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Methods of learning - Speak, Read, Write first?

Discussion of all things related to Thai language. Have a question about grammar, or the origin of something? Post it here!
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PatrickK
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Posts: 110
Joined: Sun Aug 10, 2014 8:26 am
Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Methods of learning - Speak, Read, Write first?

Sun Sep 21, 2014 8:51 am

This is an interesting topic, as people take different roads to learning a language. As discussed here:
viewtopic.php?f=28&t=8950
This user was asking which order is best - reading first, or speaking?

Benny Lewis writes a lot about speaking from the start, and pushing through the difficulty. He and many others have had huge success with this. I've also found that the stuff I speak I tend to remember better. The barrier there is that it isn't easy - you end up with lots and lots of mistakes, embarrassment, and conversations that go nowhere. However, I think those are necessary to learn how to speak a language.

With this said, I know how to read much much better than speaking. I've definitely spent far more time reading than speaking, so it makes sense. Some say if you can read well speaking will come easily. I would say it is easier to learn vocab for me from reading rather than listening, but that mainly has to do with being able to easily lookup a word that I read.

How have you gone about learning, and why?

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ReubenA
 
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Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Re: Methods of learning - Speak, Read, Write first?

Wed Sep 24, 2014 4:57 am

I don't think one should come 'first' as I think they all should be done simultaneously. But in the beginner to intermediate stages I think comprehension and vocab acquisition (reading and listening) should be given precedence over output for a few reasons:

1. You need to understand a lot more than you need to say. There's no point being able to ask a question if you can't understand the answer.

2. People are going to switch to English on you because of you not understanding them correctly, asking them to repeat themselves endlessly etc rather than you using more basic words to reply and speaking a little slow.

3. You get more exposure to the language, and thus learn more when your comprehension is higher. I think people learn grammar and more intricate word usage through exposure, and not actively studying it. The more you understand - the more comprehensible exposure you get.

That's not to say speaking / writing isn't important. If you ever hope to speak well then you need to speak a lot.

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Tod Daniels
 
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Location: Bangkok Thailand

Re: Methods of learning - Speak, Read, Write first?

Tue Dec 02, 2014 2:18 am

This topic has been hashed out on every forum related to the thai language and I'd imagine every forum related to learning ANY language which isn't your native one.

In one camp you have the "purists". These are people who allege in order to speak clear thai you need to be able to read thai first. In the other camp you have the thousands of foreigners who learned to speak thai via karaoke.

Now the purist theory is nullified right out of the gate because not a single native speaker of thai learned to read before they started speaking, and they seem to speak thai just fine.

The other down side is; to read thai proficiently, where you can look at a word, pronounce it with a close approximation of how it's pronounced AND know the meaning takes an incredible amount of "front loading". What I mean by that is you invest an inordinate amount of time early on with little or no measurable return on investment.

Let's get some terminology understood. The word "karaoke" is one I use to reference the representation of thai characters using a combination of english, other characters, diacritics (marks) to closely approximate the consonants, ending sounds, vowel lengths and intonation in thai. The most well known version and internationally recognized version of this is called IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and is used the world over by linguists to represent almost every language in the world so it can be read and spoken.

Conversely the most well known version of this for thai is Benjawan Becker's Paiboon Plus (used in most of her books and in her three way dictionary app). Each school has a slightly different version but they are not that difficult to master. It looks like this;
Hello (male speaker) - สวัสดีครับ - sà wàt dii kráp
Hello (female speaker) - สวัสดีค่ะ - sà wàt dii kâ
What is your name? - คุณชื่ออะไร - kun chʉ̂ʉ à rai

I can say without any reservation more foreigners learn to speak thai via "karaoke" BEFORE they were exposed to learning to read. In fact my own research into the subject shows it's about a 100 to 1. What that means is; 100 people learned to speak thai via karaoke for every 1 person that learned to speak thai straight from thai script! A brief perusal of the methods available in the language schools geared towards foreigners shows that the overwhelming majority of those schools teach thai conversation via karaoke before suggesting students learn to read.

Some history in the "teach thai to foreigner" marketplace;
The original Union Thai Language school (having it's 60th anniversary this year), pioneered the learn to speak thai via karaoke for foreign missionaries who were washing up here. The original teachers of Union saw it was a viable methodology to get foreigners speaking something which resembled thai enough for thaiz to understand and reply. Those teachers left opened their own schools and now the country is full of schools teaching by this methodology; Union, UTL, Nisa, Sumaa, Rak Thai, AAA, Piamittr, to name just a few! I call these "Union Clone Schools". Just so you know, even the illusionary errr illustrious university Chula teaches foreigners to speak thai via karaoke in their oh-so expensive program!

What I have started seeing is a shift in how the method is taught, some schools have the english meanings, the karaoke AND thai script in their books. Now they don't talk at all about the thai script in these conversational books, it's just there to familiarize students with what the script looks like. This seems to give students who continue on with the reading thai levels a great boost as far as they are already able to recognize words simply by having seen them in the conversational books.

I am also seeing some schools offering their conversational thai courses in thai script for foreigners who come in and can read thai. Unfortunately for foreigners, most over estimate their own proficiency in reading thai! In the schools which offer this, I have received feedback from the teachers that students with the thai only text often lag far behind the rest of the class, cannot enunciate the words in thai with the clarity that karaoke students can.

I'd say, learn to speak, understand conversational thai FIRST via a proven karaoke method. If you want to take reading at the same time, do it, but concentrate on learning how to speak AND understand the information coming back to you as well. I mentioned in another post that I know some very very proficient foreign speakers of thai who don't know a chicken (กอ-ไก่) from an owl (ฮอ-นกฮูก), yet speak and understand thai to a very high degree..

One last thing, although off topic; You as a adult foreign learner of the thai language are NEVER EVER going to sound like a native speaker of thai so don't waste a second on it!

Sheesh, thais will say "พูดเก่ง" if a foreigner can manage to spit out the english "sweaty crap" for the thai สวัสดีครับ. So take ANY compliments with a grain of salt or a spoonful of rotten fish sauce ปลาร้า.

Even the most famous and most accomplished foreign speakers of thai in this country; Andrew Biggs, Todd Lavelle, Adam Bradshaw, Daniel Fraser, ALL speak thai in a way that ANY born-bred-rice fed thai will know they're non-native speakers. Don't worry about sounding like a foreign speaker of thai, after all you're a foreigner aren't you???

Sorry this was long.. I hope you found it marginally interesting..
Whoever said 'Money can't buy you love or joy' obviously was not making enough money. <- Quote by Gene $immon$ of the rock group KISS

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PatrickK
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Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Re: Methods of learning - Speak, Read, Write first?

Mon Dec 08, 2014 8:12 am

Excellent insight Tod.

I posted this topic on the Facebook group and many people replied. I'll try to find a way to merge discussions onto here such that they are divided. But for now, I'll quote them below. I think having these discussion off Facebook where people can easily find them and reply (without Facebook) is important, and is the main goal behind SolveThai.com. Here are a couple of the replies:
I tend to like the idea of learning reading,writing and speaking all from day one. Tod has some good points although his line: "...not a single native speaker of thai learned to read before they started speaking, and they seem to speak thai just fine.." is faulty primarily because all those native learners of Thai (or any language for that matter) start from a blank slate. As foreigners, we start with our own engrained native language, much of which we have to ignore to speak Thai correctly. It's a very different process.


And:
Tod is wrong to say that learning to read Thai is difficult and has no immediate benefits. On the contrary, it takes no more than a couple of weeks and it has very immediate benefits. As to what you should do to learn a language, that depends. Are you aiming for fluency or do you just want to be able to tell a taxi driver where to go? Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you feel comfortable with uncertainty or do you prefer to control potentially awkward situations? Do you learn best through hearing or seeing? One person is going to make progress by going to the market and struggling through conversations with a few hundred words whilst another is going to make progress by reading and listening without worrying too much about speaking. There's no right way of learning and as far as I can make out, the only global truth about language learning is that to make progress, you need motivation and stamina. What you do to learn a language seems to be much less important than just doing it, whatever the 'it' may be, and doing it regularly.

As a side note, I don't understand the (often heard) argument that when learning a language you should speak and not worry about the written word because language is about communication. What is writing then, what is this post, if not communication?

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Tod Daniels
 
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Location: Bangkok Thailand

Re: Methods of learning - Speak, Read, Write first?

Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:06 am

"PatrickK" I honestly wished I "played" on facebook because I think I could be a contributor to the group, but in wading thru the pages of stuff, it appears really good topics get "buried" pretty fast.. I think it's a great group with a good following though. I only wish more people from f/b would contribute here too. This has the potential to be a great forum because so many of the things people bring up on f/b are worthy of discussion!

Apologies in advance this is long, I am quite the wordy writer.. :oops: "PatrickK" feel free to pare it down if you want :D

Unless I am mistaken (which I could be) human beans err human beings learned to speak before there ever was a written language, then someone wanted to "remember" things previously said, which is possibly where written languages come from. A brief perusal of google yields; only about one-third of the world's languages have a form of writing, and most exist in spoken form only.

I'm also not so full of myself to admit if I'm wrong...

However in the case of non-native adult thai students, I am still of the mind learning to read thai right outta the gate is an endeavor which consumes a TON of time with little benefit early on. I mean how long did it take you to be able to recognize the "6-Cow-Wordz" in thai by sight AND know their meanings as soon as you saw them; เขา-เข่า-เข้า ขาว-ข่าว-ข้าว? ;)

To say my premise that not a single native thai speaker learned to read first is flawed because they're "blank slates" is taking a little more than "creative license" in your interpretation. Granted my statement was a broad brush analogy of how humans the world over ALL learn to speak BEFORE they learn to read, but it still stands up. Almost every school out there has done surveys asking students which things they want most outta the thai language classes. Hands down, foreigners want to speak/understand thai way more than they want to read it. That is NOT me saying reading isn't valuable, because even though I speak thai with an errant and off-toned, Ohio hillbilly accent, I wouldn't trade my ability to read thai away. And I am indeed the "exception to the rule" insofar as I learned to read thai (recognize thai words and know the meanings of them) before I could speak more than "2-word-tourist-thai"! Still being able to read didn't really make and still hasn't to this day made my spoken thai that much better when I finally got around to startin' to speak what passes for thai comin' outta my mouth with real live thaiz here.

IMHO: it takes FAR more than a couple weeks to be able to do more than read thai at a very rudimentary and basic level. By that I mean I you MIGHT be able to pronounce some thai words when you see them, know the meaning of a few as well, BUT (last time I checked, which I do from time to time) reading ain't about pronouncing words AT ALL. Reading is seeing a group of characters (coincidentally called words) and having that thai'd, err tied to a specific meaning in your head. Most reading is done "silently to yourself" so it doesn't even matter if you pronounce the word in your mind correctly or not as long as you know the meaning of it when you see it you're "reading".

If anyone thinks in a short span of time you're gonna nail three consonant classes (composed of 44 characters - although 2 are not used) and the rules for pronunciation of those three classes), the 32 vowel sounds (several which morph form, example; สระ เออ = เธอ-เดิน-เลย), 4 tone marks (and their rules), the 8 word ending protocols (really 9 because of แม่ ก กา; open syllable words), double function consonants (as in one which ends a syllable and then are voiced again as a stand alone), หอ นำ words (where a silent ห precedes low class un-paired thai consonants ง, ณ, ญ, น, ม, ย, ร, ล, or ว), the high number and permutations of garan'd or silent characters and the myriad of exceptions to thai spelling rules (given there're 6-T's, 5-K's, 4-S's), you're just dreaming. :o

That's not even factoring in that in addition to being able to put all the above mentioned things in to use, you need to KNOW the meaning of a word when you see it too :) . As I said, and continue to say, it takes time, more time and the memorization of hundreds possibly thousands of thai words solely by sight!

Again and for the record, I'm NOT saying reading isn't important, I'm saying speaking and understanding are far more important to the "run-'o-the-mill" thai student out there. Your mileage may vary and by all means I totally agree with the fact there is NO right way to learn the thai language.. There are faster and slower ways, there are better and worse ones, and there are all the ways in between too..

Sincerely, good luck learning thai, like I always tell thai language students; It is totally probable that 1% of the world's population is smarter than you are. However it is a statistical impossibility that all 70+ million of those people are thaiz.. If they can speak/understand, read/write it, you can too, IF you want to. It's way more motivation than methodology!

BTW; the "6-Cow-Wordz" = he, she, animal horn & mountain-knee-enter white-news-rice ;)
Whoever said 'Money can't buy you love or joy' obviously was not making enough money. <- Quote by Gene $immon$ of the rock group KISS

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