Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Report 5: What-You-See-Is-What-You-Say Phrasebook

Another reference book today, and while it's not as readily available as some it's both informative and entertaining: Eric Allyn's What You See Is What You Say Thai Phrase Handbook, originally published by Bua Luang in 1999 and updated in 2003. He worked with Samorn Chaiyana to put this volume together, and they did an admirable job of it.

It's available through both Amazon US and Amazon UK, and I've seen it numerous times in bookstores (both new and used) in Thailand.  For that reason I've added the spine image to my somewhat worn cover image, just to make it easier to spot if you're scanning through stacks of used books in a shop or market area.

At 304 pages and weighing nearly a pound I've considered leaving it behind several times, but it's come in handy more than any other portable reference I've found so far; even more valuable than an electronic translating device, or "talking dic" as my friends usually call it. It's a bit larger than a standard pocketbook paperback, but it's still worth the space.

Through usage I've found it to be the both the easiest and best (and most accurate, according to Thai friends) reference for transliteration, and it allows you to delve as simply or as deeply into the Thai language as you wish. What I guess I mean is it gives you room to grow, and each time I return to it I see and am able to use more things. Stumbling with pronunciation is cute to a point - and entertaining for the Thai around you, naturally - but out of respect I try not to mangle the language any more than necessary.

It's also interesting reading if you're not using it as a word/phrase guide. You can read many, many short pieces dealing with, for instance, how usage of the fork and spoon became prevalent in the Kingdom, learn of the customs and importance of rice and see countless examples of things you might have seen but not understood via the hundreds of diagrams, line drawings and photographs that cover everything from street signs to fruits and vegetables.

There's a basic (but thorough) overview of not only the WYSIWYS transliteration system, but also  tones, vowels, consonants, and some English words "phoneticized", and the book also contains a wealth of interesting cultural information well beyond the usual hackneyed "dos and don'ts". Granted, I can usually pantomime my way through it if upon checking into a hotel I want to ask questions like "is there a higher floor", but it's nice to be able to clarify such points in Thai. There are a full eight pages of specific phrases you may well find handy at a hotel, for example.

In addition to the English there's the transliterated Thai and the Thai characters for words and phrases, and it's so much easier than looking things up word by word. If you're of a mind to try them, there are even short quizzes throughout the book's sections to test your comprehension.

I'd put it in my top five titles to look for if you're truly interested in experiencing Thailand, and not merely visiting.

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