So what about the tones?
It turns out that tones are almost a non-issue. Thais tend to speak in a monotone most of the time, no matter what the actual tone of the word is! (Read that again.) If you ask a Thai person (not a teacher) about tones, they will tell you that Thai is a monotone language. (Ask an English person if English is a tonal language… Heck, ask a Swedish person if they use tones also. Each person will insist that their language is spoken mostly in a monotone!)
Once you’ve understood what the tones should be (and if you master the tones ‘flow chart’ and make-subconscious the Four Questions (which you'll get in the course), you can more or less ignore them. Tones DO need to be unmistakably expressed for certain words, usually where you pause for breath or where the word in the context of your conversation is ambiguous. You will eventually get to know the rhythm and musicality of Thai when you listen to full sentences spoken at natural speed.
It’s much easier and less confusing not to think of the letters as high/middle/low class – because of the way tones are usually described (“high”, “mid”, “low”, “rising”, “falling”). There is absolutely no one-to-one correspondence between the class and the tone. So a high letter will not give you a high tone, and so on.
Why learn Thai?
Well, actually, you don’t need to learn Thai at all!
There are enough people who can speak or understand English – even (or especially) in business – that you can get by and live quite successfully in Thailand… for many years. Some expats have been here for 10 or 15 years and own or manage successful businesses, without speaking more than a smattering of Thai.
Besides, Thai is quite difficult and boring to learn – that is, if you go to a ‘traditional’ class or try to learn it the way it is conventionally taught.
Expats - Speaking Thai (not!) in Thailand
Thai is difficult to learn. Or is it?
The main trouble is that learning Thai is super boring and fiendishly difficult…!
Learning any language usually requires hundreds of hours of investment in time and effort. There are better things to do in life! Learning an obscure language like Thai isn’t one of them.
So why bother to learn Thai?
Nevertheless, there are subtle but significant advantages to being conversant and literate in Thai. The first quite simply is feeling confident about going out anywhere in Thailand without ever being afraid of getting lost!
The other is that you start to notice and understand and appreciate a ‘parallel world’ that is real Thailand – and you can start interacting with Thai people in a more personal way.
Is there an easier way?
An American in Phuket
Well, not just Americans and not just Phuket – any ‘farang’ in Thailand has to decide whether to bother learning Thai or just get by with English-speaking Thai people instead.
Here’s an extract from an article in the Phuket Post, to learn Thai or not to learn, that is the question:
We all know what life is like for a farang… Pretty damn good if we are to be truly honest. Sure, there is the odd bit of stereotyping and discrimination involved in being white in Phuket, I mean we’re all not here as sex tourists or here to exploit a cheaper workforce in order to profit ourselves are we? Some of us are here because we enjoy the lifestyle, the beaches and the food. Some of us take steps to become integrated into Thai society. Don’t we? Don’t you?
Even if you don’t then you’re still unlikely to experience many problems. You can re-create your little Western existence in Thailand without having to even acknowledge you are in a foreign country or even a foreigner.