Monthly Archives: August 2012

To learn Thai, or not to learn Thai?

This is the dilemma I face at the moment: whether to learn Thai. I’m not a fan of the language. I like tonal, don’t get me wrong. Tonal’s the spice of linguistic life. Really. Chinese tickles my tongue every time I play around with it. There’s just something about Thai, though, that doesn’t appeal to me.

That’s got me thinking about what motivates me to learn languages. Thai just doesn’t dance in my ears like other languages I love. The wonderful Samba or Bossa Nova of Brazilian speech, the taconeo of a Spaniard’s thoughts as they come rushing forward, and the hypnotic rhythm of Arabic with it’s throaty undertones and sandy whispers.

I really used to think it was about culture, especially after my university obsession with Arabic, but now that I look at Thai, one of the cultures in Asia I find most interesting, I feel that’s not really the case. It’s more about the sound.

Or maybe it’s about practicality. I’d always studied languages to use them. Then I came to Korea and discovered that it’s entirely possible that no one will give your efforts to learn a language any thought beyond your ability to say “hi” and “thank you.” The idea that learning a language that people wouldn’t actually speak to you in was new to me, but I rediscovered it on my first trip to Thailand. I tried a few Thai words here and there and nobody bothered to even reply. Some cultures, it seems, are so set in the belief that foreigners can’t speak their language that they won’t even try to entertain a few words.

Time to change that. Let’s see what Thai I can learn over the next few weeks to at least order food, get a taxi and the little things, because even if I don’t like the sound of the Thai tongue, I sure love the sound of new and unfamiliar words flowing off my own.

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