As a means of communication, languages are essential to the human race, but as a conduit for amusement, the inherent misinterpretation caused by language differences is hilarious. With so many words available to us, many with only subtle but important differences in meaning, it is no wonder we get confused sometimes. And that is with people speaking our own language. Imagine a three-way conversation between a Glaswegian, a Harlem rapper and a Kentucky backwoodsman. Ostensibly, they should all be speaking English, but I guarantee none of them would have a clue what the other two were saying. And the problem would not simply be the result of different accents. It would be word usage, colloquialisms and slang which would also cause conflict.

 

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When it comes to communicating with someone speaking a totally different language, getting a message across requires patience and thought. I’m currently losing my battle to learn Thai. I try hard but lately it seems I just don’t get it. Just the other day, I went to one of my regular bars and, feeling a little off colour, decided to order a cup of hot coffee rather than anything cold and alcoholic. The waitress appeared and I told her, “ga-fair lorn, krup.” She looked at me like I was from Mars. I repeated it but still no movement. I was sure the Thai word for ‘coffee’ was spoken at normal tone, but decided to try them all in case I was wrong. I even used the more correct pronunciation ‘rorn’ instead of ‘lorn’, rolling my tongue in the process. I might as well have been talking to a wall because after more than a dozen attempts, she gave no indication she had any idea of what I was saying.

Meanwhile, a second waitress came along and I repeated my first attempt with her. She knew straight away and repeated EXACTLY what I had said to the other girl. The baht dropped, she said, “Ohhh,” and walked off to get my coffee. I’m guessing the first waitress was confused because I hadn’t ordered my usual beer. Had I said ‘tai-GER’ instead, I’m sure a bottle would have appeared before me in under a minute. My question is; what am I doing wrong? According to my ears, what the second waitress repeated to the first girl sounded exactly the way I had said it. Same tone, same accent, same pronunciation.

Now, if I listen to a non-English speaker attempting to communicate with me in English, I cut them some slack. I give them plenty of latitude and if they don’t pronounce a word in strict accordance with the dictionary, I still try to comprehend their message. And unless they specifically ask me to, I don’t go around correcting their every mispronounced word, adding participles, definite and indefinite articles or other terms I don’t understand. For instance, if a bar girl were to ask me, “Go sa-wim where?” I’m not going to give her an impromptu English lesson and teach her that the correct phrasing of the question should be, “Where are you going swimming?” I know what she means and I make concessions because English is a very difficult language to learn.

According to some sources, the French are as equally pedantic as the Thais. Apparently, Parisian French is not the same as regional dialects and some socialite Parisians won’t even bother communicating with a fellow countryman who does not speak as they do. i.e. correctly. Similarly, if you listen very carefully, there is a distinct difference in the Thai language depending on the region of origin. Bangkok Thais, like the Parisians, speak textbook Thai, pronouncing r’s as rolling r’s and not silencing l’s following a consonant at the beginning of a word. Thais from the north and northwest, often speak with a higher pitch while those from the east and northeast are subject to Lao influences in their speech. Those from the south of Thailand tend to ‘sing’ their words and, as bad as my hearing is, I can often pick the accent of someone born and raised in Phuket for instance. I still can’t understand a word they say, but I know where they are from.

But I’m not alone because often Thais from different regions can’t understand each other either. Which brings me to a very interesting point about communication. If a friendly spaceman from say another galaxy came to earth, how would we talk to him? He may not speak the way we do or even make sounds to communicate. He would probably not know how we communicate either so how would we find out and even begin to converse with him? The answer is simple, according to one genius in a sci-fi movie I once watched. The spaceman had to be intelligent in order to travel through space to a distant world. His knowledge of science and mathematics has to be superior to ours. Yet what is the one constant, the one simple scientific truth, which is applicable throughout the universe? Pi. This transcendental number, approximately 3.14159, expresses the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle and no matter where you are in the universe, a circle is a circle. Scientists have determined pi to hundreds of thousands of decimal places so, by indicating through sight and sound the start of the numerical sequence, our space traveller should soon recognize what we were on about. We’ve then not only shown him how we communicate, but how we indicate numbers. Sounds good to me.

How to Make Money in Thailand

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Pattaya girs

So, getting back to my ‘hot coffee’ episode in the bar, perhaps I should have tapped out pi on the table to set up the basics for communicating with waitress number one. With the mathematics sorted out, we could have gradually worked our way up to coffee. Then again, once I got up to the 23rd decimal place she might go away and bring me back a meat pie. “Me transmitte sursum, Caledoni!” (Beam me up, Scotty!)

How to Make Money in Thailand

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