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Successful Thai Language Learner: Jeff Volling

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Jeff Volling
Nationality: American
Age: 31
Sex: Male 
Location: The Philippines
Profession: Translator/Content Creator

What is your Thai level?

I’d have to go with a combo of all three. It really depends on the topic of discussion. I would say that for my daily needs and what I needed Language for while I lived in Thailand, I was fluent.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai? 

What I speak probably leans more towards professional Thai, but there are elements of street Thai as well. I can only string together a few sentences/phrases in Issan.

What were your reasons for learning Thai? 

My main reason for learning was survival. I didn’t have the patience to try explaining things to Thais who can’t understand English (and where I lived, nobody spoke English ). I realize the irony in learning an entire language because of not wanting to constantly make hand gestures.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive? 

No. I was in Thailand from 2009-2015.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language? 


Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I dove right in after an initial period (maybe a couple weeks or so) of traveling. There were some periods during my 6 years in Thailand when I would study for several hours in a day and times when I wouldn’t study at all of weeks (even months) on end.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, I did not.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I combined textbook study with full-on immersion. When I was first starting out, I was more or less a hermit, studying Thai via various books – in particular, the Thai for __ series by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. I’d then use whatever I learned in real life situations whenever the opportunity arose. I also learned Thai by “necessity.” If there was a particular phrase I needed to say and couldn’t – I’d learn it.

Did one method stand out over all others? 

For me, all the methods worked well. However, I do like the “needs-based” learning approach in that it is a good way to quickly learn what is most important.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai? 

Immediately. I don’t believe in being illiterate.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult? 

Yes. I’m probably a bit slower than some others in this series in that it took me about 2 solid months of studying at least 2 hours per day to come to terms with it.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment? 

Realizing that I could say just about anything in Thai that I’d normally talk about in English.

How do you learn languages? 

Textbook study combined with immersion (actual or virtual). If the immersion option is not available, I talk to myself.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

Strengths: grammar and vocabulary; weakness: not sure, but I found pronunciation and tones quite difficult.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai? 

Tones matter. I realize a lot of people will disagree with me here – but the fact is that in 6 years of living in Thailand, if I got a tone wrong, I never had any problem being understood and conversation was never halted. More important than tones is stress. Besides, in conversation, words often just carry the middle tone anyhow, with the most important word(s) getting their natural tone.

Can you make your way around any other languages? 

English (native speaker)
German (fluent; near-native fluency in reading)
French (upper-intermediate/advanced)
Tagalog (advanced basic/low intermediate)
Norwegian – an online test said I read it at a B2 level, but I would say basic. It is rather easy to read, though.
Spanish – a bit rusty, but I’m conversational enough and can read with little problem
Croatian – just enough to get by if I ever get there.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai? 

Yes, several. I dabble a lot – but was focused mainly on Tagalog, Norwegian, and Croatian.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Find what works for you. Use the language as often as possible and try to not think of it as studying. Language is a vehicle for communicating ideas – so just talk about whatever you like. Being “fluent” isn’t knowing every word or being able to talk about anything – it’s being able to comfortably express your own thoughts and ideas and to understand others in the topics that are relevant to you.

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Jeff Volling


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