Thai Language Graduation
Its been two years and 11 months since I began learning to speak Thai, and yet another year that I turn around and reflect back on the experience. Throughout that time there has always been one constant when trying to determine how well I can actually speak the language: Geng 2 Maak 3
Since day one of learning to speak the language, fellow Thai friends have always responded back by saying 'geng maak,' or roughly translated to mean 'very smart!'
Although meant to express appreciation at a foreigner attempting to learn the language, and also encouragement for you to continue learning, it was somewhat frustrating to hear 'geng maak' even after two years of learning just as if it was day one. Didn't I improve at least some!?!?
But recently, after 2.5 years of learning, something changed. They stopped saying geng maak, and instead started saying 'pood 3 chat 1.' This roughly translates as 'you speak really clearly' to show how impressed they are with my good (finally!) attempts to speak Thai. I am no longer just 'geng maak,' but I also now 'pood chat.' And not just my Thai friends say this - they ALL say it. On a recent trip to France I met a Thai man who within minutes of talking to me exclaimed 'pood chad!' Maybe it's a genetic thing in Thai people?
So what does this mean for you as a reader and also fellow learner of the language? It's a clear graduation mark. It marks the point where you are leaving the realm of beginner, and moving into the new realm of intermediate. The day they stop saying geng maak and start saying pood chat is the day you should give yourself a pat on the back and reflect on a job well done.
But that's not all I've noticed that's changed. They no longer ask (as much) about why I learn Thai or if I have a Thai girlfriend (or wife . . . or half Thai kids . . .), but instead are more curious about how and where I learned. I've also seen a few Thai's, after me walking up to them and asking for directions (or whatever) in Thai, stare back as if they'd seen a ghost! No, Im not that ugly! They are just shocked at my 'chat-ness' =P
To be honest, I feel like I'm only half way. I've accomplished so much, yet still understand so little. I need a bigger vocabulary, and still need to improve pronunciation and grammar. I still have quite a lot of learn Thai literature to go through also . . . I've always been frustrated with the seemingly slow pace I have taken at learning this crazy hard language, but I think this 'pood chat' phenomena is the encouragement I really needed.
So what comes after pood chat? No idea. I'm sure that so few have (or will) reach the level after pood chat that its perhaps one of those mysteries of the universe . . . I also wonder how many more years it will take of study. Perhaps two? Or maybe five? Who knows. What will they say/do to mark that next graduation? Will it be 'pood sunboon' (you speak perfectly)?
This brings me to a relevant story I once heard, but forgot the details to, so I'll have to paraphrase it:
A man once came up to Buddha and asked, 'how will I know if I've completed a step towards enlightenment?' Buddha simply replied, 'You will know when it comes, and you will be sure of it.'