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Lost in translation

October 5, 2015

thai class web

We’ve been taking Thai language classes as a family since June.

We meet on campus weekly with other families who also have kids who want to learn Thai and split up into beginner and intermediate groups.  We have the disadvantage of being the only family where at least one parent isn’t fluent, so all four of us are beginners, but it’s been a fun adventure and we are so lucky to have (four!) amazing, dedicated teachers.

Thai is a tonal language.  What sounds like the same word can have 5 meanings, depending on the tone of voice used.  I remember one lesson in particular when we learned the word for the Thai fruit “rose apple” : Chompu.  I said, “Hold on.  That’s the same word you taught us last week for the color pink, right?”  Our teacher was confused and firmly said, “No, that’s Chompu.”  Gaaah.  It sounds the same to me but not at all the same to a Thai speaker, so if you get the tone wrong, it’s not necessarily easy for them to determine what you meant to say.

So far, we can all comfortably introduce ourselves and greet someone, indicate that we want “this” or “that”, that we like something, or ask an item’s price.  We know numbers, fruits, colors, and family members.

This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough that we catch the kids cracking jokes in Thai, which I find to be so sweet and hilarious.

Sawadee krup.  Khun cheu arrai, krup?”  (Hello, what is your name?)

Pom cheu man faraang, krup!”  (My name is potato!)

My favorite was this week when the boys tried translating parts a favorite English knock knock joke.

“Knock Knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Kluay!” (Banana)

Kluay who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Kluay!” (Banana)

Kluay who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Som!” (Orange)

Som who?”

Som you glad I didn’t say Kluay?” (Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?)

Obviously, this joke does not work in Thai, but that doesn’t stop my boys was falling into fits of hysterics.  The going may be slow, and I don’t believe there’s any way to reach fluency without living immersed in a language, but I love that the kids are enthusiastic and enjoy using the words they know.  The glee in Pea’s voice as he counted to 20 in class this week made us all smile, and I can always count on Tea to remember the more obscure vocabulary that was mentioned once but isn’t written in our notes.

I heard a rumor we might learn how to tell the kids things like, “Brush your teeth” and “Go to bed” next week.  I’m not going to lie – I’m pretty excited about those.  They’ll come in handy often!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Cindy permalink
    October 6, 2015 5:45 pm

    That’s just plain awesome.

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