Expat · Thailand

Pôot paa-săa tai dâi nít nòi

(or: speak language thai can a little)

I stopped my formal learning of the Thai language when I stopped taking classes. I stopped at Thai 2 and the classes go up to Thai 7 or 8. We were getting into reading and writing so I was introduced to the basics but haven’t touched any of it since. I call my Thai basic survival Thai and in hindsight I can see that I should have made more of an effort.

Learning a language tests your confidence and I didn’t feel confident especially when the good people of Thailand looked at me confused because I look (native) Thai. Even in class I would mumble just the bare minimum. It’s funny how a secure and positive person becomes whisper quiet when learning a new language.

As I fumbled with the language I got discouraged too easily while watching the pained expressions on vendors’ faces. Sometimes Thais would just hand me a Thiglish menu or say, daew, daew, daew as they ran off to grab a friend who they knew spoke English. And then other times they replied in English because their English was better than my Thai. (show offs. . .)

I know that farangs testing their Thai skills get the same reactions too. But when I’m with them the Thai almost always looks at me like, “You want to help out here? How long are we going to let this go? What the heck is he saying?” Or they will just start speaking to me in pasa Thai because whitey over here is simply too slow and clumsy. At times I have to become physically unavailable in order for my friends to practice their Thai.

Only now I realize, I don’t care. Why did I care!? I’m learning! I needed to be braver when a lot of times I just wanted life to be easy. Just give me what I want and let there be no surprises. But who wants to feel stupid? Because let’s face it when you don’t know the language you feel stupid and timid. Sure it is easy to ignore and block out the strange sounds but when you need something, you need to talk, you need to try.

Through this blog I’ve been able to connect with people I would not have met otherwise and one of my dear readers said to me, “I’d love for you to learn Thai.” Nobody has ever said that to me before. Obviously my family and friends want this but they don’t say this. It’s amazing what goes assumed and unspoken, choice of words is important too. I think I’ve occasionally heard “You should learn Thai” which has a very different feeling.

So if you think you need to learn Thai before you come to Thailand, think again. You can almost always get by. Mahatsajan. Bratet Thai Mahatsajan. Amazing Thailand. Sometimes I’m astounded by how many tourists there are in Chiang Mai and I think, surely they have stumbled upon the likes of me before? Regardless, Asian tourists are becoming more common so maybe my little presence here will make it easier for the next girl like me.

But when you do end up conversing with Thais, I find those who are used to working with tourists much more patient with you. I think they are used to English-only so when you make the effort they are pleased. I heard some great advice recently speak Thai when you know the words. When you don’t know the words use English. Seems bloody obvious but sometimes you have to state the bloody obvious.

If you can, find people who support you during your learning process. When I stumbled upon Thais who didn’t like my kind I let that deflate my confidence. I took it personally. Living abroad can be isolating at times but you can feel this way back in your passport country.

For now Thai will inevitably take a back seat to Spanish (another story) but I don’t want to lose what I have gained. Because I’ve gained some insight into pasa Thai, I now understand why my mom does the things that she does. Maybe learning Thai will be a longer story for me, more of a lifelong journey.

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7 thoughts on “Pôot paa-săa tai dâi nít nòi

  1. 'When I stumbled upon Thais who didn’t like my kind I let that deflate my confidence.'That's the funny thing about Thailand. You can go along smiling at everyone, expecting and getting a grand Thai smile in return, and then you hit a few Thais with anger and discontent in their hearts. Dunno about others, but it often ruins whatever good mood I'm in.And it always happens in the tourist areas of Thailand. Phuket was the worse for me. It was almost like they were not real Thais. Chiangmai is another tourist attraction with a few negative souls.I try to avoid coming into contact with some of those characters: Tuk tuk drivers, taxi drivers in the infested areas (I do what I can to get my own transport).'Learning a language tests your confidence and I didn't feel confident especially when the good people of Thailand looked at me confused because I look (native) Thai.'This has got to be quite the hurdle. Knowing that you won't get a positive response from local Thais unless you are fluent must be daunting. It's like you are expected to leap tall buildings before you can crawl.I'm a little bit wacky, but I'd be tempted to have some HUGE buttons made up. Loud and clear would be a request for their help to become more Thai in their eyes.(something like that… my brain is still in a morning fugg)To assist with confidence, I've always wanted to create an affirmation mp3 for learning Thai. My stumbling block? Finding a Thai lass to record it, as I don't want to listen to my own voice.'Only now I realize, I don't care. Why did I care!? I'm learning!'I love this statement. I might just print it out as a reminder for myself 🙂

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  2. Dang it! Buttons! Why didn't I think of that? That would have been too funny ~ it could have been a grand social experiment. . .hmmm. Where to find buttons?

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  3. Buttons are dead easy to source in the US and the UK, but I don't know where to go in Thailand. Another option would be stickers. Sticker carts are everywhere in Thailand. The hawkers will know where to get them printed up (some even do their own). And they might just know where to get buttons too.Another place to ask would be the night market. It's a hodgepodge of adventure!

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  4. Hi Lani, I just discovered your blog and am liking it very much. Good for you for learning Thai!! My daughters are Thai, we adopted them when they were 3 months old. Now they are 7 and I am going to Koh Samui for 2 months in June/July and I like for them to learn a bit of Thai during those 2 months… short but at least a small attempt to get some of their mother tongue…. We run into the same all the time when we travel to Thailand, everybody starts speaking in Thai to the girls, and it is me.. the Dutch woman who understands more than my Thai looking children, but we start to change that now!!Chock Dee!M

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  5. Thanks for reading Mireille. Taking a peek at your blogs and I'm sure you never tire of hearing this so I'll say it ~ your girls are beautiful!Good for you for giving your daughters a chance to learn Thai. The more I learn the more I appreciate it.But a looonggg way to go still. Cheers!

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  6. It's true that you can get by in Thailand without ever speaking a word of Thai. I know dozens of people who have lived here for 20-30 years and never bothered to learn anything. If you're living in Thailand you have the choice of making an effort and learning the language or outright refusing to do it. Those who refuse to learn the language will always be just Tourists even if they live here full time, those who learn the language are typically accepted by the local Thai's more freely and are granted a kind of status as an honorary Thai.

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