(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.