The University of Michigan has one of the longest and most distinguished traditions of Thai Studies in the nation, with particular strength in Thai language. Michigan’s stature is the legacy of the great linguist, William Gedney (1915-1999), who was in many ways the father of Thai linguistics and who built our renowned Thai language collection in Hatcher Library.
Over the years, the foundation of our Thai Studies program has always been our curriculum in Thai language. Since 1990, the heart and soul of that program has been Montatip Krishnamra. Our long-serving and beloved teacher of Thai retired this year after twenty-six years of service to the department, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and the University.
A native of Bangkok, Montatip joined the faculty of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures in 1990. Throughout her career, she has been very much a “one woman show,” responsible for all levels of Thai language instruction, teaching First Year, Second Year, and Advanced Thai every year. This is a difficult and challenging task, especially because, unlike languages like Chinese and Japanese, there are few textbooks and pedagogical materials for Thai; Montatip had to design and develop her own materials from scratch, beginning with photocopied handouts at the beginning of her career and digital materials in recent years. She even learned Braille so that she could teach Thai to a visually impaired student.
Over the years, she has taught Thai to hundreds of students. Those students remember her with great fondness. Each year, the department receives long and unsolicited testimonials from Montatip’s students, describing her skill, energy, and dedication as a teacher. Students are deeply grateful for the personal attention she has given them and are delighted to see how good their Thai is when they make their first trip to Thailand. And those students never forget. Just last month, we received a lengthy letter from a student who had studied Thai with Montatip in 1995. She had learned of Montatip’s retirement and wanted to thank her.
But just because she is retiring from the department, it does not mean that her work is ending. Continuing her dedication to her students and to the Thai language, Montatip will be producing English books in Braille for the Northern School for the Blind in Chiang Mai and for the Southern School for the Blind in Surat Thani. You can read more about her project here.
The faculty, students, staff, and alumni of both the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies will miss Montatip greatly. In addition, to being a legendary teacher, she is an avid golfer and a student of the game. So it is perhaps fitting that this master teacher retired in 2016, the year that her golf hero, Tom Watson, played his final round at the Masters.
On behalf of a generation of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Michigan, we offer our sincere gratitude to Montatip Krishnamra.