I’ve started taking Thai lessons at AUA.
Foreigners in Thailand fall into a few different camps when it comes to speaking Thai:
1) “Speak English you browned-skinned savages!” These people are either FOP tourists, or expats that really hate Thailand because nothing ever works properly for them. They haven’t noticed that Thailand has an official language, and it’s not English. You can laugh at these people without feeling guilty because their racist refusal to put in any effort towards learning Thai is the source of 99% of their frustrations.
2) “Poot passa Thai geng mak!” A lot of foreigners fall into this category. They can say “sawatdee ka”, “thaorai ka?”, “kao moo deng”, “leo sai, leo kwa”, basic numbers and do lots of pointing. These foreigners feel pretty clever in their “mastery” of Thai as Thai people are always telling them how clever they are, but this has a certain element of “Wow! A dancing dog!” in it, like they’re amazed foreigners can speak ANY Thai.
3) “I give up”: they took some Thai lessons 3 years ago and got frustrated with making slow progress, or never being understood by Thai people because their tone was off. One guy gave up learning Thai because he started understanding Thais trash-talking behind his back as he walked by: he’d rather not know.
4) Mastery! These people are usually either:
a) married to a Thai
b) living kee nok in the middle of nowhere, often combined with (a),
c) a really high-level diplomat or executive
d) into linguistics.
Apart from the ghetto “i married a hooker and moved back with her to issan” contingent, these foreigners never fail to impress me. My friend Muriel falls into this category, and I started to notice, going around the city with her, that EVERYTHING WENT A LOT BETTER FOR HER. When she ordered something in a restaurant, she got what she ordered. People were pleasant and helpful to her (genuinely so, not the smile-smile-do-whatever variety that is the hallmark of confused service people). Navigating the city was so much easier. Even more, every single Thai friend I have LOVED HER, people loved having little chit-chats with her, and they were always curious about her.
It was a real eye-opener to see how many of the frustrating aspects of Thailand that foreigners attribute to Thai people being different or, (let’s be honest) stupid and lazy — stem from the fact that these foreigners don’t speak Thai, and therefore, can’t make themselves understood, and don’t understand what people say to them. I mean — DUH — but it’s easy to fall into feeling like you don’t need to learn more than a few words of Thai to get by here, because Thai people ARE so accomodating and gracious, all things considered.
AUA uses a really cool method for teaching Thai called “natural language acquisition”, which I’d like to tell you more about in my next post.