Anyone who has studied a second language in depth knows that it is more than just learning to read, speak, and write. It is also about learning a new culture and a new way of thinking. We would love to give you an idea of what we have be learning without overwhelming you. Here are a few facts about the Thai language:
1. Thai is a tonal language (5 tones).
2. Thai has short and long vowels, which change the word and sometimes change the tone.
3. Thai writing has 44 consonants and 32 vowels.
4. Thai writing has no spaces between the words.
5. Many words in Thai have been replaced with English words, but said like a Thai.
6. There 4 tone markers, along with multiple other symbols that shorten a vowel sound, mark silent letters, etc.
For us language study has been our main job for the past year. Not only has it been the main focus of our ministry, but it is how we survive here in Thailand. We have to use our language to buy a car, register our car, get car insurance, buy a new appliance, etc. Daily routines that seemed so easy in the United States have now become very long and taxing experiences (and sometimes very embarrassing!). However, I believe that these situations not only help us learn language, but also help us to learn more about our own culture and language, learn a lot about my new culture, learn to persevere, and learn to be humble:
1. Learn More About My Own Culture And Language
We have learned so much about our own culture and language by learning Thai. It seems so difficult to understand the colloquial Thai when you are speaking to someone on the street. However, you start to realize how much slang and jargon we used when speaking English too. Then there are also very obvious things like greetings, goodbyes, personal space, speaking straight to the issue or around it, etc. In much of Thai language you would never speak directly to the issue because it may cause someone to “lose face”, where as in English we are more likely to be very specific to avoid ambiguity. As we learn the language and adapt to the culture we begin to find these things more normal. And we know that to be true when we come back to America and see how different the culture is.
2. Learn A Lot About My New Culture
Learning a new language gives you so much insight into the new culture you live in. Sometimes it is purely impossible to understand some of the language without having knowledge of the culture. A very simple example would be that Thailand is a monarchy. There is specific language to be used when addressing or speaking about the king to show respect. That means the same work for “to say” is different in everyday language compared to royal language. And the royal language is also used in the Bible, since it is speaking of God. Also, the new slang words in Thai show a lot of insight into culture because the younger generation are using more and more English words. The older cultural ways are beginning to fade and be replaced by an “international” culture. (For example,”finwer” = finale over, meaning “that was awesome!”)
3. Learn to Persevere
We have all had those moments in school where it seems you will never understand what you are supposed to be learning. For some people that was mathematics, language arts, science, or history, but all of us have experienced it. You can remember how frustrated you felt and the desire to “just be done with it.” In language learning there are many of those times. It seems once you have gone over one hill, you see another. However, the reality is that it took us many years of studying to learn our native language, and there will always be things we still don’t understand. From the mouths of those who have been before us in Thailand, you must persevere because it takes time to learn the language. As finite beings, it can feel like a year or more is forever. However, every missionary that has been successful thus far has said that the most important thing is to learn the language.
4. Learn To Be Humble
To learn a new language you have to become like a child and be prepared to laugh at yourself. We have noticed that if we get too stressed about saying something perfect or accidentally saying something embarrassing, then it seems our brain shuts off to learning anything. It is strange to be an adult, yet feel like a child. You find yourself doing charades to buy something at the store because you don’t have enough language to communicate. Or you say a Thai word over and over, but to no avail the employee can only stare with a confused look on their face. However, when they final say it you are positive you said it the same way. In the end, those who have been willing to humble themselves, laugh at themselves, and show an interest in learning Thai not only gain the language but relationships, too.
Fun Videos about Thai Language