How to Learn Thai: The Papaya Salad Method

The Whole Story

Suhtan wears a backwards black trucker hat and denim shorts. He’s hunched over on a little red plastic stool, grating green papayas into a five-gallon bucket, working through a twenty-kilo bag of the fruits in preparation for the dinner rush. He’s thirty-five but looks twenty-four and grins like there’s a practical joke he’ll never tell you about. Suhtan runs a papaya salad – som tam – stand with his friend Poom in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Bai nai kap? Gin kao ruh yung?” I’m walking across the street from their shop, intermittent motorcycles buzzing by between us—didn’t even see them notice me. Poom wants to know where I’m headed and whether I’ve eaten yet. Though I’ve known these papaya salad proprietors for about a year, were we in the U.S., I’d still consider this a bit intrusive. Here, it’s become a language learning opportunity.

Mixing Langauge Learning and Culture 

I’ve been living in Thailand for two years. Out here, these sorts of questions are greeting: “Hello, I acknowledge that you’re a part of my community, what’re you doing, you strange white man?”

It is at once an ordinary exchange between friends and a moment in which I’m asked to account for myself. For me to earn any sense of belonging, I owe it to Poom and Suhtan to internalize this aspect of their culture and language—to earn my papaya salad. And it happens with everyone I pass, no matter how small our connection, no matter whether we know the first thing about one another.

These delays, if I’ve convinced myself that I must be in a rush, or the seeming intrusiveness can wear me down. But rather than exercising the privilege of an outsider and shirking these interactions, I do my best to make myself stop and have a chat. I cross the street.

“How’s the restaurant?”

“Slow, quiet”

“Why have you still not cut your moustache?”

Sorry, foreigners are hairy sometimes.”

And, like that, I’ve learned the Thai word for hairy: Puy.

As I peel the layers away, what were once overwhelming and cumbersome interactions instead become opportunities to build vocabulary and get to know my daily interlocutors.

If, as a language learner, I take each daily chat with each person I encounter as a chance to learn one new word, the lessons add up fast. Each new word is tied to a relationship. If I forget the words for hairy, cured pork, or fermented crab sauce, Poom and Suhtan will have my ass. No formal studying and I’m off the language learning apps for this.

I’ve known Poom and Suhtan for almost two years. They’ve built out their shop, doubling in size after they took over the struggling seventy-five cent pizza stand next door. They’ve turning the papaya salad stand into a staple of our neighborhood, and because of those initial connections to these two, taking the time to chat and learn a couple dirty jokes, they took it upon themselves to introduce me to their first employees, favorite customers, old woman who want me to marry their daughter, you name it.

The Outcome Of Cultural Exchanges

This is what I seek in language learning: to put in the work and build the basics on my own: simple sentence structure, the first fifty words or so. That’s enough to take me on the road into immersion, using relationships and exchanges just like the Thais’ “Where are you going? Have you eaten yet? (And do you have a girlfriend?)” to shrink the distances between a few seemingly very different people and to help me press on towards fluency.

Glossika Review: Do You Even Lift Bro?

Glossika Promo-800x100

An In-depth Glossika Review

We live in an age where languages are at the tips of our fingers. Technology has made it unquestionably easier for language learning. Personally, I use about five or six software programs to assist in my journey, but today I’ll be discussing a newer addition by the name of Glossika.

What is Glossika?

Glossika is a spaced repetition program designed to help the user achieve fluency through audio reps. A rep is similar to what you would do in a gym… only that it’s pertaining to language learning muscle. The idea is to repeat and mimic the native speaker so often that eventually you achieve “fluency”. Mike Campbell, founder of Glossika has loosely defined fluency as “Being able to say a sentence in one full breath, it flows from beginning to end.”


Content: Glossika offers over 50+ languages, each of them amassing 3000 sentences of beginner-advanced levels. So, not only will you be learning something new just about every day but you’ll be reviewing previous items as well due to its SRS. You can also sort the content that you want to see in your sessions. This allows for focus in the target language. Want to learn about business but not medical practice – easy! In addition, all content was recorded by native speakers, so you can’t go wrong with mispronunciation or perfecting your accent.

Glossika Topics
Glossika Topic Selector

User-Friendly: Literally, all you have to do is read and repeat. Feel free to write things down if you want, but all you HAVE to do is open up the website, click “Session” and do your reps for the day. The sessions also never become too hard or too easy, because the AI adjusts to your pace after completing a session.


Glossika Method
Glossika Japanese Session @290 Reps

Builds Muscle Memory: The whole idea behind Glossika is to strengthen your speaking skills through consistent speaking. Speaking can almost be considered a reflex in the world of language learning. By the time you hit 100,000 reps or even 1,000,000, you’ll be trigger ready to say just about anything.







Lack of Grammar Explanation: This one isn’t necessarily so much of a con if viewed from the perspective of Glossika, but for me and nearly everyone else I’d say it is. Glossika doesn’t explain grammar in a detailed fashion, in fact, it doesn’t at all. The idea is to expose you to 3000 sentences in a logical order so that the grammar unconsciously falls into place. It kind of makes sense, because in our first languages we never really stop to think about the structure of our speech. On this note, going with the flow is okay, but don’t hesitate to look something up if you need assistance.

Pricey: Not going to lie, all of this awesome stuff costs a pretty penny. I’m currently on the monthly plan at $30.00/month, yes per month! The yearly plan goes for something like $ 288.00/annual. I don’t know how I feel about the pricing, but for unlimited audio, speaking and diction training for 50+ languages it may just be worth it…if you’re Bill Gates.

Glossika Pricing
Glossika’s Pricing

No Books: For those of you who aren’t aware, the program did once offer books along with their courses that somewhat explained the courses. However, after the system update that boasted flexibility and user-friendliness, those books vanished from the catalogue. You can however still find remnants of Glossika’s language books on Amazon.

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Sign up for Glossika now and start building reps!