To be sensitive to your girlfriend, you’ll have to learn to communicate, both in fundamental English, Thai, and even non-verbally. While this sounds like a big challenge, if you break it down into manageable, smaller bits, it is both fun and rewarding.
Remember, for your Thai girlfriend, English is a foreign language, and it is as difficult for her to learn as the Thai language is for you. Your lady might already be embarrassed for her limited English ability, and take her trouble speaking and understanding you as a sign of her low intelligence. Boost her self-confidence up! Talk about things you have in common and things she understands, this will encourage her to keep speaking and the conversation will be fun for her.
Thai is a complex and musical language, full of unusual vowel sounds and tonal pronunciations. Your first few tries will be, as the kids say, “epic fails.” But don’t let that deter you; even simple words and phrases go a long way, and if you learn the most basic of things, like how to count, say please and thank you, to raise a glass of beer in “cheers,” and speak basic directions, your Thai hosts will appreciate your effort greatly and reward you with cultural insights, help with your problems, and their ever-present smiles.
As you stay in Thailand and have more interaction with people and become more comfortable with the culture, you will quickly learn what the most important and necessary words and phrases are. If you concentrate on these first, you will find your speaking skills improving rapidly as people draw you into deeper and more complex conversations. All Thai people, not just the women, are quite chatty and friendly, and you’ll notice your vocabulary growing by the day.
This is especially true for you fellows who spend a lot of time in the bars with the attractive hostesses that work there. Flirting is a profession for these girls and they love to practice their English. While it might cost you a few drinks (and then a few more), the fun that can be had interacting with these girls and the improvements it brings to your language skills is often worth it.
Now, be careful, or you might get more than you bargained for! But be sure to get out from the pub every now and then (or more often than that) because these bar girls have a limited number of words and phrases that they know. Like most people, they learn what is needed for their jobs and not much more.
Television can be an easy beginning place and a casual common ground for you and your gorgeous Thai girlfriend. A lot of the shows on TV are pop music concerts, broad slapstick comedy, and football (soccer) matches. Pop songs performed by famous singers are easy to learn, always on a good way to spend some time with your girlfriend without spending a lot of cash while improving your language skills.
She’ll know all the lyrics, trust me. Slapstick comedy transcends language and culture, and while you might find the wild skits silly and incomprehensible at first, you’ll soon find yourself laughing along in spite of yourself, and learning a few new words, slang terms, and funny phrases in the process. And sport is one of the great cross-cultural things on earth, and football is so popular and ubiquitous that matches run on television constantly.
You can follow your favorite club or pick a new one. Learning sports terminology, which is often used in everyday life, is easy and can be done almost subconsciously while you are watching the game.
Naturally, you will struggle to understand her or make yourself understood, especially at first. So, speak slowly using simple words and phrases, especially if you have a strong accent or if English isn’t your first language. So many fights are started because of simple misunderstandings between couples. And, once a fight starts between a couple, the lack of language and common ground make it difficult to deflate things and diffuse the situation.
Also, be aware of how much bigger you are than she is, how much more powerful and physically imposing. You may not feel like you are upset, angry, or scary, but remember, the Thai consider showing any strong display of emotion as a loss of control. What might look to you like a simple display of irritation might look to her like you’ve become a raving maniac. There is no right and wrong in these situations, both people in the relationship just have to take a moment to breathe, calm down, and think.
Shouting is the worst thing you can do. First and most importantly, it scares your girlfriend. Second, it makes you much harder to understand, and lack of communication was the issue in the first place, so shouting just compounds things. And since the cities in Thailand are so crowded, you aren’t just damaging your relationship, you are losing the respect of your whole neighborhood, which could be hundreds of people.
Respect is like water, once it is spilled from the bottle it is difficult to get back in. You’ll earn a lot more respect by smiling. Are you noticing a theme in these articles? You should be! Smiling can smooth over so many problems and even if you feel like shouting, find another outlet for that stress and smile through the problem.
Know that its a lot more difficult to understand when someone is speaking in a foreign language as opposed to the myriad forms of chatting online or texting because she can’t use a dictionary or other helpful software “on the fly” while you are speaking. Be especially aware of this if you are coming to Thailand to meet a girl you’ve met on any of the online dating sites and you’ve had limited interactions.
We’ll spend some time in an upcoming column focusing on the perils and fantastic possibilities presented by online dating, so be sure to bookmark this site for more information. Her English might be far worse than you had assumed, and your ability to communicate simply and effectively, with simple phrases, hand gestures, and most importantly, patience, might be less than she thought. You are in the same boat, and you are on the same team! Within weeks, you will have most of the simple communication issues ironed out and you can get on to the fun business of exploring your new romance more deeply.
After this time, you might reach a plateau in your learning, a time when things like grammar and retaining new vocabulary become incredibly difficult. You may think you’ve learned all you can, or that you and your new girlfriend have nothing more to say to each other, but power through. You’ll be surprised at how fast those times pass and you are on to learning at a higher level.
Language comes in fits and starts sometimes, like one of those old two stroke motor-scooters so common across the country. Put in your time, but don’t pressure yourself to over-study. A few conscious moments every day can sometimes be enough to get you up to speaking as clearly and as fluently as you want to.
Because of the emphasis on politeness in Thai society, you also have to watch your body language. Folded arms, aggressive stances, and pressuring eye-contact mean the same thing across western and Thai cultures. Try to be open and welcoming with your body language. If you are having trouble verbally communicating, remember to use your body language, your non-verbal communication skills, to convey your meaning.
Most of our communication, within members of our own culture and even more importantly, those outside of it, is communicated non-verbally. What is most important is the tone of your voice, how you are making eye contact, your use of hand movements and how far away you are when you speak to your partner. Of course, reading your partner’s nonverbal messages will take some work and, of course, patience. However, the work is worth it as it helps stop misunderstandings and emotional situations before mistakes in language and translation can take place.
Watch people! It is interesting and educational. Thai men are much more comfortable with sitting close to one another than are western men, so you’ll often find yourself hip-to-hip with men on the bus or in the sports arena. Nobody is questioning your masculinity, they just have a difference perspective on personal space.
People in Thailand pay close attention to body language and the politeness it conveys. If you find yourself being subtly corrected by your newfound love, don’t take it as nagging, and instead be flattered that she thinks enough of you to point out your errors. She’s just trying to help you fit in better with other people. Most people are proud of their country, culture, traditions and heritage. Similarly, your Thai girlfriend will expect you to show respect to her in the same way.
Learning to communicate in Thai is the first step in showing that respect.