Got DSL?

 

The quest for a DSL line in our apartment nears its end, but is not over yet.  Monday morning a technician from TOT (Telephone of Thailand) came to the apartment complex and switched on our home phone line.  Then on Tuesday afternoon a maintenance man from the complex came to our unit and actually activated the telephone jack itself.  Then this afternoon I attached the DSL modem/router, used the enclosed CD-ROM to format the modem and get ready to actually use the DSL line.

Everything appears to be properly installed and ready to go.  The DSL and LAN lights are on full-strength.  The connection appears live.  And yet, when I open Internet Explorer, the request to go to a particular address times out.  I think the settings (“Obtain IP Address Automatically”) are not correct.  So I’ll ask Tawn to help me sort this out, which may involve a phone call to TOT – a daunting task in and of itself.

Halfway Quiz at ULS

Today was my tenth day of Thai language instruction at Union Language School, the halfway point in Module 1.  So today each of the thirteen students had an oral examination with the khruu, or teacher. 

I selected number ten in a random draw, which may have been somewhat beneficial as khruu Lakkanah realized that she was taking too long for each student and the exams became increasingly brief.  I was in the exam for about five minutes, maybe less.  As each question was asked, if I didn’t have the answer right now then she moved on to the next question.  Kind of like being on the speed round of the $64,000 Pyramid game show.

The general areas of knowledge that we were quizzed on:

  • Being able to name yourself, ask names, and ask for clarification about names
  • Being able to describe how you are doing and ask others the same
  • Being able to ask what things are called, and to respond to the same questions
  • Being able to identify common colors, classroom objects, eating objects (bowls, plates, utensils), fruits, vegetables, and meat products.
  • Being able to request basic food and beverage items, and to say how many of something you want, using the right classifiers (“glass of water”, “cup of coffee”, “bottle of orange juice”.)

The biggest challenge for me was to remember the fruits and vegetables.  The first challenge is that the fruits and vegetables common here in Thailand are not regularly available in the United States.  Mangosteen, rambutan, and wax apples (those are just the English names – I have to remember “mangkut”, “nhoc”, and “chompuu”) are all terribly commonplace here but I rarely see them at the local Safeway in the US!

Tawn spent quite a bit of time reviewing the foods with me last night.  I drew pictures in a notebook and he quizzed me on them until I had most of them down.  Tomato (“makhuatheet”), papaya (“malahkha”) and fruits in general (“pohlaymaay”) were three of the stumbling blocks.

All in all, I think I did fine with the quiz.  The purpose of the quiz was really to make sure that students are getting the basic concepts, constructions, and pronunciations before we get too far through the class.  The last day we do have a final – oral and written – and passing is mandatory to proceed to the next module.

 

Learning Thai

Pom rian passat Thai.

 I am learning the Thai language.  I have completed exactly six days of classes at the Union Language School and already I am able to do amazing things, which I will write about in a moment.

One of my reasons for choosing Union Language School was that its curricula was developed by Donald Larsen, a noted linguist.  My experience learning French from a speaker who was trained in linguistics was very positive and it seemed that linguistics provided a good framework around which to organize the learning.

The first school I had tried (studying briefly during previous visits) was the structure-less American University Alumni Association.  The focus there is on learning by absorption.   Sit here and listen to two instructors carry on a dialog in Thai and in a few years you will have learned it just the way a child does.  AUA graduates are acknowledged to ultimately speak Thai with near-flawless accents.  Locals regularly mistake one Japanese friend (Mitsu, shown below) who completed three years at AUA for Thai.  Albeit, usually not a Thai “from around here.”

That said, I have found the complete lack of structure a bit frustrating.  At AUA they discourage students from even attempting to speak Thai until you reach the third level of studies.  Feeling the need to get up to speed a bit more quickly, even if I require more work on the back end of things to get rid of my accent, I went knocking on the ULS door.

From the very first day, I have enjoyed the experience at ULS.  For starters, the teacher, Khru Lakhana, is incredibly enthusiastic.  She must have a dozen cups of coffee first thing in the morning.  The class is composed of thirteen students: 5 from the US, 2 from Japan, 2 from Spain, 1 Russian, 1 Israeli, 1 Brit, and 1 Bolivian.

We spent the first three and a half days learning the basic phonetic albhabet – a standardized set of letters and symbols that each have a discreet sound.  For example, in the English language, the “ou” sound in “cough”, “tough”, “though”, and “through” are different.  In order to learn a language properly, we need a standard vocabulary to use and the phonetic alphabet provides that.

An example of how the nine pure vowels (as opposed to the compound vowels like “ia”, “ua”, etc.) in Thai, each in a long and short sound.  The phonetic symbols for the nine long vowels are:

  • ii = “ee” as in “see
  • ee = “a” as in “pale”
  • oo = “o” as in “go
  • aa = “a” as in “father”
  • uu = “u” as in “ruler”
  • ¥å¥å = “a” as in “sad”
  • әә = “e” as in “teacher”
  • ɔɔ
  • = “a” as in “Tawn”
  • ʉʉ
  • = “u” at in “ruler” but with a wide smile on your face as you say it

We also spent those first three-plus days practicing the five tones in the Thai language.  Think of tones like holding a note while singing.  The vowel sound in a syllable will rise, fall, hold steady, etc. based on the particular tone.  The five tones applied to the word “mai” are as follows:

  • māi = mid tone, hold stead at a middle pitch
  • mài = low tone, start at middle pitch and drop to low pitch
  • mâi = falling tone, starting at middle pitch, rising a bit, and then dropping sharply
  • mái = high tone, starting at a mid-high pitch and rising sharply
  • măi = rising tone, starting at mid pitch, dropping a bit, and then rising sharply

These are much fewer than some languages have.  I have been told that some dialects of Chinese have up to eight or nine different tones.  The different between tones is critical because the change of a tone also changes the meaning.  The above five words mean, in order, “mile”, “new”, “no” or “not”, “right?” and “silk”.  The challenge to learners who come from a native language that does not employ tones is that we’re not used to even hearing the differences.  And believe me when I tell you that the distinctions, especially when someone is speaking at a conversational pace, are subtle.

One the tail end of the fourth day we began to practice actual words and conversations.  We learned simple things first, like how to refer to yourself, another person, and a third person in singular form.  Then we learned to identify ourselves and ask others their names.  Then we learned to ask what something is, what color it is, and how many of them there are.

What I am finding is that the structure of the material is quite brilliant because each new bit of knowledge does not just add another building block – it adds a multiplier or an exponential factor to our existing knowledge.

For example, once I learned how to ask colors in addition to asking names of items and quantities, my Thai universe expanded in size by a factor of three.  I can now ask how many items of a particular type that that other person is holding, are a particular color.  Very useful stuff.

Here is an example of a conversation I can now carry on with a native Thai speaker, assuming he has infinite patience as I mispronounce every word and tone, and also assuming he follows my practiced script to the letter.  The conversation is in English for your ease of reading.

  • Chris: Hello there.
  • Thai person: Hello there.
  • Chris: My name is Chris. Excuse me, what is your name?
  • Thai person: My name is Chai.
  • Chris: I am sorry, what is your name again?
  • Thai person: My name is Chai.
  • Chris: Your name is Eric?
  • Thai person: No. My name is Chai.
  • Chris: Your name is Chai?
  • Thai person: Correct. My name is Chai.
  • Chris: Chai, what is this called?
  • Chai: That is a pencil.
  • Chris: Chai, what is that called?
  • Chai: That is a ruler.
  • Chris: Chai, that ruler is orange.
  • Chai: No, that ruler is not orange.
  • Chris: Chai, that ruler is not orange. That ruler is clear.
  • Chai: Yes, that ruler is clear.
  • Chris: (picking up a bunch of colored pencils) Chai, how many of these pencils are green?
  • Chai: What the heck are you asking me for!?

Of course, this is not based on a real conversation, but only on the types of conversations I have with my teacher and fellow students in class.  I have attempted to engage Tawn in these conversations, and while he is very supportive of my studying Thai, I think he finds the conversations with his three year old second cousin Mark to be significantly more mentally engaging.

But this is just day six.  We have a test next Wednesday and I am sure by then I will be having some truly amazing conversations!