Obies Using Languages: Sarah Kaufman ’15

Sarah is a fourth year student majoring in Sociology and Studio Art who studied abroad in Thailand with the CIEE Khon Kaen Development and Globalization program.

Last semester, I studied abroad in Khon Kaen, Thailand, learning about issues that local communities face when it comes to development and globalization. A main aspect of the program was week-long homestays. In order to communicate with the families we stayed with, as well as our Thai roommates and community members in Khon Kaen, we underwent a rigorous Thai course. Language classes lasted half of the semester, and met at least twice a week for three hours at a time.

Thai is different than any other language I have tried to learn. It’s a tonal language (like Chinese), where if a word is pronounced with a different inflection, it means something different. Because we only had a short time to learn a large vocabulary, our Ajaans (professors) took an unusual approach to teaching us the language. No English was allowed in class, except during breaks. Instead of writing out the English equivalent of words we were learning, we were shown pictures of the words. To solidify our pronunciation of each word or phrase, the Ajaan said it, the class repeated it a couple of times, then each individual class member pronounced it. We used this technique for every word/phrase we learned, and it worked surprisingly well. In just two months, we learned over 600 vocab words that we were able to string together into sentences to have conversations with host families on homestays.

After the initial necessary vocab to learn (such as introductions, food, transportation, etc.) most of the vocab we learned was very specific to what we were learning. For instance, I can ask, “Do you think chemical fertilizer is poisoning your family?” and “How is the mine in your village ruining your farmland?” This helped us gather our own information on what we were learning instead of constantly relying on a translator.

While I know I may not have a chance to use all the vocabulary I learned now that I’m back in America, I hope to retain some of the language. I found my semester in Thailand very rewarding and it was an exciting experience.

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