Thai Typing – The Key to A Hidden World

During my school days, there were two things I feared more than anything. The first was receiving my report cards and the second was the parent teacher evenings that normally followed shortly after. No matter how well I did in other areas, there would never fail to be a comment mentioning the dire aesthetic state of my handwriting. I have a number of theories about why my handwriting might be as bad as it is (if you’re taking my class, you would have probably noticed by now!) – but I think I’ll just put it down to – no matter what the language is, I have abysmal handwriting!

Luckily, from about the age of four in the prime of learning my ABC’s, my grandfather would have me sit at his trusty old orange typewriter and get me to type along as I built my spelling vocabulary up. After not too long, the quick brown fox had jumped over more lazy dogs than I’d like to count, and I could type faster than I could write neatly.

Benefits of Typing in Thai
The benefits of learning to type in ThaiTyping has remained my preferred method for rendering text and has had unexpected benefits in the cyber age when it comes to learning a new language and script. Four of the top benefits that I have found are:

Familiarize ourselves with all the letters of the scriptIn actually going through the stages of learning to type, we’ll have an opportunity to encounter all the shapes used in the script, even less commonly used ones. The good news is, that the most commonly used letters in Thai are placed in the most accessible parts of the keyboard, and the majority of these do not require the use of the Shift key.

1 Trains our bodies to be an extension of the language

One technique that my grandfather taught me was to type in ‘words’ and ‘sound-blocks’ rather than letters. That meant that instead of typing ‘t-h-e’, ‘a-n-d’ or ‘-a-t-i-o-n’ letter by letter, you train your hands to just drop onto the keys in one motion as ‘the’, ‘and’ and ‘-ation’. Thinking of it this way, typing was just like playing chords on a piano or guitar – after a bit of practice, your hands just fall into the positions.

These types of recursive patterns happen when typing in any language and I have found that my hands don’t take that long to learn new patterns. In doing this, it’s almost as though we’re imbedding the language in our bodies.

Be Active in Using the Language – The Internet Let’s Us See a Visual Representation of Spoken Language
Participating in Chat Rooms, Bulletin Boards and EmailChat rooms and Bulletin Boards are fantastic tools to learn a language and build fluency.

Unlike many language instructional books and videos, the language used over the internet in chat-rooms and bulletin-boards is in most cases a text rendition of real-life, no-holds-barred spoken language. We also get an insight into how native speakers of that language perceive their own language through looking at the slang and abbreviations that have evolved. An example of this is looking at the humble ‘laugh’ over the internet:

Laughing in CyberspaceLanguage Cyber Script Pronunciation
English Hahaha Ha ha ha
Indonesian Ghuagwahuauauau Gua wa hua ua ua
Chinese 哈哈哈 Ha ha ha
Thai 55555 Ha ha ha ha ha
Korean ㅋㅋㅋ K’ k’ k’
Spanish Jejejejeje He he he he he

Just from this table, we can see how different cultures might perceive something that we all hold in common – laughing. The way the ‘sound’ of laughing is perceived in one language might not necessarily be the same in another.

We can also get a small taste of humour and ‘plays on words’ especially in the Thai example above – the number ‘five – 5’ can substitute a laugh!

Through chatting online, you will find many people who want to practice their English, though might not feel confident in typing solely in English. The both of you will be able to learn from each other as you mix the languages together – type what you are capable of typing in Thai and the rest in English. The person you’re chatting with will probably do likewise, and after a while you’ll find yourself getting more and more fluent in ‘spoken Thai’ without even actually speaking it!

Develop faster recognition of spoken and written Thai
As you start to type and read in Thai in cyberspace, you will begin to recognise faster and faster, recurring patterns happening on a number of levels. These include:

  • Spelling – common patterns / letters used in spelling words
  • Greetings / Salutations
  • Word order in sentences
  • Idioms and Cliché’s
  • Jokes
  • Abbreviations and symbols

Once I’ve started to notice some patterns, I like to try and make opportunities to try and use them myself. This can be done over the internet, in the office, at home, in a taxi or on the street. The great thing is, is that by using ‘natural’ language like this, the person your speaking to will be more inclined to use ‘natural’ language back to you rather than a ‘foreigner version’ of their language, helping you to build your fluency up to an even higher level.
There might be some people out there that go weak at the knees just contemplating learning to type in a foreign script like Thai.

If you can already type in English with reasonable competence, converting it to Thai is not that difficult.

A Recipe for Learning to Type in a New Script

If you are using any version of Windows from Windows 2000 onward, or a Mac, the array of scripts that you can load into your operating system is impressive. In Windows, if you can’t Right-Click on the language icon (most likely set to a white ‘EN’ in a dark blue square in the bottom right hand corner of the screen when the language is set to English), you can access the language settings via the Control Panel.

If Thai isn’t yet installed, try and ‘add’ another language.

If Thai isn’t in the list, you might have to have the installation disk handy and ‘Add Windows Components’ by clicking on the ‘Add-Remove Programmes’ on the Control Panel.

When I add languages, I like to make shortcuts to them.
This can be done by clicking on ‘Key Settings’ when in the Language Settings window. I have 16 different scripts all working together on my computer and can switch to any of them easily by clicking CTRL or ALT + Shift + numeric key that corresponds with the language I need that I had previously set up through Key Settings.

  1. Open a Word Processing programme up such as Microsoft Word and hit the Enter key a couple of times to give yourself some nice white-space up top.Making sure that the keyboard is set to the correct language (in this case Thai – should be a little TH down the bottom if using Windows)
  2. Starting at the ~ key (to the left of ‘1’, strike each key in order from left to right with a double space between each character, all the way up to the +/= key (just next to backspace) – i.e. ` 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 – =
  3. Hit ‘Enter’ and repeat for each row of the keyboard down to the row that starts with ‘Z’. Make sure that you don’t just stop at the keys that have Roman letters on them. For each row, strike each key right out to the end of the row (even the symbol keys).

The result should look something like this :
_ ๅ / – ภ ถ ุ ึ ค ต จ ข ช
ๆ ไ ำ พ ะ ั ี ร น ย บ ล ฃ
ฟ ห ก ด เ ้ ่ า ส ว ง
ผ ป แ อ ิ ื ท ม ใ ฝ

Hit ‘Enter’ a couple of times and repeat the last process, however this time hold the ‘Shift’ key down at the same time.

Don’t just have CAPS LOCK on, as on some operating systems, the CAPS LOCK will only apply shift to certain keys.

% + ๑ ๒ ๓ ๔ ู ฿ ๕ ๖ ๗ ๘ ๙
๐ “ ฎ ฑ ธ ํ ๊ ณ ฯ ญ ฐ , ฅ
ฤ ฆ ฏ โ ฌ ็ ๋ ษ ศ ซ .
( ) ฉ ฮ ฺ ์ ? ฒ ฬ ฦ

‘Select-All’ and center the text (Control+e). You might like to enlarge the font and even add some labels. The result is a map of the keyboard that you can print out.

_ ๅ / – ภ ถ ุ ึ ค ต จ ข ช
ๆ ไ ำ พ ะ ั ี ร น ย บ ล ฃ
ฟ ห ก ด เ ้ ่ า ส ว ง
ผ ป แ อ ิ ื ท ม ใ ฝ
% + ๑ ๒ ๓ ๔ ู ฿ ๕ ๖ ๗ ๘ ๙
๐ “ ฎ ฑ ธ ํ ๊ ณ ฯ ญ ฐ , ฅ
ฤ ฆ ฏ โ ฌ ็ ๋ ษ ศ ซ .
( ) ฉ ฮ ฺ ์ ? ฒ ฬ ฦ

When practicing, just look at the map – not the keyboard. Through trial and error, your fingers will start to co-ordinate themselves with the map. You will have to use your ring-finger and pinky a little more than you would use in English.

Once you’ve had an opportunity to get to know the keyboard a little and you’re familiar with some of the letter shapes, some good places to start looking to improve your Thai include:

If you’d like to find yourself in the middle of a Thai bulletin board, one trick that I always find to work well is to type a ‘laugh’ in the language – 55555 (for Thai) into a search engine like Google.

To make sure that it pulls Thai pages out for you, you might like to include one commonly used Thai word in the search string such as ‘ไทย’ (Thai), ‘เป็น’ (pben) or ‘ก็’ ‘ko’.

After having found one and clicking on the link, have a look through the bulletin / chat board and see what you can learn from it. Here are two snippets that I have cut and pasted from a random search that I have done just a moment ago. There are some great samples of many of the points I have mentioned in this example.

Look out for repetition of letters, words, idioms, slang and symbols.

Here are a couple of links that I’ve just searched at random for you to look at:

Stuart Jay Raj is a polyglot who specializes in the languages and dialects spoken in South East Asia and China. His talents have allowed him to earn a professional living as a simultaneous interpreter in Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Indonesian, among others, providing language and cultural training for multinational companies in the region and hosting his own TV programme on Thailand's Channel 5. He holds a degree in Cognitive and Applied Linguistics from Griffith University and has become an expert in the field of language acquisition with a strong track record of success. Stuart's background knowledge of Sanskrit, Khmer, Lao and various Chinese dialects and minority languages enables him to present a fascinating and unique perspective on the Thai language which makes everything fall logically into place.
  • KateGladstone

    Dear Dr. Raj — I work with people who have abominable handwriting despite all effort, years of punishment and practice, etc. — because I show them how to use the roots of our handwriting … to finally make our handwriting make sense. If you know someone who could be interested in this, please visit my web-site at HandwritingThatWorks.com and send me e-mail at handwritingrepair@gmail.com … maybe I’ll hear from you soon.