Thursday, June 08, 2006

Abbreviations of months. Entry no.5

When you see a dates referred to on signs and similar notices, you may notice that they are often abbreviated to two letters. I thought it would be a good idea to mention here how each of the months are shortened on things like movie posters and the like. The letters that are used are the first letter of the month and the first letter of the last syllable. Vowels are only used to diffentiate between two months that have the same beginning letter and also have the same number of months see below. The vowel sara ii is used to differentiate between January and March, which both begin with ม and both have 31 days. Also the vowels are used to distinguish between the abbreviations of April and June, which both start with ม and contain 30 days. The abbreviation used for each month are as follows:

ม.ค. - มกราคม
ก.พ. - กุมภาพันธ์
มี.ค. - มีนาคม
เม.ย. - เมษายน
พ.ค. - พฤษภาคม
มิ.ย. - มิถุนายน
ก.ค. - กรกฎาคม
ส.ค. - สิงหาคม
ก.ย. - กันยายน
ต.ค. - ตุลาคม
พ.ย. - พฤศจิกายน
ธ.ค. - ธันวาคม

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mountains and valleys entry. no. 4

 In June I am taking a Thai test which is designed for Japanese speakers. I really like taking tests (!) and I live in Japan so this kind of Thai language ability test is all that is available for me here. Actually the Japanese people love tests and certifications too and this test is one of the benchmark certifications to have if you want to get a job with a car manufacturer like Toyota, and then get transferred to Thailand, which is what I want to do. Of course there are a number of books that teach to all of these tests and the Thai language proficiency test for Japanese speakers is no exception. There are 5 levels with level 5 being the lowest and level 1 being the highest. Guess which one I am taking? That's right, level 5. (I already have level 2 of the Japanese language proficiency test, but have failed level 1 three times :(.

So because of these preparatory books I have a pretty good idea of what's going to be in the test. A number of questions will be about time, focusing on numbers, days of the week, months and the like. Which brings us at long last to the topic of this entry which is, learning the months.

I had put off learning the months for a while because they looked complicated plus they all had a suffix that you had to remember as well. However it is surprisingly easy, AND the suffixes actually make it easier.
There are three suffixes;คม, (khom), พันธ (phan), ยน (yon)
คม is added to the end of months that have 31 days.
พันธ used for February.
ยน is added to the end of months that have 30 days.

For those people that have difficulty remembering which months have 30 days and which have 31, try this neat trick:
Make two fists with your hands and put them together with your knuckles facing up.
Start from the far left knuckle, with each knuckle and valley between representing a month. The knuckles represent months with 31 days and the valleys between each knuckle represent 30 day months plus February. It even works for July and August which both have 31 days because you jump from the last knuckle on your left hand to the first knuckle on you right hand. Try it, I guarantee it works!!

If, when you are reciting the months you forget whether it is คม or ยน, just refer to your knuckles.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ninja learning. entry no.3

(or how I finally remembered the Thai alphabet) 
Finally this past week, after more than 2 months, I can finally say that I have taught myself to write the Thai alphabet (not including vowels :))

This year after several false starts I finally decided that enough was enough and that I was to hunker down and finally nail the alphabet. I asked around and found a tutor and he set me upon the "Ninja Learning" technique. "wha?" I said when he first mentioned it. Then he asked me if I had seen Karate Kid. Of course I had (I actually prefer Ralph Macchois earlier work). Before he got to do the high flying kicks and before he could slide down that string of Japanese lanterns he had to start off by painting Mr. Miyagi's fence, then he had to catch a fly with chopsticks. The point being that he would master one small seemingly insignificant task a day, and each subsequent task-a-day would build on the previously learnt ones.

And so too an alphabet character a day sent me on the road to mastering the alphabet- even the obsolete ones. Beleive me it was frustrating at first having to confine myself to one a day, I mean come on, I knew Gor Gai backwards, but I kept to the deal and wrote out one page a day of the new character I was learning followed by another page of the whole alphabet up to that letter. It averaged out to about 700 characters to a page. It took about 20 minutes for each page so about an hour a day. 
Although I aimed for one character a day, there were days that I didn't get anything done, so it took a bit longer than the originally planned 44 days. And it did get a bit messy on the full alphabet pages at times.
I did it wherever I could find the time- on the subway to and from work, on the bullet train on the way to Kyoto to view the cherry bloosoms, at my desk late at night a lot, and if I knew I had a busy day ahead I'd sometimes leave for work early and sit at Starbucks before work and get as much as possible done.
Yes it was sometimes gruelling, but I think it was worth it. I can use a dictionary now :), which came in handy just this afternoon. Also, I should be able to remember the tones of each character now because I have been saying them at least 30 times a day in order.

Vowels next I suppose.......

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Just a moment please. entry no.2

  Posted by Picasa Not having a language in common with one's mother-in-law might sound like the perfect arrangement to many married men. However believe it or not, I would actually like to be able to communicate a little with my wife's mother- otherwise how is she going to know what a swell guy I am? And us being in Japan, how much nagging could she do?

She calls about once a week and when I answer the phone, invariably when my wife is not home,the ensuing exchanges would be comical if they weren't so pathetic.

Me: Wife...........not here...............go...Out...........not.... here........
Then the mother in law laughs and talks some more, followed by more stammering from me, with a couple of "sabaii diis" thrown in for good measure.

Not anymore! I have learned an new expression and have been dying to use it for weeks. But now she never seems to call....
The great new ready-to-go expression is รอ เดี๋ยว นะ ครับ (raw diaw na krap) "Please wait a moment". I had it written in my notebeook and waited for weeks for my mother-in-law, or frankly, anybody from Thailand, to call. Weeks went by and of course nobody called. Finally last week a call comes through and I race to the phone forbidding my wife from answering it. Only, I can't remember my great new expression. I frantically throw everything on my desk around looking for my notebook but by the time it turns up the phone has stopped ringing. Evil eye from the wife. Ten minutes later the phone rings again and I leap to it with book in hand, pick up the phone and proudly and loudly pronounce "รอ เดี๋ยว นะ ครับ" and hand the phone to my wife with a grin as big as the one on a cat that has just eaten a field rat.
Laughter on the phone is a good sign but when I ask my wife what her mother had to say about my new Thai ability, she said that she couldn't understand me........
Quick anodynes from my wife about how her mother is old and therefore a little deaf were no help in consoling my crushed spirit.

I suppose my pronunciation needs work.

Anyway, that harsh lesson aside, since that day, the expression รอ เดี๋ยว นะ ครับ has not left my mind once and I'm sure I'll never forget it. So the point I am trying to make with this long-winded story is, that once you use a new expression or vocabulary in a real world situation, it will stick in your head a lot faster than if you just try to memorize it from a book without using it. And if you make a mistake and people don't understand you, who cares. It probably endeared me to my mother-in-law anyway. Or that's what I choose to believe.

btw, If you cannot be bothered with enabling your computer to produce Thai fonts and you want to type in Thai, you could try the Virtual Thai Keyboard over at

Saturday, May 06, 2006

To romanize or not? entry no. 1

  Posted by Picasa One of the initial decisions that I am faced with when studying Thai is whether or not I want to dive right in and learn the script or should I just go ahead and learn everything in romanized form (that is, using the English alphabet) and worry about the characters later.
At first glance it seems quite a formidable task. There are 44 consonants to learn which produce 21 initial sounds. Then there are 21 vowels that can be combined to make 32 different sounds. It certainly sounds like a heck of a lot to learn. And when you get a look at them, a lot of them look quite similar. I am tempted to forget about the alphabet and just dive in using romanization.

Then again I have heard the argument that once you put in the initial effort to learn the alphabet, pronunciation becomes so much easier. Also, there is no universally accepted system for romanising the Thai language, and every text book you buy seems to have a different system. Also, I've heard that many Thais hardly recognize anything written in romanized Thai.
Another reason to learn the alphabet right up front is that when you are learning a new language, you want as many senses as possible to be stimulated. The more senses that you use, the better your retention will be. When you are writing down new vocabulary in the foreign alphabet, you may often find yourself recalling the visual mental image of the written word in your head at a later time. Many times I've recalled a word because the picture of it written in the script has come to mind.

So I've decided to jump in and take the plunge- actually I decided this a month ago and I am almost fininshed. I will report back here as soon as I am finished with my super hardcore alphabet memorizing method. stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Journey with me

  Posted by Picasa This blog is going to be a journal of my adventures learning the Thai language. I am hoping that compiling this blog will help me to solidify what I have been learning and it would be great if the people reading could also learn something along the way. In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that I may have a slight advantage because my wife is from Thailand and I can ask her to clarify something at anytime, however I am a complete beginner.
Also, Thai will be my third language, having already become proficient at Japanese, I hopefully have a bit of an idea what works and what doesn't with language learning.
As stated above I am an absolute beginner so if I make any mistakes posting here, please feel free to correct me.
Let's get this journey started.