Learning Thai with a Palm Pilot, a PC and a `kroo'
...and a compulsive, obsessive personality

Bangkok Post, Gareth Powell

There is much benefit to be derived from having a compulsive, obsessive personality. When learning a language _ or, indeed, learning anything for that matter _ being a compulsive has its benefits.

The first is you work at it every day, which is, in my view, an essential. Better still if you work at it at the same time every day. Next, you get every kind of learning aid and build the best of those aids into your learning program.

I am learning to speak Thai and, working on previous experience in other languages, I will get reasonably fluent so that I can discuss the weather and order a cold beer and a meal and explain who I am. And do it grammatically and intelligently.

Thai has its pluses and minuses. Minuses first. It is a tonal language and uses some sounds _ that represented by ``eua'' springs to mind _ which cannot be reproduced by the English alphabet nor yet, in my opinion, by any printed phonetic system. The pluses are that every Thai seems to think it is their national duty to help you in the most positive and friendly manner in speaking their language. And the grammar is very straightforward. There are many aids to learning. Three people in my experience make the process very much quicker.

In order, they are Michael Gruneberg with his LinkWord, Tony Buzan and his memory principles _ his book is Use Your Memory but he has a web site _ and Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder with SuperLearning which is a bit of a hustle but still works. Finally Flash Cards.

It is claimed using these methods it is possible to learn 300 words a day working at it more than, say, two or three hours a day. I tested this and came to 297. Add in a few words that are the same in Thai and English _ passport, lipstick and so on _ and you can reach 300.

Note you will not, positively not, know how to pronounce them correctly. But you will know what they are and this lays a basis on which correct pronunciation can be built.

Learning a language has, to my view, three separate phases and the teacher does not come in until the end.

The first is building up a seriously large vocabulary. Perhaps 2,000 words is the minimum and 5,000 words is a worthwhile target. Divide that by, say, 200 and you are talking of between two and six week's part-time work. Once you have a vocabulary of that size you take the second step _ grammar and pronunciation. Books will help your sort out the grammar _ it is not complicated _ and a teacher will correct your pronunciation. With the teacher it is best if it is one-on-one.

The third stage is to find a voice model to copy. That way you get rid of your accent and start to sound competent.

If, in French, you copy the style and cadence of Charles de Gaulle then you will not go far wrong. In English Richard Burton is viewed with much favour. In Thailand I have yet to find a role model. Any advice would be welcome. Back to those 300 words a day.

The expert on this is Michael Gruneberg. More about him on: LinkWord www. unforgettablelanguages. com/ His idea is that you use daft images associated with each word and you can learn a word in ten seconds. From this site you can download a simple starter pack on the Thai language for about US$7 and this will teach you the method and, say, 250 words. This is what happens. You conjure up an image for each word. Then hold it in your mind for ten seconds. (That is longer than you would believe and when I first started I had to check with a stop watch.) An example.

You want to learn the word for ``again'' in Thai.

Imagine a very large elephant engaged in a romantic interlude with an over-sexed mouse. The mouse is saying ``Again, again, again.'' Which in mouse talk is ``eek, eek, eek.'' Visualise that for a full ten seconds. Yes, it is a silly image. And the sillier the image the more likely it is you will remember it.

Once you have got the hang of how Michael Gruneberg's method works you can invent your own images. Mine tend to be on the coarse and vulgar side. I am supported in this by another expert.

Tony Buzan: www.buzancentre.com/tbuzan.html

Tony Buzan is probably the top person on memory. His mind mapping has been used by a large number of people over the years and it works and works very well. I have his book, ``Use Your Memory'' (published by the BBC) practically as bedside reading.

If you follow the instructions you will learn more, better. Both the site and the book ares very practical. On page 46 of the book it lists one of the most potent memory pegs. It reads: ``Sexuality _ We all have a good memory in this area. Use it.'' I shall, I shall. There are other ways of reinforcing your memory.

Superlearning www.superlearning. com/

This has a feeling of hard sell American nonsense but, in fact, it is slightly more than that. The discovery has been made and verified over and over again that you learn better with Baroque music playing in the background.

At the same time it has been discovered that if you are listening to language tapes four second sound bites is the ideal. Put the two together and you have the whole system.

The only thing worth seriously investing in here is the Superlearning book by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder which has a lot of solid information. It is also very badly written in that hysterical I-can-turn-your-life-around-in-ten-minutes that I hate.

Now you need further help and that is a system of flash cards. This is where your computer comes in. On a PC a flashcard program asks you short questions to get short answers.

You can get lots of other jazz thrown in including slides, audio and even video files but the key is that it flashes cards and checks your memory.

The vital point is that it has to be able to filter out what you learned and let you concentrate on the points with which you are having difficulty.

In other words it keeps hammering away at that which you have difficult remembering. Having tried dozens the one I recommend has a silly name but works wondrously well. And it runs on both a PC and a Palm Pilot so that you can carry your flash cards with you.

Supermemory 2000 www.superme mo.com/

Goes well beyond flash cards and learning lists. The site is full of articles _ not very well written and in desperate need of editing and cutting _ and fairly sound advice by someone called Wozniak which conjures up visions of early Apples although I do not know of any connection.

The program itself works brilliantly although I still have not found a way to get underline and italic on to my Palm Pilot.

It must be possible. Having got all these components together and having learned several hundred words I came to Bangkok and found myself a teacher.

I ended up with the Thailish Language School which is at 427 Sukhumvit Road. Initially it was because I liked the name and the daft Thai staircase that leads to the school.

Now I stay there because the teacher, Nim Janluan, positively hurls herself into getting my pronunciation sorted out. She acts out each tone in a form of Thai dancing which burns into the memory.

She strongly approves that I have started with a solid vocabulary although she finds my pronunciation often laughable. But it is not difficult to sort out.

Do these methods put together work?

Let me ask you one question _ what is the Thai word for ``again''?