Dear Farangs: Stop Learning Thai
Thailand stands out to many expats as an ideal country to live in. The food is affordable, the climate is bearable, and the women are attainable. Additionally, the barrier for entry into the “Land of Smiles” is low. If you can put together 1,000 units of your home currency every month and avoid slippery balcony ledges, you might never want to leave. Despite this, many foreigners take it upon themselves to learn the local language. These amateur linguaphiles defend themselves by saying things like, “It makes living here so much easier”, and, “I think the locals appreciate it”. So are they right? In short, no. Here’s why.
You don’t actually need to speak Thai.
Having lived in various rural provinces around Central Thailand, I can tell you with full confidence that speaking Thai is completely unnecessary. Half of the white men married to Thai women can’t remember numbers, let alone tones and grammar. Use your hands to gesture, your face to emote, and your common sense to guide you throughout the country. If there is any time that you really need some proper English to Thai translation, you have technology. No, I’m not referring to Google Translate. What I’m talking about is a calculator. Still convinced that you’ll be lost without textbook knowledge of Thai linguistics and syntax? Use those piercing blue eyes and fading good looks of yours to secure a real live Thai girl.
The only two translation services you need.
You look stupid.
Think back to the last time you heard a foreigner in your home country make a mistake when speaking English. How did you respond? If you’re like most of the Western world, you regarded it as a necessary part of learning. You might have corrected them, but you didn’t pay it much mind as long as a thought was communicated. In Thailand, however, your grammatical errors and slight mispronunciations make you a giant red faced clown to the general public. Your stuttering and slurring are your oversized clown shoes. Your unintentional mistranslations are your glowing red nose. Your tongue-in-cheek colloquialisms are the frizzy rainbow wig pasted to your pale white head. You will not be respected for simply trying. If you’re a masochist and you don’t mind the public humiliation, by all means pick up a Lonely Planet phrase guide and entertain your local soup stand. Just be aware that you won’t ever be getting paid for your improv stand up routine.
“Sawasdee krubp! Khun soowai jring jring!”
Your ignorance makes you exotic.
The reason foreigners are so beloved in Thai culture is because they’re different. A “fresh off the plane” farang shines like a newly installed fluorescent light bulb. From their sweaty foreheads to their knee high tube socks, every Western tourist is a walking billboard for White Excellence. Thai people strive to speak English with the clarity and accent of a Native English speaker. Unfortunately, some expats throw this gift away in an attempt to get more “in touch” with the locals. Instead of finding pride in their heritage, these farangs fade into mediocrity by disturbing the public with their mediocre Thai skills. The best thing you can do to get noticed by Thai people is let your native tongue be heard through the streets of your local market.
How you look when you order “stir fried pork with basil”.
It hurts the Thai economy.
Thailand is ranked 64th in English proficiency according to the EF English Proficiency Index 2018. Singapore, on the other hand, maintains a top 3 spot alongside Sweden and the Netherlands. Singapore’s booming free market economy stands head and shoulders above Thailand, and their English proficiency is not a coincidence. So how are expats responsible for Thailand’s piss poor English speaking ability? You don’t have to look far to find highly skilled Western businessmen chatting with their coworkers in fluent Thai. That’s right, the very coworkers who need to hone their English speaking abilities are having to deal with attention seeking farangs who care more about looking well-travelled than furthering the education of their colleagues. Instead of asking your local chicken rice lady how to order soup, give her some free English lessons. She’ll appreciate you.
What farangs expect when they order a beer without ice.
It’s actually really hard, and you can’t use it anywhere else.
I mean seriously, have you tried figuring out the tones? If you want to learn a tonal language, pick Chinese. Way more useful. Unless you’re going to be one of the few white guys on Thai panel shows, there’s no reason to waste your time.
Seriously, look at these goofy looking letters. Why waste your time?
So the next time you hear your friend brag about their newest Thai vocab words, don’t react. Simply put your hand on their shoulder and calmly request that they stop. It’s literally ruining the country.