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Learning to read and write Thai

Immersive programs, classroom study and private instruction, worldwide.

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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby Rick Bradford » Sun Apr 14, 2013 3:15 am

The only way to read any language at an acceptable speed is to be able to recognize words as 'chunks' of information rather than parsing every letter. This is doubly important in Thai as the words are not separated by spaces.

Even in English, you need to know the words 'cough', 'rough', 'bough', 'though', 'through', and 'lough' if you are going to have any chance of pronouncing them right.

In Thai, you obviously have to learn that กรุง and กรุณา do not follow the same pronunciation rules. The best way to do that is to know and recognize the words.

And unless you can recognize the words in a phrase like ทฤษฎีเศรษฐศาสตร์, you could be parsing syllables for hours.

So reading skill is closely tied to breadth of vocabulary, which in turn can be bolstered by regular reading.

The only way to learn to read well is to read, read, read.
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby David and Bui » Sun Apr 14, 2013 3:45 am

Rick Bradford wrote:The only way to read any language at an acceptable speed is to be able to recognize words as 'chunks' of information rather than parsing every letter. This is doubly important in Thai as the words are not separated by spaces.

Even in English, you need to know the words 'cough', 'rough', 'bough', 'though', 'through', and 'lough' if you are going to have any chance of pronouncing them right.

In Thai, you obviously have to learn that กรุง and กรุณา do not follow the same pronunciation rules. The best way to do that is to know and recognize the words.

And unless you can recognize the words in a phrase like ทฤษฎีเศรษฐศาสตร์, you could be parsing syllables for hours.

So reading skill is closely tied to breadth of vocabulary, which in turn can be bolstered by regular reading.

The only way to learn to read well is to read, read, read.

I fully agree. Consider the degree of phoneticism of languages as a continuum with Chinese (non-phonetic) at one end of the continuum and Spanish and German at the other end (highly phonetic). Both Thai and English fall in between, with Thai more phonetic than English (our vowels are non-standard). Some do not consider English to be a phonetic language at all. http://www.englishclub.com/esl-articles/200104.htm

Thai, at least is standard enough to give the new learner the impression of high phoneticsm, only to have his or her frustration build as he or she learns more about the writing system.

For me, the most effective method of learning reading is through word recognition and through application of the orthography rules only to words which are new to me. When confronting a new word, the RID's phonemic Thai system seem to provide the best reading assistance for us lay readers. For the professional linguists, on the other hand, I would understand the allure of the International Phonetic Alphabet in helping to elucidate a particularly difficult word.
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby Toffeeman » Sun Apr 14, 2013 5:39 am

Couldn't agree more with Rick's post above. When I first moved to Thailand I knew the alphabet and tone rules and could read a bit but wanted to read fairly fluently. I soon realised the only way to read fluently is to understand the words you are reading just as we do in English. There is no short cut. It means reading and reading and reading as well as looking up the words that you don't understand. It takes time but it is worth the effort. Finding a book or magazine that is on your level and then gradually increasing the difficulty over time helps you not to lose heart. I still read Thai every day though I have had to move back to Old Blighty. It is one of the goals I have set so I don't lose the Thai I have learned.
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby rapidthai » Wed Dec 09, 2015 12:59 pm

It's a shame that some people who have already learnt to read the conventional (brute-force) approach seem to disparage anything that might make it easier and more effective for newcomers.

I've done a lot of comparative research and - except for a relatively small group of diehards (usually people who are very academically-minded or prefer to study 'linguistically' and memorize facts by rote) - nearly everyone who has followed the Rapid Method of learning to read - and subsequently speak and understand - Thai have found it to be remarkably effective.

Unfortunately, once you start learning the conventional way, it is very difficult to break out of it. You can't really unlearn what you've invested so much effort into learning: try looking at this English text and think back to the time when as a child you could not read it. It's impossible. You can't unlearn the skill and subsequently it's very difficult to break bad habits. (You can get a feel for what it was like if you turn a page upside down.)

One of the problems of learning Thai by studying the alphabet and then learning a bunch of disconnected rules is that you invariably read like a dyslexic; and even when you have mastered every single letter, it's slow reading... at least until you develop the vocabulary that allows you to recognize whole words as chunks. It works, but it's a very steep learning curve that takes a huge amount of mental effort and a long time to master. Most people give up.

The misconception that some people have about 'mnemonics' is that it takes an extra and unnecessary effort that detracts from the raw fact.

That may seem to be true. It does require a lot of effort to come up with a workable mnemonic (often different for each person) and then to focus on the mnemonic rather than the fact in question.

But here’s the rub: Thai letters look very much alike and seem to be completely arbitrary and random. The worst offenders are what I call the “chicken” letters (which by coincidence happens to be the “ko kai” character): ก ภ ถ ณ ญ ฌ ฏ ฎ ฦ ฤ They all look the same! So how do you tease them apart? Learning their names (which are NOT ‘mnemonics’, by the way, because there is absolutely no way to connect the visual properties of the letter to its name) is not at all helpful. Even if you are Thai, the names of the letters do very little – except give you the sound of the letter. But you have to memorize the shape by rote. I’ve monitored Thai kids and noticed that it takes them about 6 months of shouting out the alphabet every day just to learn the names of the letters (in alphabet order) – the equivalent of our ABC. But it takes them another 4 years (usually much more) to connect the names of the letters to the actual letters themselves. They get the most common ones after a year or so, but aren’t able to recognize the more obscure ones until much later.

As adults (and foreigners), we need a completely different approach. For a start, we learn more effectively when we think strategically, not by repetition. (Who’s got the time!?)

It’s been demonstrated clearly that mnemonic devices work! (Just look up Dominic O’Brien, a kind of memory athlete…)

Here’s a ball-park comparison between the amount of time and effort to memorize a bunch of facts (letters of the alphabet, vocabulary, etc.) by rote and with mnemonics:

Learning the 70-odd letters and symbols of the Thai alphabet takes about a week of 4-5 hours of memorization and recall each day by rote (no reading and not bothering to remember the names of the letters, just recognizing them). If you look at a collection of 70 pictures, the same process takes about two days, staring at the pictures and trying to recognize them for a couple of hours each day. That’s 25 hours vs 5 hours. Five times quicker.

When it comes to actually reading whole words (without any understanding), those who study really hard and in a focused manner will usually take about 6-8 weeks, studying 4-6 hours per day (excluding weekends). I based this on the intensive reading course offered by AUA in Chiang Mai and monitoring some of the students who attended it. Those who attend my intensive 6-day workshop (6 hours of study-time per day) get to read by the end of it at roughly the same level. To really consolidate what they’ve learnt, it usually takes another 30 hours to gain the same kind of fluency as a 10-year old child. That’s 150 hours (with AUA) vs 66 hours. Less than half the time yet resulting in a greater competency at reading and pronunciation including the business about tones.

Now, what about understanding, you ask? To read conventionally, you do need to have quite a deep understanding of what you are reading just to make out what’s going on. The Rapid Method takes a different approach: you learn the logic and mechanics of sounding out the words (it helps that Thai is a very logical and consistent language). And then you learn the meanings separately (now that you can read each word).

I did a quick ‘n dirty comparison using Anki – learning 500 vocabulary words used in the reading exercises – with mnemonics and without mnemonics. Anki is one of the most effective ways to learn vocabulary, it’s spaced-repetition flash cards. It’s extremely efficient because you focus only on what you don’t know. However, it still takes a while and a considerable effort to learn 500 words by rote: approximately 100 days studying about 20-30 minutes each day. When you add in hints and mnemonics (a little tweak I added to Anki), it takes about 20 days to remember the ‘easy’ 80% (400 words) and then maybe another 10 days to get the final 100 words. Oh and that’s only 10-15 minutes of study each day. So that’s over 40 hours (by rote) vs 7 hours (with the mnemonics).

But what do you do if you don’t have mnemonics? I’ve done most of the work already by thinking up mnemonics that will help you to remember the vocabulary list. It’s not always effective because mnemonics are very personal. I can easily remember what “soap” is in Thai because I already know that it’s “savon” in French. So it’s a very easy step to then get “saboo” in Thai. If you don’t know French then that mnemonic is useless for you… in which case you’d have to devise your own mnemonic.

bifftastic, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, I’m afraid. If “u-boat” doesn’t work for you then you might prefer “bucket” instead. And you could easily pack more information into the mnemonic by thinking of filling up the bucket with leaves. That gives you the Thai name as well (if you know what a leaf is in Thai). it’s an extra step – which I consider quite unnecessary, unless the word is a useful, everyday word anyway (and in this case, it is). But I opted for “u-boat captain” instead. A lot of thought went into this because u-boat captains are invariably male and so this letter also happens to be a “male” letter (what I call the “middle class”, the other classes being “females” and “ladyboys”).

Then when it comes to the next letter, the mnemonic is of a “spy balloon” (or you can think of it as a “periscope raised for spying out the enemy ships”). It’s a very small step between the two letters and people learn them as a pair (and they’re both “male” letters). I don’t know where they are in the alphabet and I don’t care. Now, “spy” is a crucial mnemonic because it gives you the exact sound of this letter: the “p” sound that follows an “s” in the English language. Very few people who study Thai the conventional way (using a kind of transliteration scheme) get this right. If I wanted to (and in this case it’s kind of useful too) then I can also pack in an extra mnemonic for “fish” [catching the fish that are splashing about from the deck of the u-boat]. What’s so elegant about this seemingly-convoluted approach is that I now know exactly how to correctly pronounce “fish” – ปลา or (s)plaa – in Thai.

When it comes to the letter, the mnemonic I use is “stomach”. Most people get this sound wrong also and confuse it with a regular T – because that’s how they learn it, or maybe they faff around with a halfway sound like TD or something. But you’ll never really hear this sound accurately, which means you’ll forever have difficulty pronouncing it, unless someone explains the mechanics of producing the sound in great detail. Like the “spy” (or “fish”) letter, the sound of this letter is exactly like the “t” that follows an “s” in the English language, like "stomach".

Thinking up mnemonics takes time – and a lot of mental effort. That’s the main disadvantage of using mnemonics and why a lot of people don’t like it. It takes much less mental effort to just repeat stuff over and over again almost mindlessly than to have to go through mental gymnastics to come up with a decent mnemonic. Nevertheless, I’ve done some informal research on this and, when you factor in the time and effort it takes to come up with a mnemonic for each word, it still works out to be more efficient and require less effort overall than to learn by rote. It took me about 12-15 hours of mental effort over a period of several months (off and on) to come up with 500 mnemonics. It took me longer than it should because I was searching for mnemonics that would be fairly universal, I couldn’t just pick the first thing that came into my head because it might not work for other people.

But, even then, the amount of time and effort to memorize 500 words – including the effort in coming up with the mnemonics in the first place – is still about half of what is usually required to learn the same 500 words by rote. If I were a memory gymnast like O’Brien then it might only take me a day or two (8 hours) to learn 400-450 words, but most of us have flabby brains, so it takes a bit longer!
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby bifftastic » Wed Dec 09, 2015 1:24 pm

In which universe do ก ภ ถ ณ ญ ฌ ฏ ฎ ฦ ฤ all look the same?
They have similarities, as do letters in other languages/scripts, but to claim that they all look the same is clearly untrue.

It is at that point that I stopped reading your post.

I'm sure that there are many people who find your methods helpful. I hope that they continue to do so.

People are all different. They choose learning methods that suit them.

Personally, I am not attracted to things that are promoted in such an evangelical style. I have chosen many different learning materials whilst learning Thai, most of which have, at some point, also been used by the some 70 million plus native Thai speakers in their studies of their own language. I find that to be recommendation enough.
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby rapidthai » Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:07 pm

55, I didn't mean you to take my argument as a personal affront. You are probably one of those people who do prefer a scholarly style of learning and that's great because you have a wealth of material to choose from and it gives you a lot of flexibility.

Saying that 70 million Thai people have successfully learnt their own language is, however, very unhelpful. In reality, we spend the first ten years of our lives learning our own language, despite the 'magic' ability for young children to pick up their native tongue almost without effort. (To demonstrate this point, try to ask any 10-year old to explain to a mechanic in his native language that a faulty car engine needs fixing, or to open a bank account or help you apply for a job or to request details from a builder about getting your house built, etc. etc.)

As children, we learn our own language very, very differently from how an adult learns a second language.

The problem that you've failed to identify (or acknowledge) is that there are so many expats who have lived in Thailand for 10 years or more and yet can still hardly hold a Thai conversation lasting longer than 3 minutes. Surely, after so much time 'immersed' in the culture, they should have been able to pick up a decent amount of Thai by now? Right?

The other thing that you are probably not aware of is the fact that we foreigners tend to read like dyslexics. I'm surprised you never had that problem, or maybe you've forgotten. When I watch people who are starting out learning to read the conventional way, they nearly always mix up ก ภ ถ ณ ญ ฌ ฏ ฎ ฦ ฤ or ค ด ต ศ or ส ล or ข ช ซ or ม น ท ห or พ ผ ฟ ฝ ป and they really struggle with the more obscure letters like ฌ ฆ ฒ. To them these letters look almost indistinguishable.

But when you've finally figured it out then it's hard to remember how confusing it all seemed in the beginning. We cannot imagine how difficult b d p and q were when we were children, but there are people who simply can't distinguish them at all - we say they suffer from dyslexia and put them on special programs. It's not the children who are dyslexic, it's the method of instruction that is dyslxeic!

:lol:
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby jacksmith » Tue Jan 26, 2016 10:53 am

tod-daniels wrote:I also know a Thai kid (I say kid because he's 22), who moved to the US when he was 8 and just returned to Thailand. He speaks Thai like a native speaker but can't read a single character in Thai :shock: . He's tryin' to teach himself to read using books written in English designed to teach non-native speakers to read Thai. Still it's not an easy go for him and he's struggling a LOT. :oops:

I don't think there are ANY schools which teach Thai reading to Thais who grew up abroad at all. Most Thai nationals here learned to read by having it beaten into their heads as kids, and that ain't the most ideal teaching environment for adults to learn anything :? .

There is a site called Teach Thai dot com, http://www.teachthai.com which run is by the Department of Informal Education along with the Ministry of Education. It teaches how to read Thai in English. It was designed to teach Thai reading to the children of Thai nationals who are stationed abroad and are native English speakers. (Sometimes that link displays with right click disabled, if it does just google it and see if you can find a different link to it ;) )

It's free, and quite good. So good in fact, it was how I taught myself to read Thai. Once you make a user name and password you can use the site for as long as you want. You do hafta be connected to the internet to use it, but it's something which may help If he can get an internet connection.

The only other thing I can recommend is that he buy a good book about reading Thai written in English. The one called "Introduction to Thai Reading" by Rungrat Luanwarawat isn't bad and one called "Reading and Writing Thai" by Somsonge Burusphat is pretty good too. I've got both of them and they're well worth the price.

Good Luck. ..


"So good in fact, it was how I taught myself to read Thai." ?!

There's nothing there about how to read Thai, just a lot of advertising crap
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Re: Learning to read and write Thai

Postby tod-daniels » Wed Jan 27, 2016 1:06 am

jacksmith wrote:There's nothing there about how to read Thai, just a lot of advertising crap


Umm, you did notice that my post was from May 25 2012, right? ;) :o :shock: :lol:
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