Readers' Submissions

Education And Language

  • Written by BAH
  • February 4th, 2011
  • 5 min read


Much has been written about Thai education in this forum. Here’s my contribution.

Recently I watched a Thai TV live show (“The Naked Show”), essentially a stand up comedy, quite long (time period) and with only one stand up. The bloke was good, kept the audience interested and laughing. I couldn’t understand most of his sentences, only a word here and there. However there was one particular segment which really stood out.

He produced a box containing a new laptop and proceeded down to the audience. He then fronted up with the box and his mike and asked members of the audience to recite the Thai alphabet (the consonants, all 44 of them).

The audience consisted of young adults of both sexes, I judged 20-30 years old. The first guy got three letters out then stopped, open mouthed, blinking, the second 4 and so on. He tried about 6 blokes, the furthest anyone of them got was to the 8th letter (j).

He then moved on to a row with some females in it. The first one got through it easily, by singing it, just like in Aus we sing the ABC. There and then he handed her the computer.

I couldn’t believe how useless the males were, I’d read that the education system in Thailand was bad, but that bad??

I discussed this with my Thai language tutor next day, and she agreed “the young people of today” seem to be pretty hopeless, especially with spelling. She said they ‘make up’ words by sounding them out with letters and getting the tone right with a tone mark (not necessarily the way to do it) <Some Thai women on dating sites do this and it is pretty obvious that they had but a modest educationStick>. Being a student of the language I can understand this to a degree because the spelling is bloody difficult and much of it rote learning (I know that’s true for all languages but with so many letters and lots of words from ancient Indian languages, the difficulty in Thai is cranked up many notches). There are so many consonants which have the same sound – 6 of them have the sound ‘t’ for example, and depending where the consonants appear in a syllable they can have a different sound – consonants reliably retain their designated sound only when at the beginning of a syllable. Even the tone marks change their effect depending on what class of consonant (3 classes) they appear above. There are all sorts of other complications that won’t fit in this article. It’s a fuggin’ difficult language all round.

A retired high school teacher had me read a word – it included a silent ‘h’ which was there to alter the tone (I’ve got my silent h’s nailed down). She said a lot of Thais would get this wrong and try to say the ‘h’, not knowing why it is there. It’s my opinion that the ‘powers that be’ like the fact that a large percentage of the population is partially illiterate – easier to be kept dirt poor and services therefore remain cheap. Even allowing small changes like putting a space between words would make such a difference.

Thai language has a habit of taking English words and ‘adjusting’ them to ‘the Thai way’. Classic I came across recently is the word ‘golf’. Thais in general have a problem with the sounds ‘r’ and ‘l’, often/usually ‘r’ comes out as ‘l’. When it’s buried in a word like this one it often never gets said. When they write the word ‘golf’ in their own script, they put a punctuation mark above the ‘l’ sound which says ‘this letter is silent’, so the word is pronounced ‘gop’! Why ‘p’ on the end? Even though the letter they write at the end is an ‘f’, this is said as ‘p’ because at the end of the word! So even if a few Thais can/would like to say the ‘l’ and the ‘f’, they can’t if they say the word as written! Weird stuff.

Another example I heard recently with the problem ‘r’ was ‘kao mai mee blaa’ – the speaker used the English word and meant ‘she has no bra’, but ‘bra’ came out as ‘blaa’ – pretty much Thai for ‘fish’. Err . . what? Classic case of getting it ballsed up (also a classic case of the Thai way, in some circles at least – no privacy – I had just shown up for a haircut and the hairdresser was down the back somewhere presumably putting on her bra).

All of that said, learning Thai language is good fun, recommended as a real and absorbing mental challenge for an old codger – should put off Alzheimer’s for a decent period of time (10 minutes at least). You know the job will last forever – you’ll definitely run out of time before you learn it all. It’s a great way to break the ice too – start a Thai lady larfing at your attempts with the language and you’re on your way!

‘Scuse I, gotta dash, soft brown hands and all that!


Stickman's thoughts:

Thai is a very easy language to reach survival level in, or what is often termed "taxi Thai", but to really make progress with the language I believe that it is necessary to learn to read and write. Once you can read and write then you can learn the tone rules…which happens to be the point many learners drop out!