• Christopher G. Moore


Anyone who has learnt to speak Thai understands the difficulty of the task. Mastering a new vocabulary, grammar, and syntax requires patience and practice, and if one is persistence, after a few years, you find yourself speaking and understanding the language.

Why is learning a new language such as Thai so difficult. Part of the answer is that our brains have been wired for a grammar and syntax template that is alien to its counterpart in Thai. That is what makes literal translations, well, so literal, and often so over the top funny. There are entire websites devoted to the humorous translations found throughout the world.

Menus are another constant source of amusement.

And to accompany your rude chicken, you’ll need something else such as:

Leaving aside the humour of signs and menus, some serious research is being done into how learning a language wires out brain in perceive patterns in a particular way. If you speak Russian, English, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, or Thai you will have a different perception of time, space, direction, and color are a few examples.

In Thai the jai phrases create a universe of the heart that isn’t found in another language. Over the years as I revised my book Heart Talk, I continued to expand the metaphors in Thai that used heart in a descriptive way to express emotions, relationships, cultural norms, and social dealings. It was one thing to learn the phrases, it has been another to rewire the brain to automatically perceive the circumstances or situations in terms of a heart phrase.

On The Edge website, I came across LERA BORODITSKY who is an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University, who has given some answers to the question: HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK?

“People's ideas of time differ across languages in other ways. For example, English speakers tend to talk about time using horizontal spatial metaphors (e.g., "The best is ahead of us," "The worst is behind us"), whereas Mandarin speakers have a vertical metaphor for time (e.g., the next month is the "down month" and the last month is the "up month"). Mandarin speakers talk about time vertically more often than English speakers do, so do Mandarin speakers think about time vertically more often than English speakers do? Imagine this simple experiment. I stand next to you, point to a spot in space directly in front of you, and tell you, "This spot, here, is today. Where would you put yesterday? And where would you put tomorrow?" When English speakers are asked to do this, they nearly always point horizontally. But Mandarin speakers often point vertically, about seven or eight times more often than do English speakers.”

In Thai, the way people refer to the past and present has a loose, stretched out feeling to it. Over the years, I’ve heard Foreigners complain that Thais are late for appointments. Yes, and they often blame traffic jams. Sometimes that may be true. Mostly though, lateness is our perception. English speakers are wired to view time with a high degree of precision. We aren’t as able to flip over to the idea that time is about morning, afternoon and night. That is a range of hours and anytime within that range is “on time.” Of course, like most generalizations, there are Thais who are more precise about time than an English speaker and English speakers who live in a time warp of their own making. But as a general rule the language of time creates an expectation; and that language differs and when those difference are ignored conflicts and misunderstandings come into play.

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