My Experience With Language Learning

 
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I was debating on whether or not to write this for quite some time. It’s difficult enough for me to reflect upon my past, not because it stirs up negative emotions - it’s just not something I often do, let alone type it up for the world to see. However, after a bit of deliberation, I’ve come to think that it’s important for others to see my perspective towards language learning and to see the main reason why we decided to structure Language Experience the way it is. The following is an account of how I came to begin to learn the Thai language.

Growing up, I was never the sort of person who travelled all over the world or who had a keen interest in international cultures. I’d been overseas a few times as a child on family vacations but I just had other passions and interests which kept me occupied. From quite a young age, I had fallen in love with cars - especially Japanese cars thanks to ‘The Fast and the Furious’ movies! That particularly expensive hobby occupied most of my time up until my mid-20s.

 
 
 
Thai ‘street food’ on the side of a busy road in Bangkok

Thai ‘street food’ on the side of a busy road in Bangkok

 
 
 

The turning point in my life was back in 2013 when a friend and I decided to start lessons at a Muay Thai (Thai martial art/kickboxing) gym. From that very first session I knew I had found my new love. My passion for cars became quickly replaced and I spent all my spare time at the gym - training and improving myself with the hopes of competing at an elite level one day. But that part of my life is an entirely different story to what I wish to share today - but there is a reason why I shared all this, it’s because the longer I trained Muay Thai, the more I wanted to learn about the Thai culture and language.

 
 
 
Two fighters preparing for battle, going through the wai kru ram muay ritual at the prestigious Rajadamnern stadium

Two fighters preparing for battle, going through the wai kru ram muay ritual at the prestigious Rajadamnern stadium

 
 
 

My infatuation with the country and its people started on my first trip there in 2014. It was a trip meant purely to train Muay Thai in a camp on the island of Koh Samui. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I fell in love. The people with their infectious smiles, positive outlook on life and extremely friendly demeanour. The foods are spicy, salty, sweet, sour - it has everything! The culture - why did everyone revere the King so much? But despite all the friendliness and overall eagerness of everyone trying to help a foreigner out, I quickly found that the language barrier proved to be quite hard to overcome. I could only get by so far with hand gestures and pointing at things on signs (keep in mind this was a time before smart phones with unlimited data plans were affordable and easy to come by).

 
 
 
A pineapple vendor selling her wares on the outskirts of Hua Hin town

A pineapple vendor selling her wares on the outskirts of Hua Hin town

 
 
 

As soon as I returned to Melbourne, I decided I needed Thai lessons. Of course, what was the most easily accessible and affordable option for me? Classes! I did a quick Google search and found the nearest Thai language school. It seemed perfect. A short drive away and full with other enthusiastic students. I was going to become a Thai language expert in no time! I enthusiastically enrolled and picked up the basics swiftly. However, after some time my motivation started to wane. Yes - I now had the alphabet memorised, knew how to say some basic greetings and could even string a few sentences together. However, there were nuances in the language that I really wanted to know about but never had the opportunity to learn. Our teacher had a set curriculum and was sticking to it to a tee. Although I couldn’t really blame her. I’m sure it was difficult for her to teach such a large group of students, all with a different motive for learning the language. I was almost certain that not everyone in the classroom would have been as interested in learning the Thai translation for “kick” and “punch” or why Thai fighters would wear headbands as they came out to fight (search “mongkhon” for those unfamiliar with the sport of Muay Thai).

 
 
 
Food vendors and hungry patrons at the Amphawa floating market

Food vendors and hungry patrons at the Amphawa floating market

 
 
 

From there forward, I lost a lot of my drive to continue learning. I know I still wanted to continue learning and developing my vocabulary but I just couldn’t find the motivation to do so. I floated in and out of using learning apps and online courses - unfortunately, these could never keep me engaged. I needed someone there to keep me driven, practicing and hold me personally accountable to keep up my learning. That makes me sound extremely undisciplined, and that may be partially the case, but mainly it was because life just gets in the way. Learning a language is a hobby - a luxury almost. We don’t often need to learn it to survive. With there only being so many hours in a day, my language study was often getting neglected. I didn’t have anyone to practice it with and I had no urgency to continue developing, even though I knew it was something I still wanted to do. At that point, was when I decided that I’d bite the bullet and spend the money to get private tuition. What a great idea right? Everything I needed. Someone who would tailor classes for what I wanted to learn, someone who would give me exercises/homework and actually hold me accountable for my learning and development and, most importantly, someone who I could actually practice the language with! The idea was great, but the execution not so great. I quickly burnt through the few tutors that had listed themselves in local classifieds ads. Sure, these people knew the language - they spoke and wrote the language perfectly. The thing was that they didn’t have experience in actual teaching. These tutors couldn’t articulate to me certain distinctions or rules behind why the Thai language is the way it is.

 
 
 
Navigating the famous Chatuchak market in Bangkok - this is the world’s largest weekend market with over 15,000 stalls and receives 200,000 visitors each weekend!

Navigating the famous Chatuchak market in Bangkok - this is the world’s largest weekend market with over 15,000 stalls and receives 200,000 visitors each weekend!

 
 
 

From that point, I knew that language learning had something left to be desired and this is where Language Experience comes into play. We meet and vet every single one of our tutors before they join our team. Not only are they all experts in their language - they are also passionate and have a joy in sharing their knowledge with others. We purposely do not have a curriculum or text book which they follow. Every student has a different motivation as to why they wish to learn a language and a different way in which they learn best. Our team knows this and each and every lesson will be planned with the student’s goals and interests in mind.

 
 
Chris Cortez