Sunday, August 31, 2008


During my recent visit to Thailand, reading became more automatic as I read signs everywhere around me. One challenge with reading signs is that there are many fonts.

This logo that obviously reads "USA" actually reads "Breeze" (บรีส). It's the Thai brand for a laundry detergent called Omo in other parts of the world.

The "Wow" in this movie title is part of the transliteration of the English title "Surf's Up" (เซิร์ฟอัพ). In the official transliteration, the two "W"s are different Thai characters, but it doesn't matter from the standpoint of pronunciation. The second character in the subtitle is an M-shaped thing. My wife had to tell me that it's a ตอ เต่า.

English-looking Thai characters in logos are very common, and I'm sure they are intentionally designed in that way.

I find myself wondering whether, as a child, I had to figure out the differences between English fonts.


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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chulabook and Pocoyo

Prior to leaving Bangkok, we visited the Chulalongkorn University bookstore near Siam Square. They have a lot of materials that are useful to Thai language students. They also have a website that sells books, VCDs, and other materials:

In addition to a few Thai comic books and books for children, we bought Thai language VCDs of Pocoyo (โพโคโย). We bought them for my son, but they are good language acquisition tools for an adult at an intermediate level. Each episode uses and repeats a few words of core vocabulary in a natural way. They're amusing and creative enough that I can watch them without getting bored. I've practiced listening and acquired a few words and phrases this way.

(DVDs have region codes, and many DVDs from Thailand don't work on players for other regions. This is not an issue for VCDs.)


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Friday, August 22, 2008

ALG Level 1 Demonstration

Rikker recently mentioned that there's now an Automatic Language Growth (ALG) video from AUA Thai Level 1. I looked it up, and it's quite good. It illustrates how to teach a second language from the very beginning without translating to the student's native language.

Note that, when the instructors ask questions in Thai, the students reply either with signs or in their native language. This permits a long silent period, during which the students don't speak the new language. Research by Stephen Krashen and others suggests that an initial silent period facilitates better acquisition.

I didn't have a chance to study in the ALG program at AUA from Level 1. By the time I first attended AUA, I had already studied Thai at the University of Oregon and at home. If I were beginning Thai now, I would choose the ALG program.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Leaving Bangkok

My study at AUA is finished for now. I'll return to my brother-in-law's house in Chachoensao this morning, and I'll leave for the U.S. tomorrow. The Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach used at AUA works very well. It's better than "one way" listening, such as listening to radio broadcasts, since the comprehensibility of the classroom content is monitored and adjusted by a live instructor. As always, I have a long way to go, but I can see progress relative to where I was two weeks ago. My comprehension and speaking have improved effortlessly just by listening to interesting content in class.

I understood much more of the spoken content at the AUA classes than I did when I was here two years ago. There were some classes where I understood almost all of the spoken content, which never happened during my previous experience. There were other classes, like the News class at noon, where I had difficulty following the instructor. It was clear that the Level 5-10 classes are taught at different levels of difficulty, depending on the subject, the instructor, and the students in attendance. Last time, I didn't pick up on the varying difficulty. All the classes seemed to be at the same level, namely Hard.

It's unfortunate that the ALG approach isn't used in more language schools, but I think it requires an agreement on basic principles by the teachers and students, and it doesn't lend itself well to an institution where evaluation and examination are central. Still, I think motivated students in other language courses can add a type of ALG approach on their own just by listening to natural content as often as possible.


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Friday, August 08, 2008


Thai uses so-called linguistic particles to communicate secondary meanings in sentences. One such particle is klap. (The word is spelled ครับ -my transliteration is an approximation.) The particle klap is used at the end of sentences by men to convey politeness.

Recently, I've caught myself forgetting to use klap in some situations when it is called for. As a foreigner and visitor, I try to be polite -when I was here two years ago, a few people commented to my wife on how polite I was. I'd like to take this as a compliment on my behavior in general, but I think it was mainly a commentary on how often I would use the particle klap, which was basically after every sentence. My wife recently told me that I don't have to use it so often -it's not necessary to be extremely polite.

Unfortunately, I think I've now gone too far the other way. There have been several recent occasions where I was speaking with someone I didn't know well, and they were using politeness particles with me. Being more interested in the content of the conversation, I forgot to use them in return.

I suppose all this will sort itself out by being aware of it. On one hand, it's embarrassing to forget my manners on several occasions. On the other hand, I think it's a symptom of greater comfort and comprehension in Thai.

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More Time at AUA

My family and I will be in Bangkok for a few days, which gives me a chance to attend Automatic Language Growth (ALG) classes at AUA Ratchadamri.

As I mentioned previously, some of the Level 5-10 classes at AUA seem closer to Level 5, and some closer to Level 10. I've surveyed most of the weekday classes, and I've found a number that seem close to my level (i.e., i+1). Most of the time, I'm just interested in the content, and the language takes care of itself. The instructors do an excellent job of tracking who is understanding what, keeping the material comprehensible, challenging, and fun.

The time at AUA is very good for my Thai language skill. Speaking, listening, reading, and vocabulary are becoming more comfortable without effort.


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Saturday, August 02, 2008


Prior to leaving on this trip, my wife told me that I should spend time listening to different accents.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law was asking me how many spoons I take in my coffee (ใส่กี่ช้อนค่ะ). It's an easy phrase, but I couldn't understand at first. Later, I asked my wife if there are more individual accents in Thai than in English. She said yes, because regional dialects contribute their own accents to the central dialect.

My brother-in-law's family is from the south of Thailand. They relocated to the central region recently because of the separatist insurgency in the south. They have a southern accent, which is a challenge to my ear, even for simple vocabulary. My wife is also from the south, but she lived in the central region for much of her life, so she does not have as strong an accent.

Thai has four major dialects, with the central dialect serving as a common language between them. The dialects are mutually unintelligible, but, from a practical standpoint, the central dialect is intelligible to everybody, because schools everywhere teach the central dialect. Thai people traveling to and from the central region create a rich mix of accents that are a challenge for foreigners learning Thai.*

Most of my listening practice has been the VOA news, which is spoken almost exclusively in a clear, central accent. Since VOA focuses on international news, it's not common that they interview Thai people with regional accents. The teachers at AUA also speak without strong regional accents.

I can understand now that getting familiar with different accents is part of becoming comfortable with the language.

*Corrections and clarifications are most welcome.


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