Learning Thai

In addition to my public health and community health classes, I’m taking a Thai language class. We have three classes a week and a peer tutor one night a week. Learning the language helps with my everyday life in Khon Kaen and will help me communicate with my host family once I am in the community.

At the beginning of our first class, our “ajan” (professor) gave us a disclaimer that the past few years she has had someone run out of the first class crying. Luckily, our class was the exception but I quickly realized where the frustration came from. The class is setup very different from how I taught Spanish. All the words for the day on the board are in Thai writing and the ajan doesn’t translate the word or phrase to English at all. Instead there is a picture that they point to and we write down the phonetic translation in our books.

The Thai language is different in many ways from English. One of the biggest challenges is Thai being a tonal language. There are five different tones – rising, falling, middle, high and low. If you use the wrong tone with the same pronunciation of a word, it means something completely different. For example, “gly” in falling tone means near and “gly” in middle tone means far.

I thought that already having learned another language would help me with learning Thai but it has actually caused confusion for me. When I am trying to speak Thai, I’ve noticed many times that the first thing that comes to mind is the Spanish word. It’s like my brain knows that I’m not trying to speak English so it chooses what it knows next best. I didn’t think I still knew so much Spanish until now. Even with these challenges, learning the local language has made me feel more welcome in Khon Kaen and helped me connect with my roommate.


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