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  1. #1
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    An intelligent way to learn Thai - the 'Rapid' way



    I’m hoping to stimulate a debate about the most effective way of learning Thai. There have been many discussions about this before, but so far no one has tried to set out a practical strategy. It’s all very well having great material, but most of us do not know how to go about learning a language, other than what we’ve experienced in our conventional schooling.

    It’s a long posting, because there’s a lot to say. The fundamental principles are relatively easy, but they take some explaining. The concepts are very different from what you might be used to, so if you want to learn Thai (or anything) more effectively then please keep an open mind.

    A larger discussion will be posted on my website www.learnthaionline.com and you can participate in this discussion on the facebook discussion page.

    Why bother?

    Most of us think we’re only going to be in Thailand for a short while. So we don’t bother. Or we think that Thai isn’t an important language compared with Chinese or Spanish or French, say. But if you put it off then you will find yourself justifying why you never need to speak Thai and look for ways to do without. Thai is like sex in a way. If you’ve never experienced it then you won’t really miss it. Also, if you can only fumble about in the language then you won’t really enjoy it. Persevere and make it part of your daily routine – it’s like doing 10 minutes’ push ups every day – before you know it you’ll be having a lot of fun. For most people, Thai is not a priority in life – yet at some point we want to be able to communicate with Thais as equals.

    Unfortunately, most approaches to learning Thai seem to focus on mountains of material requiring hundreds of hours of study. Who has the time for that!? At least not normal, busy, sociable people like you and me LOL!

    The 'Rapid' approach is designed to fit into your busy lifestyle. It uses a number of Accelerated Learning techniques, mnemonics for memorization, and sports training concepts for developing fluency. But above all, it's a less-is-more approach, the idea being that you only need to master a carefully selected body of material to be reasonably conversant in everyday situations. At a more advanced level, this even applies to business and politics (because, although the vocabulary used is quite complicated, it's usually limited to a few hundred words that are used frequently).

    Who are the people who learn Thai?

    Well, most people don’t bother with Thai. They tailor their lives to get by in an English (or expat) enclave or bubble, with bilingual go-betweens (in the form of secretaries or girl/boyfriends) and avoid any deeper interaction with the locals. We can see this more obviously in the West, where foreigners (Spaniards, Chinese, Japanese, Turks, Pakistanis, Nigerians, etc.) will settle in the US or UK or Germany never being able to speak more than a smattering of the official language. We look down on these people and even try to kick them out of the country. (I wonder how the Thais view us, then… especially those of us who settle here long term, buy property, run a business and/or raise a family… but still cannot speak Thai!?)

    Perhaps initially enthusiastic, most of us give up when we realize how much time and effort is involved (understandably, especially how boring and arduous it is to learn the conventional way). I remember the grinding hours of learning French or German in the stuffy little classrooms with uninteresting fellow students. I learnt very little this way, never really getting fluent in German. I only became fluent in French through self-study and by using a number of psychological techniques that turned out to be very effective.

    There are a very small number of dedicated language students who treat languages as giant intellectual jigsaw puzzles and enjoy spending hours studying vocabulary and the intricacies of the language. I know one fellow – Dylan Haddock – who speaks Thai more fluently than a native speaker (if that's possible), but his idea of bedtime reading is the giant Royal Institute Thai Dictionary! I also know several polyglots who can speak a dozen or more languages fluently, but again their idea of fun is to spend every spare waking moment studying…

    Then there are the rest of us who do genuinely want to communicate with local people and get to know them and the culture through their own language. But we lead busy lives work-wise and socially, and pursue other interests. We don't want to spend more than an hour or so per week, yet we'd like to be relatively fluent and be able to interact naturally with local Thai people.

    So what’s the Rapid Approach then…?

    There are three phases. The first is the reading course: learn to recognize the letters and words, and sound them out accurately with the correct tone, without necessarily understanding what you are reading. I use quirky images and bizarre (sometimes obscene) stories to imprint the letters in your brain. But it’s not just about recognizing the letters; you also need to understand how words are formed and how the tones work. And it’s important to learn and practice to pronounce the sounds right, otherwise we sound like Donald Duck’s Siamese twin!

    It takes about 12 hours to achieve this, with another 4 hours to practice and consolidate what you've learnt. Some people quibble about this claim, saying that I require people to prepare for the course beforehand, so it's not really 12 (or 16) hours. Well, one hour's preparation is all that's required, so call me a liar and make it 13 hours of study time!

    I've discovered that in practice, the more you space out the study time, the better. I used to do this course in one day, but it was just too much. Even a weekend is very intensive. It's important to practice a bit whenever you can.

    And that's the key: the more actual reading you do – at the right level – the more intuitive it will become (just like driving or dancing: there's no point in just learning the how, you also have to do it, you have to go out in traffic and drive, or go out to dance parties and dance).

    The more intensively you follow the Rapid Method, the more important this is. I recommend to participants that they start reading simple texts the day after the course. Start by paying attention to the street signs, make a point of reading the Thai portion of the menu in a restaurant, go immediately on to the Everyday Thai for Beginners course (or something equivalent) and start reading simple texts.

    Learning-while-Reading is phase two. It will be a bit of a struggle at first, because it feels so slow and you have to look up virtually every word in a dictionary. That's what computer dictionaries are for – no need to learn the order of the alphabet and hunt around a printed dictionary – just type in the word and bob's your uncle!

    So call me a liar again, because to be able to read reasonably well takes maybe another 30-40 hours, maybe spread out over two months or even four months, whilst developing a knowledge of the language and acquiring a decent vocabulary (600 words will do, 1200 is better, and 2000 will be more than adequate for basic everyday situations and conversations). All of this doesn't include the 2-3 minutes every now and again throughout the day deciphering signs and notices, which sneakily adds up to maybe another 4 hours of reading practice per month. So long as you do it consistently, it doesn't feel like any effort – and your level of Thai improves dramatically. Plus you'll find that you can start reading relatively effortlessly within a month or so.

    The Everyday Thai for Beginners course is a book that you can buy from Kinokuniya, Asia Books or Amazon. I then supply you with an adapted Anki flashcard deck. It's also all in Thai, there is no Romanization or phonetics.

    This course can be studied alone, but I recommend finding a Thai teacher and getting one or two private lessons a week.

    If you choose to work with a Rapid-certified teacher, this will be your schedule: Work through one lesson on your own (50 minutes on day 1) just to familiarize yourself with the words and basic concepts. Then work through the vocabulary for that lesson using anki (10 minutes on day 1 and 2) followed by an hour on day 2 with the Thai teacher who should explain what’s going on grammatically, help you with your pronunciation and practice some simple conversations with you.

    You should spend the rest of the week doing 10 minutes a day of Anki and another 10 minutes a day of speech training. This is where you take a few sentences and repeat them over and over again in a loud and exaggerated way until you can say them quickly and accurately without thinking. It’s pure muscle training, getting your mouth and tongue to move automatically. Later, you can vary the pattern slightly: Can I have a cup of tea, Can I have a glass of milk, Can I have a bottle of beer, etc.…

    It helps to spend another hour with your Thai teacher around day 5, but this time just have fun. The Rapid teacher guides the conversation carefully using only the vocabulary and concepts that you’ve learnt up till that point. She also diagnoses and corrects your pronunciation, using the ‘speech training’ method.

    The following week, you then move on to the next lesson. There are 30 lessons, so that means seven months, but only spending 2 hours ‘studying’ (plus 1 hour doing vocab and an hour or two with speech training and conversation) per week. You get to experience several hours of language learning without realizing it, especially as you can slip a lot of into your day, while travelling or waiting or just as part of having a coffee/tea break. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll be able to say and understand in a few months, with so little effort.

    I would also recommend getting the Pimsleur Audio Thai Language course ($120 instead of around $200 from other suppliers). It’s a bit pricey and fairly dull, but is another excellent tool for speech training. To ‘accelerate’ it, I wouldn’t just listen to it (which is the Pimsleur approach)… it’s better to memorize the vocabulary as you go along (using Anki… and in fact, I will put together an Anki file for this in due course) – because then you can focus on pronunciation and understanding, without being concerned about vocabulary.

    The third phase (finally) is to follow my Thai Fluency course, which is based on a Thai novel called Sydney Remember… about a Thai girl who goes to visit her cousin in Sydney. It’s a great story and the writing style is straight forward and very colloquial. The course follows the same pattern as recommended for Everyday Thai. Read a lesson, understand it, internalize the vocabulary for that week, listen to the story and repeat (for ear and speech training) 15 minutes every day. After 50 lessons, one a week, and no more than 2 hours of ‘study’ each week, you will be pretty fluent in almost everything except academic, political or business situations.

    It’s slow in one sense, but it’s practical and realistic and doesn’t require hundreds (or thousands!) of hours of arduous study to achieve the same result. Most of us don’t have the time or the inclination to dedicate several hours every day to studying a language – especially when so little is retained and such a lot of boring and ineffectual repetition is required. The ‘Rapid’ approach is about studying a small amount of relevant material in an intelligent, focused manner and mastering it, so that it becomes imprinted in our minds.. Before you know it – you will be communicating with native Thais like one of them.

    Other Resources

    If you prefer mountains of material and have the time to work through them then there are other useful resources to try. HighSpeedThai also uses Anki and attempts to incorporate mnemonics in the reading phase (note: it's slightly flawed) but consists of 1000 pages of material as well as a line-by-line rendering of a typical Thai movie. LearnThaiPodcast is a series of mini video lessons with subtitles that develop your understanding step by step as you watch the series (try not to look at the Romanization). The reading method is taken (stolen?) from Read Thai in 60 Minutes, but I suggest you ignore it: it's okay, but wrong in a few crucial aspects. Then there's its4thai - a useful way to practice individual phrases (make sure you switch off the Romanized script in the settings). And finally, a great way to develop your listening comprehension is to attend the AUA classes. They're cheap and cheerful. My recommendation is to attend the level one below the one they suggest to you. Their (ALG) method is based on the theory that you have to 'stretch' into understanding the language by struggling in an immersion environment. It works, but very slowly. I think it's better to just go for the sheer fun of enjoying the antics of the (two) teachers and being able to easily understand what's been said.
    Last edited by rapidll; 26-09-2011 at 07:13 PM.

  2. #2
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    I learned to read the Japanese phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) in much the same way- it worked great and I can still remember them many years later.

  3. #3
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    In what circumstances would I say to a Thai: "U-Boat Aaah Tortoise Baaaaaht"?

    And what would be the response?


  4. #4
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    ^ Piss on the U-boat...a tortoise is worth more money?

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by harrybarracuda View Post
    In what circumstances would I say to a Thai: "U-Boat Aaah Tortoise Baaaaaht"?

    And what would be the response?

    O dont tempt me HArry

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    The most effective way may not be the most COST effective way for most people. Keep that in mind.

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    Thanks for the language post...good stuff.

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    What does it cost to be 'illiterate' or 'ignorant'?

    liveinlos, it isn't really helpful to be talking of costs - it's a real distraction.

    Yes, my reading course, or High Speed Thai or Learn Thai Podcast or Pimsleur, seem expensive compared with a 6-month 4-hour-a-week course at a conventional language school; and you can also learn by yourself using the very cheap Benjawan Becker books and a variety of free resources. Assuming you are a diligent learner and have plenty of time, that is...

    Yet I've spoken to many people who you'd think already have had plenty of time. Like the one man who's lived in Thailand for 14 years and has two Thai-speaking toddlers - he couldn't speak much or read at all before coming to my course. Or the women living in Pattaya for six years, not being able to speak or read Thai - dependent exclusively on their bilingual drivers and maids.

    Not to mention the man who came to my course after spending over 50,000 baht trying to learn Thai. He said he wished he knew about the Rapid Method earlier because it would have saved him a fortune.

    What about the 'farang' prices you pay for everything because you have to live in a condo or English-speaking moobaan?

    Finally, if you add up the total cost of following the Rapid approach, you'll find it doesn't cost nearly as much as doing it on the cheap.

    Don't worry so much about the cost. Being able to join in with Thai people in their country cannot be easily valued. But more importantly if you try to do it 'cheaply', it's probably never gonna happen at all - so why bother?

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    An excellent posting. Them what whine about the cost of your approach or any other method -- do they ever think [well, of course not] how much it costs them every day of their lives living in สยาม when they can't speak Thai and have to rely on others for all dealings? They're also failing totally to enjoy the finest attitude to Life I've ever come across.

  10. #10
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    Sleeper.

  11. #11
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    and you can also learn by yourself using the very cheap Benjawan Becker books and a variety of free resources. Assuming you are a diligent learner and have plenty of time, that is...
    i'm not knocking your courses or methods, everyone responds in their own way to different teaching methods, but i will step in and defend the becker book, the first book in particular is excellent, especially for reading. ........ and you dont need much time at all.

    i'd be interested to know if you have a quicker and simpler method than the becker method of learning the tone rules.

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    Cool stuff, I am about to learn Thai after 5 years living here - my excuse is that I always thought we'd be moving back to the USA but that's now not going to happen; I like it here, the kids like it here, and I can do my work here so...

    Where do I find a rapid style teacher in Chiang Mai?

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by taxexile
    i'd be interested to know if you have a quicker and simpler method than the becker method of learning the tone rules.
    Yep, ignore them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rapidll View Post
    liveinlos, it isn't really helpful to be talking of costs - it's a real distraction.

    Yes, my reading course, or High Speed Thai or Learn Thai Podcast or Pimsleur, seem expensive compared with a 6-month 4-hour-a-week course at a conventional language school; and you can also learn by yourself using the very cheap Benjawan Becker books and a variety of free resources. Assuming you are a diligent learner and have plenty of time, that is...

    Yet I've spoken to many people who you'd think already have had plenty of time. Like the one man who's lived in Thailand for 14 years and has two Thai-speaking toddlers - he couldn't speak much or read at all before coming to my course. Or the women living in Pattaya for six years, not being able to speak or read Thai - dependent exclusively on their bilingual drivers and maids.

    Not to mention the man who came to my course after spending over 50,000 baht trying to learn Thai. He said he wished he knew about the Rapid Method earlier because it would have saved him a fortune.

    What about the 'farang' prices you pay for everything because you have to live in a condo or English-speaking moobaan?

    Finally, if you add up the total cost of following the Rapid approach, you'll find it doesn't cost nearly as much as doing it on the cheap.

    Don't worry so much about the cost. Being able to join in with Thai people in their country cannot be easily valued. But more importantly if you try to do it 'cheaply', it's probably never gonna happen at all - so why bother?
    Why in the world isn't it helpful to talk about cost? Do you mean a real distraction because the price is so high or another distraction?

    Do you go buy or pay for anything regardless of cost? Does anyone? Gee, there is a beer for 14,000 baht, I think I will buy one because it doesnt do any good to reason why it cost 14,000 baht?

    1. First of all any person has to have the money, no matter what it is you or anyone else is selling, and it may be the greatest language course or products on earth but if no one can afford it, what good it is?

    2. Some farangs, you might be surprised, do not pay farang prices and live as far out in Isaan as you can get. Not everyone lives in a Condo or English speaking Moo-bahn now do they?

    3. For the few examples you give from customers singing the praises of your course, how many 100's or 1000's have read about it and never signed up for it? Why do you think this is?

    I think I touched on a nerve because you understand just how overpriced it is, yet will defend your opportunity to justify making money at any cost (which is your right and I am entitled to an opinion as well).

    Try some basic economics 101.

    100 people at 20 baht equals 2000 baht .

    10 people at 50 baht only equals 500 baht.

    And the really cool thing is?

    100 people will tell 100 more friends who are also potential new customers.

    Give that some thought and turn some of those 100's or 1000's of people that see your ads and walk right by into paying clients.

    in Thailand economics is everything.

    Understanding economics and demographics will give you the real picture of how many people can actually afford the price of anything anyone here is trying to sell

    Selling clothes in the market for 100 baht with slow success

    Try selling for 20 baht and watch what happens?

    Understanding the market and how much people can afford is key. It might be the greatest thing ever same as a Maclaren is a great car.

    In Isaan many farangs and their families live on 30,000 thb or less per month

    No matter how good your course it, it would be pretty hard pressed for them to come up with the COST wouldn't it? So cost to them might be pretty important and it is not a distraction.

    It is a point of view from someone that has seen your ads 100 times and walked right by

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    ^^^ That's a whole lot of words over a 2,700 Baht fee....

    You skip 2 visits to the short term place and learn Thai instead...

    Too expensive? Don't do it then.

    There's a 30 day money back guarantee too so hey - it's really not that big of a risk. I liked the free intro course. Even though the mental images for the characters are rather odd, it turns out it isn't so much about the specifics of the images as it is about imagining the images in the first place - e.g. it works. I was amazed I could remember all those characters in the intro course...

  16. #16
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    The best way to learn? Is to say what in Thai over and over again. You will learn...

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    Rapid Tones (if you can already read Thai the 'Becker' way)

    Quote Originally Posted by taxexile View Post
    i'd be interested to know if you have a quicker and simpler method than the becker method of learning the tone rules.
    Yes! Some people - who can already speak & read Thai - come to my workshop to learn the tones, once and for all. You can do it yourself, for free, if you wish.

    Here's how...

    Sign up for my free 'Starter Course' - the first lesson explains how to map our English tones (yes, we use tones too!) to the Thai ones. Also register for the free trial version of the Read Thai course and jump straight to the Tones Section.

    If you already know which letter is high, mid or low then just do the following quick conversion in your head:
    1. Girls are high class (obvious, really).
    2. Ladyboys are low class riff raff (sorry, not PC I know, but it's just a memory trick).
    3. Boys are kind of boring, uninteresting creatures - in the middle.
    The rest is very straight forward. It's a hellova lot simpler than the conventional system of complicated tables.

    A few subtleties to keep in mind if you aren't familiar with the Rapid System...
    1. There is no such thing as 'initial' and 'final' form of a consonant. Thais simply close down their mouths and throats at the end of a syllable without actually expressing any sound. So บ ("b") stays "b" at the end, except it's not actually sounded out.
    2. This even explains why ล/ร (l/r) becomes "n" at the end. Our l's and r's are pronounced by pushing our tongues at the extreme ends of our palate. The Thai (Asian) l/r are slightly on either side of the middle of the palate - which is why they sound so similar to our ears. Continue to say "l" while closing down your mouth inside and you'll notice it sounds like "n"...
    3. There are what I call 'singing sounds': these are any sound that can be continued/hummed/sung at the end... like ง (ng), น (n), า (aah), etc.
    4. Dead sounds are anything that gets cut off (or strangled). Try to continue to sound out the sound "k" and you'll find it impossible. (Don't do it for too long or you'll suffocate and die!!!!)
    It sounds complicated when written out like this (which is why some people prefer to come to a workshop). But it isn't really. These little mental tricks and somersaults are temporary crutches (like the mirror-signal-manoeuvre routine when you first learn to drive).

    In time, you won't do it consciously any more and you'll forget how you know the answer to a word-puzzle (which is what each word is when reading Thai).

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    Rapid Thai Teachers

    Quote Originally Posted by nikster View Post
    Where do I find a rapid style teacher in Chiang Mai?
    Actually, there is one Rapid-certified teacher so far and she happens to live in Chiang Mai.

    You are expected to learn to read first (either DIY online or by attending a workshop) and then sign up for the Everyday-based course - read the strategy outlined in the original posting above. And if you can already read via some other method then the same approach will also work for you.

    If you're not in Chiang Mai then she will conduct the lessons with you via Skype.

    (I did try to train some experienced Thai language teachers in Bangkok, but they said they couldn't really do it justice - primarily because they weren't fluent enough in English. Ironically, you need to know English really well in order to teach Thai the 'Rapid' way...)

    The cost is 10,000 baht for 30 weekly one-hour lessons (7 months), but we are finding that it's a lot more useful to have a second (conversation) hour around day 5. The cost for this is 18,000 baht. This is the Skype price. Please add 50 baht per lesson if she meets you in person, usually at your home or office.

    The price per hour is comparable with private one-to-one tuition, although no doubt you can easily find freelance Thai language teachers who are prepared to do it for less. In which case, you need to instruct your teacher to follow the strategy outlined above.

    For the price-sensitive, please note that it's a little pricier than a conventional group class consisting of maybe 100 hours. I'm confident that you will learn a great deal more in half the time if you follow my recommended approach.
    Last edited by rapidll; 27-09-2011 at 06:45 PM.

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    debate about the most effective way of learning Thai

    I responded to Your very first words, "Iím hoping to stimulate a debate about the most effective way of learning Thai" with several replies and all were deleted.
    Thank you very much mods & RapidLL.... It appears this site maybe biased towards paying sponsors.... It also appears you only want a 'one-sided' debate.

  20. #20
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    in that respect this site and the execrable thai visa site are remarkably similar.

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    People with hearing loses...those that hear P T Z etc all as the same sound. How do you teach them the different sounds - They sure can't hear it??

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    are you contributing? or just griping...?

    Quote Originally Posted by PeterPiper View Post
    I responded with several replies and all were deleted. It appears this site maybe biased towards paying sponsors.... It also appears you only want a 'one-sided' debate.
    Peter, I have no control over who says what - and I get an awful lot of flack from skeptics at thaivisa and other sites too. Understandably, because the concepts differ radically from conventional schooling philosophy (where it's mostly about academic accuracy and completeness than what's relevant to the individual).

    But it seems that your comments (Learn to read Thai in a day!) tend not to be at all helpful, nor further the debate regarding effective suggestions for learning a new language.

    So the moderator has obviously decided that your comments aren't really contributing to the discussion.
    (PM me if you like and I'll try to answer your genuine queries directly.)

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by harrybarracuda
    In what circumstances would I say to a Thai: "U-Boat Aaah Tortoise Baaaaaht"?
    Hopefully behind closed doors in private away from the men in white coats

  24. #24
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    It's time to wake this thread up: can we hear from some Rapid grads?

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    There is a physiological equation to consider in learning a new language. That is age of the individual. When you are young, before your late teens, learning a new language can be done in only a few weeks. A child's brain is like a sponge. Absorbing anything and everything. As you get older it becomes more difficult. I have been told that trying to learn a new language in your 60s or 70s is nearly impossible and at best extremely difficult. My understanding is that the portion of your brain, that allows for learning something like a language, diminishes so greatly by the time you are a senior citizen. Don't know all of the medical reasons for this.

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