Learning to Read - Again - Learn Thai from a White Guy

Learning to Read – Again

Reading in a new language can seem rather daunting, even painful at times. Some people preach that there are ways around this, but after a year and a half of trying to become fluent in Japanese by reading stuff that would be considered difficult, I haven’t found it yet. The truth is that I don’t read much these days. Getting new English books here always seems to be too much of a hassle. And here I’ve been trying to read whatever Japanese books I could get my hands on. Manga, language learning theories, fiction, old literature, etc. What I’ve discovered is that it was a mistake to read manga or old literature or whatever solely because it was manga (or something) and it was in Japanese. I just wasn’t getting into it. So, what the hell can I read?

Because of the enormous amount of time and exposure required, the last thing we want to spend as little time as possible being bored, frustrated, angry or what not.

I started by asking myself a very important question – “What did I used to read back in the day?”
Lots of Stephen King. So, I went to amazon.jp and ja.wikipedia.org and started to read about Stephen King books that I’ve read in the past and know pretty well. Reviews, summaries, character descriptions, etc. And its been great. Even though every single page has plenty of words that I don’t know, I know enough that can skip as many of those words as I want. I mine everything for sentences of things that I want to see again in my SRS. But the two most important things going on here are that I’m enjoying reading, and I am READING. I only read as long as it stays interesting. If I start spacing out or getting bored or frustrated…I do something else, or go look for something else to read. I can always come back to the current one if I feel like it.

So anyways, I’ve devoured a lot of Stephen King stuff in the past few days and tonight I’m poking around summaries of Star Wars and Robocop. I also really wanna get my hands on some of the Jp translations of SK’s books.

Anyways, how does this help you? Well, I’d say Thai is more limited than Japanese as far as I know in regards to translations from English when it comes to books. However, there are loads of movies and tv series to work with. So as I’m writing this, Lost is on tv so I figured that was good enough to start with. If you watch that, or Prison Break, Heroes or what not, we might have some material to work with.

So again, how do we go about reading this stuff when we still suck? And don’t forget we are mining SRS material as we go. Let’s do some a couple quick lines…

First sentence from the Prison Break Wiki
Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์แอ็กชัน ดราม่า ทางโทรทัศน์ ออกอากาศครั้งแรกทางช่องฟ็อกซ์
This one is full of SRS goodness. What have we got?

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์  – PB is a series

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์แอ็กชัน PB is an action series

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์ดราม่า PB is a drama series

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์ ทางโทรทัศน์  PB is a tv series

PB เป็นซีรีส์ออกอากาศครั้งแรกทางช่องฟ็อกซ์ – PB is a tv series that was first broadcast on/by Fox.  

Get the idea yet?  Let’s look at the the first line from the Lost Wiki.  A bit longer you may notice.  

Lost เป็นดราม่าซีรีส์ที่อเมริกา ที่มีเนื้อหากล่าวถึงผู้รอดชีวิตจากอุบัติเหตุเครื่องบินตก บนเกาะลึกลับ 

See anything from the Prison Break sentence in this one?

Lost เป็นดราม่าซีรีส์ – Lost is a drama series

Lost เป็นดราม่าซีรีส์ที่อเมริกา – Lost is a drama series in America

Lost เป็นซีรีส์ ที่มีผู้รอดชีวิตจากอุบัติเหตุเครื่องบินตก = Lost is a series about survivors of a plane crash

Lost เป็นซีรีส์ ที่มีผู้รอด เครื่องบินตก บนเกาะ – Lost is a series of plane crash survivors on an island

บนเกาะลึกลับ – on a mysterious island 

Tear apart the sentence until its only got 1 thing it in you don’t know.  And if you are still trying to practice reading at a basic level then keep the phrases really short, but don’t waste time with single words.  Words out of context are forgotten too easily.   There isn’t anything wrong with having a few of the same sentence with only one word changed.

Now, go try and skim through a few of those.  Set goals.  Mine 3-5 flashcards/day.  You don’t need to SRS everything and there isn’t much point to try to do too much at once anyways.  Just SRS stuff that you see a lot of and want to remember or anything that jumps out at you. Its always ok to delete sentences later.  And when you get up into the thousands – you will, often.


  1. As a Lost fan, I dig this post.

    My dictionary gives the translation of ลึกลับ as “mysterious”, (I SRS’d it recently, don’t remember where I got it from) which is the perfect term for the Island.

  2. Hrm good catch, thanks. Noted and fixed.

    Btw, what SRS prog are you using?

  3. Anki. It’s the first one I’ve used, and I really just started (and my choice was constrained to Linux-compatible programs) but I really like it.


  4. So you don’t have display problems with Thai text? Perhaps its just on the windows end.

  5. sometimes it swaps ้ and ุ, which perplexes me, and it doesn’t recognize typed-in answers correctly. Otherwise, it seems to work!

  6. Bobthemonkey says

    Thank you for the excellent post, I am still so green behind the ears reading more than a couple of words is still a real struggle – do you really apply the tone rules in your head or do you just recognise the word and know how it sounds?
    I don’t know if this is of any help but I had some probs with Anki under M$ not displaying stuff correctly and I found by switching from the default Anki fonts (Arial) to the default mnemosyne font (MS Shell Dig 2) it seemed to fix everything. Personally I prefer the more intuitive Anki interface over mnemosyne special keys.

  7. I don’t consciously apply the tone rules in my head. Its pretty automatic. Thats not to say I don’t occasionally slip up and say a word wrong.

    If I see a new word, I just know what the tone is probably going to be. This is from exposure. Its similar to how you try to work out the spelling for a word in English. You try to visualize it or write it out until it ‘feels’ right.

    Just read as much as you can handle. If a few words is all you can do, then you want cards with all words you know +1 you want to know. Signs that you see everyday are always a good idea. If there is anything in particular that you’d like to read about let me know and maybe I can help break it down.

    I switched to (MS Shell Dig 2), but it didn’t cure my font issues. Anki is a big let down with the SE Asian languages. Thai is legible enough, but Burmese has even more problems.

  8. Are you in Bangkok? Because just FYI, there are thousands of books in Thai that have been translated from English at Kinokuniya (the Siam Paragon branch is the best). Plus, they have a decent selection of Japanese books too.

    they also have one of the best selections of English books I’ve seen outside the US and at prices CHEAPER than the US. I find any book I want at Kinokuniya and, if they don’t have it, they’ll order it for you – so it’s no hassle to get English books in Bangkok 🙂 Might be more difficult if you’re up country though??

    • I’m in Chiang Mai. There are a few decent bookstores here, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a supply of the kind of books that I’d like to see. None that I am aware of anyways.

      Thanks for the tip though. When I get around to Bkk, I’ll try and pick up a few things.

  9. Bobthemonkey says

    Hi, I understand the need to read is critical but trying to locate material for a reading age of a 3/5 year old is turning out to be a real problem. I managed to find a downloadable pdf & mp3 of the Maanii (or Mahnee) baby book (from sunsite) and I am ecstatic as I can read and listen to the story. It is pretty gripping stuff, did you ever go down that route? Is it a waste?
    The point it leads me onto is what tips do you have for improving your listening skills and how do you judge the quality of the speaker (they might have a speech defect or use a dialect for instance).

  10. Good question.

    First, yes its hard to find good material. Thats part of what I’d like to do and the main reason I started this site.

    I did do the Manee stuff for a minute back in the day, but its boring. What you want is a clip. Not more than 2 minutes long. Less is probably better. You will need the full text. I’ve got something in the works at the moment, but I’m still gathering materials.

    Some people say that listening to something over and over improves listening skills. I’ve been doing that for a year and a half now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t entirely correct. 1000 hours of incomprehensible input does not necessarily equal comprehension. It doesn’t work that way. I can’t express how bummed I was to discover that.

    But anyways, on to things that do work. You start with a clip of something. Not too long. 30 seconds is fine (but gets boring quicker), I tend to like 2 minutes or so. Then I loop it all day. First I listen for any words I know. You need to train yourself to ignore stuff you don’t know and let the words keep coming. If you freeze up on one word (and you will sometimes) …you will miss what comes after. If a sound has become a word that you can kinda recognize, but aren’t sure of it, then go read it in the text and find out what it means. Then listen more. You keep doing this until you understand 80% or so and then its fine to put the story away for a bit. Never shoot for 100%. Its far too time consuming. But when you get to the point that you can catch the gist in one go, then its time to move on to other material. If possible, stick to the same author, story and/or topic. This increases the chance of repetition which will increase the chance of retention.

    Don’t worry about male/female stuff, accents, dialects. Just listen. Be able to recognize these types of things will come with experience. A lot of this stuff isn’t taught, you pick it up naturally. Your brain will do most of the work for you if you give it the right type of exposure.

    If you like the sound of something, practice shadowing it a few times. If a voice sounds strange or feels annoying, find other material. You need to find stuff you can listen to a few hundred times. No pain, no gain need not apply here.

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