Readers' Submissions

Answer To: Why Learn Thai?

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 15th, 2013
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok



After having read Korski's sub about why learn Thai, I would like to submit my own experience on this.

It would seem that Korski suggests that learning Thai is a waste of time. That might be the case for occasional tourists or those who come only one or twice a year. Considering a large part of the audience of this website, I would have to say for the mongers, there are obvious pros and cons.

The pros very briefly? Being able to poke through a lot of the BS these girls feed you, but more importantly, being able to talk to the newbie girls. They usually speak central Thai these days, but little or no English. This is NOT from experience.

Cons? Well, you actually have to put in an effort to learn something! Oh no.

Another con are the guys who learn bargirl Thai. This has been covered extensively before. The words 'ham' and 'djim' are not used in polite daily speech. Nor is 'ai hia'. It does not get you far either, except maybe a frown or a punch in the face.

I have lived full time in Bangkok for the last 2 years with my wife. I started learning the first few words over 8 years ago, but since living here full time it has gone much faster.

At this time, I am far from fluent. I can barely read it and could not have a technical discussion. However, I can get by making conversation and I can talk with my car mechanic (VERY important!).

My pros for learning Thai are:

* I can talk with my wife's family, who are sweet people. The extended family invite me to drink whisky with them at weddings, funerals and what have you. It is comfortable to be able to say whether you want more or less ice, soda or water, not so strong, what snacks you want with it. Moo yang with naam djim (not the same djim as above!) moo is lovely.

* I can talk with my drinking buddy in our little soi. A young, good looking guy from the South who wanted to befriend me. Isn't it nice that when you come home, he hands you a glass of whisky soda while just stopping by in the car to say hello?

* I can explain to a taxi driver where to go. An Austrian friend of mine, who speaks no Thai, lives in the most inaccessible place in Don Meuang. He has a well-worn note from his wife with directions to their house. I would hate that.

* I can ask for stuff in shops or for directions, can sometimes blabber my way out of crap with the BIB.

* Make conversation with neighbors, wife's friends, acquaintances, boys working for us and especially customers. Trying to run a business here, dammit. You have to be able to suck up to them.

* It puts the locals at ease that they can talk with me. How many times have I walked into a 7/11 when the staff cringe thinking, shit a foreigner, what do I do? Only to subside in relief when they hear me clearly ask for two packs of cigarettes, soft pack. That kind of thing rocks, if you ask me.

* Bypassing all the BS the people in the tourist ghettos try on. If you speak some Thai to them, they get a whole lot more polite. They still try to put one over on you, but at least it is done politely and with a smile.

* I actually managed to give a short, but intelligible, speech at my sister-in-law's wedding. Was quite nervous though.

* I can follow most of my wife's long phone conversations. Wouldn't you guys who are unsure of your Thai girlfriend's allegiance want that? Don't you want to be able to tell her that you love her in her own language?

My cons:

* I know I will never be truly accepted, just because I can speak (some) Thai. I will always be a 'farang'. I do not like that word as I perceive it as a derogatory term. The proper word for foreigner is 'tang chaat'. Even my wife gets pissed if people refer to me in that way. Almost had a spot of trouble with that a while ago at our local outdoor restaurant.

* As soon as they know you speak some Thai, some people can really blabber away and ask the same impertinent questions. How long have you been here? Wow, only so short and already speak good Thai? Do you have children? (No, cannot have any. Why? NOYFB) How much is a ticket to your country? How many hours to fly? How much do you make a month? A small pro? You can tell them it is private and you don't like to talk about it.

As Korski so astutely observed, learning the language to a truly fluent level takes a lot of book study and time. I have not done that and do not plan to. On the other side, I do not need to be as fluent as a native. It would be nice to be able to read the newspaper, but why would I want to read all those lies again anyway?

How did this come about? I am interested in languages. Already spoke 4. Just knowing hello, how are you and thank you is already a step into a new world. Later, taught myself to count. Real easy. I picked up my first phrases from the Lonely Planet Thai phrase book in 2004. After that my wife started teaching me one word a day and we work on my pronunciation. Hearing the tones and saying them right is tricky, but doable. After you get to a certain level, you can start to pick up the meaning from context. I do not have any illusions that I will understand this country or its people better from speaking Thai. Only to be able to communicate with them. It is fun to analyze some expressions. Like the apology 'Kaw thoht' which literally means: wish to prostrate myself.

I turned 40 last year, so hopefully have many years left of my life. I plan to spend those years left here with my wife until either of us dies. In the meantime, I cannot see any serious cons to learning the language. Sure, no use outside the country, but so what? I speak 2 other languages that are not spoken outside their respective countries either.

My wife's English skills are just fine, not perfect, but still good. We sometimes have communication errors, but much less. She taught herself English, because she wanted to learn English. However, we mix speaking Thai and English. Mostly she speaks Thai to me when she is tired. Besides, I think it is reasonable to make an effort to learn HER language if she can speak (one) of mine. I cannot stand not being able to communicate with people.

We do live in a small community in the north-east of Bangkok. Very few people speak English here so it is a necessity.

The only genuine insights I have about this country are:

Nothing is as it seems; and: you never know what you are going to get. True enough, you don't need to speak Thai to know that.

I am curious about one thing. In the numerous travels to Siam by our esteemed Korski, he must have picked up some Thai.
The question is, how much?




Stickman's thoughts:

Nice and balanced, and as you point out, there are plenty of pros AND cons.