Since I arrived, I have been searching for a way to learn Thai. Though many Thais in Chiang Mai speak English, I believe that I'm not really here, not really a part of the community until I can at least stumble along in Thai.
I have checked out multiple courses (none of which fit my teaching schedule) and many websites and podcasts (most of which are confusing and not very informative). It's been a month, and I was getting quite discouraged.
At CMU, the English department includes the Linguistics department and all English majors (the students who are best at English) study Linguistics (the best way to explain Thai to me). I had asked one of the upper-level English teachers to ask her students if anyone wanted to be my conversation partner, exchanging Thai for English.
Today I met with my first partner and it was amazing, because not only do we both speak English, we both speak Linguistics, which makes it easier for me to speak Thai. She was able to explain so many things that had been mysteries of structure and pronunciation. For example, in Thai, voicing of consonants is not phonemic (wait did you just say a "k" or a "g" - now I realize it doesn't matter!) but aspiration is (me: "kai" street vendor: "no, kai" me: "kai" etc.)
Having someone who speaks "linguist" explain it takes the guess-work out of being corrected (usually people are unable to articulate what you have said wrong and will continue to repeat it, the error glaringly obvious to them and completely invisible to you).
Also, understanding the sound system of Thai helps me anticipate what my students will have trouble with (final consonants are not released in Thai - it's not that my students don't know how to conjugate verbs, they are just not pronouncing them in a way that I can perceive!)
It's been a revelation and reinforces my belief that everyone learning or teaching a second language should know linguistics!
I also got a Thai nickname which is Aree (the r is a trill, like in Spanish) and it means "kind person" (little does she know...haha)