Forty years ago, it was a mind-bending novelty – worthy of TV shows and concerts. Now, the ability for non-Thais to speak the local language fluently is thankfully appreciated for much more than quirk value – it’s a sign of increasing international appreciation of the economic, social and cultural importance of crossing the language barrier.
“I have forgotten how to speak most of the French I learned in school. I have also forgotten my age,” Chris Childs quips. The insurance underwriter executive hails from England, and the advanced Thai speaker counts amongst his current favourite literature a book by Thailand’s M.R. Kukrit Pramoj.
What are your absolute favourite Thai words, jokes or even idioms – to speak, to read, or to write? Why?
During my long and continuing journey trying to develop Thai language skills, I have enjoyed using many Thai words where there are special meanings for me or where the use of the word or words, by a farang, brings a smile to a local Thai. One I have recently started to use to the question “Where are you from?” is [translated from Thai] “In my last life, I was Thai. In this life, I’ve returned home. In my next life, I don’t know where I’ll be from!”
What was your journey to this point – how long did it take, what strategies did you use, and what’s your study routine?
As mentioned above, my journey has been long. As an Englishman, I am like many others of my country not blessed with natural foreign language skills. Also, having moved into being “middle-aged”, my brain no longer has that “sponge-like” memory retention once taken for granted when younger.
Notwithstanding these handicaps, when I was living and working in London about 10 years ago I decided to give Thai language a try as I was an occasional visitor to the country for work and I had good Thai friends. As we are always told that to really learn a language you have to be exposed to people speaking it continually, I decided to limit myself to learning written Thai and slowly developing a few words and phrases. This learning process was only occasional so I was still at a very basic level five years ago when I moved to Thailand to work full-time. My studies then really started in earnest and I was fortunate to discover Sumaa Institute.
Five days a week, one and half hours each day and one-to-one with a professional Thai language teacher has been my routine. Plus, of course, speaking ‘on the street’ whenever I can and reading a Thai book before going to bed most evenings. I have been very lucky having professional and very patient teachers rather than having to relying on a partner or friends.
What’s your favourite piece of Thai language culture, perhaps a song (your best Thai karaoke song, perhaps?), book, movie, or TV show?
Thai language culture: The famous (for older Thais) series of children’s books called Manee Mana Piti Chujai, written by Rachanee Sriphraiwan.
Book: Currently I am really enjoying Lai Cheewit by M.R. Kukrit Pramoj.
Movies: The Letter and Kit Teung Wittaya.
TV Show: We have to like Thailand’s Got Talent. The Thai soaps are, of course, initially ‘difficult’ for a Western person. However, surprisingly, after five years of struggling I am now enjoying some of them, for example Lakorn Sood Kaen Saen Rak.
Photography by Kaan Suchanin