Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Learning Thai: Word Associations

When learning to speak a new language, one of the best ways to remember new words is to use word associations. As in any learning situation, you improve your retention when you move from the known to the unknown.

The memory association trick is an old one. I first read about it in a book published in the early part of the 20th century. The author goes into detail about how much mental energy is required to learn new information without using memory aids. When memory aids are used, the amount of effort needed to remember new words goes down appreciably.

This method has been replicated by many language teachers over the years. The following are some word associations that I have used to quickly remember words in Thai. The word in Thai appears first, followed by the transliteration in English, the meaning, and then the word association.


Thai word transliterated: dtang summatee

Meaning: meditate

Word association: a summer tea party
summer tea party


Thai word transliterated: mybuntat

Meaning: ruler

Word association: I’ve got a tattoo of a ruler on my arse.


Thai word transliterated: brysonee.

Meaning: post office.

Word association: the American author Bill Bryson is mailing a letter.


Thai word transliterated: tanakaarn

bank in thailandMeaning: bank

Word association: Dan Tanna (the TV detective from the late 70s U.S. show Vegas) is taking money out of the bank so he can go to the carnival.

Note: this word association might not be effective for anyone other than Americans and Canadians.


Thai word transliterated: brought pie

Meaning: safe

Word association: my mother brought me pie when I was a child, and this made me feel safe.

cherry pie

Of course, tone and vowel length are very important when learning Thai, and these word associations will not help one bit regarding those aspects. However, you have to start somewhere!

Just as word associations can help to build your vocabulary, you can also use this method to remember the phonetic sounds for all the letters in the Thai alphabet.


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