Learn to read Thai script in a week!

Gary Orman is an engaging and helpful teacher

Gary Orman is an engaging and helpful teacher

For anyone who has ever tried and failed to learn to read Thai, an expat mathematician is currently touring the country with his very own miracle quick-fix. By turning the whole process into more of a science than an art, Gary Orman, originally from South Africa, is achieving the impossible: teaching people to read in just a week.

Having hit a wall in Thai speaking after living in the Kingdom for two years, I knew it was time to finally bite the bullet and learn the alphabet. Speaking to my other expat friends, however, this was not a prospect I relished, with all reports indicating that it would take me at least a year of lessons to grasp even a basic understanding of the many intricacies of the Thai script and language structure.

My lazy bone was instantly aroused, therefore, when I heard about Rapid Read Thai, a revolutionary system that guarantees results within days. The secret is that of the record-breaking memory masters: the creation of pictures and stories in the mind’s eye which help us retain and recall complex information.

Gary first came to Thailand six years ago as a corporate advisor and quickly became interested in accelerated learning. Not a natural linguist, he struggled to master Thai, pushing him to develop his own more mathematical approach to remembering the many sequences and systems. After years of development and tweaking, he is now sharing the magic with others online and in face-to-face seminars across the country.

The concept is a fairly simple one for all intensive purposes; every vowel, consonant and tone mark is matched with a corresponding picture relating to the sound it creates and the rules it must follow. The ‘T’ consonant, for example, is not learnt in the traditional robot fashion as tho thahan (meaning ‘soldier’) but as the tortoise, which the letter conveniently resembles. Every consonant is also split into three genders - female, male and lady boy - which determine (often in a memorable, politically-incorrect way) how it will act in certain circumstances.

Gary's unique memory tools makes learning easy

Gary's unique memory tools makes learning easy

“When I first moved to Thailand, the people I met who were learning to read were real linguists who were spending up to five hours a day studying,” Gary said. “I realised no normal person has the time to do that, so I wanted to create something that people could incorporate into their everyday lives.

“The prevailing idea at the time was the immersion technique, so I watched Thai films, listened to tapes and even tried sleep hypnosis, none of which worked. When creating my system, I first experimented with video, but found that if the brain doesn’t do any work itself, the learning process is not affective. We have to put the steps together in our minds, and the pictures I have developed help people to do this,” he explained.

The progress we made in our small class was incredible, with everyone able to read basic words after just the first day. It was also a very humbling experience to find out that the standard phrases we had all been confidently reeling off in our everyday interactions with Thais had often been pronounced partly, or even wholly, wrong.

Having already learnt the correct phonetic sounds of the Thai alphabet but not the symbols they accompanied, I found myself at a slight advantage to some of the other students in the class. What was a surprise to all of us, apart from Gary, was that the one participant who already knew the letters and their names was struggling the most.

“There are some people who really want to learn Thai but can’t do it the traditional way,” Gary said. “Some people who have families here can’t understand their children, and many are too embarrassed to say how long they’ve really been here.

“Usually I’m the last resort, but I should be the first,” he added. “Once people start to learn the traditional way, it’s very difficult to rid the mind of that. It’s like starting out with a bad golf swing; it’s a very hard habit to break.”

By the end of the 25-hour course, however, everyone in the class was up to speed, reading signs in both modern and traditional scripts with relative ease; we even stuttered our way through the passage of a Thai book on the final day! Having also learnt how to decipher tones, we now have no excuse for mixing up the many Thai words that sound the same to the Western ear but mean something completely different depending on how they’re said – such as ‘beautiful’ and ‘cursed’, for example.

“When I go to a country, the most important thing for me is not the churches and the culture but the people I can meet,” said Gary. “I feel stupid when I don’t know the language, as language is our passport to the world.”

Walking around the streets of Chiang Mai, finally able to read words I have known how to say for years, I am seeing Thailand in a whole new light and with a whole new level of understanding. For anyone interesting in getting their linguistic passport to this part of the world, with minimum effort and maximum enjoyment, this course makes perfect sense.

The next fast-track week-long seminar will be held in Bangkok on December 5-9. To sign up to this or the online courses visit Learn Rapid Thai.

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