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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Speak Like a Thai

Paiboon Publishing represented in both the US and Bangkok Thailand sent their Speak Like a Thai Volumes 1 (ISBN 1-887521-39-9) and 2 (ISBN 1-887521-73-9) over. These are actually audio CDs, with an explanatory booklet with each one.

The concept is that the phrase is spoken first in English, and then you listen to the translation in Thai, and after you have heard the Thai enunciation enough times, you will be able to “speak like a Thai” as the CDs promise. Since almost all farangs who attempt to speak Thai come across the barriers of tone, syllable emphasis and other such improbables, most give up. There is also the other problem that formal language schools appear to concentrate on grammar (does Thai really have any grammar?) over conversation, and 99 percent of expats just want to be able to speak a few words which can be understood by the local populace.
I listened to both volumes, and the concept appeared to be a viable proposition, but I have to say that I found the male Thai voice a little unclear at times. Perhaps it was my CD player? However, the male American and the two female speakers were very clear.
The booklets begin the same way with some cultural details, language characteristics and then several pages on the guide to pronunciation and tones. This was my first stumbling block (and this is one aspect that the professional language teachers all ignore) – they will continue to use phonetic script to indicate the correct sounds, which has all sorts of strange symbols, like “e” upside down and “c” back to front. This means that to learn this new language called Thai, the reader has to first learn another new language called ‘phonetics’. I would direct all Thai language teachers towards that marvelous little book called Robertson’s Practical English-Thai Dictionary (ISBN 974-8236-38-2, Asia Books). It is possible to get the sounds across to the students, without the need to learn the additional language.
The first CD is called “Contemporary Thai Expressions” and there are 500 of them on the CD, and also printed in the booklet. I found that the phrases did not seem to follow logical progressions, but then, perhaps they were never supposed to, but I have always found it easier to learn ‘like’ phrases. However, this CD will give you “Get out of here now” followed by “He is a broker” and “I dislike it”.
Both CDs seemed to have a hefty percentage of what I would call “bar culture” expressions such as #192 “To undress and get naked” and perhaps intuitively followed by #193 “I survived”! There is also #216 “Give me all you have!”, #229 “He can’t be trusted” and #230 “She sneaked out to have some fun”, with the best being #285 “She is single, but not a virgin”!
Each volume (CD plus booklet) retails for B. 299. It is an inexpensive way to assist you speak Thai, and many of the phrases are potentially of value, however despite phrase #136 Vol. 1 saying “I guarantee you will like it”, I cannot give that guarantee.