What Language Learning Looks LikeOctober 14 in Thailand
I am in heaven. Language learning heaven. I find that learning Thai here in Chiang Mai is like being in a pleasure ground, solving an enormous puzzle, playing with words, memorizing words, hearing blurs of words, accumulating pages and pages of words—and enjoying words with friendly and accommodating speakers who buoy me up with kindness.
I spend the morning hours in my comfortable apartment learning vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, listening to native speaker recordings and sappy Thai love songs, and rehearsing talking with imaginary Thai friends so they can possibly understand me. It is easy to study with discipline—anyone who has practiced a musical instrument can appreciate the transfer of practice from one area to the other. It's not the musical background which makes a successful language learner; it's the D I S C I P L I N E. The repetition, the slow practice, the never-missing-a-day, the endless listening, the reviewing, the preparation for the performance, and finally the performance itself, which is SPEAKING WITH THE NATIVES.
So after lunch and a quick nap, I dress, do hair and make-up, and hit the streets of Chiang Mai. Rather, I do my "route,” my speaking path, with a few sentences here, and a few sentences there. Greetings to my vegetable seller, a handsome man in his seventies; then past the local food stalls where I never eat but am always greeted hopefully by the owners; hello to the seamstress and her cat Mimi, and to the line-up of thuk-thuk and songthaew drivers outside the temples, who don't seem to mind a chat instead of a fare. It's on to laughter with Wanpen, whose younger brother takes me on tours; and finally to a choice of air-conditioned oases for an icy watermelon frappé and more studying. At 6 PM I meet my friend Wisamun for thirty minutes of English and thirty of Thai. I learn the words in Thai that he wants to know in English, and vice versa: we are learning each others’ words. We are like kids with comic books. It's so much fun! Then I walk home, musing, and wishing people on my way a very formal "raatrii sawaat"—"good night to you.”
I also was accepted in something called the “Add1Challenge,” a program that is part of the website “Fluent in Three Months.” ( https://www.fluentin3months.com/) The challenge is to go from zero knowledge to having a fifteen-minute talk in one’s target language, with a native speaker, in ninety days. To be accepted, I had to post a short public video on YouTube explaining why I wanted to participate, and what my personal goal was. ( Link: https://youtu.be/8OxP8WpAtWw) The Challenge began on October 8th, and the first task was to make another public video for “Day Zero,” showing what my competency was. Here is mine: https://youtu.be/-AM7-kvm1YU
There are over one hundred participants, studying many languages. We are connected on the work meeting app called Slack, which is a great pleasure. Many people contribute hints, resources, and support to the group as a whole, and to two study groups to which we are assigned. We can also be in touch with individual members. I have even met with another Thai learner, who happens to be staying near me in Chiang Mai! As I push to my individual goal, attaining a B1or B2 level of proficiency, I can do so in the company of others. Here is an explanation of “B1 B2” in the CEFR System: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_Reference_for_Languages
Please note, everyone: I am not self-flagellating. I am not a masochist. This is FUN! Paradise! All of it! I am truly in heaven.
Here are a few pictures.Read more