Why Language Study Sucks - and BarCamp


If you’ve never been to a BarCamp you’re missing out on something. I spent last Saturday and Sunday at BarCamp 4.

It’s mostly a geek event – and more than one person commented on the fact that they didn’t ‘know’ I was a geek. Of course I’m not. However, the event has much to learn from in many fields. I like the format – and would love to see it applied to education in general. Basically, people show up around 9 AM, and write tiles of things they’d like to speak or present on large cards. Then, for about 1 or 2 hours, people walk around, mingle, and leave a mark on any topic that looks interesting. The topics with the most votes gets the space, a schedule is put up and people filter around to where they’d like to go. Time limits are adhered to and it’s a great opportunity to gain ideas and interact with people of different interests.

So Saturday evening I happened into a person who introduced himself as a Thai teacher. This wasn’t unusual except for the fact that he’s a ‘white guy’. Of course this caught my interest, and I spent a bit of time getting to know Brett Whiteside. Brett has a unique and interesting approach to learning Thai – but what we seemed to really connect on was the fact that both he and I believe that language study, as it’s normally understood, is normally a waste of time. While there are a few people who will get upset with me for saying so, the fact remains that well over 90% of those who study a second language as an adult fail.

We decided to hold a talk together – the title? “Why Language Study Sucks”. I know that’s not a very exciting sounding topic, but we had a good dialog about ways that the average foreigner in a place like Thailand can learn a language without a teacher or school.

We don’t really stop to think about it much, I think. We’re surrounded by Thais speaking Thai, but they’re not speaking to us. When we do have conversations with Thais, we foreigners tend to dominate them. Both of these realities tend to make gaining input a difficult thing.

Brett and I also agreed that input was vital. How can we gain input?

– Learn a few sentences in Thai well enough, so that Thais will respond to you above your level. (Don’t forget to keep smiling as if you know everything they’re saying, but rather than to focus on the words, focus on the meaning as much as possible.)

– Learn to read some words you know, and from those branch out into ones you don’t.

– When someone brought up the fact that even when they speak in Thai, the Thai they’re speaking with insists on speaking English. To this, Brett recommended the language wars game. Just keep plugging away in Thai and don’t give in!

– movies

– FukDuk.tv – this is an online programming site with many different demonstrations and great material and production.

If you have other ideas on how to get Thais involved in conversations with foreigners, please leave them here in comments.

Check out Brett’s blog at https://learnthaifromawhiteguy.com




One thing that is great for learning Thai and getting to listen to lots of Thai is getting a Thai friend who likes to repeat the same story over and over again. We’ve all had friends like that in our own language. It’s usually kinda boring but for learning a language, it’s perfect. I learned so much Thai from my one Thai friend who broke up with the person she was dating….everyone going through a breakup likes to repeat the same stuff over and over again…it’s just human nature. And I also got bonus points for being a nice friend, as I didn’t mind listening to her stories all the time. 🙂


It’s a really good discussion point.  In my view the problem is people tend not to take the process seriously enough, and then get frustrated when they find themselves in a situation where they can neither understand nor be understood. For me any language learner should set themsleves no less than the goal of absolute fluency.  You might never get there, but that’s not the point, you should still try.  If you get out there, beligerently using Thai, not giving up, not taking the easy option when it’s open to you, making a fool of yourself on ocassion sure, the important parts of the language will stick.  And you’ll feel invigorated and motivated when they do.  You should also remember how long it took you to learn your first language (with all those years of private tutoring you had from Mum and Dad) and then put that in context when you think about how long it’s taking to learn Thai.Like you say, sometimes it’s difficult to get out and use the langauge … so learn to read.  Reading is something that can expose you to the language whenever and wherever you are.  You can do it as much as you like on pretty much whatever subject you like, privately or with a friend.  Think about how you learnt your first language.  You didn’t study syntax and grammar before you had a go at talking about a hypothetical situation in the future.  You just went ahead a did it.  You didn’t wait until you had memorised a context-free list of the first hundred keywords before you tackled your first book.Language learning is such a rewarding experience if you forget all the ‘rules’ about language learning that your assumed when you were learning French in senior school and just get out there and do it.


I thought I was the only one who did that. I’ve been living in Thailand now for two years. Everytime I’m in the local market I ask a question and then just listen and smile and nod. Most of the time you can absolutley get the meaning of the reply. Most of the time my response is correct, but sometimes I wind up buying something totally different than what I had hoped for. Either way it’s great fun and good practice. I’ll be heading up to Bangkok in March to participate in your course.