Thai – A Succinct Language
I have been living in Thailand for eleven years, and learning the Thai language organically from day one with the help of a ‘Teach Yourself’ book and a wife. However, I am still not there yet, which makes Thai the hardest to learn of the eight languages I have studied. German and French took four years or so, Welsh six, Latin also six, Russian four, yet all to a higher standard than I now speak Thai after eleven years. It is just so different, and one of those differences is that it is such a succinct language.
I don’t know how much you know about speaking foreign languages, so please forgive me, if I am teaching you how to suck eggs, but amateur linguists, unlike the experts from places like the Hungarian translation company, tend to translate words , whereas they should be translating ideas. This is also true of newcomers to a language, ie before they learn how the natives think.
I am still at that stage in speaking Thai, so my Thai sounds odd to Thais. Yes, my accent is not good, and that doesn’t help, but it is not a huge problem with people who know me. The problem is a tendency towards flowery language – verbosity.
For example, we might say, ‘The wife’s mother is not well’ (six words), but in Thai that is ‘Wife’s mother not well’. ‘I have to be going now’, becomes ‘Drong bai’. It is such a succinct language.
‘It smells good’ – ‘Hom’.
‘It smells bad’ – ‘Min’.
People compliment me on my Thai every week, that is a sign of their nature rather than my ability, but I did receive a real compliment the other day and all she said was, ‘Good. Speaks short like Thais’.
High praise indeed.
Does that mean that speech loses something; that flowery prose is not possible; that Thais are not creative in their everyday conversations?
I don’t think so, just that they don’t expect to spell everything out to their interlocutors. They expect them to be paying attention. If you are talking about your own mother, why keep repeating the word ‘my’?
In a succinct language like Thai, for a flowery-speaking foreigner like me, this is a hard thing to get used to, and accounts for why foreigners have difficulty understanding Thais.
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Podcast: Thai – A Succinct Language