I have lived in Asia several times, and I did have a spell of a year or so in Kowloon Hong Kong. I remember going on a Cantonese language course, it was a 2 week course and I did enjoy it. The problem being, Cantonese is a very hard language to learn and a lot harder than Mandarin. Mandarin like most languages in Asian (Apart from Japanese) is tonal. So one word could mean several different things, depending how you day it. For example, a high inflection at the end of the word may mean, no, while the same word with an infraction at the start of the word may mean you.
If you are like me, and speak a European languages, your ears are not tunes to these small inflections, but if you speak , Hindu or Urdu you will as they are the same and you may not even be aware of it your ears are already tuned to these small deviations .
Now, Mandarin has 4 tones, Cantonese has 7 and Thai has 5. So I may be chuffed to bits at remembering a word , but then disappointed that I have said it work great and being looked at by the Thai I am speaking to with a blank expression.
This can be, and is disheartening. There is also a culture aspect to take into account as well. The Thai’s will not try to speak English as they are afraid of making a mistake and make a fool of themselves. Even though the person who speaks english will help them and be more than thankful that they are trying and will not think them a fool.
This mindset is not the same in the Thai’s, if you try to speak Thai, I have been told that a lot of the times they will make fun of you ( In Thai ) for the way you say words. Ironically they think we do the same when they try to speak english, when its the opposite.
You may think that being marries to a Thai, or in a relationship with one,would help. It can, but I have seen many men, married to Thai ladies, speak Thai, the way they do to their wife’s. Only to have their words fall on deaf ears to sojmoone else. The reason is simple, their other half’s tell them how to speak in Thai, and even though you use the wrong inflection, their wives still understand, and dont correct the way they speak. Even though they are techonacly saying it wrong, the wives understand, and for their own reason, do not teach them properly. So when they go outside their home, they are confused as to why, when they say the same thing, one understands them Now.
Nui, my wonderful wife, is not in that category, she will, keep telling me I am wrong and I have to make sure I am not just saying the word corrrect and saying it in the correct way.
Now and then I have been told my by (Thai) Mum, and some of my wifes friends, that I have a good accent and say my words right. But, as I have said before, even if i do say the words similar, a lot of this do not expect you to speak Thai and are not tuned into your words, and I still get a blank look. I then go to Nui, say the words back to her and she says it is said correctly. Yep , its hard to speak Thai in Thailand.