My vocabulary is growing quite nicely, no thanks to the untouched audio CD I purchased before I came to Thailand, nor the free copy of Rosetta Stone still in its packaging on my desk. I owe all the credit to my students who have brought my Thai up to par with their English. It’s safe to say we’re on the same level, which really isn’t saying much at all.
“Teacher, teacher! Speak Thai,” they demand. So I do, partly because I want to learn Thai, but mostly because my pronunciation (or mispronunciation, rather) instantly catches everybody’s attention and backfires into an English lesson.
Aha, kiddos! Gotcha.
One particular animal lesson went as follows:
“Teacher, speak Thai – ling,” they demanded.
“Ling,” I said. “Monkey.”
After learning monkey, they asked me how to spell “monkey toe.” It seemed an odd request, but I wrote it on the board anyway. Immense laughter imploded. Turns out, they were saying “mosquito.” It was the running joke for the rest of class and laughing at myself only made them laugh harder. Sharing that kind of laughter on opposite sides of such a thick language barrier makes everything I’m doing here worth it. We were all learning, which was the main point.
I’ve even used my new animal vocabulary in conversation with two Thai teachers. On the way to the schools’ annual English competition, we began discussing some of the more interesting Thai foods – cobra, duck head, chicken feet, live squid, etc. – and Pussadee asked if I had ever eaten rabbit.
Ah, tinto,” I said, showing off my skills. “Mai. No.”
Pussadee gave Pidow a sidelong glance as we cautiously sped down the motorway behind a bus full of the school’s best English speaking students. “Um, what?” She asked.
“Tinto,” I said again, trying to repeat it exactly how my students had insisted. “Rabbit, right? My students taught me that.”
Now both teachers were laughing, but their modest personalities wouldn’t allow them to explain what it meant exactly. Instead, they said, “In America, you say tinto when you show somebody your middle finger.”
If my students had been in that car, the laughter would have been unstoppable. Aha, teacher! We gotcha!