I have been blessed by my Heavenly Father to be able to recall much of my Thai Language skills. I have been earnestly studying the language again since August when I retired from the Boeing Company. You need to know that I was a very good speaker of the Thai language when I departed Thailand 36 years ago. I was paid the ultimate compliment by a Thai friend (a tailor in Lopburi) who told me one day, Elder Meeker, when I listen to you speak Thai: if I wasn't looking at you I would not know that you weren't a Thai. However, you also need to know that I had very little opportunity to speak the Thai language since I left Thailand. I would occasionally meet a Thai speaker when we were at a Thai restaurant. Therefore, I really lost my ability to speak Thai. I forgot the Thai script letters and forgot how to read. My vocabulary became very weak as I no longer used Thai words or "thought" in Thai. I can say that when I came home form Thailand 36 years ago I did not translate words I simply thought and then spoke in Thai.
The Thai language is tonal language - meaning the same sound spoken with a different tone is a different word and has a different meaning. There are 5 different tones in Thai. Low, medium, high, falling and rising. Example: the word "my" spoken with a low tone means new and rising tone means silk, with a high tone it is a question, with a falling tone means to burn and its also turns things into a negative (no). So you need to be not tone deaf and be sensitive as to the emphasis and tone you put on the word you are pronouncing. So it can be a challenge at first. After a while it becomes comfortable. Another challenge is the new and strange sounds that you are required to make with this beautiful flowing language. There are 44 consonants and36 vowels. The one easy part of the language is that it has a fairly simple grammar structure.... but it is different than English grammar.
As I started to relearn Thai, many things came back to me. Words (vocabulary) would magically be there in my mind to simply be recalled. There were a few challenges. One was that in the intervening 36 years the Church changed the official translation of the word for Saint. So that means that the name of the Church in Thai changed. So the flowing sentence for the name of the church that I used to know is different now. It took me a while to say the correct name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Thai.
The Church has program for Senior Missionaries to learn the language of the country that they will serve in, This program starts as soon as the missionary receives their call if they desire. Lois and I took advantage of this resource. It consisted of printed material, audio files and most importantly tutors and volunteers that are available via Skype. We were skyping as much as 3 hours a week during our preparation time prior to arriving at the MTC. In addition we took advantage of the opportunity to go to Utah a week early and participate in language immersion where we had face to face time with tutors and volunteers for 4 hours a day for the entire week we went early.
This past Sunday was a watershed moment as I was asked to speak in Sacrament meeting without any prior notice. Apparently some pre-planned speakers were not available. So just prior to the meeting the bishop asked that I speak. I was a little nervous.... as I like to over prepare when I am asked to perform official public speaking. I spoke for about 10 minutes and for the most part felt very comfortable with my speaking in Thai. I am so blessed to have the gift of tongues and be able to communicate with the Thai people in their language.
Picture is the Asoke Chapel - 1st church building in Thailand (built in 1974) and the chapel where I spoke on Sunday. There are now 18 chapels in Thailand.