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Japanese Teacher Finds Thai Grammar Worth Fighting For

Dramatic and full of passion. That’s how we often perceive language learning. Stories of polyglots and language entrepreneurs are full of sacrifice, but does a lack of exhausting labor make language learning invalid? Definitely not. For many of us, language learning becomes an integral part of daily life, like visiting our grandma or having a morning coffee.

Nori runs a massage therapy clinic, a small family business in Isahaya, Japan. A calm, mindful person he actively seeks inspiration from the many individuals he comes across, whether on HelloTalk or in real life. What’s the latest thing that made him smile? “My baby boy was just born on the 27th of October”, he says.

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Nori’s language story starts 20 years ago, when he went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to teach Japanese. He spent four years there and was mesmerised with the diversity and multiculturalism of the country, and notes that “the most memorable cultural difference was in the food”. If you have been to Malaysia, you probably know what he means!

Although his students in Kuala Lumpur were keen on learning, there weren’t as many materials available back then. “We had to create new materials targeting Malaysian students specifically, so that they don’t lose interest”. An innovative teacher, he recalls how he loved to surprise his students with “new adventures to stimulate their imagination”, and how much he learned from them. “My students worked in a variety of professions: one was a chef in a Japanese restaurant, another a manager of the famous Japanese department store, several others—factory workers.” It gave Nori an insight into different parts of the Malaysian society.

Teaching a varied group of students gave Nori an insight into different parts of the Malaysian society.

This deep involvement in teaching awakened in Nori a passion for language learning and cultural exploration. Using Kuala Lumpur as a base he travelled around South East Asia and, amongst other places, visited the south of Thailand. “It was a short trip, but everything was new and exciting for me.” Later on Nori went to many cities in the North East and Northern parts of Thailand; he fondly remembers travelling around on a motorcycle.

Nori links his interest in the Thai language to his personality. “When I learned Cantonese, I had to use a lot of energy to speak it. I’m a rather calm person, so I chose a language with a soft pronunciation instead. I love the sound of Thai pronunciation.”

Even though he wanted to explore the language, he didn’t have much time because straight after coming back to Japan, he started an internship, but his interest remained. After completing the internship he set his mind on finding a job in a Japanese company in Thailand. Having a clear goal, he felt motivated to first take a 6-month language course in Bangkok.

“In learning Thai, mastering the alphabet was a fundamental process” underlines Nori. “The first thing the schools focus on is learning the unique letters of the Thai alphabet. It takes about two or three months just to practice writing!” Nori strongly advises not to skip this step. He adds that his Thai could have progressed faster and reached an intermediate level if he took an intensive language course.

What impeded his progress was a paradox familiar to many expats living abroad. He worked in Bangkok, but didn’t have many opportunities to use Thai in daily life —”I worked with Japanese colleagues and Thais who could speak English”. In retrospect, he concludes that the best method to improve one’s Thai is through exposing oneself to the language every day, either by living in Thailand or, through HelloTalk.

Expats often find they have limited opportunities to practice the local language.

Last time Nori visited Thailand was two years ago. He was inspired by Jon Jandai, the founder of Pun Pun, an organic farm and self-reliance learning center. “Since I listened to his TED Talk I’ve become a big fan,” says Nori, “so when I had the chance I went to visit his farm near Chiang Mai”.

If you too are looking for inspiration here is the talk:

“I stopped practising Thai about seven years ago, but since I came across HelloTalk in February 2018, I got back to the language. Now every single day I try to post in Thai on Moments, not to forget Thai vocabulary.”

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For Nori, HelloTalk became a source of several friendships with native-speaking Thais. A stand out connection for him is a Thai lady who has been helping him improve through correcting his posts. “We had arguments a few times on my posts, but ‘The closer you are the more you fight,’ right? I would like to take this opportunity to thank her, Khun Jaa.”

How does HelloTalk make you feel?, I ask Nori. “I have fun with it. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to meet my friends from the app, but I feel happy to be someone who can help them with their language, too.”

Since his first trip to Malaysia, apart from English and Thai Nori has been learning Chinese, Malay, Cantonese, and Korean. “Learning languages has become my hobby,” admits Nori. Learning Thai?

Check out Nori’s posts for language tidbits, and inspiring videos!

Written by Marta Krzeminska

Feature photo by Coco Championship from Pexels