Friday, February 10, 2017

Why I Still Forget the Thai Months of the Year After 11 Months of Study

I was hanging out at the preschool playground after school with my little girls when another mom asked me how old daughter #2 was. 

"She's two years old," I answered in Thai.

Little preschool buddies playing after school together.
"What month was she born?"


I struggled to remember how to say the word "September." I had learned the months of the year in Thai nine months earlier, had reviewed them multiple times, and yet still could not remember them well.

Since I couldn't recall the word, I responded, "The ninth month. What is the ninth month called?" 

"กันยายน" she said. 

Yes, of course. How could I forget. I wanted to roll my eyes and let out a grunt of exasperation, but refrained since the poor woman would probably think it was directed at her.

I felt so frustrated. Why does it take months for the Thai months of the year to stick in my brain? Didn't it take me about one week to learn the months of the year in Spanish in 8th grade?

I started comparing the months in Thai to the other three languages I've learned -- English (native language), Portuguese (my other native language: born in Portugal, lived there until I was six, I've forgotten almost all of it), and Spanish (studied it 8th-12th grade). I then had my "Aha!" moment. Follow along.

Months of the year in: English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai
. (Thai has five tones, so each syllable below has either a low tone, middle tone, high tone, falling tone, or rising tone. It's a bit like singing. Sort of.)
  • January, janeiro, enero, มกราคม (mo-ga-raa-kom)
  • February, fevereiro, febrero, กุมภาพันธ์ (gum-paa-pan)
  • March, março, marzo, มีนาคม (mii-naa-kom)
  • April, abril, abril, เมษายน (meh-saa-yon)
  • May, maio, mayo, พฤษภาคม (prut-sa-paa-kom) the "u" in "prut" is a vowel sound that doesn't exist in English.
  • June, junho, junio, มิถุนายน (mi-tu-naa-yon)
  • July, julho, julio, กรกฎาคม (ga-ra-ga-daa-kom)
  • August, agosto, agosto, สิงหาคม (sing-haa-kom)
  • September, setembro, septiembre, กันยายน (gan-yaa-yon)
  • October, outubro, octubre, ตุลาคม (tu-laa-kom)
  • November, novembro, noviembre, พฤศจิกายน (prut-sa-ji-gaa-yon)
  • December, dezembro, diciembre, ธันวาคม (tan-waa-kom)
Thai is so different from English, right?! I find that new words and new grammar structures just don't stick as readily in my brain because it's all so different from the other languages I've learned.

I'm not the only one who has noticed this difference. The U.S. government has ranked which languages are the most difficult for native English speakers to learn. On a scale of 1-5, Portuguese and Spanish are ranked a 1 because they are closely related to English. Thai is rated a 4+. Only Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Arabic are ranked as more difficult than Thai. Yikes.

As I've slowly come to realize more and more how difficult Thai is, I've taken more and more of a patient, marathon mentality approach to language learning. Every day and every week, I make sure to put in my hours of reviewing, using, and learning Thai. I trust that after a few years, it will all add up and I will be (hopefully!) speaking well.

In less than three weeks, we will pass our one year anniversary of living in Thailand. Perhaps my goal should be to have the months of the year down solid by then.

** Interesting tidbit: Did you notice that months with 31 days end in "kom," months with 30 days end in "yon," and all the months... err... February ends in "pan"?


  1. You really can function in the Thai language without knowing the months of the year, I learned them once with Dao on a marathon weekend trip to Chiang Mai long was a nice car activity. Its a good bonding thing, teach someone the months in English while they teach the Thai.

  2. Wow, you are just amazing for sticking with it, girl! What a headache! In this case, Mandarin is far easier as you'd say: 1st month, 2nd month, 3rd month.. really quite simple. Simpler than english as well. Haha, the tidbit is so awesome. How did you discover that?

    1. My Thai teacher, told me. No discovery on my own. :-) The Mandarin way is so much easier! We should all adopt it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...