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  • Living in Thailand Blog
 

 

Welcome to Planet Thailand

Welcome to Planet Thailand

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

 

 

Sunday 17th June 2018

Dear readers, so what the crap.

Microsoft have been going crazy with Windows 10 updates this past week. When this happens I assume that most of the fixes are for security issues. New features occasionally appear, but mostly they are of no use to me at all.

Yesterday, for some reason, I clicked on the link to get information about new features. I found, for example, that I could start writing something on my phone, which I never do, and then magically continue writing on my computer. I read about some other new features I would never use and I was about to close the window when I saw something about the addition of dictation software. Mmm, that could be useful.

Voice recognition software isn't new. Years ago when I was working at IBM using a first generation laptop running OS/2 there was some voice recognition software. Unfortunately, it was so bad as to be unusable. However, this is now 2018 and computer hardware and software has come a long way since then. I decided to give the Microsoft dictation software a shot.

I was impressed. I only did a quick test, but even when speaking softly and not very clearly the speech recognition was quite accurate. Despite having used a keyboard for longer than I can remember I never progressed beyond two finger typing and I feel this is something that could actually save me time.

Another thought then occurred. Does this work in Thai? I was eager to try for two reasons. Firstly, would the software detect the change of language and switch automatically? Secondly, Thais never expect Thai words to come from farang mouths and when I speak to Thais who don't know me I often get blank stares. Is my Thai really that bad or can it be understood by voice recognition software?

I started with a simple hello, "Sawatdee krup." The voice recognition software interpreted this as, "So what the crap." At this point I gave up. First question answered - it doesn't automatically switch language. I will have to change the language before I can get an answer to my second question.

To use this feature on the latest version of Windows 10 just press the Windows button and 'H' to get into dictation mode.


More on language. At the start of this month I wrote something about how Thai school children learn tones compared to how foreigners learning to read Thai learn tones. It's completely different. Foreigners must remember lots of tone rules, but Thais learn in a very natural way with no rules at all. They just use a LOT of repetition.

Recently my Learning To Read Tutorials have been getting a few more hits than usual and this has encouraged me to do some updates. I've added a few more photos and examples to various tutorials and also described the way in which Thai kids learn tones.

This will be boring to most readers, but may be of interest to those who have an interest in the Thai language.


Will men ever understand women?

At least when you are married to a woman from the same culture you only have the gender differences. When you have a Thai wife you have the gender differences plus the myriad cultural differences. In addition, most foreign men with Thai wives choose women who are considerably younger and then there are also age differences. My wife is great. She bakes fresh bagels for breakfast and last night made a fantastic roast chicken dinner, but it's not always plain sailing.

A major element of Thai cultural behaviour is this thing Thais call, 'sanook'. It's often translated into English simply as 'fun', but the actual meaning is far more nuanced. Just like the concept of 'sabaay' it is very important to Thais.

There's something else called 'bpai tiaew', which is also very important to Thais because it is 'sanook'. I hope you are following so far. Basically, this involves taking some form of motorised transport and going somewhere. It doesn't matter where. Anywhere. Many Thais have low thresholds of boredom and just don't like staying in one place for very long.

All I've heard from my wife recently is that she wants to 'bpai tiaew'. When I ask her where she wants to go, she doesn't know. All she ever says is that she wants to go somewhere she hasn't been before.

It's like my kids when we go shopping. They tell me they want a toy, but they don't know what toy they want. They just want a toy. Any toy.

This 'bpai tiaew' thing has been driving me crazy recently and I have started to dread weekends because I know that if we don't go anywhere she will start acting up and telling me she is bored.

This weekend I tried to preempt the problem. I sat down yesterday and thought about places we could go to where she hadn't been before. Near the Malaysian border are some tunnels that were used by communist rebels from the mid 60's to early 80's when there was a communist insurgency in Thailand.

I have known about these tunnels for years, but have never actually gotten around to visiting. The tunnels have some historical interest and the setting is in a national park near where there are also waterfalls. It's about 70km from where we live and it seemed an ideal location for a family day trip.

I spoke to her yesterday and told her the plan, to which she agreed. I did a bit of research on-line and plugged the coordinates into my Garmin GPS. The plan was to leave around 9am today.

This morning I was busy getting prepared to go, but I sensed that she had no enthusiasm. She then asked me if I still wanted to go and it was obvious that she didn't want to go.

Every week I get nagged if we don't go somewhere and when I do make plans to go somewhere she doesn't want to go. Women. Can't live without them. Can't shoot them. Perhaps we shall go to the tunnels next week? It depends on her.

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Thursday 14th June 2018

Our four year-old wasn't well on Sunday. Hat Yai has literally hundreds of private dental and medical clinics that are open weekends and evenings, and we took him to a local pediatrician. After a short wait we saw the doctor. She has studied and worked in the USA and her English was very good even though I could understand everything she said to my wife in Thai. She prescribed some antibiotics and the total charge was Bt300. It was all very efficient and satisfactory.

After almost 15 years in Thailand I can count the number of negative experiences I have had with doctors and dentists on one hand ... and still have a few fingers left over.

Last year on my trip back to the UK I tried to see a doctor. Having used a different brand of shower gel that I must have been allergic to, the skin under my arms had turned extremely dry and uncomfortable. Also, I had forgotten to pack my asthma medicine. I can buy it over the counter in Thailand, but it needs a doctor's prescription in the UK. Many drugs that need prescriptions elsewhere can be bought over the counter in Thailand.

It was the weekend and there wasn't a single medical facility open in my home town in the UK. Not one. And the town is quite large. I drove to another town, but upon arriving at the surgery was told that there would be at least a four hour wait. I decided it wasn't worth waiting and drove back to my father's house again. Wonderful. Thailand isn't perfect but there are many ways in which life is far more convenient than the UK, and the cost of living is significantly cheaper. The trip to the UK was one that I had to make for personal reasons, but from the minute I arrived at Heathrow airport I couldn't wait to get back to Thailand again.

Anyway, we decided to keep our lad at home on Monday. I looked after him while my wife went to work. There was a huge improvement on Monday and no need to keep him at home any longer, however, my wife was advised by the school to keep him at home because there has been a major outbreak of hand-foot-and-mouth disease at the school.

My daughter suffered from hand-foot-and-mouth disease on three separate occasions when she was younger. It's viral and spreads very easily among young children as they cough and sneeze everywhere and lick each other's lollipops.

The disease isn't dangerous, but it's unpleasant. The child suffers from ulcers in the mouth and small blisters elsewhere on the body, especially the hands and feet. It's generally not a problem for older children and adults.

The school is closed today while the teachers disinfect the classrooms and tomorrow is a holiday because it is the end of Ramadan.

The school is run by an order of Catholic nuns and the vast majority of the students and teachers are Buddhist but, as I have pointed out before, Thais will never turn down the opportunity of having a holiday and are quite happy to celebrate a Muslim festival if it means getting a day off.

The bottom line is that I have been looking after a four year-old child all week and it has put rather a damper on my ability to sit down and do anything. Hopefully, everything should be back to normal next week and I will be left to my own devices at home while my wife and two children are at school.

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Thursday 7th June 2018

Today's post is amateur economics hour. However, this is something that has been hurting me for a long time now and continues to hurt me. There must be quite a few other expats in Thailand who have also been adversely affected by the world economy in recent years. Let me know if you have any comments.

When I first came to Thailand it was quite feasible for someone in the UK with a house they were willing to sell, but with no savings, to go to live in Thailand and live quite well.

At that time the average house price in southern England was around £200,000 and it wasn't difficult to get 4% on a savings account.

 

UK interest rates history

UK interest rates history

 

In addition, each UK pound was worth around Bt70. Using these figures, if you sold your house and put the money into a savings account before converting it to Thai Baht you would get around Bt46,000 per month.

If your house was worth more, if you could get a better rate of interest on your savings, or if the exchange rate was higher (which it was sometimes), you could get more.

It's not a huge amount, but it's more than you would get for teaching English in the Thai provinces, and a single person could live reasonably well in Thailand with this amount of money.

This model of financing a move to Thailand worked for a number of years, but then the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) arrived in 2007/2008.

Within no time at all bank interest rates had fallen to almost 0%, meaning that the income from interest on savings that many people relied on became almost worthless.

In addition, the pound to Baht exchange rate also fell dramatically. Before the GFC the rate had fallen to below Bt70, but it was still in the high 60's. By January 2009 it was less than Bt48.

There was a kind of dead cat bounce and by July 2009 it had risen to almost Bt57, but then it started to drop again. For almost two years (2011-2012) it was quite flat at just under Bt50.

Many UK expats in Thailand would love to see Bt50 again now, but for those of us who remembered Bt70+ it was a bit of a shock. It started to drop again at the start of 2013 and within four months had dropped another Bt5.

However, there then began a steady climb. This ran for over a year and by July 2014 the rate was over Bt55 again. After this, there were more fluctuations, but another big shock was coming in June 2016. The Brexit referendum.

I didn't complete the paperwork to vote by proxy, so I didn't vote. I felt that the UK was getting a bad deal from the EU, but I didn't think that the UK would actually vote to leave. When the votes were counted and the Leavers had won it caused shock waves around the world.

As a result the UK pound to Thai Baht rate dropped dramatically yet again. Before Brexit it had been over Bt52. By October 2016 it was less than Bt43. Since that time it hasn't exceeded Bt45. Today it is around Bt43.

In addition to problems with the UK economy, the low exchange rate has been made worse by a very strong Thai Baht. This has affected Baht exchange rates with other currencies.

In October 2015 Americans were getting over Bt36 for each dollar. In April this year it was just over Bt31.

Financial markets don't like individual countries looking after themselves and just as the UK has been punished for Brexit, Trump's strong talk and actions regarding trade deals and tariffs have hurt the strength of the dollar.

The strength of the Baht is a little more difficult to figure out. The Thai economy relies heavily on tourism and exports, and a strong Baht is detrimental to both. A strong Baht makes exports and vacations in Thailand more expensive.

However, this doesn't seem to be hurting the Thai economy at all. Tourists keep arriving in Thailand (even though these days there are a lot more Asian tourists, especially Chinese, compared to Western tourists) and the export trade appears to be doing well.

The country is pushing ahead with Thailand 4.0 and the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and is well positioned to share the benefits of China's New Silk Road project.

Workers in Western countries are expensive, with burger-flippers demanding wages of US$15 per hour plus benefits, and Western employers have all sorts of financial obligations in addition to paying salaries.

Graduate workers in Thailand are paid Bt15,000 (US$470) per month with very few benefits. Government workers have a pension plan, but it is quite unusual in non-government jobs. Workers with degrees are paid less. It isn't difficult to figure out why companies set up factories in Asia to do their production.

My Thai friend who works for the Patagonia clothing company in the US was here earlier this year. Patagonia used to have factories in Thailand, but now most production is done in Vietnam. When I was working on assignments in the States in the 90's I liked to buy certain clothing and Timberland shoes, etc, but noticed that they were all made in Asia.

There is a degree of welfare in Thailand including subsidised medical care for Thais and a very small old age pension, but it is nothing compared to the amount of welfare that is paid out by Western countries. Not only do Western countries have to take care of their own citizens, but they take care of many immigrants who simply show up at the border and who have never paid into the welfare system. This isn't a problem in Thailand.

I think that responsible societies should have some kind of a safety net for those who really can't cope, but it has grown out of hand in the UK and many people abuse the system. Thais try to arrange their own safety nets in case they get into difficulties because they know the government won't step in.

Lee Kuan Yew was scathing in his attitudes towards welfare when he was in the process of transforming Singapore. The following is from his memoir 'From Third World To First'.

"Watching the ever-increasing costs of the welfare state in Britain and Sweden, we decided to avoid this debilitating system. We noted by the 1970s that when governments undertook primary responsibility for the basic duties of the head of a family, the drive in people weakened. Welfare undermined self-reliance. People did not have to work for their families' well-being. The handout became a way of life. The downward spiral was relentless as motivation and productivity went down. People lost the drive to achieve because they paid too much in taxes. They became dependent on the state for their basic needs."

I've read a few things about the Bank of Thailand manipulating the currency strength, but there are valid underlying reasons why the Baht is so strong.

None of the above is good for people like me living in Thailand on an income from abroad. I wish I could see some light at the end of the tunnel, but I can't at the moment.

What became clear after the GFC was that it changed the world forever. The world isn't going back to how it was pre-2008.

It seems that most Brits, including British politicians, thought the same way about Brexit as I did - that it wouldn't actually happen. When it did happen no one was prepared for what would happen next and two years down the line the UK is still having a nightmare negotiating an exit strategy.

After the Brexit referendum and the dramatic fall in the strength of the pound I read a few articles suggesting that the pound would recover by the end of 2018. We are now half way through 2018 and there seems no chance at all that this will happen.

I really hope I'm wrong. Nothing ever stays the same and most things in life are cyclical. Some time in the future it will change, but at the moment I just don't know when. No one does.

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Sunday 3rd June 2018

If you decide to live in Thailand, even if you elect to live in one of the well-known expat bubbles or choose to live a solitary life in a Bangkok condo and not have much to do with anyone else, there are certain skills and knowledge that will make life a lot easier.

Language skills are obvious. In Bangkok and all the tourist resorts local Thais can speak a kind of English, signs and menus are in English, and there are lots of fellow expats. You can get by being mute and illiterate, but wherever you live in the world you will always be extremely limited if you can't speak or read the local language.

In addition, in a country such as Thailand where the underlying beliefs of the locals people are far more different to the beliefs of Westerners than most foreigners will ever imagine, it is important to have knowledge of the local value and belief systems.

Regular readers will know that most of my blog topics revolve around language, value and belief systems. The reason is because these are the most important aspects of life in Thailand related to foreigners.

The other stuff is just fluff. Anyone who goes to live in Thailand will work out what kind of rental accommodation and food is available after just a week in the country. These superficial concerns aren't important and knowledge will be acquired in no time.

The important aspects of living in Thailand take years to learn, which is why I tend to focus on them and I don't spend a lot of time discussing the trivia.

The difference in value systems is the big one and this is the main reason why many cross-cultural relationships fail. In order to have a successful relationship, both people in the relationship must share the same values.

By the time you realise that the things your Thai partner places importance on aren't at all important to you, and vice-versa, it can mean that the relationship doesn't stand much of a chance. A farang once told me that Thai/farang marriage never last more than four years.

I'm almost at the eight year mark and I know foreigners who have been married to Thais for a lot longer so this isn't always correct, but it is probably isn't too far off the mark. It takes a long time to understand the Thai value and belief systems - probably around for years. A coincidence?

Many years ago I met a foreign man who was in Thailand for a kind of speed-dating event. He went to a hotel where he met lots of Thai women who were looking for a foreign husband and spoke to each one for a few minutes. When I say 'spoke' I'm not sure what kind of communication was used or whether there was an interpreter because he couldn't speak Thai and most of the women couldn't speak English.

He told me that he liked one and his ace card was promising her that if she married him she would have a semi-detached house in Grimsby or Scunthorpe, or wherever he lived. His assumption that having a house would be very important to the woman because it is important to Western women.

Recently, my wife accused me of loving our home too much. Yes, I do. To me, there isn't anything much more important in life than having a comfortable, attractive house. It's very high up in my value system, but it isn't in hers.

To her the house means to things. Firstly, it is a store of financial value that should rise with time. Secondly, it is functional - a place to sleep and a place to prepare food. She doesn't take any particular pride in the house and it is me who tries to keep the house and garden looking reasonable.

I enjoy being at home. I enjoy making my home attractive and comfortable and I enjoy spending time there. She doesn't. She's obsessed with the Bpai Tiaew part of the culture. This simply involves getting in a car, or on a motorbike, and going somewhere ... anywhere.

As far as I am concerned, it is a waste of time on most occasions, but Thais hate being in one place. She also criticised me recently over our trip to Vietnam last year. We stayed for four nights in the same hotel, but she wanted to stay in multiple hotels.

Again, this is a clash of cultures - a clash of value systems. If I go somewhere I want to be relaxed, comfortable and I don't want to be continually packing bags and moving from place to place. She does.

When you enter into a marriage and after a while find that your values about virtually everything are completely different you either end the marriage or compromise. There is some common ground as well and in my marriage that common ground is the children. Regardless of what we want for ourselves, we both want the best for the kids.

These differences are normally referred to as a 'culture gap', but I find this term a little nebulous and all-encompassing. I prefer to use the term 'value system', which narrows it down a little.

 

Thai fortune teller

Thai fortune teller

 

In Thailand there are also huge differences with belief systems. These don't pose as many problems, but it doesn't help to understand some of the beliefs. There are times when living in Thailand that you seem to be engaged in battle with the locals and it is always advisable to know your enemy.

The difference in belief systems goes way beyond attending temples and belief in reincarnation.

I was waiting for my wife in her car yesterday and listening to one of the local radio stations. A phone-in talk show was being broadcast.

The presenter asked callers their name, profession, where they lived, and their telephone number. He then analysed this information and told the caller whether they need to change their telephone number, or not.

He told one woman to definitely change her number because it was tired. With other people he told them that they could keep their number, but it would be better to change.

Since living in Thailand I have noticed that many Thais change their telephone number frequently. It's annoying when you try to call someone you haven't contacted for a while and their number no longer works.

I used to assume that the SIM card had expired or something and that the change was forced on them, but it isn't. Most Thais don't lead great lives, but if they experience a run of bad luck that is worse than usual they will look for a reason.

Thai females, especially, will go to visit fortune tellers or monks to find out what is causing their bad luck.

Sometimes it will be their name and quite a few Thais I know have changed their name. My ex-girlfriend changed her name and also her daughter's name. Sometimes it will be their telephone number and it is easy and cheap to buy a new SIM card.

Sometimes the fortune teller will tell them the bad luck is because their car is the wrong colour. When I began learning to read Thai a long time ago I read everything while out and about (I still do).

 

This (silver) truck is red

This (silver) truck is red

 

It puzzled me that on the back of a red car there would be a sticker saying 'This car is white'. I saw lots of these stickers and the colours were different each time. It just seemed weird.

I spoke to some Thais about it and they told me it was related to fortune tellers and bad luck. A telephone number is easy to change, but it isn't as easy to change the colour of your car. Apparently, putting a sticker on the car saying that the car is a different colour has the same effect without actually respraying the car.

If Thais witness a fatal accident they will want to know specific information about the deceased related to numbers - age, house number, apartment floor, etc. The reason is that these numbers can be used to select a winning lottery ticket.

Thailand on the surface, especially urban Thailand, seems very similar to the Western world. Thais dress in a similar fashion, drive similar cars, and seem to be doing the same activities in life - working, shopping, taking their children to school, etc.

However, once your experience of Thailand goes beyond being a tourist and you start living in Thailand among Thais, you start to realise that the way of thinking - the value and belief systems - are completely and utterly different.

It's not a quick process. It took me around four years even to start scratching the surface and after almost 15 years I still learn new things all the time.

I'm certainly not saying that Thai are wrong and that foreigners are right. All I am saying is that values and beliefs between Thailand and Western countries are very different, and that after a period of times these differences can start to cause some major issues for foreigners living in Thailand.

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Saturday 2nd June 2018

As a result of the saga yesterday, my site was down for around 20 hours and even though it is back again now this is only because of a temporary fix. According to my hosting company, "A temporary overground fix has been put in place. Please note that service is still at risk and there are likely to be interruptions."

If the site disappears again, you will know why. The patched up fibre optic cable is now above ground in a farmer's field where potentially it could be eaten by a goat or trodden on by a cow.


Now that my wife has returned to work, my new regime is working out well. There are two main benefits for me. One is having more time to myself, but this is a benefit I expected. The other benefit is equally as welcome, but it was unexpected.

Regular readers of this blog will know only too well my thoughts about driving in Thailand. Quite frankly it is something I wish I didn't have to do, but because of where we live - and having two young children to ferry around - it is something that is unavoidable.

This week I haven't driven since last Sunday, when we drove over to the east side of the peninsula for a look at a very quiet spot on the Gulf of Thailand coast. It's been a real pleasure not having to drive.

Normally, I pick the children up on a Friday when my wife has a teachers' meeting after work but I didn't even have to do that yesterday. She drives a lot, but doesn't seem to mind. She has only ever driven in Thailand and the anarchy on Thai roads is normal to her, which it certainly isn't to me. Thailand has the second most dangerous roads in the world.

Yesterday, at her teachers' meeting it was announced that the husband of one of the teachers at the school had been killed earlier in the day in a road accident. He was killed in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. Yet another Thai family has been devastated because of the carnage on Thai roads. The teacher has lost her husband and her children have lost their father.

The main road that fronts my housing development is lethal and accidents occur every day. A few months ago very close to my house a Burmese construction worker was killed on a motorbike when he was crushed by a container lorry.

A few weeks ago my neighbour told me of a very serious accident in almost the same place. It was a high speed collision (Thais drive at crazy speeds and there is zero enforcement of speeding laws) and apparently someone was decapitated. The person's head ended up 50 meters from the accident scene.

When you see how Thais drive it is obvious that people will die. And they do. In the UK I didn't know one person who had been killed in a road accident. In Thailand everyone has a relative, friend, colleague or acquaintance that has been killed in a road accident. Thailand has something like 7 times the road fatality rate of the UK for a similar size population.

Road fatalities are extremely common and the unnecessary loss of life causes so much pain to families in Thailand that you would expect things to change. However, the thing I will never be able to understand is that nothing ever changes. Thais won't change the way they drive and the authorities won't do anything to clamp down on reckless driving.

I'm sorry to labour this point, but for me it is the one thing that makes living in Thailand miserable. Everything else is good, but Thais and motorised vehicles are a lethal combination and it is beyond me why the Thai authorities won't do anything to improve the situation.

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Friday 1st June 2018

My website was down for several hours today. Apparently, two fibre optic cables were severed in a farmer's field in a part of the UK close to the Manchester United football ground. It's undesirable, but this kind of thing happens occasionally.

This site is actually hosted in the valleys of Wales. If you listen closely while you are reading you can hear sheep bleating and choirs of coal miners singing in the background.

What is a little concerning is that this is the second major outage in a couple of months. I've generally been quite pleased with the hosting company (and a farmer digging a trench and severing cables with his tractor is out of their control), but it seems they don't have much backup when major problems occur in the network.


The weather in southern Thailand is highly variable at this time of year. There was torrential rain a couple of days ago and the drip, drip, drip above my bedroom false ceiling reminded me again of my leaky roof. The weather yesterday was grey, wet and miserable. It didn't rain hard, but the drizzle lasted a long time. It was like being in northern England or Scotland, except that it wasn't cold.

The weather this morning was perfect, although it became quite humid around lunchtime and then rained heavily again in the afternoon.

The real rainy season in the south doesn't begin until October, but the rainy season elsewhere in Thailand starts around now. There has been heavy rain in parts of central and northern Thailand and already there have been reports of flooding on the TV news. I have a trip to Bangkok planned later this month and Bangkok will probably be quite wet.


A Thai person asked me recently whether I thought English or Thai was more difficult to learn. How do you answer? Thais think that speaking Thai is the easiest thing in the world, but many believe that being able to learn to speak English is virtually impossible. I noticed this with many students and the reason they were so apathetic about learning was because there was no belief that they could actually succeed. It is exactly the same with many foreigners in Thailand.

For Thais learning English the different grammar tenses, with different sentence structures and different verb conjugations, is very difficult. This kind of thing doesn't exist in Thai and the concept is very difficult for Thais to grasp. When speaking English, most Thais think in Thai and do a word-by-word translation using just the simple present form of verbs because Thai only has one verb form.

Native English speakers don't have any problem with English grammar tenses, but most would have a lot of problems learning Latin in which the grammar is a lot more complex than English. It is the same for Thais learning English.

 

For foreigners learning Thai the simplified grammar makes learning sentence structure quite easy, but the tones are very difficult. With five tones in the central dialect - high, low, medium, rising, falling - using the wrong tone completely changes the meaning of the word. The southern Thai dialect also has a kind of high-and-rising tone.

I have been through the process of learning Thai myself (a process that will continue until I die), I have met many Thai students learning English, and since my kids arrived I have observed how they are taught language. It has all been very interesting.

What I have found interesting is that when young children learn their native language they acquire the difficult skills without having to remember any rules. They learn in such a natural way that when asked to explain something about their language they can't. It seems so obvious that their isn't an explanation. It just is.

When I taught myself to read Thai I asked Thais questions, but I could never get answers. I would either get answers from books about the subject written by foreigners or, most commonly, I would figure out things for myself. When learning to speak Thai, definitely find yourself a Thai teacher. However, if you have questions about reading Thai it is normally better to ask foreigners who can read Thai.

During my formal education in the UK I never studied English grammar. I started high school at around the same time the UK government did away with grammar schools and replaced them with progressive comprehensive schools.

I could speak English fluently, of course, as can every other native speaker, but I had no deep understanding of the structure of the language. I had to learn all this when I did a TEFL training course and it was quite difficult.

The reason TEFL teachers have to learn is because speaking English isn't natural to foreign learners and the teachers have to provide rules. There are all kinds of rules when different tenses are used, but native speakers don't think about rules. They just speak naturally.

There are also tone rules for Thai, but as I have seen with my children learning to read Thai, they aren't used in Thailand. This is what makes learning a second language so difficult later in life. When we learn our native language naturally there are no rules, but if we learn a second language later it's all about rules.

There are no grammar articles in Thai and this is another area in which Thais have major problems. Native English speakers never think about it because it is so natural, but Thais have big problems knowing whether to use a, an, the or not to use a grammar article.

When I was teaching I thought it might be useful to give the students a set of rules on grammar articles. I was horrified when my set of rules came to about nine pages long. How were they supposed to remember nine pages of rules?

Thai tones aren't at all natural to foreign learners of Thai and, once again, there are rules. There are different rules for words with and without tone marks. I won't go into detail here, but if you are interested I have covered them in one of my Reading Thai Tutorials.

Rules again, and it is these rules that make learning a second language so difficult.

My four year-old is now in the second year of Kindergarten and after a fairly relaxed first year there is now a lot more emphasis on reading Thai at the school. Below is a page from one of his books.

When I was learning to read Thai the tone rules were very important to me, but when I asked Thais questions about tones and rules it was obvious they didn't understand what I was talking about. Now that I have seen how my children are taught tones, I understand why.

 

Thai tones

Thai tones

 

The following symbol is a Thai vowel that makes a long 'aa' sound, as in 'car' or 'bar'. This is commonly transliterated as a short 'a', thus the common Thai to English transliteration for house is 'ban', when it should be 'baan'.

On my son's worksheet this vowel is preceded with various consonants. Thai consonants are classified as low, mid or high class. There are no tone marks - those will come later. This vowel is long and the consonant/vowel syllables are live.

If I had to read the words on his worksheet in the correct tone I would first have to remember the class of the initial consonant and then remember the tone rule. The first example uses the consonant gor gai, which is a mid class consonant. The tone rule for mid class consonants and long vowels forming live syllables is mid tone.

The second example uses kor kai, which is a high class consonant. The tone rules tell us that a rising tone should be used.

For foreign learners of Thai this means having to remember the class of each consonant and then, depending on the spelling of the word, having to remember the appropriate tone rule. There are four tone marks and if a tone mark is used above the initial consonant or consonant cluster there is a different rule for each tone mark.

None of this happens when Thai children learn tones. Teachers or parents will just say 'gor-aa-gaa' or 'kor-aa-kaa' and when they say 'gaa' or 'kaa' it will be said in the correct tone. Perfectly naturally. Absolutely no rules.

The child learns the correct tone, but doesn't know why. The tone is correct because this is how it was taught by the teacher or parent, but the reason why isn't known because it wasn't taught. This is why Thais haven't been able to explain tone rules to me. Obviously, Thais can pronounce tones correctly, but most don't know the tone rules and thus can't explain to foreigners why certain words have certain tones.

It's the same with English. Native speakers can use the different tenses perfectly well in normal speech, but most people would probably have difficulty explaining to a foreigner when and how to use the past perfect, present perfect, future perfect, etc. If you are going to teach a language you need to know more than simply how to speak the language.

The problems with learning a second language are known in language teaching and you often hear teachers and organisations claiming to teach in a 'natural' way, but once students are above a certain age and already have knowledge of their native language it can't really be done.

I go along with Chomsky's theory of a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) in the brain that only exists in children up until a fairly young age. Very young children can acquire language in a completely natural fashion simply by being in an environment in which they are surrounded by people speaking the language.

This obviously doesn't happen when we are older. If it did, every foreigner who has been living in Thailand for a few years would speak fluent Thai. Instead, there are many foreigners in Thailand who have lived in the country for 20 years or more and still speak hardly a word of Thai. There are even fewer who can read Thai.

I have heard of young foreign children who move to Thailand and pick up the language within a matter of months. For most adults, that doesn't happen. A few people are gifted with natural language learning skills and learn to speak Thai very well fairly quickly. For most of us, however, it takes a lot of time and effort even to be able to learn to speak enough just to get by.

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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.

Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.

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