Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How To Learn Any Language

By reading Paul Davidson's Japanese for Life blog, I discovered that there is a terrific web community for language students at I registered today for their free forum. I'm looking forward to reading about people's experiences, getting language acquisition tips, and possibly even connecting with other Thai language students and speakers.


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Monday, November 27, 2006

Superman Returns

VOA Thai recently gave me permission to post MP3 clips from their news programs.

Here is a great little clip about Superman from last summer, when Superman Returns was released in theatres.

Click here to listen

(From VOA Thai, used with permission.)

I love listening to this kind of report, in which the subject matter is very interesting* and very familiar. Even if a lot of the vocabulary is new, there are enough "hooks" to make sense out of the report, and the vocabulary becomes more familiar the more I listen.

*Superman is, of course, super-interesting!

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thai Morphology

A surprising number of people happen upon my blog looking for information about Thai morphology. I am not a linguist, but I decided to post what little I know about it. I hope that someone will find it useful.

There is no inflectional morphology at all in Thai. Nouns, verbs, and adjectives do not inflect, nor does any other part of speech. In cases where inflection would communicate essential information, such as number or tense, additional words are used to convey that information. For example, "I walk already" would be the Thai equivalent of "I walked".

Although there is no inflectional morphology, Thai does have derivational morphology using a small set of prefixes. The site has this excellent list of common prefixes which change the part of speech or meaning of the words they precede. Also note that has transliterations of the Thai words below, as well as mp3s of native speakers pronouncing them.

การ converts a verb or adjective into a noun, a general abstract description of the state or static process. For example, ตกปลา (to fish) becomes the general, abstract activity การตกปลา (fishing), a noun or adjective.

ความ converts a verb or adjective into a noun, the general abstract feeling of the action. For example, เร็ว (fast) becomes ความเร็ว (speed), or ร้อน (hot) becomes ความร้อน (heat).

ด้วย just as in English, the word 'with' can have the effect of converting a noun into an adverb. For example, ความนับถือ (respect) becomes ด้วยความนับถือ (respectfully).

โดย converts a noun into an adverb, For example, เร็ว (fast) becomes โดยเร็ว (quickly), or ง่าย (easy) becomes โดยง่าย (easily).

น่า converts a verb into an adjective which expresses an opinion of the verb as worth enacting, similar to the -able suffix in English. For example, รัก (love) becomes น่ารัก (lovable), or เกลียด (hate) becomes น่าเกลียด (hatable).

If there are errors or omissions, please feel free to comment, clarify, or correct me.


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Friday, November 24, 2006


Update 7.23.2010: I'm removing a few posts that are no longer interesting to me. You can reach the homepage here.

Thanks for your interest!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Don't Try to Follow Every Word

When I registered at AUA, an instructor evaluated my Thai knowledge for placement. As part of the evaluation, she watched me listen to a conversation and checked my comprehension. After the placement was complete, she gave me some advice. She said, "When you listened to that conversation, you were trying to understand every word. If you try to follow every word, you won't understand the story. Don't pay attention to every word -just pay attention to the story." I thought this was a great explanation of how to acquire another language through listening.


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Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Trouble with Barney

Update: Over on, a commenter claims that Thai singing does use tones. This certainly could be true -I just can't hear it in the children's counting song I mention below.

I have some reservations about Barney the purple dinosaur.

I'm an educated man in my late thirties, but my reservations have nothing to do with watching a stuffed dinosaur come to life. It's not that Barney is too cute and cheery, or that I already know my shapes and colors and don't feel a need to review them.

The problem with Barney is that he sings.

I've been watching Barney dubbed into Thai with my three year old son. Overall, it's a pretty good source of input. The shows review and reinforce important vocabulary, like days of the week, numbers, colors, and shapes. Review of basic vocabulary is interspersed with easy dialog. The only problem is the singing.

Thai is a tonal language, which makes it impossible to learn correct pronunciation from songs. This is most obvious to me when Barney sings his numbers. In Barney's counting song, there are no tones at all, just musical notes. Although I'm very familiar with Thai numbers, it sounds strange, foreign, and hard to understand. There would be no way to learn correct tonal pronunciation by listening to it.

On the other hand, Barney has excellent spoken dialog, and Thai children listen to songs without a negative effect on pronunciation. The Barney input is helpful, as long as I don't focus on the songs or try to learn vocabulary from them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Update 7.23.2010: I'm removing a few posts that are no longer interesting to me. You can reach the homepage here.

Thanks for your interest!

Monday, November 06, 2006


Update 7.23.2010: I'm removing a few posts that are no longer interesting to me. You can reach the homepage here.

Thanks for your interest!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Implicit Review

I'm still emphasizing news broadcasts. I've listened to a total of about 60 hours of news.

Last summer, I stopped reviewing vocabulary with flash cards, because I became convinced that it's better to emphasize "input" over memorization. But I accomplish a lot of implicit review just by listening to the daily news.

For example, not long ago I acquired the word for "senator" by listening repeatedly to the news about U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman's defeat in a primary election. Since then, the word for "senator" has occurred quite often due to upcoming elections in the U.S. Every time the word occurs, I hear it in a meaningful context with native pronunciation. It's a very pleasant and, I think, productive way to review vocabulary. I now feel like the word for "senator" is completely built-in to my brain.

One consideration about building vocabulary in this way is that it takes a lot of time. Back when I was using flash cards, it seemed like I was learning a lot of words very quickly. But many of those words were forgotten after I had memorized them. Words that I acquire naturally are much more permanent.