It’s now March, which means the 2016 italki New Year Language Challenge is officially over and it’s time for me to follow up with how much Thai I was able to learn in the past month.I had arbitrarily guessed it might take me about 5 hours to learn the Thai alphabet, which has 44 consonants, 28 vowels and four tone marks. I began by researching advised methods and techniques for memorizing the alphabet, but quickly realized that every method I found online would take me drastically longer than I cared to spend. So I set out devising my own method.
At this point I must be careful not to take more credit than is due, because all I did was take the Remembering the Kanji method developed by James Heisig for learning the Japanese characters and make it work for the Thai alphabet. As far as I know, I’m the first person to apply this approach to Thai, but Heisig still deserves a majority of the credit, because his method is genius.
Roughly 50% of my time was spent analyzing the Thai script, looking for hidden patterns and creating a system for memorizing the alphabet as efficiently (i.e. quickly) and effectively (i.e. not likely to be forgotten) as possible. The other half of my time was spent using the system I had developed to actually memorize the alphabet.
Although the result of my Thai mission is completely different from what I had anticipated, I could not be happier with how things panned out. I was expecting to embark on a language learning journey just like I’d done a half dozen times already. However, I was instead swept into an addictive hunt for the optimal solution to an intricately beautiful ancient puzzle. Every minute I spent in search of that solution was exciting and, sometimes for days at a time, it was an all-consuming obsession.
After 17 hours and 53 minutes I was able to crack that puzzle. Beyond that, I had 7 hours of lessons on italki, in which learned a couple dozen phrases, but mostly focused on reading practice, to reinforce my work with the alphabet. To make the 10-hour language challenge requirement, I also had a few Spanish and Japanese lessons.
It is likely that I will be spending many future winters in Thailand. If that is the case, I would love to continue learning Thai. Although I didn’t learn much outside of the alphabet, I was able to learn enough to get a feel for a few of the intricacies that I think would make Thai an exciting challenge. At the moment, however, my efforts are focused on other non-language learning endeavors. For now, I will continue to appreciate the beauty of the Thai alphabet without understanding the meaning behind the words.
Photo is from a fun museum in Chiang Mai called Art in Paradise.