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Going South East Asian

English: The flags of Association of Southeast...

South East Asia comprises of 11 countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and East Timor. These countries have different languages. However, Indonesian language spoken in Indonesia and Malay language spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam are sometimes considered the same language. In fact, both are interchangeable but are also distinguishable.

You can easily find South East Asian in Taiwan. Most of them come from Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam. In addition, there is also a Burmese area located in the capital city. They come to Taiwan for various reasons, such as to pursue a higher education, to engage in Taiwan manufacturing industry, to seek for a better life, or to return for their family and relatives.

Every opportunity counts

To accommodate the communication with plentiful of South East Asian, language courses have been established, taught by South East Asian native speakers for anyone to get insights of the South East Asian language, country, and culture. These courses are organized by so-called South East Asian centres, where you can learn everything about South East Asia, from buying/ borrowing South East Asian language books to attending South East Asia-themed workshops.

The chance to take South East Asian language courses is not high because these languages are not as popular as European languages, like Spanish, English, French, and German, or Asian languages, like Japanese and Korean. Thus, I don't want to lose the chance! I grab as much opportunity as I could to learn these languages. As a result, my time is occupied so much with South East Asian language courses.

Working full-time means that I cannot have as much time for language learning as before, good time management and opportunity capture become essentials. Every second counts, every opportunity is precious. Beginning with Thai on Wednesday and Tagalog on Friday, I added Vietnamese on Thursday and Burmese on Sunday. I have zero level in these languages, so everything starts with pronunciation and writing characters. No exams, no homework, everyone just need to come to the class with enthusiasm. So, there is no surprise if following these amount of courses is not daunting at all, instead, it is full of joy for learning and knowing new friends.

Thai

Thailand became a hit in international news after an incident happened near a tourist destination in its capital city, Bangkok. Nevertheless, I am optimist that Thailand will recover from this reputation damage rapidly. Thailand is one of many popular destinations to spend your vacation. Travelling to Thailand is one of many reasons to learn Thai.

My Thai teacher

Posing with Thai characters

My classmates come from various backgrounds when asked about the reason to learn Thai. Some are avid travelers, Thai food lovers, have volunteered in Thailand, planning to relocate, or students of South East Asian studies. Whatever the reason is, we all come with passion and enthusiasm to learn about Thailand, its language, culture, and people.

Learning Thai characters is a unique and challenging experience for me. One vowel can be written as one character on the left or right side of the consonant. Some are even written as three characters on the left, top, and right. To give you a picture, below is a list of vowels where the circle can be replaced with consonants.

◌ะ; ◌ัวะ; เ◌ะ; เ◌อะ; เ◌าะ; เ◌ียะ; เ◌ือะ; แ◌ะ; โ◌ะ

There are more vowels and consonants in Thai than English, so it will take a while to learn all of the characters, not to mention about remembering them. To write as frequent as possible is my method to learn the characters fast.

Tagalog

Having the knowledge of Spanish and Indonesian helps a little bit in learning Tagalog. At least, you won't come with zero knowledge to the class. The long occupation of Spain has contributed to many Spanish loanwords in Tagalog, or also called Filipino. We can find these loanwords in names of days, months, transportation, or numbers. Meanwhile, Tagalog shares several similar words with Indonesian because of originating from the same language group, called Austronesian.

Posing with the map of The Philippines

There are 20 letters in Tagalog, pronounced the same way with Indonesian but have an extra letter and omit some letters from what English has. English speakers should pay an extra attention to pronounce letter R and Ng. R is pronounced with vibration, like R in Spanish or Indonesian. Ng is pronounced with nasal sound, like in the word "thing" without the "th" sound. Tagalog grammar is the biggest challenge for me to learn. It uses more prefixes and suffixes than that in Indonesian.

a, b, k, d, e, g, h, i, l, m, n, ng, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, y

Since The Philippines was governed by the USA for few decades, many Filipinos also have sufficient level in English, and it is common to mix Tagalog and English to get what is called "Taglish." The fact that Filipino economy also relies on foreign remittances since many Filipinos work overseas, such as in Taiwan, Canada, and Dubai, has even made English language more important. Did you know that apl.de.ap from The Black Eyed Peas is a Filipino-American?

Vietnamese

Another challenging tonal language to learn is Vietnamese. Despite written in Latin alphabet, doesn't make Vietnamese much easier to learn but at least, English speakers don't need to spend time to learn a new writing system. Vietnamese has 6 tones, much more than Chinese, but some are similar with Chinese tones so the trick I use is to match them with similar Chinese tones. Although this method might not be precisely correct, at least, it gives me the idea of the tone.

From 4 South East Asian countries people in Taiwan — Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, and Vietnamese, I find Vietnamese to have the best command in Chinese. Some Vietnamese words also sound like those in Chinese or Taiwanese. Many Taiwanese men married Vietnamese women, making Vietnamese a language worth learning in Taiwan and very useful because you can easily find Vietnamese anywhere, such as in Vietnamese restaurants.

My Vietnamese book (and yes, that's in Chinese)

I find reading Vietnamese alphabet easy, since it is written in Latin alphabet, however, some letters are not pronounced the same with English. The tones are written above the letters, so you can easily know how to pronounce. This is different from Chinese, which even the native speaker won't be able to pronounce the Chinese character if he/ she hasn't learnt to read it before. This is because the phonetic and tone are not written, so you need to memorize that a Chinese character is read in a certain way.

Burmese

Myanmar, a country bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, has recently opened itself to outside world after recovering from decades of military dictatorship. Myanmar has just got its first KFC recently!

There is a Burmese area located in the capital city of Taiwan, Taipei city, where you can find many Burmese restaurants, shops, and Burmese people who you can practice Burmese with. Almost all of the written materials, such as menus and announcements, are written in both Chinese and Burmese.

I find Burmese script very beautiful, it is written with lots of circles. It is indeed unique and it has triggered my curiosity to learn how one invented the Burmese script. To write Burmese vowels and consonants requires much more effort than to pronounce. However, Burmese has 3 tones that learners must pay attention to. This is actually easier than Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai that have more than 3 tones. To show you the beauty of Burmese script, see below.

My Burmese notebooks

Have you ever learnt South East Asian languages? Share your experience.

Photo Credit:
Wikipedia

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