like a knob or talking like a mate.

Sure maybe my example is a little more advanced than the average guy trying to string two sentences of Thai together but it's an example nonetheless. Ask a Thai person to teach you the Thai alphabet and in 3 months you'll be able to remember it or you could just buy my Thai alphabet book and learn it in a day.

One of the biggest gripes I have about teachers who teach Thai is they focus way too much on tones. If you want to learn Thai quickly you need to focus more on vocabulary and making use of the vocabulary with exercises that encourage you to learn the words. The tones are irrelevant when you are starting out because your just not going to get it until your at least 6months into full time study anyway.

One of the inherent problems with Thai teachers is they think like most Thai's do that the Thai language is the most difficult language on earth which it isn't. They like to say to me oh but you havn't learned sanskrit words to which I reply have you learned any latin words? Thai is very difficult to spell they say well read my blog and you'll know I find English hard to spell too. Thai is just as hard as English is, get over it and teach me how!

What a Thai person can teach you about the Thai language

If you really need instruction in Thai the only good thing I think a Thai teacher is good for is pronunciation. Knowing exactly how to say the tones and pronounce words correctly. That's about it. Just like me, I couldn't teach a word of English but I sure as hell could teach a Thai how to pronounce the word French Fries so it stops coming out Fwench Fwied! Oh yeah I'd love to Fry a few French people but I wouldn't put one in my mouth!

I'll never be a scholar in the Thai language because I don't care to be I can talk to any Thai person all day all night about pretty much any topic crack jokes Thai's havn't even heard of and down a Sang Som or two and I'm happy with that. But I tell you what I didn't get there because I listened to some scripted teacher who thought some of the first things to learn in Thai were the names of the different fingers and toes.

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About Chris

Chris founded LivingThai.org in 2011 and has received over 3 million visitors. He has lived here for over 10 years and speaks reads and writes very good Thai.

5 Responses to You can’t learn Thai from a Thai

  1. sam December 18, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    Nice tips for learning thai. I look your articles as they have lot of good information.

  2. Johnnie Walker December 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Excellent point Chris.

    I often think how ridiculous it is that so many farang teach English in Thai schools, yet are unable to speak Thai.

    How can they do that? Obviously only by getting the pupils to mimic words & phrases without a clue as to their meaning.

    People always “think” in their mother tongue, therefor they need things explained in the first language.

    • Chris December 20, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more, though there are some really good teachers that it wouldn’t matter, but I’m sure the really good teachers are far and few between.

  3. Mina December 27, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    Nice Post. I was never formally taught by a Thai person either. I had CDs and a book. Oh yeah!
    Although I never knew that สัญญาณไฟจราจร means traffic light! That is probably why I am lost when I try (and fail) to read the newspaper. So many words I have never seen before (and I do ok with reading/writing chat/signs).

  4. expat February 7, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    At least one hood point in your texts. It is true that all the mother tongue teachers are shit. They never needed to learn a foreign language, so how they wanna teach someone else? I speak three languages fluently cause I grew up in a country with four mother tongues, two of them were mandatory from the beginning of school and english came after 3rd grade. Thats proper language education, and therefore I am able to teach someone else much better than some aussie or american who has no clue about learning their own language like a foreigner in school.

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