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The following is the 'Preface' section in full from the CTF book written by editor Graeme Kay.
A Note From the Editor.
When picking up a book like Cracking Thai Fundamentals, it is a normal reaction to want to know something about the author; to understand his background, credentials and experience, and to judge whether he is a fit and proper person to guide us through the pages that lie ahead. In short, who is Stuart Jay Raj, and does he know what he’s talking about?
First of all, Stuart is a polyglot – a man who speaks a number of languages at a very high standard, and who has worked as a simultaneous interpreter in Thai, Indonesian, Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish and Danish, among others. This may alarm some readers – the term ‘polyglot’ might conjure up images of someone rather special, or ‘gifted’ – the kind of freak who goes to bed with a Teach Yourself German book under the pillow and wakes up reading Der Spiegel, or the original works of Goethe. You may rest assured that this is not the case.
It may be more accurate to say that Stuart is not simply a man who knows a lot of languages. He is a man who has learned a lot of languages, and the good – or bad – news is that doing so mostly required rather ordinary attributes such as hard work, persistence and a desire to learn that involves making the most of every available opportunity for language acquisition.
Where Stuart did have an advantage was in his early upbringing. He is an Australian of mixed heritage, and gained exposure to a number of languages when growing up with different family members. In particular, however, Stuart speaks very fondly of his maternal grandfather, who instilled the passion for language within his grandson as they used an old shortwave radio to listen to foreign language broadcasts together, deciphering and discussing everything they heard. This practical foundation was then formalized academically through a degree in cognitive and applied linguistics from Griffith University, Queensland, before Stuart embarked upon a working life that made full use of those language skills.
His career has included such highlights as working as the interpreter for the Miss Universe organization, interpreting for Miss Thailand, Miss Indonesia and other languages as required as he followed the pageant around the world, and presenting his own TV show on Thailand’s Channel 5.
According to Stuart, however, the ability to speak several languages is far less lucrative than might be imagined, but what multinational companies and government agencies are willing to pay for is the ability to train others to do their jobs and communicate effectively in cross-cultural contexts. This is precisely the field in which Stuart has excelled, taking his linguistics training and the practical language learning skills acquired from his grandfather along with his past as a Dale Carnegie trainer to develop training programmes for business clients across Southeast Asia.
A Unique Perspective
Cracking Thai Fundamentals approaches the Thai language from a unique perspective. One can imagine that while there may be others who have the depth of understanding of Thai, and the fluency in English to explain it, very few people have the background knowledge of Sanskrit and other regional languages of India and Khmer and Burmese and Chinese dialects and minority languages of China that allows Stuart’s very distinct picture of the Thai language to emerge. When one also takes into consideration the fact that Stuart has developed the Cracking Thai Fundamentals course over a period of 15 years, using his practical training expertise to refine its techniques and nuances to meet the needs of thousands of learners, one can develop a certain level of trust that Stuart does indeed know exactly what he is doing.
This trust is important, because at times you will be taken on a journey, learning more about the Thai language rather than learning the Thai language itself. There is much method to this strategy – and yet the wisdom of Stuart’s grandfather shines through; the crazy stories and obscure facts do create memory pegs, and while some of Stuart’s own suggested learning techniques might seem too much like hard work, others are sure to resonate.
In this respect, the book is something of a buffet. Stuart himself is quick to point out that it is not a five-course dinner providing all the nourishment one might need – of course the reader should seek out additional resources and learning opportunities – but there is certainly something of value here for everyone, from beginner to advanced learner to native Thai speaker.
It is comprehensive, and it is a resource which must be returned to often, and dipped into frequently. If you are thinking of learning Thai or moving to Thailand, it is the first book you should pick up, it is the book you will be running back to as your Thai progresses through the levels over the years and it is the book you will pick up again when you need that language learning spark re-ignited. With each reading at each stage of your learning, you are bound to get something new. In short, it will provide linguistic sustenance for a lifetime. And no-one else could have approached the Thai language and presented it the way Stuart has.
Stuart Jay Raj is an author, public speaker, cross-cultural business strategist, facilitator and linguist with fluency ranging from competent to native in over 15 languages including Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, Indonesian, Spanish, Sanskrit, Danish and other languages predominantly across Southeast Asia. Beginning his facilitation career almost 20 years ago as a Dale Carnegie facilitator, Stuart has since established his own brand of facilitating business across Asia, fusing his cultural and linguistic knowledge with solid people skills and localised business know-how, helping both individuals and organisations to be their best wherever they are. He has developed industry specific knowledge and skills with government / non-government agencies and multinational corporations spanning across several domains - in particular Aerospace, Cyber-Security, Human-Trafficking / People Smuggling, Modern-Trade and Energy, where he works on the ground across Asia, assisting parties from both West and East with mutual interests to overcome differences and negotiate internally and externally for success. Stuart is the author of the best-selling book ‘Cracking Thai Fundamentals - Installing a Thai Operating System for your mind’, and has presented TEDx talks across the region in English and Mandarin, has hosted a TV show on Thailand’s Channel 5, trained simultaneous interpreters across the region and was for several years on the international Miss Universe Interpreting team.
In 2000, Jeanne Hallacy of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand asked me whether I might be interested in putting together a programme that could be run for the Club’s members that would help journalists, NGO workers, UN staff and other members hit the ground running when it came to understanding the Thai language and culture. There were stories of many people starting to learn either at schools or by taking private lessons with Thai tutors, who for one reason or another, many had lost the motivation to learn often citing excuses such as ‘The teacher didn’t teach in an engaging fashion and just wanted me to learn by rote’, or ‘The language and culture just seems to be enshrouded in so much mystery. Not even Thai teachers can answer what one would think the simplest of questions would be’.
This was especially problematic for journalists, because if they don’t have a facility in the local language, very often their perceptions of what they see and hear going on and the people that they meet are filtered through the locals that they hire as stringers and fixers.
I took up the challenge and started penning a course that would ultimately be run as eight two-hour sessions at the FCCT over the following months. My initial focus was on breaking down what I believed were key elements in the Thai language learning process and finding ways of embedding them into the learner so that they would be realized in a much more natural way, paying particular attention to things that might seem baffling, or that might appear at first glance to be similar to something in English or other European languages, but were in fact quite different.
Over time, I developed a suite of hand and body signs, glyphs and exercises all with the focus of helping the learner to lay down a new language and cultural operating system for their mind and body. Rather than superimposing a new language over the top of the existing sound and meaning system of the learner’s mother tongue, through Cracking Thai Fundamentals, the learner would instead be able to learn to think about language and meanings, produce meanings and react in Thai in a way that much more closely resembled the way Thais think about and produce language themselves.
Since then I have presented Cracking Thai Fundamentals to thousands of participants both face to face and now via my new interactive online version of the programme. I have even run versions of the course in Thai for Thai teachers of Thai, as many of the insights presented throughout the programme address topics that Thais aren’t taught at school – and are often in fact not encouraged to question.
The linguistic information you are being provided in Cracking Thai Fundamentals is a culmination of years of my own personal research both through my degree in linguistics, and my personal background, learning the languages from across China, Burma, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. I have brought together research from works written in all of these languages and attempted to present it in a practical manner that is both palatable and relevant to your average learner of Thai.
In saying that, Cracking Thai Fundamentals is suited to:
- People who are planning to move to Thailand.
- People who are already living in Thailand, whether fresh off the boat or long-term residents.
- Current students of the Thai language (either at schools, with tutors or self-learners).
- Teachers of the Thai Language.
- People married or in a relationship with a Thai.
- Thais that have moved to another country at an early age and need to add depth to their understanding of Thai.
- Spouses who are looking for ways of explaining things about the Thai language and culture to other Thai members of their families.
- Thai employees who would like to know how to explain things that are essentially Thai to their non-Thai bosses and co-workers.
If you are already learning Thai at a school, with a tutor or from other resources, I encourage you to continue to learn as you have been and use Cracking Thai Fundamentals as a supplement to turbo-charge your learning and fill in any of the gaps that you have identified.
From experience, Cracking Thai Fundamentals will provide you with new ‘Aha’ moments each time you read through it. Once your Thai starts to improve, I would encourage you to pick up this book and read it again, because things that you may have skimmed over during your first reading might take on a new special relevance to you as your language level develops.
Cracking Thai Fundamentals
This book isn’t your normal language-learning book. In most books you buy to learn Thai, or any language for that matter, the format will be something like this:
- Brief Introduction to the Language
- Overview of the Sound System and Spelling Throughout the Book
- Lesson 1-15 with each lesson broken down into dialogues “John and Mary in the Classroom”, “Somchai goes to the market”, etc. New vocabulary used in those dialogues is presented and then a grammatical breakdown of the new words and language structures is introduced, usually concluding with a few exercises.
- Key to Exercises
- Glossary of Vocabulary – English –Thai / Thai – English
I have these books and you should have these kinds of books for learning Thai too. One of the most popular book series structured in this way is Khun Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s learning series starting with ‘Thai for Beginners. Khun Benjawan’s dictionaries both digital and book format will no doubt become additions to your Thai learning arsenal. On the other end of the spectrum are resources like Mike Campbell’s Glossika Spaced Repetition (GSR) and Glossika Mass Sentence (GMS) series which is a wonderful tool to shift your brain out of ‘analytical learner’ mode and train it to respond naturally to commonly used spoken language structures.
Cracking Thai Fundamentals is designed to work as a complement to any type of existing learning of the Thai language that you are already doing, filling in the gaps and providing easy to understand and logical explanations for things that often baffle not only learners of Thai, but also Thais themselves. As the subtitle of Cracking Thai Fundamentals suggests:
“A Thai Operating System For Your Mind”
Cracking Thai Fundamentals sets up the platform in your body and mind that you will need to most efficiently learn Thai and develop a level of fluency that goes beyond your usual struggling foreigner trying to hail a taxi.
I have broken Cracking Thai Fundamentals up into six sections that I see as essential elements to developing this kind of facility in Thai. If you are fresh off the boat you are in luck, as by jumping into Cracking Thai Fundamentals from the get-go, you will mitigate many of the common traps that learners of Thai fall into that result in stagnation or loss of enthusiasm towards progressing with their learning.
If you already have a degree of proficiency in Thai, I would ask you to be prepared to look at the language through fresh eyes, with a fresh mind and with fresh ears.
The following is a roadmap of how I have structured this book. Just remember that the enjoyment should be in the journey. Follow the roadmap, but don’t be afraid to take detours here and there, going out to explore the little lanes and alleyways that you find along the way yourself.
Section 1 – Preparing to Crack the Fundamentals
In this section you will learn how to prepare:
- Your Body
- Your Mind
- Your Environment
All of these three areas need to be prepared and must work together to create the optimal environment for learning Thai. We will look at fundamental differences between what happens in native English (and other language) speakers’ mouths versus the Thai mouth and become aware of some of the things that we do in speech that we might not be aware of that can impede the way that we learn and use Thai.
In this section, we get a first glimpse of tones in Thai and what they really are and what they’re not which will be expanded in the ‘Cracking Thai Tones’ section.
The mindset that works best with this section is that rather than trying to ‘prove me wrong’ if I say some things that you don’t think resemble the way you produce language, or the way sounds happen in your mouth, look at the new information that we learn about the Thai mouth and the Thai sound system and see if there are any sound paradigms or subconscious things going on in your mind and body that you might be able to tweak to make the Thai flow more naturally in your mind and body. The idea of this section is to:
- Become aware of things that are happening within us subconsciously that might impede the way we learn and produce Thai.
- Consciously modify those things to be more suitable for Thai.
- Reinforce those things until the new improved ‘modified’ version is back in our subconscious and kicks in naturally whenever we speak Thai.
Section 2 – Thinking in Meanings
This is the section I would like you to spend extra time on and come back to regularly even after you have finished the book. I have worked as a simultaneous interpreter for many languages over the past 25 years. If there’s one thing I have realised is that it is almost impossible to interpret something to render exactly the same meaning and evoke the same feelings in someone through another language via direct translations.
You will learn in this section many things about how meanings can be created in Thai that are different to the way meanings are created in English. Some of the concepts like ‘Black and White Words’ and ‘Vector Words’ will not be known by Thais if you start to mention these things to them, however the principles I discuss are built into their subconscious software and affect the way they make meanings and use the language.
I introduce the concept of Black and White Words as a key concept as it takes quite a different mindset to start creating meanings like this naturally when compared to English.
It might well be that in the real world you will find that these principles are not used in certain circumstances where you thought they would most likely be used. Learning when and how to use language in the right way at the right time through experience is one of the most fun things about learning a language and you should be out there in the field finding these things out from day one.
While it is possible to communicate meanings at a basic level by translating directly through English, it is only by taking English out of the loop and starting to ‘feel’ meanings and link them into things outside of English including the glyphs, hand and body signs that I have developed, that you will start to be able to not only comprehend the meanings of new words and concepts in a much more ‘Thai’ fashion, but through the activities in this section you will also develop skills in using a kind of fuzzy ‘Thai’ logic to make up new meanings and vocabulary yourself that would seem perfectly natural to the Thai ear and logic. As you try your hand at each guestimable and then learn from the debriefing section you will hone a keen sense of ‘Thai’ thinking when it comes to words and meanings.
The key to getting the most out of this section is trying to detach English or your non-Thai mother tongue from the way you think about ‘meanings.
Section 3 – Cracking Indic Based Scripts
The Thai writing system was developed back in the 13th Century to accommodate that day’s version of Sukhothai Thai.
The writing system was based on the Khmer writing system, which was based on the Brahmic abugida. Unlike an alphabet, consonants and vowels play different roles. The consonants are laid out in an ingenious virtual map of the human mouth and have an inherent vowel sound. If any other vowel sound is needed, vowel frames are clipped on to the consonants to breathe life into those consonants.
For learners coming from a language background where words are spelt with an alphabet, such as English, trying to superimpose English rules and principles of spelling or creating sounds, can cause unnecessary anguish and complicate what would otherwise be a brilliantly simple and practical system that in this case fits like a glove with the Thai language.
In this section you will learn the fundamental principles that are used in all Indic / Brahmic based scripts. This foundation will set the stage to understand exactly how and why all of the Thai letters are the way they are.
It just so happens that the modern Central Standard Thai of Bangkok has become the standard version of Thai for the whole country. This version of Thai sounds quite different to the Sukhothai version of Thai that the writing system was developed for. Through understanding the base system as a whole, the Thai consonant classes, tone rules and the seemingly irregular sounds for different letters can be easily explained away and those things will serve as memory pegs reinforcing the whole Thai system into your subconscious.
Section 4 – Cracking The Thai Vowels
Now that the foundation of how the basic ‘engine’ of any Indic script works, I have chosen to introduce the vowels first. The reason is that from experience, the vowel shapes and sounds can be learnt in a remarkably short amount of time and then once you have the vowels in your tool-chest, you now have a wide range of tools that you can play with in the following module when you learn the Thai consonants.
I have developed hand signs and other tools that will help embed and re-enforce the Thai vowels so that they become part of you. Even though Thais don’t learn the vowels like this at school, from experience, if you show a Thai the first few hand-signs, they will catch on and can be part of your learning regime as they say the sounds that you are making with your hands for you to repeat. This can be great fun when you see it in action, and even makes an entertaining party trick.
In this section you will learn to look at syllables in three dimensions rather than in a linear fashion and through exercises that I have developed, you will be able to hone your ability to naturally see syllables delineated by vowel frames. Spaces between words then become irrelevant as syllable ‘blocks’ jump out of the page.
“Consonants and Vowels are Different Species;
Vowels Breathe Life into Consonants”
Section 5 – Cracking the Thai Consonants
You already have all of the Indic / Brahmic abugida system from the ‘Cracking Indic Based Scripts’ section. Now it’s just a matter of learning the ‘masks’ in Thai for each of the sections in the map of the mouth.
Many people scare themselves off learning languages like Thai by throwing around nonsensical statistics like ‘Thai has 44 consonants and 22 vowels’ etc. By this point, I hope you will have realised that such thinking will cause learners unnecessary grief as they try and fit their existing expectations and possibly irrelevant ideas of ‘letters’ and ‘spelling systems’ to the wonderfully simple and logical system that the Thai writing system is based on.
By now, many learners will also have realised that learning the Thai script is probably the fastest way to developing spoken proficiency in the language as it allows the learner to by-pass subconscious sound rules that are applied to letters and spelling patterns from their mother tongue when they see Thai words transliterated in a Roman based script.
One of the big mistakes I have seen learners of the Thai script commit is try to learn the consonants in a linear fashion – from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ – or in the case of Thai, from ก (kɔ: kài) to ฮ (hɔ nók hû:k). In this section, I present you with a systematic and logical way to tackle the entire consonant set that capitalizes on recognizing patterns and takes advantage of your now existing knowledge of the general structure of the Indic map of the mouth.
You will be learning the most relevant letters first and then make many mental links via position, shape and sound to create a vibrant network of letters, shapes and sounds that will resound very loudly and colourfully in your mind whether you like it or not. I have also included letter tracing activities that will allow you to develop muscle memory when writing the Thai letters, seeing the letters and writing the strokes and curves through the mind of a Thai rather than a foreigner. The base shapes of each letter from their ancestor scripts are also included as I am sure that many of these shapes will act as memory anchors for you when memorizing the shapes of the Thai letters.
Section 6 – Cracking the Thai Tones
We finally arrive at the tones in Thai. In the initial ‘Preparing to Crack the Thai Fundamentals’ section, we looked at voice print samples of a Thai voice speaking English and saw the effect of the Thai throat and the Thai tone system on the way Thais speak English.
We take a journey in this section that will have your own throat going through the very same changes over time at the Thai throat went through to bring it to Modern Thai. You will learn that tones in tonal languages are much more about throat positions than pitch contours and by the end of this section, the actual pitch contours of the tones in Modern Central Standard Thai will just be the icing on the cake.
You will understand how to place your throat and imitate the Thai tones in a very Thai way and through your new knowledge of the Indic sound system, how it relates to Thai consonants and the Thai throat, and with some very vivid short stories that will stay with you long after you finish reading this book, you will be able to subconsciously summon the right tone for every syllable in Thai at the right time.
Transliteration vs. Writing in Thai
Whether it is necessary to learn to write in Thai or just learn how to speak Thai first and use whatever transliteration system is easiest for the learner is a point of contention in the Thai language learning community and certain people defend their positions in an almost militant fashion.
Languages such as Mandarin have shown us that people can learn a tonal language like Chinese to the point of fluency without having to actually learn how to write in the script. The difference between Chinese and Thai is that the Hanyu Pinyin 漢語拼音 system used to transliterate Mandarin was developed by linguists, and as a whole system has a unique way of accounting for every single sound in the language, as does Vietnamese.
The only downside is that the spelling system of Hanyu Pinyin and Vietnamese don’t really resemble English spelling. After all, why should they?
When people learn Mandarin, including Chinese students themselves, they spend a lot of time learning the actual Pin Yin system and doing many sound and rote drills to ensure that they have the system firmly in place before they go further with the language. Indeed having this system allows them to use input systems based on this system and have a standard way of spelling Chinese words and names when English spelling is required.
While there have been attempts to do this for Thai, right now a system does not exist that uses only the letters of the English alphabet to uniquely account for every single sound in Thai. If a system like Vietnamese was used where new letters and tone symbols are introduced, creating such a system wouldn’t be an issue. It appears however that people don’t seem too fond of having to learn a new set of letters to accommodate all of the sounds in Thai. People might say “If I need to learn a whole new way of spelling, I may as well learn to spell in Thai in the first place” – and this is exactly the stance that I am taking in Cracking Thai Fundamentals.
I encourage jumping into the Thai script from the earliest stage possible as it helps learners by-pass common errors that might pop up from pre-conceived ideas of what letters and spelling ‘should’ sound like. We do have a system using Roman like letters that does account for every sound in Thai.
That is the International Phonetic Alphabet or ‘IPA’. I have chosen to stick with my slightly modified (simplified) version of IPA in Cracking Thai Fundamentals as I accept that there needs to be some ‘bridging time’ where sounds can be anchored into something more familiar. In saying that, I would encourage all learners to spend time learning some of the new sounds and shapes in IPA. This will help you during all of your studies and indeed during your reading of Cracking Thai Fundamentals. If you have access to the online version of Cracking Thai Fundamentals, I have included an interactive section there to help you start to become familiar with the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Lastly, don’t forget that Cracking Thai Fundamentals is not a complete system to teach you Thai; rather it is a system to help lay a new physical and mental operating system that will work hand in hand with all the other methods that you are using to learn Thai. Don’t fool around with your learning, but certainly make sure that you always have fun. As we can see, we all know what Dale Carnegie said about fools. I strongly recommend that you create circles of Thai friends, hire a Thai tutor or go to a Thai school and get exposed to as much Thai as you can. Cracking Thai Fundamentals will equip you with all you need to pull as much Thai out of your environment as possible. In the future, every interaction, every online post or every song you hear in Thai will become a rich learning experience for you.
What are you waiting for?
I7’S 71M3 70 G3T CR4CK1NG!