Quick Thai: Learning a language in a hurry
In his popular book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes a person at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in a given field.
Ameet Kang has slightly more than 2,000 hours to work with – and that’s if he doesn’t sleep.
Kang, a fourth-year multimedia and psychology student, has travelled to Thailand this summer, where he is currently volunteering as an English teacher to Grade 12 students at a high school in Udon Thani.
Kang challenged himself to learn Thai to the point of fluency – even though he’d only be in the country June, July and August, or 2,208 hours.
Learning the language hasn’t been easy: the Thai alphabet consists of 44 consonants, several vowels and five distinct tones – low, middle, high, rising and falling – meaning the same word can mean various things, depending on how it is said.
For example, Kang says the English word “beautiful” is pronounced “sooay”, with a rising tone, as if asking a question. Without the rising intonation, however, it becomes a curse word.
Kang challenged himself to learn the language after reading Benny Lewis’ blog “Fluent in 3 Months”. Lewis moves around the world learning new languages within months while blogging about the experience. Kang is also blogging about his time in Thailand.
Kang says that when visiting somewhere new, it’s important to learn the language.
“There are a lot of foreigners who retire in Thailand but don’t learn the language,” he said in an interview via Skype. “The people living here in Thailand have gotten used to foreigners not knowing how to speak Thai, so it’s great for them when they meet someone who can. Plus, I’ve already successfully learned one language, so why not do it again?”