The beautiful Thai language from a library perspective – first installment

So, one of the things I’m really proud of in my library is that we have a decent (and continually expanding) collection of Thai language books.  Whilst we’re an international school (we teach IGCSE), about 70% of our students are Thai, so it’s always seemed a no-brainer to have a good collection of books for reading pleasure.  And if that weren’t enough, all students learn Thai at school until they’re 16 (they have to by law), so it’s also basic curriculum support.  So I was a bit stymied to find we didn’t really have much of a collection when I first arrived two years ago, and am rather proud that we do so now.  However, there are several ongoing problems that we still need to resolve.  I thought this would be interesting to expand on over the next few posts

Incidentally, Thai is one of the most beautiful languages I’ve ever come across.

Chart of the symbols in the Thai alphabet

Aren't they beautiful?

Depending on syllable, vowels can either go before, after, above or below the consonant.  In addition, with a few exceptions they don’t use gaps between words, so you need to deduce yourself where the gaps are.  All in all, I’m rather proud that I’ve been able to stumble my slow way through นอนจอมหีว (or something like that), which is Eric Carle’s The very hungry caterpillar (and, yes, just like you, I do already know every word of the story in English off by heart, which probably made the above stumbling-though a lot easier!)

Thai children’s publishing has really come on in the last five years or so, but there is still nothing like the investment that you see back in the UK.  I’ve often been tempted to do the “safe” thing of buying popular  English-language books translated into Thai – the caterpillar above, Percy Jackson, etc.  However, this can backfire as not all publishers are interested in spending money and time on a good translation.  Halfway into the Harry Potter series (perhaps when they realised how much money they could be making), they changed the person doing the Thai translation.  At the beginning of the Thai Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban, there is actually a list of about 20 characters, with the previous spelling of their name, and how the new translator spelt it – that’s how many changes she’d felt the need to make!  And one of my library assistants says that she doesn’t think even the Thai translations of the later books are really that good.  So in many ways it’s not as safe an option as it seems.

So, this year I handed my Thai book budget over to my library assistant Pii Ple and asked her to take responsibility for selection.  This was a great bit of professional development and fun for her, and also good for me as I need to get better at letting go of things!  On the whole, Pii Ple has done a great job, and the number of Thai books being borrowed has doubled in secondary and tripled in junior school this year.  However, the Thai collection in the senior school is VERY girl heavy, and a couple of books that she has bought have been queried for having a lot of sex in.  So I’m now thinking that we need to get together as a team and have a simple stock selection policy, to guide us over the next year and balance the collection out a bit.  Then I started thinking that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have for the English-language fiction.  And also, that the sort of stock we’re looking for should be fundamentally the same variety, regardless of language.  So, maybe the 6 of us will sit down together at the start of next term, and come up with a rough policy that can then guide us in buying new books in English, Thai, and the other languages we have here.  I think that would be a great approach, as long as we have the time to think it through properly.  I’ll update here if we get anywhere!  Do you have a stock selection policy for your school that you think works well?  Would be great to hear from you if so.


About angellibrarian

Children's/teen librarian working in an international school in Thailand.
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