One day I was surprised to find out that I had offended one of the Thai female teachers from my school. The truth is that, during an informal chit-chat, I might have used Thai slang, and thus I involuntarily offended the Thai teacher I was conversing with.
The funny thing was that I found out about my rudeness, a few days after my conversation with that Thai teacher, from my superiors. The subject was brought up very carefully, but as I am a straight forward person, I asked to be told exactly what the problem was. I would have liked to be told by the teacher who got offended by what I had said in Thai, but she chose not to, and rather preferred to let the rumors go around the school and eventually reach the ears of my bosses. If I had been offended by anyone, regardless of nationality and/or social position, I would have told that person straight away! But, I guess, that’s just me.
Now, the question is why did I speak that way to that teacher? The answer is simple: because that’s the way I speak Thai. For me, learning a new language just happens. I don’t need to put too much extra effort into it. I learned Italian, while still a kid, by watching Rai Uno and Rai Due; I learned French by not paying attention to what the French teacher was saying in class; I can understand Spanish just because I am familiar with 3 other Latin languages – Romanian, Italian, and French; and I learned Thai by listening to the people on the street. I had some failed attempts at studying, in a proper classroom, Japanese and Arabic, but as I was not exposed enough to these two languages, I can remember only a few phrases I had memorized (which can be used in any situation!).
So, today (after years in Thailand) I am able to speak the language Thai people speak on the streets. But sometimes (in fact most of the times!), the every-day Thai is not polite, and it is taboo to use it at work or in the hi-so. But the Thais forget that I’m not a native speaker of Thai, and maybe they don’t even know that I have never studied Thai the way languages are learned at school. Nobody taught me how to say the five tones; nobody told me the exact subterfuge meanings of common words, that when used in certain contexts (or pronounced in certain tones), are very rude. I just picked everything up in my daily interactions with the Thais. And, as I have no dealings at all with the high society, my Thai probably contains a lot of slang.
Having said all these, I have to admit that I am aware of the “correct” way of speaking Thai, but it’s just not me! This is it, and I admit it, and that is why I am ready to apologize for the rude words I might have said.
As I was writing these lines, I had an epiphany. I realized why it is so difficult for the Thais who have reached adulthood to learn English! It is because their minds are corseted to the strict rules of a society that, when it finds itself in a classroom situation, cannot open its mind wide enough to receive someone else’s language. As for me, just bring it on. Good or bad. After all, I’m just another learner who tries (not too hard though 🙁 ) to achieve fluency in a language that is considered to be amongst the most difficult languages on Earth.
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