I decided a little while ago I would like to learn some Thai. I’ve been in Thailand – accidentally – for nearly a year, and it seems embarrassing that I only know the words for Hello and Thank you. Useful words, but still – I’m living up to the British stereotype and I don’t like it. To encourage me, I put it on my Bucket List , where it’s sat, looking at me reproachfully since then. Back in Chiang Mai, once the excitement of Mum’s visit had died down, I decided now was as good a time as any to try it out.
There are plenty of Thai language courses in Chiang Mai. One of the ways you can get a year’s Visa here is to get what is called an education visa. If you learn at an accredited institution for a year, you can get a visa for a year along with the education. But it’s pretty variable. If I tell you the course I am doing is one month, and has 60 hours of teaching time, whereas one Educational Visa course I heard of has 50 hours – across one whole year….you will see that some people learn Thai in order to get the Visa. In fact, when I told someone I had my first Thai language lesson the other day, they said ‘ah, you’re staying for another year are you?”. In fact, I’m not doing my Thai course to get the education visa. I move in and out of the country reasonably frequently for work in Singapore and other places, which gets me another 30 day stamp each time. So it usually works out.
No, I am doing a month of Thai language lessons to actually learn some Thai…
I did a fair bit of research first, and eventually found the course that had a good balance of excellent reviews from other students, was a reputable institution, and did an intensive course over a period of a month. This was at Payap Univeristy, about 25 minutes from where I live. I booked my place online, but then they needed me to come in and pay (8000 baht, about £160 for the 60 hours of teaching, very good) and register in person.
I thought this was fine – a chance for me to get acquainted with the location, see how far away it was and so on. I drove there on a Wednesday. I took a few wrong turns on the way, and I had to travel on the ‘superhighway’ which is definitely a stretch for me on my little scooter. But I got there in the end. And found…a ghost town. A huge campus, with no one on it. Eventually I found out that it was a national holiday, and the university was shut that day. Unexpected….
I next headed over on a Monday, checking that it wasn’t a national holiday first this time. The campus is quite confusing, mainly because most of the signs (not unnaturally, I do appreciate!) are in Thai! Strangely though, I found each of the buildings appeared to be named different words from the Bible, like ‘Pentecost’. I found a building called Student Services, and headed in there. A woman behind a desk told me where to go – but she also told me at this point the offices would be closed for lunch, and to come back in a couple of hours.
I went off, dejected, and found a nearby coffee place. I came back at the appropriate time, and using my new directions, and a map which was all in Thai, made it to the actual building. I then had a lot of trouble finding the stairs! There was a staircase in the middle of the building, but it only went up one floor, and I needed to find the third floor…persistence paid off, and I finally found the room I needed. It was locked. I knocked, but no answer. I walked along the corridor and knocked on the next one, desperate. I went in, and there was someone there. Not only that, the last door I knocked on opened into this room also!
I went in, and the woman gave me a piece of paper – but told me I had to go to yet another office to pay! She did helpfully give me instructions on where the classes were actually going to be held the next week. In yet another building.
I sighed, took down the directions – but at least she replaced my Thai map with one in English. I went to the finance office, and finally managed to pay my fees. I then did a complete circuit of the campus on my scooter to figure out my parking and where I was going for my lessons the next time.
I found the experience above somewhat stressful. And thinking about it later, there were a couple of things that made it so. One, which was very interesting for me to consider, was that I was very conspicuous on the University Campus. There are very few non-Thai people there, and, even more strangely to me, despite it being a University, all the students wear uniforms. So non-uniformed and English, I stood out quite a lot. And I found I didn’t want to ask for directions. Which is kind of embarrassing as I write it. Why on earth wouldn’t I ask for directions? And being too embarrassed to do that held me up even more. And created more stress.
Thai lesson one
I’ve just finished lesson one of the course, so thought I would capture my thoughts right now. By the time you read this, I will be on week two. The course is three hours every week day, 9-12. It means I can fit it into my current routine and life. I get up, do my morning pages, eat breakfast at home, then head out on the Superhighway. It’s about 20 minutes away. Today I was an hour early and did my morning pages on campus so that I didn’t have any traffic problems, but tomorrow I will be a bit more relaxed.
The teacher, a Thai, is lovely. His name is Boyd (most Thai people have a short – often more Western – version of their name), he managed our class of 15 Chinese, Japanese, Philippino, British, Australian, American, Canadian, Austrian and I think others very well.
Today we learnt some simple greetings – hello, how are you, see you later, goodbye, thank you etc. And it was hard. We learned that there are 5 tones in Thai, so as well as copying the words from the white board we also have to write a notation that describes the tone. We also learned the vowel sounds – so far we did 9 I think. Although the three hours went past in a blur.
Practice makes perfect
Tonight I’ll be heading to one of my favourite restaurants in Chiang Mai, where I’ll be practisingmy language skills on the forgiving staff. And, to be honest, on anyone else I meet. I think Thai people might find it strange I ask all of them if they are well, and say see you later to each one. In a formal way. But generally Thai people are very friendly and easy going, so hopefully I will get some practice in – and my homework (!!!) before lesson two…yikes!
Have you tried to learn a language as an adult? How did you find it? What strategies did you use?