Readers' Submissions

I Speak Thaiglish

  • Written by Mike
  • April 22nd, 2011
  • 5 min read


I caught myself, unaware that I was not speaking correct English to my Thai wife when I asked her “you go to store?” Of course I should have said “Did you go to the store?” I have not been helping my wife as much
as I could be by using Thaiglish when I talk with her. She has done remarkably well at learning English in the 1½ years that she has been in the US, but she still has a long way to go to achieve what I would call fluency. She attended English
school for about 8 months but her work schedule now, and the school's don't quite work out. I think we will see about enrolling her this Fall and perhaps she can modify her work hours to fit classes in. We have a number of resources
at universities and the public schools in our community and the classes are almost free with a $20 enrollment fee. I have had some reservations about the public school offering as some of her lessons seemed to be more for those seeking citizenship
and that is about two years away for her.

English is a struggle for her as the Thai language doesn't seem to have anything in common with it. The Thai language, at least on the surface, seems a bit simpler than English with no past, present and future and no plural modifications
to the words. She has some of the concepts and understands what they mean, but falls short at times in the correct application. One day when I was sitting outside on our porch doing nothing in particular she asked me “Are you boring?”.
I knew she meant to say “Are you bored?” but just got the tenses mixed up. Another occasion on a short trip to view the thousands of snow geese that make a stop there on their way to Canada she remarked “I never see so many
bird”, leaving off the “s” to make it plural. Like so many Asians she tends to want to use “L” instead of “R”. I am fairly consistent about helping her with this pronunciation. I do not want “flied
lice” for dinner and I am a farang, not a falang! I insist that she gets this Thai slang word correct.

She works at a small business with all English speaking people. They are exceptionally good at helping her with English and she is in a period where her speaking and listening skills are rapidly increasing. Every day she learns new words
and the correct pronunciation. I think perhaps one of the best ways to learn a new language is to talk with different native speakers as much as one can. I try to let her do the talking when we have an appointment or go to buy something, and back
her up only when she gets stuck. There are times when she has difficulty as you can use different words to say the same thing with the English language. A waitress at a restaurant asked her what her nationality was. She would have understood “What
country are you from” but she didn't know the word nationality. Another occasion she needed to purchase a bus card for the short ride from our home to school. I let her out of the car and waited for her to purchase the card from a
grocery customer service counter. I think her pronunciation sounded more like “but cod”. She did persist and the clerk finally said to her “Oh you want a bus ticket”. Dumb ass doesn't he know what a “but
cod” is?

I am able to communicate with her quite well. Sure at times we have problems in understanding but I know the words she understands and try to use them. For some words Google translator is a great tool and we have language support and Thai
stickers on our computer keyboards. If I am trying to explain something to her at times there is simply not enough words she understands to get it done. I was quite surprised to discover that after two beers her English improved remarkably. I
think the beer relaxed her enough to stop worrying about the words she was saying and just let it flow. She worries that she will not say the words correctly and not be understood. I think many Thais share this feeling.

She is frustrated with trying to learn English and I understand. Everyone in her daily life speaks English and she wants to be a part of the conversations. Still, she is persistent, courageous, and eager to learn. She doesn't mind having
her pronunciation corrected and is always ready to practice saying new words correctly. At first, I thought the “face” thing that most Thais struggle with would be a hindrance, but it is not an issue at all. She remains committed
to learning and is happy for any help that comes her way. She has a long distance calling card that is extremely cheap for calls to Thailand so she can have real conversations that she understands completely in her native language. She can also
chat with family and friends in Thai, on MSN. Thank God for technology!

So, I am giving up Thaiglish. I understand that she may not be able to speak grammatically correct English, but she is going to hear it from me! I am looking for suggestions on a book for teaching ESL. I have a stint of university teaching
but never ESL. Meaning I know about learning concepts but not for language. Perhaps you or your readers would make some suggestions.

Mike



Stickman's
thoughts:

It is good if you can "grade" your language when speaking with your wife, meaning that you retain correct grammar, but speak a little slowly, clearly, eliminate slang and idioms and are selective about the vocabulary you use. This will be of great benefit to those learning the language.