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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chiang Mia: Thai English

I'm sitting in a coffee shop that has a National Geographic among its stack of magazines. I have to look at it as a picture book, since it is in Thai, and I can't even read the letters. The titles of the magazines are always in English, as are the names of the different sections. So I can read 'House & Garden' and see that there is a section on 'New Shapes for Lampshades' or some such thing, and I can look at the pictures, but I can't read anything.

Even Thai magazines follow that pattern. Tropical Home has catch phrases and titles in English, except they are a little off. From the issue in front of me:

- Chiang Mai, a simply city

- Give the new life to the old house

- Exhibition in the house for the art lover

Thai has no tenses, no articles, and no comparatives or superlatives. Where we would say, "I went to the mall", a Thai would say something like, "I go mall before". Adding all that superfluous stuff that makes Western languages flow is quite a challenge. Add to that the problems everyone has with English, such as wild variations in pronunciation and spelling, the huge number of words (twice that of any other language), and the subtle differences between similar words, it's really rather amazing that anyone learns English at all. Maybe that's part of the reason that so many schools here are starting English in kindergarten.

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