Readers' Submissions

To Speak Or Not To Speak

  • Written by Wanderer
  • September 1st, 2003
  • 4 min read


By Thai Wanderer


An alternative view to the guy who commented his: "biggest complaint is against long term Thailand residents who have not put in the effort to speak fluent Thai"

– Why is he so worried what other people do/don't do. Surely it's "up to them"?

– Hasn't he thought that sometimes it's better not to know what's going on over here?

When you understand how things really are, it's often not as nice as you thought in Thailand. After all it's the land of illusions.

– Does he really think speaking Thai makes a big difference to how much fun you have?

– Do the Thais really care?

– Thais always comment: "Phuut phaasaa thai geng" or "phuut phaasaa thai chaat", whether you speak fluent Thai or just say "sawasdee". They don't care and it doesn't really have any meaning.

– Thais and some long term expats who speak Thai seem to think it's a big deal. As though it's some very difficult language. And if you read and write well you must be really clever indeed.

– I guess the guy who wrote the paragraph in your weekly falls into the "look at me I can speak Thai – aren't I clever" category

– It speaks volumes when people tell you, you should do the Pathayom 6 exam. (Thailand's supposed recognition of Thai language proficiency). As you know Pathayom 6 is the level for 11-12 years old school children.

Yep, I really want to do this Pathayom 6 exam and prove to the world I can speak Thai like a 12 year old! Apart from Thailand, anywhere else in the world would laugh at such a level of qualification.

As for me, before I get put into the category of taking the easy road, and being an expat that's been here a while but didn't make the effort: I might just add that I studied Thai for 10 months at Chula (their "No.1" university), and did make the effort.

Studying at this "No.1" University would be another story in itself. But I think it sums the place up, when students from the dramatic arts faculty (perhaps the most artistic? / creative? student faculty in any university?) think it's hilarious to shout "Hey, Jonas" every time they see a blond "farang" ("whitey").

Yep, this gives you get an indication of how intellectual these people really are, not to mention a slight hint of racism. Yep, the shining, creative stars of Thailand's future. And these are the people I should strive to attain Thai fluency so I can speak with them.

Personally I think it's worth a bit of effort to learn to get by in Thai. After you have the basics, though the benefit doesn't justify the effort or cost.

You have good times (and bad times) in Thailand regardless of whether you speak the language or not. Ability to speak Thai is a double-edged sword. Sometimes you gain. Sometimes you lose.

I speak several languages and would say Thai is the most overrated, and least useful I know. In other countries if you learn a language fluently, you can use it in different situations, e.g.:

– Reading literature (be honest how many famous Thai authors are there? I can't name one! How many could you or this guy name?)

– Talk about life, philosophy, religion, politics society, etc (in Thailand these can be taboo
subjects in case someone might feel uncomfortable – so they usually aren't talked about, and opinions aren't always expressed)

– Hold intellectual conversations, and worthwhile conversation. (Ha ha – just remember most of the people you talk to – Admittedly there are a few people worth discussing such topics with, but these usually speak excellent English anyway)

So I'd say there's very little argument for being fluent. Speaking some Thai yes, being fluent, no.

I would go back to learning Thai once the majority of Thais have something worthwhile to say.

And to the Thai who comments without thinking, that I'm clever because I can speak, read and write thai, all I'd say is:

If over 60 million uneducated farmers can speak, read and sometimes write Thai, then what's the big deal that a "whitey" can?

* Jonas is a famous, camp, blond haired, "farang", who speaks fluent Thai and sings Thai folk songs. I believe he comes from Sweden.

Stickman says:

This was originally just an email from a reader that I enjoyed so much that I requested he allow me to use it as a reader's submission – and here it is.