To me learning Thai is more akin to learning how to sing than learning a language as it is tonal and tends to have a rhythm to it. When I found out the word ‘Kao’ pronounced with different tones meant about half a dozen different things, it was then I called it a day on learning any more Thai.
And I suspect this kind of story is the same for many Expats in Thailand.
When I first arrived in Thailand I was keen as mustard to learn the local language and was even keeping a note pad to jot down the words and sentences I was picking up. Any opportunity to test my spoken Thai and I would. I was determined to speak the language.
But then things got tricky – do remember I am a Brit and us Brits have a bad reputation for learning a second language – as when I spoke some Thai the Thai would reply back with a more complicated sentence. I was lost and often had to bluff a response back. This was the critical point, either persevere and learn more or give up trying.
Alas, I chose the latter, but so do 95% of other expats, unfortunately. The boom comes crashing down fairly quickly. From being on a rapid learning curve it goes to stopping speaking Thai altogether literally overnight.
The problem for many expats living in Thailand is most of us live in areas where there are lots of other foreigners and the Thais that live among us speak enough English so we can all get by.
It is a shame really as many of us had learned so many words and phrases but when you stop practising and using them you soon forget. I forget basic words like ‘knife’ and ‘fork’ now and I have lived here for almost 15 years. My kids are 4 and 5 years old and speak English and Russian to a decent level and have already grasped a basic level of Thai. They don’t understand why I cannot speak Russian like my wife and laugh about it.
I am quite sure that we are on the cusp of having a simple tech solution to enable us to speak with other people with different languages with an automated system. The technology for this already exists it just needs refining for easy daily use.
But for me, giving up on speaking Thai represents a failure on my behalf and that’s what I don’t like. I failed.