Reading Thai – Starting From Scratch

Throughout these first few months, I’ve been going to the Thai lessons for the teachers at Super English. The lessons have been helpful in learning basic beginners Thai, but so often confusion sets in when we encounter a sound unfamiliar to English speakers. It’s difficult enough to pronounce, but I find myself completely at a loss when it comes to my notetaking. It’s nearly impossible to write some of these sounds phonetically using romanized script. Take the dreaded gut-punch vowel sound, which is best produced (and maybe only accurately pronounced by westerners) when struck directly in the solar plexus. The best I’ve come up with for writing this is something along the lines of “eugh”. This has led to a notebook filled with phonetic approximations like “glaahn-keughn” (night) and “neuau(k)” (rambutan). Sometimes looking back I have no idea what that’s supposed to sound like.

I recently decided I could learn more/better/faster if I could read the language. This would certainly help with the phonetic and tonal aspects of the language. But I also know that if I’m able to read signs, menus, fliers, etc., I’ll be able to make new word associations and both retain and recall more vocabulary. I’ve spent time this past month learning most of the common consonants and vowels, as well as a few pronunciation and tone rules (of which there are many). My primary resource for learning so far has been the e-book “Teach Yourself Thai,” which I snagged from another teacher. Evan, who very efficiently taught himself to read the Thai script, has also been a lot of help in deciphering confusing letter combinations and picking up patterns in the language.

At this point I can move through Thai words and sentences and give a close approximation of how they should sound, and I’ve learned to recognize a few key words. Just today I was perusing the menu at Rice Lady and successfully read some words that we’d learned in Thai class that I had forgotten. Bingo! Reading improving vocabulary – just what I was going for! Unfortunately, with no spaces between words, I still usually can’t tell where one word starts and another finishes. And even with many of the words I do read correctly, I am stumped as to their meaning… But I’ve made a start and I’m gaining confidence. I’ve also recently discovered some online resources that I’m hoping will augment my current guide. My immediate goal is to know all consonants, vowels, and blended sounds, as well as have a better feel for picking out the beginning and end of words. I’m hoping to reach this point by the end of February, in time for our long break.

If you’re considering learning to read Thai but are intimidated by the completely new alphabet and script, be encouraged and know that recognition comes quite a bit faster than you’d probably expect. All the rules will take a while to master, but reaching a basic reading level isn’t too much tougher than reaching the same level of speaking. And if you haven’t considered reading Thai yet, give it another thought. It will improve your speaking as well. Plus, you’ll impress a lot of Thais and might make a few new local friends!

Food in Surat – Vietnamese Food #2

When Kristin and I arrived in Surat Thani, we were introduced to a number of restaurants by the teachers already here – some through a personal visit, and others by word of mouth. A few of these have become favorites we visit at least weekly. Others we haven’t tried yet. Until last week, “Vietnamese Aflutter” was in the latter category. We tried to go a few times, but could never find it. We were told by various teachers, “It’s somewhere down near the pier,” or “It’s right under the bridge,” or “It’s way down Na Muang Road. There’s a big sign – you can’t miss it.” Once we finally followed a teacher here, none of these turned out to be quite correct. It is in fact on Don Muang road, next to the river, a little ways past the Donnok bridge heading away from town. But no clear sign marks “Vietnamese Aflutter.” This name only seems to be written on a side wall indoors. Instead, white lettering on a glass front vaguely indicates “Vietnamese Food,” much like the place on Amphur (maybe this is a common thing?).

the Saigon half moon

In any case, the menu is in English here, except for a couple mysterious pages they apparently skipped, so you should have no trouble finding something to satisfy your cravings. We shared quite a few dishes with some other teachers and enjoyed everything we ate. Highlights include the Saigon half moon (a flaky shell stuffed with minced meat, herbs, and spices), any of the various spring roll variations (both fresh and fried), the fried rice (with bacon!!), and the fried bananas (served with something like coconut-flavored butter). Overall, this place is definitely a step above the other Vietnamese spot. The food is better. It’s priced almost the exact same. And the menu is in English and has great pictures. If you’re on Amphur and need Vietnamese food NOW, that restaurant will suffice, but if you have the time, I echo the other teachers’ recommendations to make the trip to Vietnamese Aflutter.

Teaching on Crutches

2 weeks ago I broke my foot. It’s a really crazy story, so let’s not get into it here. Ok, ok…it wasn’t really crazy. I fell on a big step. Womp, womp. Teaching on crutches the past few weeks has been challenging, mostly because Thida is basically a jungle gym and I also teach at 3 different campuses – Old Thida, New Thida, and Noonoy. Some days I have to go from New Thida to Old Thida to New Thida  to Old Thida. Once I mastered the art of getting around Old Thida and bumming rides off of people, things got much better. As much as being on crutches here is really not fun, it has made for some funny moments.

Some things can be difficult to teach on crutches. At Noonoy the other day, I was reviewing “What can you do?” with my Anuban 2 students (4 year olds). When we got to “I can jump”, I noticed half the class was bouncing around the room on one foot. Then when we got to “I can run” many of them were still balancing on one foot. In fact, whenever I have them stand up, there is always some kid standing on one foot. Maybe they copy me a little too well. 🙂

At Thida, the teachers reallyyy don’t like for me to carry my backpack on crutches. They are super nice and always insist that one of the students will do it. Having a tiny 3 year-old anuban student carry my backpack to the classroom next door is totally adorable. My big backpack and a tiny Anuban student = the same size. Did I mention it’s adorable?

I have lost count of the number of students who have come up to me and said, “Teacha, teacha! Vrooommm, vrooom, vroooom, BBOOOOOOOMMM!” and then looked at me expectantly. This definitely proves how common motorbike accidents are here. Even the first thing most adults do is point to my foot and say, “Motorbike?” Oh Thailand and your crazy driving…

I’ll be really happy when I get to walk again in a few weeks, but until then I’ll be enjoying the plentiful funny moments along the way.

Games Galore – Part 3

Well folks, the last game I want to share with you is a game I call Rock-Paper-Scissors Relay. I found this game by searching for ESL games on YouTube. Check out the video because it is a little hard to explain. The rules go like this:

Split the class into 2 teams. Post flashcards across the board for whatever you have been learning about. Have 5 students from team 1 line up on the right side of the board and have 5 students from team 2 line up on the left side of the board. 1 student from each team starts touching the flashcards and naming each one they touch. When then students meet in the middle, they must play Rock-Paper-Scissors. Whoever wins gets to keep going, but the losing team has to start over at the beginning. Whichever team makes it to the opposite side of the board wins.

The students LOVE this game. It is a really good way to practice vocabulary. Before we play, I always get the students to practice pronunciation by having them listen to me say the words and then repeating them. After chanting the words a few time and acting out the meanings, we start the game. By the way, it seems that all students know how to play Rock-Paper- Scissors, so it is easy to show them how to play the game.

Variation 1: Instead of posting pictures on the board, draw 6 circles horizontally across the board. Hold up a picture. Whoever identifies the picture correctly first gets to move to the next space. Then follow the same rules I listed above.

Variation 2: Instead of posting pictures on the board, draw 6 circles horizontally across the board. Ask the students a question. Whoever answers the question correctly first gets to move to the next space. Then follow the same rules I listed above.

Good luck and “Ching, Ching, Chop!” – which I think means something along the lines of Rock-Paper-Scissors…that’s what my students yell when we play the game, anyway. I hope you have enjoyed the Games Galore series and that you get to try out some of the games in class.

Food in Surat – Vietnamese Food #1

In the past week I checked out two Vietnamese restaurants in Surat Thani. Today I’ll give you the scoop on the place on Amphur. Look out later this week for part two about the restaurant on Na Meuang.

Kristin and I drive down Amphur toward Talad Mai every day to get to school. On the days when I’m cruising on the back of the motorbike, I like to check out all the shops lining the road. Recently I noticed a restaurant tucked in behind some trees. It’s next door to a coffee shop on the right side as you’re driving toward Talad Mai, maybe half a kilometer before you reach the intersection. I have no idea what the place is called, but the white lettering on the glass walls reads “Vietnam Food” in English. It’s nice to change it up and eat something other than Thai once in a while, so we recently stopped in for a late lunch. I assumed, due to the English sign, that there would be an English menu. Nope. It was all in Thai. But there were some faded low-quality pictures for every item on the menu. Everything looked ok, but it was hard to really decipher what anything was, so we just pointed and hoped it turned out alright.

The food was actually pretty tasty. The shrimp spring rolls were good; the sweet pepper sauce with peanuts served alongside the rolls was incredible. The pho was also quite good. It wasn’t outstanding , but if you’re craving it, you should be satisfied. Most of the dishes on the menu were in the 50-90 baht range. Not dirt-cheap, but it won’t break the bank either if you’re looking for some non-Thai food. Although it probably won’t make our weekly dinner rotation, we were happy with the meal and we’ll go back. Go point at some blurry pictures and give it a try. Check back here soon for a post about another Vietnamese place.

Games Galore – Part 2

It’s time to hear about another one of my favorite games to use in class, “Throw the Pig SWAT.” It is one of my top picks for practicing vocabulary. Here’s how it goes.

List the current vocabulary you are studying horizontally across the board. For example, in my P6 class at Noonoy, the students were learning about famous people. As the students named famous people & we discussed why they were famous, I listed the names across the board. When we finished the discussion, I gave 1 student from each team a fly swatter. The students can stand close to the board or they can stand far away and run to the board, hop on one foot, etc. – “up to you”. Next you ask a question. For example, “Who is the president of the United States?” The first student to swat the board where it says Barack Obama gets a point for their team. Next, I have the whole class say “Barack Obama is the president of the United States.” Then, the winner of the swatting competition gets 2 chances to peg the loser with a small stuffed object (I use a small Angry Birds pig). It could really be anything soft, like any small stuffed animal or even a rolled up sock The students must stand in assigned locations. If the student throwing hits the other person with the pig, they get 1 point for their team. If the student that is being thrown at catches the pig, he gets 1 point for his team. Often times I stop in the middle of the game to have the whole class practice pronunciation or recite answers to the questions.

Variation 1: Draw pictures on the board or tape pictures to the board that you printed before class. Announce the vocabulary word. The 2 students have to race to SWAT the correct picture with the fly swatters.

Variation 2: Act something out (or have a student act something out). The students have to SWAT the picture or word that goes with whatever you are acting out.

This is definitely one of my “go to” games for reviewing and practicing vocabulary. The students have fun with it and there are plenty of variations, so the kids don’t get bored. I started out just doing SWAT, and then added throwing the stuffed pig later.

Alright folks, that’s it for now! Be looking for my next post on what might be my favorite game of the semester, “Rock-Paper-Scissors Relay.”

Games Galore – Part 1

This semester, I’ve been able to experiment with a lot of different games. I teach all regular classes, so I only see the students once a week, and have plenty of chances to try out new games. These classes are mostly focused on having fun, getting the students to enjoy speaking English, and hopefully getting them to remember some English. The students love to play games, and if done in the right way, I think they can really learn a lot while playing a game. Over the next few weeks, I am going to share a few of my favorite games in hopes that maybe you will find a new game to use in class or these games will spark an idea for something else. Be sure to note that none of these games are supposed to take up a whole lesson. They are used along with teaching the main target, practicing together as a class, writing, textbook, etc.

Game #1 – Vampire Attack

This is a spelling game I created by combining a few games that already exist. It is a mix of the game criss-cross, sparkle (a spelling game I used with my students in the U.S.), and acting like a vampire, something the students seem to love. Have a row of students stand up. Ask them to spell a word (any word you have been learning about in class). For example, “doctor”. The first student says “d” and remains standing, the next student says “o” and remains standing, etc. When the whole word is spelled, the next person gets to go crazy and act like a vampire, “attacking” the next student in line who has to sit down. The next student in line (after the students that sat down) has to start spelling a new word that the teacher announces. If a student says a wrong letter, they are “attacked” by the teacher and have to sit down. The last person standing wins and their team gets a few points! That student stays standing and that column of students stands up for a new round.

For Anuban students, you could do a version of this game with the alphabet or counting, and maybe do tickling instead of acting like a vampire. For Anuban 1 (3 year olds), when we practice counting to 5, I go around the room giving out high fives for 1-4 and then tickle a kid on 5. If you are teaching math in the MEP program next year, you could have the students practice their multiples/skip counting in English. There are lots of possibilities!

That’s it for now, but be sure to look for my next posts – “Throw the Pig SWAT” and “Rock-Paper-Scissors Relay”!

Food in Surat – “Never Open Noodle Soup”

Just a block out Amphur past the intersection with Chalokratt sits the best little soup shop this side of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. Kristin and I discovered this gem thanks to a tip from Savannah. We tried it our first week and were instantly hooked. The little yellow soup cart became one of our regular dinner stops.

Then in mid-November they seemed to disappear. We’d drive by the soup stand a few times a week, sometimes every day, but no one was ever there. We gave it the name “Never Open Noodle Soup.” The longer they were closed, the more the cravings grew. One evening in mid-December, after all hope seemed lost, we glanced down Amphur and saw the bright yellow soup stand lit up at last! We immediately popped in for dinner, lest we miss our only chance for the month. It turns out they were moving up in the world. The little soup stand that could now sits out front of a nice, new indoor seating area.

The friendly couple who own the place only serve one thing – some of the best soup I’ve tasted anywhere. You can ask for Bah Mee Keow (rough translation: ba mee = yellow noodles; keow = wonton), but all you really have to do is point and tell them how many. You’ll be served a hot bowl of broth with yellow ramen-style egg noodles, tender sliced bbq pork, kale/other greens, radish chunks, and pork wontons. Toss on a heaping scoop of peanuts and some red pepper sauce and enjoy your bowl of amazing. All for only 35 baht.

Go visit the upgraded “Never Open Noodle Soup” – always delicious, always cheap, and now always open for dinner!

(There are two soup stands near the intersection here – this is the one just past Good Health on the same side.)

A Trip to Koh Phangan

Last weekend, Eric and I ventured out to Koh Phangan. We had a 3 day weekend and decided it would be a great chance to explore the island. We weren’t too sure what to expect because pretty much everything we heard about Koh Phangan was related to Full Moon parties. We wanted to see what the island had to offer outside of this. John and Candance said they loved Koh Phangan outside of Full Moon parties, so we booked a place they recommended and packed up our bags.

We got up early Saturday morning, drove our motorbike to the Don Sak pier, and made it to Koh Phangan around noon. Before we even got off the ferry, I knew I was really going to like this island. The water was a beautiful sparkling blue and the island looked gorgeous. We hopped on our motorbike and headed towards the west side of the island, where we had booked accommodations near Haad Yao beach. Well, we accidentally took the wrong road and ended up on a road that went through the center of the island. It ended up being a great mistake though, because the road was mostly flat, well paved, and surrounded by lush mountainous jungle.

When we reached the north shore of the island, we realized we had gone the wrong way. At this point, we could either backtrack or drive the roads on the northwest part of the island. We decided to take the northwest road, because we had heard it was really pretty. We had also read that the road was pretty steep, so I was a little nervous. Why, you ask? Well, our motorbike is a little old and doesn’t have a lot of power. I didn’t want to get stuck halfway up a steep hill! We decided to check it out anyway. Our trusty motorbike definitely had to use every ounce of power to crawl up the steepest hills, but we made it just fine. (Well, I did have to get off and walk on one really steep hill while Eric drove to the top, but we still made it!) This part of the island is gorgeous. There are some awesome views of the ocean and there are mountains covered in palm trees as far as your can see.

We finally made it to our bungalow, where we lounged in the restaurant for a while and sipped on some tasty fruit shakes. We then headed down to the beach, where we spent the afternoon combing the beach, swimming in the clear, clean water, and lounging around in the shade. We spent most of the weekend exploring the northwest side of the island, drinking plenty of delicious fruit shakes, and lounging on the beach. My favorite part of our trip was visiting Koh Ma, a small island off the coast of Koh Phangan. The two islands are connected by a large sand bar. The water here is gorgeous and there is supposed to be good snorkeling in the area. Seriously, it is so beautiful!

We didn’t get to explore the whole island and actually ended up having to head back to Surat early because I broke my foot (yup…more on that in another post…), but it turns out Koh Phangan has a lot to offer besides just Full Moon parties. We will definitely be going back!

New Year's Eve on Koh Samui — by Catherine

This is the first year in about 9 or 10 years that I have not been to a concert of New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t sure what to expect when going to a tropical island to do something completely different. I was presently surprised and had a wonderful time with a great group of people.

Levi, Savannah, and I set out Saturday morning on our motorbikes to Don Sak. It took a bit over an hour to get there and were met by Evan as soon as we parked. We waited until the 10am ferry and loaded up our bikes for the 1.5 hour ride over to the island. The ferry was very nice, much nicer than the one I took to Koh Phangan in November.

Arriving in Koh Samui, we de-boarded our bikes and drove about half an hour or so to Maenam, which is the beach where Daniel, and previous Super teacher, and his girlfriend Yanee live. They booked us a place to stay for that Saturday night in the same area as their own bungalow. As soon as we got there we put our stuff away, threw on our swimsuits and headed straight to the ocean. After enjoying a beer in the water, we decided it was high time to find a place to stay for the other 2 nights we were going to be there.

Being New Year’s Eve, we decided to go to Koh Samui instead of back to Railay because it’s a bigger place with more places to stay. The bungalows by Daniel’s were booked up for that Sunday and Monday, so we needed to venture out and find something else. Luckily, we pulled into the place next door and got their last bungalow; we were even able to walk to Daniel’s from there.

Gary arrived the next day and all 5 of us squeezed into our new home. This place was great; it had a pool, a kitchen, and even a shower with a heater and a shower curtain. Most of the day on Sunday we played in the pool, but we were also able to go to the beach and watch as Evan flew his kite for his kite board. I have never seen this activity before, but I must say, it looks pretty freakin’ fun.

Sunday night came to a close with us all spending time at our bungalow, Daniel and Yanee included. It rained quite frequently over the weekend, so staying in wasn’t such a bad thing; plus, we wanted to save most of our energy for the big night of NYE.

One place we discovered while in Koh Samui was a cafe called Angela’s, and was quite Western and delicious! They even had bagels! We ate there for breakfast pretty much every morning and even bought some freshly baked bread to make sandwiches for lunch. It was a nice treat.

An adventure I tried to have while on Samui was going for a drive up Soi hah (5) to the top of a jungle-ridden mountain. Unfortunately, my little 100cc bike didn’t want to make the drive up the steep hill, especially carrying 2 people. However, Savannah and Levi were able to make it to the top, and took some pictures for us to enjoy.

The night of New Year’s Eve was an adventure as well. Before we went out on the town, we had cookout at Daniel and Yanee’s bungalows. The people who owned them cooked all of the food and we got to enjoy the splendor. Some of the neighbors even joined us in the revelry. After dinner, we put on our NYE best, hopped in a van, and headed to Chaweng.

Chaweng is a very tourtisty part of Koh Samui where there are a lot of bars and clubs. We decided this would be the best place to spend NYE. Arriving in the van, we headed to Ark Bar, which is on the beach, in order to watch the massive amount of fireworks being blown up all around the island. Being in this place was very reminiscent of the time I spent in Cancun, Mexico. There was an abundant amount of farangs everywhere and everyone was drinking their fill. After the fireworks and the countdown we headed to a few other bars and clubs where there was a lot of dancing.

Not being at a concert this year was definitely a different experience, but I have to say I had a great time on this NYE as well. Savannah told me before our trip that she usually has a disappointing NYE so I’m hoping this one wasn’t so. Spending NYE on a tropical island really ain’t so bad.