Interview with Polyglot Stuart Jay Raj – Part 2 for Womenlearnthai.com
This is the 2nd of 3 interviews I did with Cat from the Womenlearnthai.com site. In this interview Cat asked me about the common obstacles for people learning Thai and how I help them get around them. We also touch a bit on my Mindcraft series.
Interview with polyglot Stu Jay Raj…
Heads-up everyone: This post is a continuation of Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part One.
The writing system always stands as one of the biggest mental barriers for learners of Thai. Many people say ‘I just want to learn to speak Thai, I don’t need to learn to read or write’. I really believe that embarking on learning Thai with this attitude is shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve even started. The Thai writing system is based on a very logical system that’s actually a map of the human mouth. People shouldn’t count consonants and vowels and use that as a measuring stick for how hard a language is to learn.
The first thing you learn when you learn Mandarin is Hanyu Pinyin – the Romanized sound system. Luckily for Mandarin, Hanyu Pinyin was put together by linguists who knew what they were doing and can be used very accurately to produce the sounds in Mandarin.
Unfortunately for Thai, although there are many transliteration systems, the best ones I have seen are based on the IPA phonetic symbols. I notice with other Roman systems, unless you’re a linguist, learners’ mother tongue’s interpretations of roman letters filter the sounds when they’re reading the Thai words. The result, confused looks on Thai people’s faces and frustration from the learner when they think they’re saying the right thing but aren’t understood.
Investing a little bit of time getting a solid foundation when it comes to pronunciation and the sound system – and the writing system as an extension of that, will help you avoid hitting that ‘glass ceiling’ that many learners of Thai hit when they realize that they need to ‘unlearn’ a whole lot of language that has now already been embedded into their muscle memory.
How do you address these learning difficulties?
I tried to develop a system that enabled learners to spend a short time in learning the sound system and writing system in a fun way and kept it in the long term memory. That’s where Cracking Thai Fundamentals came from. You can see some examples of how I’ve done this in my blog, or on my youtube channel. Here’s an example:
With these two clips, most people can learn most of the Thai vowels in around 20mins to half an hour.
Many expats struggle with learning Thai. What advice do you have?
Don’t compare apples with oranges. Thai is not English… However, just because it looks different, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarities. Up to 60% of Modern Thai has roots in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language as is English. There are some amazing similarities that are ‘masked’ through the ‘different look’ of the language. Once you start to scratch the surface a little you’ll realize that the things that you thought were difficult – writing, tones etc, aren’t that difficult at all. They’re just different.
Don’t be put off learning Thai just because you’ve had a bad experience with Thai teachers. Just like many native speakers of English, many Thais don’t have a deep understanding of their own language.
When learners of Thai ask a question like:
‘Why are there 3 consonant classes?’
‘Why does the high tone actually rise?’
the response is normally something like:
‘There are 3 consonant classes – High, Middle and Low. The High class has ‘x’ number of letters, the middle class has ‘x’ number of letters etc etc.
‘you are a Farang, you don’t need to know that’.
The fact is that for most of them, they’ve never learned ‘why’ themselves.
One good formula is to have several different people that you learn from. Learn something ‘advanced’ from one of them. Something that a normal learner wouldn’t normally know. After that, go and try it out by just dropping it into a conversation with another Thai that you consult with. They will be impressed and think that your level is higher than what it really is. Then ask them to teach you something new. Keep rotating around your ‘Thai Consultants’ with new terms, new words and slang until your proficiency catches up with their perceived proficiency for you. It’s a great way to get past the ‘farang’ Thai that farang get taught and sound more native-like, not to mention keep motivated and positive about learning after each positive impression you make.
If you could pick five books from your librarything to help learners of the Thai language, what would they be, and why?
That only has a small portion of my books.
I would recommend:
- A Dictionary of English Thai Idioms – Ted Strehlow
- From Ancient Languages to Modern Dialects – Marvin J Brown
- Any one of Andrew Biggs’ books – written in Thai, are a great starting point to reading Thai. The stories he speaks about are normally easily understood by ‘farang’, so will carry you through language you don’t know. Start with a couple of lines. Move on to a paragraph. Within a couple of weeks, your reading speed will really start to pick up.
- Teach Yourself Thai – David Smyth
- ทะลึ่ง – ‘Thaleung’ – Series of books covering Thai risqué jokes and short stories. Most stories are only a paragraph or two and in most cases, the picture tells it all. Reading through it, you will start to appreciate Thai humour, see a lot of idioms and slang being used and get out of the normal ‘farang’ vocabulary that Thais think that farang have to use – as opposed to what’s really used.
What other books should beginner to intermediate learners of the Thai language read?
Everything and anything. There are some really great books and many extremely crappy ones. I’m yet to find a book that I can’t learn something from.
More than just reading books, I highly recommend learning to type in Thai from the get-go and get into blogs, web boards, MSN, facebook and anything else online that lets you interact with Thais in ‘everyday’ Thai language. The best thing about Thai on the internet is that it’s phonetic and is written to represent the way it’s really pronounced. You can ‘read’ someone’s mood / accent by how they’ve written.
Your Cracking Thai Fundamentals course is hilarious fun. Could we please get an overview?
Here is the blurb taken from one of the brochures:
This course is suited to anyone who has just arrived in Thailand and wants to start off on the right foot or for anyone who has lived in Thailand for a long time but their knowledge of Thai sounds like a clumsy shoe falling down the stairs.
Stuart Jay Raj has built up a reputation in Thailand for teaching the Thai language and culture to the expatriate community since 2000. When it comes to languages, take our word for it…this guy knows what he is talking about in any of the 13 different languages he can fluently speak, listen, read and write!
Aside developing conversational skills in Thai, other topics the course covers include:
- Memory techniques and building
- Building cognitive fluency when speaking Thai – training ourselves to react in Thai without thinking
- Motivating in the Thai workplace and eliciting the information we really need
- Using language to build a cross cultural rapport in the workplace
- Street Thai vs. Formal Thai / what to say, when to say it and who to say it with
- Expressing yourself in Thai to get the right reaction
- Understanding and Using Thai humor to reach to the heart.
Learning with Stuart Raj
Language is an exciting, living, changing and flexible creature that lets us get into the minds of the people who speak it. As expatriates, the value that learning to understand and communicate clearly with locals is priceless – especially in the workplace!
Over 4 x 3 hour sessions you will achieve the following objectives:
- Develop instinctive natural responses when conversing in Thai without passing through another language
- Overcome the psychological barrier of learning a tonal language
- Mastered the entire Thai Consonant System (including tonal classes) – Ideal for People who have learned previously but still have problems remembering symbols and classes – (Using imagery, mnemonics, sign language and 3-D spatial recognition)
- Learned the entire Thai Vowel System – (using unique handsigns that directly relate to the vowel shapes in the Thai script)
- Learned the Thai Tonal Rule System – (Using mind-mapping, imagery and story telling)
- Learned new language learning techniques, including how to recognize and analyze many Sanskrit and Chinese based elements in Thai.
What will attendees learn in your Mndcraft seminars?
Mnidcraft empowers anyone with a will to succeed to develop the same aptitude for languages and communication as what Stuart Jay Raj possesses based on powerful NLP modeling principles. NLP Modeling NLP modeling is the practice of isolating essential patterns that makes someone successful and duplicating them into others in a way that they are practiced unconsciously. Stuart has carefully designed activities where you will not only learn the secrets that have crafted his aptitude for language, but will also have these skills, habits and knowledge embedded within you, breathing new life into your relationship with language!
More than just the ability to learn languages , developing an aptitude for language is actually just a side effect of the Mnidcraft series. You will also tap into new abilities:
- Super Memory
- Perfect Pitch
- Touch-type in multiple languages including Thai, Sanskrit and Korean
- Be ‘funny’ across cultures
- Increase self-esteem in yourself and others
- Mimic sounds, body language and mannerisms
- Build instant rapport with people you’ve just met
- Master tones in Tonal Languages including Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese
- Solve the Rubik’s Cube
- Use an Abacus
- Circular Breathing
- Morse Code / Sign Language alphabets
- Speed Reading
- Simultaneous Interpreting
- XML and programming fundamentals
What are your tips for learning and retaining new vocabulary?
Think LOUD … full of colours, sounds, emotions. Make crazy associations and then link them with a system that you can recall.
Know what ‘pushes your buttons’ then wrap the language up in whatever that is.
Excitement is the best memory technique.
What other advice do you give to students of the Thai language?
Have FUN with the language – learn as much as you can about the language as you learn to speak the language.
Listen and observe – don’t use Thai as a vehicle to ‘say what you want to say’ to Thai people. Learn the stuff that they want to talk about and use the language to learn about them.
The final section of this three part interview is: Successful Thai Language Learners: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj.