Learning Thai: January-April 2023

Walter Freiberg
10 min readJun 3, 2023

This is what I wrote here four months ago (December 2022):

In December, I intend to continue working with the Thai Reading Exercises. After finishing the second book of BananaThai I will continue practicing with other similar easy readings for the rest of December. In January, I will start BananaThai’s Intensive Thai Course and after completing that, the Thai Listening Exercises. Then I would have finished all A1 and A2 resources provided by BananaThai (at the moment I’m writing this, December 2022).

What happened with my Thai studies in the firs quarter of 2023? Did I actually follow through as intended? Well… yes and now 🙃. Here’s a short summary of my Thai activities in the past few months:

  • January: BananaThai’s Intensive Thai Course (Chapters 1–6)
  • February: BananaThai’s Intensive Thai Course (Chapters 6–10)
  • March: Jataka Stories in Thai, Thai with Grace’s 60 Most Common Thai Verbs (Book 1), BananaThai’s Listening Exercises (Unit 1–8)
  • April: BananaThai’s Listening Exercises (Unit 1–15), Thai with Grace’s 25 Real-life Thai conversations

The good part: I completed the Intensive Thai Course (studied it from January 1st, 2023 to March 4th, 2023. So, it took me a little more of two months to complete. I took the course exam at the end of March and I have to admit that I didn’t pass it in the first attempt 🙈. I needed 17 out of 20 answers correct, and I only got 15 out of 20. Not bad though, in any case! On the second try, I got 20/20, but it was the same exam 🤓 .

During the past three/four months, I learned a lot about Thai grammar and the usage of the language. My reading skills have improved further, and I feel very comfortable reading the Thai script, as long it’s in the traditional fonts I used to learn it (I can’t read newspaper-fonts, for example). To be honest: it’s not that I have tried to learn them 🙃. To give you an idea, what I’m talking about: I can read the first line (in black), but not the rest. It feels like having to learn a whole new set of letters, all over again!

Jataka Stories in Thai

In the second week of March, I did a meditation retreat at home (a self-retreat!). As I wanted to continue with my Thai studies, I found a way to connect them to my Buddhist practice for that week. I practiced with YouTube videos like this. They are Buddhist stories (known as Jatakas). It took me a while to get to these specific types of videos. This is what I was looking for:

  • Jataka stories
  • Thai audio
  • Thai subtitles [CC]
  • English subtitles [CC]

The stories were more challenging than I had expected. It was good practice to start adding some Buddhist vocabulary in Thai. I used the Chrome extension Language Reactor to work with the stories. This was more or less my workflow (although, many times I gave up too early before trying to translate all those unknown words 🙈):

  • Choose Thai subtitles [CC]
  • Choose the English version [CC] as human translation
  • Keep the English hide and activate AP (automatically pause)
  • Work with one piece of subtitle at a time
  • Listen and Read Thai audio (repeat the section as needed)
  • Translate what I understand into English (even single words)
  • Check the highlighted words by Language Reactor (‘easy’ vocabulary for my level)
  • Complete my translation with that information
  • Reveal the English translation and compare it with my version

During my self-retreat, I also read Dhamma books in other languages. The one I liked the most was Über die Liebe, by Ajahn Jayasaro. It sounds like German, right? It is! Actually, it was a German translation of a transcript of Dhamma talks in Thai… given by an English monk! 😁 At some point I got the original in Thai and tried reading bits of it using an English translation, with split-screen. By the way: the book is also available in French and Italian!

After that completing the retreat, I took another time off BananaThai to add a package of 300 sentences I got from Thai with Grace. She offers a short e-book with 60 main sentences for 60 hand-picked very frequent Thai verbs. Then, you have four additional sentences for each verb. That makes 60 verbs * 5 sentences = 300 sentences 😊. These sentences are great: they include transliterations and audio versions of all the sentences, recorded by Grace herself. I have found that this redundancy (learning and practicing multiple sentences with the same verb) is key to actually learn and to memorize the new pieces of vocab.

From February on, I also started listening to Grace’s short stories on YouTube ( Slow Thai Stories). What a fantastic resource! 🤩 She uses a lot of repetition in each story. Although the stories are simple, they are interesting and engaging. Each episode is about 2 or 3 minutes long, which is plenty for a beginner. On her Patreon page, she shares additional resources for committed Thai learners (I signed up for that as well 🤓).

Thai Listening Practice

In March, I got back to my BananaThai courses. I started the Thai Listening Exercises in the second part of the month and continued during the first weeks of April. The dialogues are very short as well, but the normal speed is just crazy fast 🙈. I mean, that’s the real speed at which Thai people speak. Fortunately, we get two speeds (slow and normal). During the first quarter of 2023 I noticed how my listening comprehension started gradually getting better, but mostly when listening to slow Thai audio. In April, I still struggle to understand real speed Thai, unless it’s very basic. I think I need to start exposing myself to more real Thai audio. The easy and slow Thai was useful and served its purpose.

On April 8th, I started using the 25 Real-life Thai conversations of Thai with Grace. This one has no slow speed version 😅. It’s as fast or even faster as the BananaThai content. But, it’s fine! If this is how Thai people speak, I’ll gotta get used to it 🙃. The conversations are fun and engaging, and include translations, transcripts, and grammar notes. Excellent work by Grace!

Anki Practice

As I mentioned above, during the past few months I added multiple decks (mostly by Thai with Grace). I like her card formatting and her sentence/word selection. She’s done a great job at that! I’ve spent some time tweaking details in some of the cards, and now I’m very happy with all my current decks. I even have my brand new “Thai corrections” and “Thai phrases” decks 😄. At the end of March, I considered briefly starting engaging more in Thai conversations (mostly through language exchange apps). After a while, I decided to keep working on my comprehension skills for the moment (more on that later!). During March and April, I rebuilt my decks: suspended many cards that I was not using (or that were repeated from similar decks). As of April 2023, my Thai decks have a grand total of 1602 cards (last December I had 239 cards).

February-2023-April-2023

This is how my Thai Anki decks look like in April 2023

These are my Anki stats for the past three months (between February 2023 and April 15th, 2023):

Anki Stats PDF — February/April 2023

Breaking the Daily Streak

On February 25th, I broke my almost 5-month-long daily streak of Thai practice 😁. That day I was very stressed, and I just forgot to do the practice. One month after that (March 26th) I missed another practice session. But that was all in almost 7 months of practice 🙂. I’m glad that, between October 1st and the day I’m publishing this article in April, I missed only two days of practice.

I think that one of the reasons I’m able to keep this daily habit (I keep practicing one hour each day + Anki reps) is connected to my strong motivation to learn the language (Buddhism). Five years ago, I spent a few weeks at a Buddhist monastery. There I got a couple of books in Thai. I knew that, eventually, I would like to learn the language. Even though I started learning the language a few years after that, the motivation and the will to learn was there already. And probably it started as early as 2013, after I got to learn about Thai Buddhism, when I came back home from my first meditation retreat.

As for now, I don’t have any specific goal of keeping an unbroken and super long practice streak. I just intend to continue doing my daily practice. As long as I can keep making time for it 😊.

Time to Speak? Some More Listening First

In March, I made a couple of timid attempts to practice writing and conversation on Tandem (a language exchange app) and considered taking conversation classes on iTalki. I think I’m ready to start practicing some easy A1 conversations (introducing myself, talking about my work, my hobbies, etc.). In fact, I can say a few things about myself already (in written or spoken form). What’s still a real challenge is the listening comprehension at normal, real-life speed. For that reason, I decided to put the conversation practice on hold for the moment. I will probably go back to conversation practice in the second half of 2023 (or in 2024!).

English translation

Hello. My name is Walter. I’m from Argentina. I am thirty-six years old. I am interested in meditation, learning, and reading. How about you?

First reading (March 29th, 2023)Second reading (April 15th, 2023)

In the second reading, I’m trying to emulate the faster pace I’m learning with the real-life speed audios 🤓.

As I continue with my daily practice, I’m already tackling the challenges of listening comprehension. The learning resource I’m using now (25 Real-life conversations) is audio-based, with text support. I also do my Anki reps, focusing on audio first. I listen to the audio first and try to guess the meaning by listening. If I don’t understand it, I will read the text and try to guess again. And only then I flip the card to see the answer.

In April, I started watching my first Thai movie: Hunger. I say “I started” because I haven’t finished it yet. I tend to watch movies or series in 20–30 minute stretches 😄. After watching the first 10 or 15 minutes with Thai/English subtitles (using the Language Reactor Chrome extension, that lets you hide one of the subtitles), I decided to just watch it in Thai, no subtitles. I’m missing a good deal of the content, but it’s okay. I can re-watch it later, if needed 😊.

Thai Level Test

When I (re)started learning Thai in October 2022, I was aiming to get an A2 level by the end of March 2023. So, after six months of daily practice, I was curious to see how I was doing. Unfortunately, there are not so many Thai online tests available. As I found a YouTube video of a Thai learner who took the level test from this website, I gave it a try.

This is a multiple-choice test that basically rates your reading comprehension (using both Thai script and transliteration, which makes it a bit easier). I got a B1 (Intermediate) level here. Am I really at a general B1 level? Of course not! If I had been tested on my listening comprehension or my output skills, the results would have been very different 😂. I’m getting there, though. Step by step!

Thai Results PDF (March 2023)

What’s Next

I intend to continue working with the 25 Real-life Conversations by Thai with Grace. After that, I will continue with her short stories. I commit to the daily study schedule until June 10th or so. In the second week of June, I will participate in the Polyglot Gathering, that will take place in Poland (looking forward to learning a lot and meeting other language lovers!). The rest of June I will visit other countries in Europe. For that reason, I might pause or reduce my Thai studies for a few weeks in June (or not!). Let’s see how it unfolds 😊.

Originally published at https://www.walterfreiberg.com.

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Walter Freiberg

Language coach - I learn things and I help others how to learn better — walterfreiberg.com