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Retirement to Thailand — Learning the Thai Language

One mistake I made during my first four year stint of retirement to Thailand was not learning the Thai language. Its true to say that when I returned to the UK in 2011 I could speak some Thai, which had enabled me to get by for day to day life in Thailand, but it certainly didn’t allow me to hold an effective conversation with a native Thai speaker.

A year and a lot of reflection later I realise that my inability to get to grips with the Thai language was at least partly responsible for any negative thoughts I had about Thailand. Lets face it if you do not speak and understand a countries language how can you possibly gain an insight its culture and in my case what makes the average Thai tick!

Language proficiency can help you enjoy retirement

In my opinion retirement should really be about relaxation and enjoyment. But without language proficiency it can be anything but relaxing. Thinking back all those frustrating little niggles that affected me in my four years in Thailand, when I came up against Thai officialdom, at immigration, the bank, trying to get a Thai drivers licence, things that continue to affect a lot of retirees, I now realise that they were really down to my lack of a second language and not necessarily bloody minded officials.

With it came the frustration of having to rely on another multi-lingual person to sort things out for me and not understanding why we didn’t always get the results I wanted. Wanting to take a more direct approach, like I would in the West and not understanding just why Thai’s don’t like this and operate the way they do.

In short I believe I was culturally ignorant, an ignorance born out of my frustration at not being able to communicate effectively in a way that is the accepted norm in a country like Thailand.

Now to be fair to myself, I did, as much as my lack of language allowed, immerse myself in local culture. The trouble was though I couldn’t really check out my understanding of what was happening and perhaps more importantly why. Being the only foreigner at events like a Thai marriage, funeral or merit making ceremony when a family member joins the monk-hood, is quite a privilege and something the average tourist never see’s let alone attends. But take away the ability to communicate and in reality all you are is an observer, just like a tourist gawking at some Thai ceremony and wondering where the nearest bar is.

With my retirement in Thailand on hold at the moment I did however manage to take a holiday there this August. I quickly I found myself way outside my Thai language comfort zone because in the whole three weeks I didn’t encounter another fluent English speaker. It really was a case of sink or swim! Well I survived thanks mainly to my iPhone and the language apps I had downloaded, I had a cracking holiday, visiting some areas I had never been before. But to be honest from a language perspective it was a struggle and it certainly convinced me, if indeed I needed convincing, that I really need to start taking Thai language learning seriously if I am ever going to make a success of continuing my retirement to Thailand.

Thai language learning

Now back in the UK I have started to take my own advice on Thai language learning. This week I have learned the Thai alphabet(consonants + some vowels) and I can already read some simple Thai script, something I had never considered before, but I reckon that in order to speak(particularly pronunciation) you need to be able to read since it helps with the tones. I shall be tweeting my progress from time to time (in English and Thai), you can follow me if you are interested.

Anyway less about me and more to the point of this post. Well its really meant to offer some advice to anyone contemplating retirement to Thailand, in short, learn the Thai language. Don’t rely on others like I did because it can be frustrating and I firmly believe that you are missing out if you really want to understand the Thai culture and what Thainess really is.

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