So we (Keith Williams & Maarten Tummers) had the chance to do an interview with Benjawan Poomsan, a person who is in the hearts of many Thai learners. Basically a lot of people have her book “Thai for Beginners” on their bookshelf. Well we got the chance to sit down with her for a bit and here you can read what she is all about!
1. Hi, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Tell us about yourself for a bit first!
Well, I was born in Bangkok, but grew up in the Northeast of Thailand in Yashoton. My family is ethnically Laotian and I grew up speaking both Thai and Isaan (which is actually Lao).
I became interested in learning English at an early age, mostly because my father spoke English. I majored in English at Khon Kaen University and have a Master’s degree in Sociology from Kobe University in Japan.
I’ve traveled to 50 countries and am currently learning Mandarin Chinese and working on my Spanish language skills. I started teaching Thai to friends while in Japan and my numerous handouts eventually morphed into Thai for Beginners.
I’m a vegetarian, an exercise enthusiast and an alternative health advocate. My passion is learning new words and playing online language-learning games. Playing Scrabble is another favorite pastime. I also enjoy Latin dancing and hiking.
Most people know me as the writer of language learning materials, but I also have a extensive career as a registered court interpreter in the Thai and Lao languages. I hate to plug a product, but anyone who wants to know more about my background growing up and my work as an interpreter can get my book, The Interpreter’s Journal.
2. Okay, now tell us about your products. What, do you feel, are the key features of your resources that have made them so very popular throughout the world?
I have always loved learning languages and have bought hundreds of different language-learning materials over the years. By now, I have a good feel for how I learn a new language and the various methods there are to learning a new language.
The secret to my language products, I believe, is that I design them to be non-intimidating, user-friendly, and practical.
The descriptive words I use and the presentation of the materials are carefully selected so the reader does not feel “talked down to.” I want people to feel comfortable reading the material and also present content that is perceived as being practical and helpful.
I start with the basics and build on those basics. I think this is evident if you analyze the content in my Thai language products. In Thai for Beginners, each lesson presents new useful vocabulary and sentence structure and I sprinkle in tips and information on language rules throughout the book.
I gathered material for this book in my early 20s and it’s been almost twenty years since the first edition was published in 1995. It’s amazing it’s still selling well. I was going to do the second edition, but I decided to work on the Talking Dictionary and the Talking Phrasebook apps instead.
I also stress learning to read the actual language and not to continue to rely on the transliteration system I have created. Our beginning level language books also include writing exercises and we supplement the language learning with audio CDs or apps so it’s possible to hear a native person speak the words or phrases properly.
This format has developed a loyal following of customers who promote my study materials with word-of-mouth advertising.
3. Can you tell us a bit about how you would go about developing your products? What is the thought process like and what do you keep in mind when crafting your products?
When I contemplate creating a new product I first determine if there is a need for it. Market research of existing product takes place and if the need exists, I begin to envision what product would satisfy that need.
First consideration is the delivery system, should it be an eBook, booklet and audio CD, or a mobile device app? Each method has specific advantages and limitations as to what can be achieved.
I primarily concentrate on the content that will be presented, and I work with my team of graphic designer, software engineer, voice talent, web master and project manager to storyboard out how the content and delivery system should be created.
To me the most important factor is the quality of the content and that it needs to be easily accessed by the users. I always want to keep it simple and straightforward. I work specifically on developing the content, both text and audio recording.
At the same time I work with the other team members on the look and feel of the product. For app products, the software engineer, project manager and I work on what is possible technically and we go through a few rounds of prototypes before we begin the actual product development.
To me the other important factor is quality assurance. I want our customers to feel they purchased a product created by people that care about quality and reliability.
4. Are your products being used by schools, language institutes as well?
I know that many Thai temples worldwide use my Thai language series in their Thai language lessons. A number of Thai language schools are using my Thai language materials and recommend them to their students.
The British Ambassador to Thailand uses my Thai language products and Paiboon Publishing sells our language materials to the US State department and many other governmental agencies as well.
5. A lot of your products are now digital. Do you feel digital learning tools have certain advantages to old fashioned books? What do you prefer?
Every person learns a new language differently. I don’t advocate one language-learning material over another since people will have their own preference. For me, I like listening to an audio CD and supplement that by playing word games teaching that language. Currently I’m studying Mandarin Chinese and I play the audio CDs in the car when I’m driving. That’s the method I found works best for me.
All people have their own preferred method for learning new languages and that’s the reason why Paiboon Publishing offers language materials in printed book format, audio CDs, DVDs and apps for mobile devices. Each delivery method has a specific appeal to the student.
Our app products are good for students that want to hear a phrase spoken over and over, which is impossible with an audio CD or a book. Because mobile devices are ubiquitous, using an app presents many more opportunities since students have their Smartphones with them most of the time.
On the other hand, a book is much better at showing how to write the alphabet letters for the language you are studying. I recommend using the method that feels right for you and just keep at it.
6. Do you really enjoy Latin Dance? (555)
I have always loved dancing, starting in my early years studying traditional Thai dancing. Later, I discovered ballroom dancing after moving to the US. It was a natural progression for me to move on to Latin dancing. One of the reasons I decided to learn to speak Spanish was to be able to understand what the singers were crooning about.
I like the energy and excitement of the salsa, bachata and merenque music and the high energy in the clubs. Besides the fun of dancing, it’s a great aerobic workout.
7. What about Muay thai?
Muay Thai is an integral part of my Thai heritage and something that I have been exposed to all my life. Many Westerners are attracted to Muay Thai for the discipline, work ethic and the cultural connections. I find many students who study the Thai language are also drawn to the study of Muay Thai.
For me personally, I enjoy the workout and level of concentration required. I’m still a novice and don’t do the sparring (yet). I have a lot of admiration for the people who have taken their training to a high level and who are helping to educate others about this important aspect of Thai culture.
8. Contact – how to, website, fb, youtube, store etc.
The best place to keep up with what is going on with our new product development is our Paiboon Publishing Facebook page.
We also have a lot of YouTube videos that people have found interesting and entertaining. Search “paiboon” on YouTube.
All our Paiboon Publishing products are available on our website: paiboonpublishing.com and click on the “products” tab.
And our apps are available on iTunes or the Google Play Store, search using the keyword, “paiboon.”
9. Anything else to add? Any last words? Shoutout to the group?
I very happy to see that there is large and enthusiastic group of people interested in learning new languages. The Farang Can Learn Thai group is supportive and nurturing for people learning the Thai language. There are many other online forums that promote the language and customs of Thailand and other countries. The process of learning a new language seems to be more popular than ever.
Also, I’m really excited to let everyone know that Paiboon Publishing will be coming out with some great new language-learning products this year.
Our Burmese for Beginners app will be out this week and will join our Burmese for Beginners book and Burmese-English printed dictionary to help open the door to the exciting country of Myanmar.
Our Talking Chinese Phrasebook app will expand people’s concept of what a language app can do. We will be releasing both a Chinese and Thai version of this new groundbreaking app for iOS and Android devices.
And for all of the folks waiting to receive the upgrade of our Talking Thai-English dictionary, that too will be coming this year.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to talk about my interests and inform your forum members about our new products in production.