The last time I came to Thailand I tried to learn a little Thai beforehand. I got a book and audio CDs: Complete Thai by David Smyth from the Teach Yourself series. I used a few online resources too. However I didn’t get much opportunity to use it. Most of the Thai people I met preferred to speak English. It did come in handy when I took the Sunshine Network massage course in the Lahu village. Thai was also a second language for the Lahu family whose house we stayed in and they had no English.
Before the current trip I did a little revision but I was struggling. My lovely husband proposed to get me some tuition with a native speaker. We did identify someone, but it was too far to travel and too little time to organise. Jess, who I met the last time I was staying at the Chiang Mai White House recommended studying with Noinaa once I got here. A few emails were exchanged and we agreed to meet.
Thai is in many ways much easier than European languages. There is no need to change the form of the verb to represent the person or the tense. There are no gender words the like ‘le’ and ‘la’ in French or ‘der’, ‘die’ and ‘das’ in German. The main problem comes from the use of a different writing system and the fact that the same sounding word can be pronounced with one of five tones, and the vowel sound can be short or long. Each of these permutations can give the word an unrelated meaning. For example a word which to my ears sounds close to ‘cow’ can mean any one of white, rice, knee, news, horn, he/she, enter or ‘a fishy smell’.
I met with Noinaa after being here a few days to settle in. She listened to what I was struggling with and then adapted her lesson to use words which featured the vowel sounds I was finding difficult. For two hours with the patience of a saint she found ways to cover different material whilst emphasising these sounds.
I would have loved to have had another lesson mid-week, but after massage school each day I was to drained so we met again the following weekend. This time Noinaa started with a discussion of what I’d eaten for breakfast. Then she helped me go through the expressions that I might need whilst giving a massage. “lay on your back,” “turn on your side,” “extend your leg.” A discussion of the different ways that the word ‘mai’ could be pronounced, one of which means ‘wood’, and is used for the wooden skewers to hold meat for barbecue, brought us back to the topic of food.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my sessions with Noinaa and I hope it will be possible to arrange another one before I leave. for anyone spending time in the area I would recommend getting her to take you through the basics so that you can say a bit further than the ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ that most westerners manage. Noinaa provides lots of extra resources via her blog and also offers sessions via Skype.