Mixing Languages or Balling Socks?

The purpose of this entry is to share my daily life with my friends and family and to preserve some of my fleeting thoughts. The purpose of my entire blog is to preserve some parts of my experience so that I can look back on these entries and remember what I thought and when I thought it. As this blog turns nine years old, ancient in blog years, it “matures” along with me — slowly.


Imagine that these are the thoughts that pass by my mind along with the throngs of foot traffic hurrying towards the metro. Each thought lurks in front of me for a mindless moment like the back of a busy pedestrian’s head. Something that I just notice as a moving object. Something is slowing me down and something going in my direction. Then as each of us moves closer to our destinations we trail off to some other thoughts and turn down other streets. When I think about myself a’walking down the street I think, “what an oddball”. I say this with a loving flippancy.

P.S. loving flippancy could be my generations’ mode of operation.

Recently, I stumbled over my goofy self as I was walking down the sidewalk towards the metro. Here is an American guy walking through Bangkok, actively listening to Vietnamese pop music, speaking Japanese over lunch, International English at work, and learning bits and bobs of Thai throughout the day.

I’m not implying that anything I say on any day is intelligible, I rarely achieve “intelligible” in English, but I’m trying to communicate the hodgepodge of influences that are fumbling merrily through my mind. The fact that Bangkok, work colleagues, and 4G Internet can provide avenues for all these languages is a big reason that I enjoy it here so much.

Times when it really feels jumbled are when I am trying to learn Vietnamese on the phone while walking around the city. I wonder if the Thai people even notice, that the atonal mush coming out of my mouth is supposed to be Vietnamese or just another butchery of Thai?

I often replace missing words in my limited Thai vocabulary with Vietnamese. Most of the time these words are grammatical structures. Because the grammars are similar enough, I start sentences that I absolutely can’t finish. My brain reaches into the cutter of my mind to fish out any semblance of meaning.

Imagine that my brain is standing in a bouncy house full of those plastic balls. The balls represent confusion, ignorance, and gross mispronunciation. Hidden amongst the gibberish are a few balls with words written on them. When I try to say something, my brain just flops into the ball pit and squirms around looking for a something… ANYTHING!

Since my brain stores Vietnamese and Thai in the same ball pit, it snatches whatever isn’t nonsense, springs up to its feet and holds the ball proudly above its head. “I got it”. Most of the time it is just haphazardly pulling up Vietnamese and English. Maybe the grammatical and aural similarities between Vietnamese and Thai have successfully duped Mr. Brain into thinking that it is just learning more Vietnamese.

Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai are being stored in the same part of my brain. I am constantly making mental connections between the three. Sometimes a Thai word will latch on to a Vietnamese word or sometimes a Japanese word.


I like to imagine that I am balling three different colors of socks together in the dark – folding the mismatched pairs together because they feel similar.

Here are a few examples of how I’m balling my socks. Thai is the new language, fresh barnacles on the hull. Italics show the “connection”.


Japanese Vietnamese Thai
Cold – Kan Ice – Kang
Airport – San bay Airport – Sanambin
Can – Duoc Can – Dai
This- Nay This- Ni


I wrote a similar blog post about my discovery of the Sino-phonetic relationship between Vietnamese and Japanese. A bit of Google-ing reiterated that there are few connections between Thai and Vietnamese or Thai and Japanese. The connections are coincidentally based on the way that Mr. Brain crams all foreign languages together.





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