Language learners seem to share a common blind spot. No matter how industrious they are at their studies, they overlook the very first step in communicating with native speakers: using the sounds of the language. The learner insists, even after many years of struggle, on using only sounds in his own native language. For an native English speaker, if the sound is not in English, he will refuse to learn it. Yet this should be the first step in learning a foreign language.

In Thai language for example, there are five sounds which are not in the English language. These are the initial consonant sounds bp, dt, and initial ng, and the vowel sounds eu [smiling while trying to say oo], and e[r] or the British almost silent r sound. There are also 5 tones used in Thai, which are ignored or underemphasized by most learners. Ignoring these sounds will result in a condition of speaking Thai language rapidly and fluently, but with only 50% understanding by the listener. The situation would be the same as having a telephone with the numbers 7  and 5 on the keyboard not functioning. You could call any number which did not have a 7 or a 5 in it.

When this is explained to them, Western learners give a lot of backflash, saying such things as, “They understand me well enough already!” or , “They should be polite enough to figure out what I am trying to say!” Progress past this point is impossible. As a result, I have not met a single Western person who has been able to speak Thai clearly. A slight accent is not a problem, but ignoring all the unique sounds of the new language is a serious one.