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Learning Thai

Our family decided to move to Thailand last year, and we might stay here for a while. Surrounded by new culture, people, and language, I have decided to give it a try and learn Thai.

Learning a new language is a great way to expand your worldview, understand a new culture, and keep your brain working. In the end, after living in China for 25 years, I never regretted learning Mandarin. It made my life much better and more comfortable, compared to the “average laowai”.

Recently I finished reading “Ultralearning” by Scott Young1 and decided to use principles from this book and make an ultralearning project to learn Thai. Also, I will try to use some ideas and stuff that worked for me when I was learning Chinese and Portuguese.

Learning Map

My plan for learning Thai

  1. Pimsleur Thai for 30 days. I’m a big fan of the Pimsleur method and it didn’t disappoint me with the Thai course. The only con about Pimsleur Thai is that there is only one level (30 lessons) available. But anyway it’s a great way to dive in and feel a new language.

    Finished as part of my “30 days of Thai challenge.”
  2. Learn to read Thai. If I were to learn Mandarin again, I would probably focus on learning to speak first, and then how to write. With Thai language there is another problem – the absence of a widely used romanization system (like pinyin in Standard Chinese), thus every textbook, course, or sign on the street uses its own system. I figured out it would be easier to learn the script and reading rules first (just 70+ “letters”) and then forget about romanization.
    • There was no secret to learning thousands of Chinese characters: just sit and write hundreds of times each.

      ✅ I’m going to use the classical textbook “Thai for Beginners” by Benjawan Poomsan Becker (BPB), which also provides worksheets to practice Thai script.
    • ✅ Use Anki flashcards for spaced repetition. Consonants, vowels, pronunciation (audio), and various modern fonts. See below: Anki Deck

      2024-02-06 Update: I memorized all Thai consonants, vowels, and complex vowels, and can read virtually anything at slow speed and 70-80% accuracy. Now I can rely less on romanizations.
  3. Learn how to type in Thai. I’m creating a new Anki deck with phrases and dialogues from the BPB textbook. I’m using a Thai keyboard layout with a visual keyboard enabled to type down all phrases manually. It goes super slow but forces me to memorize the letters’ positions.
  4. Learn the 2000 most common Thai words and phrases. 10-20 words a day for six months.
    • Basic vocabulary and phrases
    • Use tools like ChatGPT and podcasts for practice.
  5. Practice whenever possible: school, supermarket, restaurants, stuff, podcasts (passive listening).
  6. Find an online course that uses mastery learning and is similar to Pimsleur’s approach to teaching Thai. I found that points (4) and (5) in my learning plan are hard to track and evaluate, so I will try to find a course to create a better environment and motivation for learning.

Anki Deck

Anki is a spaced repetition flashcard program that helps memorize information through active recall. It’s perfect for learning new languages, new ideas, or terms.

There are a lot of great shared decks available for Thai language, but for my second goal, I will be using one based on Poomsan Becker’s textbook.

The only problem I found after learning Thai script for a while, is that you will rarely see classical-style writing in real life. Outdoor and online advertisements, signs, captions, and banners, most of them use modern Thai typography. Most modern fonts resemble English letters but usually are “false friends” and have nothing to do with corresponding sounds.

So I’ve created my own Anki deck to solve this problem. Here is what is inside:

  • All Thai consonants, vowels, and complex vowels that are listed in ‘Thai for Beginners’.
  • Added modern Thai font variations for each card.
  • The transliteration of the Thai script is identical to that used in the textbook.
  • Includes native-speaker audio examples.

For more information, check the deck’s page. For any questions and suggestions, please email me at [email protected]

This post will be extended once I get to the next stages of my Learning Map.


Footnotes

1. Check my book notes on “Ultralearning” to have a rough idea about the book. It’s not a summary of the book; I’m just saving quotes and ideas for myself, for later reflection. Notes don’t replace the book.

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Third-party tools

You have three options: to be right, to win, or neither of both.

You can’t be right and win. You may be the smartest person in the world, knowing everything, but you won’t win the game or make a point like this.

Winning the game involves understanding that sometimes your job is to disappear and let other forms or third-party tools pass on the information.

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Teacher is a tool

Once, I asked Mestre Edan, a capoeira master and the teacher of many great capoeiristas worldwide, about the key quality that transforms a student into an extraordinary capoeira player. His response was unequivocal: “To be an autodidact.”

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Over The Line

One of my favorite lessons from Mestre Cueca is the concept called “Over the Line”.

“Every time we start a new activity, let’s say when I came to capoeira for the first day, immediately a line appeared, and on one side of the line, it’s always easier to quit, and on the other side of the line, it’s always easier to stay.”

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On taking courses and flying an airplane

Online education gained a second wind during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many people confined to their homes for months, some chose to make the most of this time by enrolling in courses. When I take a course or workshop, whether online or offline, I love to remind myself (and my students) of this ‘flying on an airplane’ analogy.

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Three pillars (and two more)

This is another great concept I learned from my capoeira master, and he gives credit for it to Mestre Ombrinho, the first non-Brazilian master in the history of capoeira.

If you are capoeirista and have already heard the story about “Three pillars”, you probably don’t know there are two more. And if you don’t practice capoeira at all, stay put, try to use your imagination and switch “capoeira” to your work, study, or whatever you do.

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Learn, Practice, Train

Another powerful concept from my capoeira experience is “Learning – Practicing – Training” cycle, which is useful for day-to-day life too. This is something that my students for sure heard about, but the importance of this is worth another repetition.

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How to read and learn more

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

Francis Bacon

Reading a book is the most efficient way to get condensed knowledge, learn new concepts, and get inspired.

For many years I do “50 books a year challenge”, which is reading one book per week. It’s not always perfect, and some months I slack. But I have this intention and it’s in my Morning Ritual to read at least one hour a day.