I have my 12 month education visa...woo hoo, and even though I missed two of my Thai language classes, I feel that I've learnt a lot more about Thailand (the country) in those 9 days, than I ever would have in the class room.
It's hard enough to speak Thai here in Chiang Mai, where they're used to hearing farang accents and language blunders on a daily basis. But out in the rural north east, we barely had a hope in hades. Hell, we didn't even know if they were speaking the same dialect.*
I read once that to learn Thai, find a village where nobody speaks English and live there for a year. A frightening prospect perhaps, but I can definitely see how this method could work. Being forced to reach in to your brain and search for a few appropriate words, or listen to Thai being fired at you with the speed of an automatic weapon, is not something I have to deal with very often. It forces you to try, and to really listen...listen for a word you might recognise. It also makes you step outside of your language safety zone, if you have one, like I do.
Of course there are times you just have to throw your arms up in the air and say 'mai khao jai...mai bpen rai', I don't understand, it's not a problem.
For every misunderstanding, there is an understanding 'hallelujah moment' and it can be very encouraging. Encouraging enough to watch Harry Potter in Thai, sitting in an Uttaradit hotel, without English sub titles. Hey, I still don't know what it was all about, but it was fun trying.
While I was away, the subject of learning Thai script was raised in class. I started learning on my own, while still in Australia and write all of my homework and notes in both transliteration and Thai, even though we're not required to. I'm afraid of forgetting what little script I know. Repetition, repetition, repetition...something,s got to sink in! Hasn't it?
The matter has been left up to us and I can see both the cons and the pros. We're told that script is not usually tackled until after the second book and that it will slow our learning of conversational Thai, down considerably. I can appreciate this. Personally I think, reading and writing is essential for pronunciation ... come on...how do you write some of those vowels using English letters?
Either way, I'm staying out of this debate, because I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing, regardless. I see my Thai course as only part of the language experience and am not relying on it, and it alone.
*Stray and I know what each other are saying when we speak Thai and joke that at worst, we'll go home with a secret language made for two.
See what else we're up to at Cooee!