Public Speaking in Thai

This weekend Thailand hosted its first ever PyCon: a conference dedicated to the Python programming language. This was a great opportunity to meet fellow developers in the region and learn more about topics like Deep Learning, Natural Language Processing, Graph Theory and more. I even contributed with a talk on Teaching and Learning with Python. Another fun part of the conference is the lightning talk session. Lightning talks are 5 minute talks that anyone can sign up for that happened at the end of each day in the main hall. It’s a chance for people to dip into speaking at a conference or to test the water for new ideas or just to share something cool they’ve been working on. While I already have some experience in that arena, I have zero experience speaking in public in Thai. I decided to take the risk of trying my hand at it. I’d say around half or more of the audience understood Thai, but definitely a large part that did not so I made slides in English and Thai but made a goal of only speaking Thai during the presentation. There were a couple times when I couldn’t think of the word I wanted to say in Thai and was tempted to just say it in English but didn’t, I either found another way to express myself or just left the comment out. Below are the slides I created and used for the talk:

I already started realizing how hard translating this all would be by slide 1. For the first word should I use เรียน (riian – to study at the elementary level), เรียนรู้ (riian rúu – to undertake to study; learn; study), ศึกษา (sʉ̀k sǎa – to study; to be educated; to receive education; to go to school; to learn (at higher levels such as college)) or something else? And the connecting word, am I learning/studying with/by/through programming? What’s the most Thai way to express it? And it seems I was so focused on getting the Thai correct that I forgot to capitalize the ‘p’ in Programming for my title in English.

When I actually gave the talk, I was thinking “should I explain what I’m doing in English, that I’m learning Thai and want to practice speaking or should I just start speaking in Thai, I’m sure it won’t be very hard for them to figure out I’m just learning…” I jumped right in with an unsure “สวัสดีครับ… ทุกคน ยินดีต้อนรับ” (sà wát dii kráp… túk kon, yin dii dtɔ̂ɔn ráp – Hello… everyone. Welcome.”

After the initial awkwardness, I felt a little more comfortable. Sure, I’m speaking a new language and I might mess up but there are slides to help people figure out what’s going on even if I mispronounce something. I push my students who are English Language Learners to take risks and make an attempt. It’s more about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and learning and getting your point across than delivering a perfect speech.

“วันนี้ผมจะพูดเกี่ยวกับ…” (wan níi pǒm jà pûut gìao gàp – Today I will speak about…)

Now for introductions. Pretty standard for a presentation, but it did feel rather like day 1 in a language class.

ประมาณ (bprà maan – approximately) was a new word for me. I’ve heard it before but I’ve never actually used it in conversation. I think the experience of using it in a talk in front of a large audience will help it stick in my memory pretty well.

Got my first laugh here. There’s a term for people who are half Thai, ลูกครึ่ง (lûuk krʉ̂ng – half child).

“ไม่ใช่ลูกครึ่ง เป็นลูกครึ่งครึ่ง” (mâi châi lûuk krʉ̂ng bpen lûuk krʉ̂ng krʉ̂ng) – “I’m not half Thai, I’m half half Thai”

The term for people like me who have 1 Thai grandparent and 3 non-Thai grandparents is “ลูกเสี้ยว” (lûuk sîao – crescent child) a reference to the crescent moon.

An interesting tidbit about the Thai language is that there are different words for maternal and paternal grandparents, so by using the word คุณย่า (kun yâa – paternal grandmother) instead of คุณยาย (kun yaai – maternal grandmother) it can be inferred that it’s my dad’s mom who is Thai, not my mom’s mom without me needing to elaborate.

After introductions I showed a few of the programs I made to help me learn Thai and explained briefly what they did. The first one was my program to help tell the time. This came from one of my first posts on this blog, Telling Time in Thai.

Second program, my Days of the Week quiz, also about something I made for the blog. I did say the English words “Saturday, Sunday, Friday” here because I was explaining that you have to select the correct English word in this example. Though my childlike enthusiasm when saying “ถูก!” (tùuk – correct, can also mean inexpensive) got me another laugh from the crowd.

This is the only example I shared that isn’t from the blog, JamDai, the Vocabulary Card Matching Game I made. Instead of ถูก, this one ends with a supportive เก่งมาก (gèng mâak – very good, clever, skillful, superbly performed).

The final example I shared was the Thai Chat Bot I made recently. Got a couple more laughs here excitedly reading the chat between myself and the bot and explaining that the bot is male since he uses the polite term “ครับ” (kráp) instead of “ค่ะ” (kâ).

Though, if I end up adding text-to-speech that may change since all the existing Thai text-to-speech tools I can find only have a female voice. I have noticed that general service messages, or posted announcements tend to be either gender neutral or use female terms. Another interesting difference between Thai and English is that there’s no difference between she and he, it’s the same word (เขา – kǎo) so no need to worry about misgendering someone because you don’t need to refer to people by their gender. Though you do gender yourself by the self-referential pronouns you use, ผม (pǒm – I (male)) and ฉัน (chǎn – I (female)). There are instances when speakers will use the opposite gender terms such as a male using female terms with close family members or intimate partners to show softness/gentleness (it’s common for male singers to use ฉัน in love songs for example) or women might use male terms to show harshness or to be stern. Reveals some of the cultural connotations surrounding gender.

I’m very glad I took this risk even though it was scary, I’m happy with how it went. I hope to continue growing and using my Thai language skills. It would be great to be able to speak directly to the parents of my students who speak Thai instead of relying on a translator (though, the Thai staff that helps us with that are awesome!) And of course, the most rewarding way in which I use this skill is getting to connect more with my family members on this side of the globe. Even though initially, I barely knew any Thai, they’ve been so kind, welcoming and warm to me.

I have to give a special shout-out to my wonderful girlfriend, Mild, who took a look over my slides for me and offered suggestions to improve them. In general, she’s been a huge factor in helping me learn and pushed me take chances like this.

Gaggan

I’ve been living in Bangkok for almost a year now. This city happens to be the home of the restaurant voted the best in Asia for three years in a row. There’s an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix about it. I’m talking about the Progressive Indian restaurant named after its head chef, Gaggan. I finally decided to check it out. I’ve been to a few fine dining establishments including a couple Michelin Star restaurants but this experience was pretty unique. Starting with the menu. Here it is:

Yep, just a list of 25 emojis, each representing one course. If you’re wanting to check it out for yourself and you don’t want any spoilers, you may want to stop reading here. However, the menu does change every few months so if you do go, most of these dishes will probably have changed.

1. Cucumber Aloe Vera 🥒

A cool, refreshing drink to start off the evening. Meant to be downed in one shot.

2. Yogurt Explosion 💥

The second course is similar to spherified olives made famous at El Bulli (where Gaggan worked at one point). You can slurp it up all at once and you don’t taste much until you bite into the thin membrane and get a taste of the yogurt flavor all at once.

3. Lick It Up! Brain Curry 👅

Next up is an incredibly fun dish. Before the food is presented an mp3 player with a portable speaker playing Kiss’s song Lick it Up is brought to the table which seems to not-so-subtly give you instructions for how to consume the food on your plate (no silverware provided).

4. Caviar Horse Radish Egg 🥚

After the fun of the last dish, you’re given another one-bite morsel to keep the rapid pace of the meal going.

5. Tom Yum Kung 🦐

When my kids visited Thailand, one complaint they had was that the food was too spicy here. At one point they requested ice cream and I teased them, warning them that the ice cream might be spicy as well. Well, this dish is proof that yes, you can get spicy ice cream in Thailand. All the great flavor of Tom Yum in the cold form of ice cream wrapped up in rice paper and served in a deep fried prawn head. My dining partner was allergic to seafood so this is can easily be modified by not coming with the last part.

6. Eggplant Cookie 🍆

Another quick hit of deliciousness. The last dish was something normally served piping hot but made frozen. This one is a vegetable turned sweet treat.

7. Chilly Bon Bon 🌶️

One of my favorites of the night. This thin shell of white chocolate comes loaded with a liquid chili sauce. Sounds weird but it was excellent. Really, that description could be applied to many of the dishes.

8. Idly Sambar 🍚

Here we get some foam: another staple of modern, progressive cuisine. Had a nice nutty flavor to round out the sweet spiciness of the Bon Bon from before.

9. Yum Pla Duk Foo 🐠

Another Thai dish spun on its head. Pla Duk (ปลาดุก) is catfish. This one came wrapped in a sheet of onion paper which had a great texture and taste. It even came with some nuts which are always great but we had to resist eating them all so we didn’t fill ourselves up. Still over twenty courses to go!

10. Keema Pao 🐐

The emoji’s a goat but inside this was lamb, they begged our pardon for the mismatch but the great, savory taste made me forget all about the switcheroo they pulled.

11. Turnip Uni Taco 🌮

Next up was a bite-sized taco made of turnip served atop the shell of a sea urchin. The waiter made sure to warn me against eating the spikes below.

However, there was more to eat inside the shell lurking beneath the taco.

12. Churtoro Sushi 🍣

Gaggan plans to close its doors in the next couple years as the chef will head out for his next culinary adventure in Japan. So, it only makes sense that he’d be experimenting with some sushi. Here, instead of served on rice, we have the raw fish on a meringue.

13. Foie Gras Yuzu Ghewar 🍊

This was the first dish where we were asked to guess about the ingredients. The citrus flavor came from an orange/lemon gel and interestingly mixed with the larger portions of goose liver pâté.

14. Anago Mole 🍫

Another guessing game. Living in Thailand, it was pretty easy to tell the inside was sticky rice but also from being from near the American South and seeing the chocolate emoji, I was also able to identify the mole rather easily.

15. Kintoki Carrot Rasam 🥕

Very smooth, warm drink that bore a resemblance to blood. Mmm.

16. Pork Vandaloo Black Garlic Momo 🥟

With a lengthy, self-descriptive name, there’s not much more to add here. Except that it tasted amazing. The bomb dot com.

17. Scallop Uncoocked Raw Curry 🥥

Lovely dish with an interesting mix of textures. The “shell” was actually crafted from coconut and it gave a nice crunch to complement the softer raw scallop that it was paired with.

18. Prawn Balchao 🍤

Second shrimp (or prawn, I can never tell the difference) of the night but actually got to eat some of its meat this time, not just its crunchy, fried face.


A great alternate version of the dish is provided to those with seafood allergies that’s made with paneer instead of prawn.

19. Return of the CTM 🇬🇧

Fish ‘n’ chips turned into a bite-sized sandwich. Simple. Scrumptious.

20. Edamame Shitake Charcoal 🌑

This one, I wasn’t able to guess but I still enjoyed it immensely. There were clearly mushrooms and some green vegetable inside. When we were told it was edamame, it seemed pretty obvious after the fact. But, this whole meal was great at mixing flavors together to give them a unique taste when combined in different ways.

21. King Crab Curry Rice Paturi 🦀

Finally made it to the main course and it definitely had some substance to it. I felt myself getting full by this point for sure but I am a solider so I carried on through dessert.

22. Beetroot Roses 🌹

Served under a glass (not pictured) in a very “Beauty and the Beast”-esque style. Elegant presentation and taste.

23. Flower Power Rose 🌼

More flowers, more happiness. 🌼🌼🌼

24. Oragami Caramel 🍬

Edible paper folded into fortune tellers reminiscent of middle school containing caramels of different varieties including sweet, salty, and sour.

25. Yin Coffee Yang Sesame ☯️

What a beautiful dish to end on. Peace.

Making a Thai Chat Bot

An assignment I’ve seen several Computer Science teachers give their students is to write a chat bot. I thought that could be cool to do with my students and I always run though assignments myself before assigning them to a class. So, for my take on the assignment, I decided to make a chat bot that speaks Thai. For the code, check it out on codepen. Note that the bot only knows the Thai script, phonetic transcription won’t work. To chat with it visit this page or try it out below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are lots of Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools out there for English but there aren’t as many in Thai. I took a pretty naive approach to my implementation since there are several challenges in NLP unique to Thai (even tokenizing words is nontrivial since there aren’t spaces between words in the Thai script).

The relevant function in the code is the one that determines what the bot’s response will be to what the user types. To start, lets just have it respond with ไม่เข้าใจ (mai kao jai – I don’t understand) to anything said. Our bot just arrived in Thailand and doesn’t know any phrases other than this.


function chatbotResponse() {
  botMessage = "ไม่เข้าใจ";
}

Alright, we have something going. Next, let’s teach our bot some basic greetings. How do we know if someone is greeting us? We could check to see if the user includes “สวัสดี” or “หวัดดี” anywhere in their message. That covers formal or informal and whatever articles someone may add at the end. It would catch user messages like “หวัดดี” (wat dee – hi) and “สวัสดีค่ะ/ครับ” (sawatdee ka/khrab – Hello) or as my first student tester entered: “สวัสดีจ้าาา” (sawatdee jaaaa – more colloquial way of saying hello in chat) Let’s respond with a random greeting such as สวัสดี (sa wat dee – hello) or สวัสดีครับ (sa wat dee khrab – hello). I’ve chosen to make my bot male so I’ll use particles like ครับ instead of ค่ะ. I’ll remember that going forward to stay consistent.


if (lastUserMessage.includes('สวัสดี') || lastUserMessage.includes('หวัดดี')) {
  /* randomElement is a custom function to pick one of the words in the given list */
  botMessage = randomElement(['สวัสดี','วัสดีครับ','สวัสดีครับ']);
}

Cool, now maybe we should give our bot a name. “Bot” seems appropriate, but let’s write it in Thai:


botName = 'บอท';
if (lastUserMessage.includes('ชื่อ')) {
  botMessage = 'ผมชื่อ' + botName;
}

Again, บอท is male, so we used ผม (pom) for I instead of ฉัน (chan). Next, we should check if the user is asking how we are. Since Bot is a pretty chill guy let’s have him always give a positive response.


  if (lastUserMessage.includes('เป็นอย่างไรบ้าง') || lastUserMessage.includes('สบายดีไหม') || lastUserMessage.includes('สบายดีมั้ย')) {
    botMessage = 'สบายดีมากครับ';
  }

Alright, we’re beefing up Bot’s vocabulary. How about another easy one, “Thank you” and “You’re welcome”. In Thai we might say thank you with either ขอบคุณ ครับ/ค่ะ (kop khun khrap/ka) or the more casual ขอบใจ (kop jai). We could respond with ยินดีครับ (yin dee khrap – you’re welcome) or ไม่เป็นไร (mai bpen rai – no problem/no worries), and of course we could always throw a ครับ (khrap) at the end to add some politeness.


  if (lastUserMessage.includes('ขอบคุณ') || lastUserMessage.includes('ขอบใจ')) {
    botMessage = randomElement([
      'ยินดีครับ',
      'ไม่เป็นไร',
      'ไม่เป็นไรครับ'
    ]);

Let’s give our bot a useful feature. How about telling you the time if you ask? กี่โมง (gee mong (long ‘o’ sound)) is how to ask what time it is so let’s check if the user writes that. And if so, we’ll print out the current time.


/* what time is it? */
if (lastUserMessage.includes('กี่โมง')) {
  botMessage = new Date().toLocaleTimeString();
}

Now, how about a sense of humor? When chatting in Thai, it’s common to see the number 5 (pronounced ‘ha’ in Thai) used for laughter. Maybe 555 or even more 5’s if it’s really funny. So, if we see the word ตลก (talok – funny) in the user’s message let’s output a string of 5’s (anywhere from 3 to 9) to indicate Bot’s amusement.


if (lastUserMessage.includes('ตลก')) {
  let extra_fives = Math.floor(Math.random()*6);
  botMessage = '555';
  for (var i=0; i < extra_fives; ++i) {
    botMessage += '5';
  }
}

Alright, let’s try something a bit more complicated. Let’s try to detect if the user is asking a question and respond either positively or negatively. ไหม (mai, also written as มั้ย) is a particle added to the end of a statement to make it a question. i.e.

เอาไหม (ow mai – do you want it?)
or
ไปไหม (pai mai – do you want to go?)

To respond positively we just chop off the question particle and use the verb i.e.

เอา (ow – I want it)
or
ไป (pai – let’s go)

To respond negatively we still chop off the particle but also add a negation (ไม่ – mai, with a falling tone) in front i.e.

ไม่เอา (mai ow – I don’t want it) or
ไม่ไป (mai pai – let’s not go).


if (lastUserMessage.includes('ไหม')) {
  let i = lastUserMessage.search('ไหม')
  botMessage = lastUserMessage.substr(0,i);
  let coinflip = Math.floor(Math.random()*2);
  if (coinflip) {
    botMessage = 'ไม่' + botMessage;
  }
}

if (lastUserMessage.includes('มั้ย')) {
  let i = lastUserMessage.search('มั้ย')
  botMessage = lastUserMessage.substr(0,i);
  let coinflip = Math.floor(Math.random()*2);
  if (coinflip) {
    botMessage = 'ไม่' + botMessage;
  }
}

I won’t list every single thing I put into the program here but I’ve added more stuff to it. Feel free to chat with บอท to find more messages I’ve added. Or peek at the code. If you’ve got more suggestions for what to teach him, let me know!