Khun put pasar thai dai mai krap

Whenever I’m asked if I speak Thai, my usual response is ‘I don’t know, I’ve never tried’…

However: I’m being asked this question a lot recently (part of the reason being that I am in Thailand, but nevertheless it does seem odd that anyone should assume I can), and I have become quite fluent in my denial. This of course does not work, and merely reinforces the impression that I do speak Thai, but am choosing to be difficult – so they press on, to a blank but apparently approachable face…

The English are famously poor at learning foreign languages, indeed many struggle with accents that are not their own, but I have been blessed with attunement to foreign sounds and can manage to get by in a few European languages without causing serious offence or international incidents.
However, Eastern languages are a whole different game, many being tonal, with this being crucial to the understanding and delivery. Bearing this in mind, I have been astonished that my cack handed attempts at Thai have not only been understood, but have elicited further conversation (you don’t get this with the French). I think some of this is because I have been taught a few pronunciation tricks (which I won’t cover here) and this seems to fool them in to thinking that I am indeed fluent – because believe me, no one else would enunciate like this…

Today alone I have been involved in translating details for a bus journey to a Danish woman from my Thai laundry lady, and a massage booking for five Chinese people (with some English) wishing to book at my regular foot place, where they only speak Thai; and all to the apparent satisfaction of those concerned.

It might seem odd, but I honestly believe that attunement to language is about being open to possibilities, understanding body language and then having a few key words, from there you can move forward and fill in more gaps: numbers are good, terms of address, please, thank you etc… It really is a joy to be able to communicate and it’s wonderful to share a moment with someone from a different background and culture.

It is sometimes said that the best way to learn a language is to get a lover – and this can be true, but that’s another story (several actually). Whatever your prefered learning method; give it a go, the rewards are fabulous!

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