Reading and Writing Thai – Somsonge Burusphat

DrawingCowsinBrugesI highly recommend this book for anyone starting out to read the Thai language. The main thing I like about it is that it introduces everything slowly and builds it up gradually. I can string letters together to make the right sounds, but the tones, up until now, have been mystifying to me. I did a simple Google for ‘Thai tone rules’ and was completely overwhelmed by the explanations and the charts! I read a few posts on blogs from people who reckon they have ‘cracked’ the rules and found a way to simplify everything and just got more and more confused. What works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I took a deep sigh and a break from the computer and re-scanned my bookshelf. I noticed this book, which I had bought nearly a year ago and not properly looked at. I had been plowing headfirst into children’s books without much guidance or really understanding what I was doing, and was at much the same level as I had been months ago. I needed some drastic action, and realised that this might be the answer to actually improving.

The author starts by introducing mid and low class consonants and long vowels, then high class consonants and long vowels. Then she looks at the final sound of the syllable and how it affects tone. There are lots of repetitive exercises to help drill everything into the memory. After that, she moves on to talking about  short vowels and how the first and last consonant affect the tone. And so it goes on, gradually building up the rules that you have to remember. I really like the fact that she explains everything, but the majority of the book is reading exercises, which is what it should be. I believe that rather than knowing and being able to recite the tone rule chart off by heart, with enough practice I will be able to see a word and recognise it’s tone from looking at it, which of course, is what I’m aiming for. I already feel confident reading words with the tone rules that I have studied so far, and I’ve only been studying it for a few weeks. I feel like I’m getting somewhere!

There is maybe one con for me, that is that I don’t really understand the transliteration that is used. I also don’t really want to spend time learning it as I want to spend that time learning Thai. It’s used to explain what kind of sound the letters make. There’s no CD, so I think that if you don’t know what sounds the letters and vowels make already, it would be difficult to make any sense of it at first. Having said that, there are plenty of videos on YouTube of people showing the Thai letters and making the sounds, so there’s no excuse not to be able to learn it quite fast, if you haven’t got access to a native speak who will go through it with you. The transliteration is also used to for a few exercises that help you spell in Thai for example – ‘write ‘dEEn’ (walk) in Thai. If you don’t understand the transliteration then you can’t do the exercises.

Other than that I think it’s a great book in which the process of learning and remembering has been clearly thought out. Yay :D

How have you found learning the tone rules? What resources have you used when learning to read Thai?

(No) Banana Man

My walk to work in the morning used to take me round the corner or Sukumvit and Thong Lor. Everyday (ok well nearly everyday) I would walk past breakfast- stalls piled high with fried rice, fried noodles, rice porridge and other dishes, all ready to be put in a white box or a plastic bag and taken away. Busy people jostled about, their money ready, only to pay and then become the slowest walker ever as they continued up the street, me following closely behind trying to overtake on the right, no on the left, no ok the right… desperate to overtake somehow.

In amongst all this were two of my favourite sellers of breakfast. One was a lady who sold toast. Oh.. but not just any toast. This was delicious barbecued bread. Once the bread had been sufficiently browned over hot coals, it was covered in margarine and then dusted with sugar, or drenched in sweetened condensed milk. Cut up into triangular squares, I would take the sweet sticky bready mess and devour it later on.

Next to her was another barbecue. This guy was selling little banana leaf parcels, neatly held together with a cocktail stick at each end. One day I bravely asked for two, ‘ow sorng na ka’ and squirrelled them to work to find out what they were. To my delight, inside one was sticky rice and something sweet, mushy and lavender coloured (I later found out this was taro). To my disgust, I bit into the other one and… banana.

I.Hate.Banana. With a passion. Ewww. Yuck. Gross. Euuuuuurgh. I mean really.

So, from then on, in my bid to avoid banana poisoning and get the ones I liked, (and because I can be damn determined when I want to be) I attempted.. Wait for it.. I attempted to speak Thai. ‘Mai chop gluaay’ – I don’t like banana. Simple, easy. I wouldn’t get the banana ones again.

Simple… pssht. Every time I attempted the phrase the man would look at me blankly, and put a few parcels in a bag. Every time I would get one banana, one taro… Of course ‘mai’ means a bazillion different things if you change your tone slightly, and ‘gluaay’ well who knows.

Everyday I would try again, say it a different way, draw out ‘gluaaaaaay’, say ‘mai’ high pitched, say ‘mai’ low pitched. No avail. I tried English – ‘No banana’ – and…recognition! ‘Banana?’ he would say, and when I got it back to the office – two banana parcels.

A few months ago I changed jobs, turning my morning walk round the corner to a 25 minute train ride. I also, as it happens, began to officially learn Thai language. My breakfast, however, became something from 7Eleven, or a pastry from a self service bakery. Talk about boring.

This morning I left an hour early for work as I had to go to the bank near my apartment (and I never know how long things will take when they involve me speaking Thai). As I walked back, I saw ‘Banana Man’ as I had since affectionately called him, standing in his usual spot, blue apron on, tongs in hand, midway through rotating all the little parcels so they were evenly and perfectly cooked. I stopped in front of him, smiled, and said ‘No banana’, in English, wondering what the outcome would be.

He smiled back at me. ‘Banana?’ oh no not this again. ‘No, no banana’ I repeated. Confusion. He screwed his face up. Then, out of nowhere, ‘No banana? Uhhh! Mai chop gluaay’, he said. ‘You no like banana. You like taro’.

Cue jaw drop.