Readers' Submissions

Getting With The Fxxxing Program

Living as an ex-pat in a country with a different language, alphabet and culture can be challenging and seemingly discouraging at times. But sometimes things turn out for the best when they are initially fxxxed up. JFJ.

I was trying to get on a waiting list for a safe deposit box at a large banking institution and in order to get into the queue, needed to open an account with at least 100,000 baht. But being an ex-pat, they wanted a copy of my rental contract for the condo I was living in and a copy of my passport. When they got the lease, they realized it was no longer current and I had to get a new lease from my landlord. It literally took 4 or 5 visits to this bank to merely open a certificate of deposit. But feeling red-faced for these difficulties, they bumped me out of the queue and provided me with an available box.

Wanting to resume my Thai language studies, I took a placement level exam at a school recommended to me in Bangkok. I was ready to begin my studies when they let me know that they wanted 3 months tuition paid up front. Not knowing what I was getting in for in terms of the teacher or the other students in the class, I wasn't comfortable committing that far ahead. Instead I went looking on for a local teacher who would teach me privately. I bumbled into a young woman looking to leave a language school and work on her own and I hit the jackpot. A remarkably competent English speaker for someone who had never been outside Thailand who was also quite diligent and capable.

In addition to improving my minimal Thai language speaking skills, I fortuitously began learning to read and write as well. You can spend a long time faking things when you are merely speaking a foreign language. But I found that when I had to identify and speak all the consonants and vowels, I had to get my shit together and faking things would no longer suffice. Once I could see the difference between gluay (banana), glua (afraid) and gluua (salt), pronouncing them appropriately became much more likely. But I was also quickly disabused of the notion that Thai is a phonetic language and that if you can read a word you are capable of speaking it. I don't know where that myth came from. Just as many massage shops offer 'special' additions to the advertised service, the Thai language has a generous number of 'special' words whose pronunciations are only an approximation of what you read.

I'm the first person to admit that the English language must be hell to master for the non-native English speaker, but the Thai language has its own unique challenges. Fortunately they do not have upper and lower case in their alphabet but they do have different fonts and it is common to have difficulty in merely identifying the letter in another font for the beginner. Thai has many sounds that are not at all easy for the English speaker to acquire and master. 'Fxxxing' and 'nothing' end in NG, but an abundance of Thai words begin with NG. And trying to accurately speak the difference between ngoo, ngao, nguu and nguun can be daunting. These are not obscure words, but words necessary to everyday speech. (stupid, lonely, snake and money)

In English we refer to a school of fish or a litter of kittens. The 'classifiers' of the Thai language group together seemingly disparate objects and assign them a required name necessary to speak grammatically. Books, magazines, knives and candles are lumped into the 'lem' classification. Fruit, mountains, balls and round objects (but not eggs) are lumped into the 'luuk' classifier which just happens to be the identical word used to indicate one's own children. Pens and pencils are not grouped together but cars, motorcycles, spoons and forks are. Why didn't the fxxxing forks get classified with the knives? Thai language doesn't even have plurals, so how are they supposed to ever remember that the plural of 'knife' is 'knives'.

For people accustomed to reading strictly from the left to right, I was anticipating great difficulty when I found that Thai vowels can come before, after, above, below a consonant or in many combinations. But this proved not to be all that difficult.
Spelling is frequently difficult in a language full of 'special' words to say nothing of a language that has 5 different letters that all sound like a T, only four that sound like S, and a couple that make our H sound. It has occurred to me in a tongue-in-cheek manner that the rote memorization seemingly so prevalent in Thai schooling uses so much brain capacity that an insufficient amount is left for rational thought and planning for the future.

But it is a rather fascinating intellectual exercise and when I began to be able to read things on the street, I felt like a secret code had been shared with me. In reality, I had just been another lazy native-English language speaker who finally got off my ass and got with the proverbial language program. Certainly improving my Thai skills will be a never-ending process and will almost certainly never approach my proficiency in English. But even if you don't want to speak with the locals or even the girls in the bar, imagine how much fun you can have being the proverbial 'fly on the wall' who can listen to the conversations without people having a clue to your capabilities. That's almost a Spiderman or Superman like power when the locals assume you don't know their language.

Sure, there are ongoing frustrations such as thinking that if you can read the word or phrase, you can understand what is being conveyed. Au fxxxing contraire.

My favorite word in Thai is due to it's spoken sound. It is a special word in that it's spelling only approximates what is spoken. This word, JING, means REALLY, and in assent to the question is frequently replied to with JING, JING. To further emphasize the power of JING, JING, I coined the phrase JFJ (Jing Fxxxing Jing) with some of my Thai friends. We even began to use it as an acronym in our phone text messages. Any day now I'll begin sending text messages in Thai but I haven't figured yet out much effort will be required to combine the Thai words JING JING with its English F word in the center. But that only then leads to adopting English language words into Thai for which it wasn't intended or designed. Another interesting topic.

Living in a different culture opens up all sorts of interesting contrasts to what you are accustomed to. Learning that foreign alphabet and language helps keep things interesting and challenging. My last girlfriend who was so self-centered and sociopathic inquired if I was learning Thai so I could speak to her mother. But I've got other ideas. Yet it would have been fascinating to ascertain the mother's personality that generated such a wild daughter. Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing.

Yes, there are disappointments that crop up when you are no longer in the dark as to what people are saying around you. When you are oblivious to the content of the conversation, you can imagine that you are witnessing a profound interaction and that you are missing out on something interesting, perhaps even fascinating. Au fxxxing contraire. Mostly it's all about the last meal or the next meal. . . Bon appétit (BFA)

Stickman's thoughts:

I studied German and French when I was younger. German wasn't that difficult because it shares a lot of similarities with English and the pronunciation was fairly easy. The more you studied though, the more challenging the grammar became. French I found somewhat more difficult and found it shared less with English, which should be no surprise because it comes from a different group of ;languages whereas English and German come from the same group. That said, a lot of words in French and English are the same, or very similar. Now when it comes to Thai and English, there are very few similarities at all and that, on the one hand, can make it appear difficult, at least at first. But then the grammar of Thai is much more simple, and it is much less precise than English. Add in that the vocabulary is much smaller and overall I think Thai is not that difficult a language to learn. At least that was my experience.