Interview Compilation: What Advice Would You Give to Students of the Thai Language?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

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What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?…

This has got to be my favourite question in this series. As the advice given is many and varied, I won’t even attempt to summarise.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Aaron: You can learn to speak Thai. You don’t need to be a genius. You do need perseverance. For some, it helps to have a good teacher. Others learn with CDs and a good book. If you want to start by learning to write, all I can say is good luck! If you want to start by learning to speak, you will need a book with transliteration (Thai written with English letters or symbols). The transliteration must have tone marks. You must have sound that follows the book. There are many books to choose from. Frankly, I think it’s beneficial to have several books for learning Thai. You might prefer one transliteration system over another. Whatever tools you use, you will need to break the tonal barrier. It simply cannot be avoided. Put some effort into tone pronunciation right from the start.

Not everyone learns in the same way. Learn at your own pace. Seek quality, not quantity. Remember, the turtle reaches the finish line before the rabbit.

Dtòw mah tĕung sên chai gàwn gràdtàai
เต่า มา ถึง เส้น ชัย ก่อน กระต่าย
Literally: Turtle come arrive line victory before rabbit.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Aaron: Well, I still consider myself very much a student, however, my advice would be:

  • Learn to read,
  • Find your Thai voice and…
  • Never ever ever think it’s the listener’s fault for not understanding. They don’t understand because you are saying it wrong, lose the ego and swallow hard and try again 🙂

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Adam: Make as many Thai friends as possible and be willing to teach them English in exchange for them helping you with your Thai.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Andrew: 60 million Thais can speak it. You’re no different. Ditch the excuses and get on with it.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Celia: Get a speaking partner, who will correct you.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Chris Pirazzi: One thing I’ve discovered is absolutely crucial but left out of nearly all “programs” of Thai study: on their very first day of learning Thai, students should sit down with the teacher and go over all the sounds of Thai (where “sounds” means consonants, vowels, and tones), independent of how the sounds are written in Thai script. The students should sit there and verbally drill the tricky sounds with the teacher until the students are able to make and understand all the sounds that differ between Thai and English.

The teacher should critique the sounds made by the students and refine the students’ pronunciation until the students can make each sound correctly (i.e. until the teacher, as a native Thai listener, can distinguish which sound the student is trying to make). So in some sense, the teacher is acting as a “voice trainer” for the students.

The teacher should then say words to the students and verify that the students can correctly recognize and distinguish each sound that they hear. If it takes 5 sessions to do this, so be it: it’s worth it.

The teacher must drill not only the 5 tones and all the Thai vowels including the tricky อื vowel, but also make sure that the students can correctly make and distinguish b/bp/p and d/dt/t and the other consonant contrasts that English lacks.

Note that it’s even important for the teacher to drill sounds that English already has, because many sounds have different distributions in Thai. For example, even though the b, bp, and p sounds occur in various English words, the English-native student is not used to thinking of them as three separate sounds instead of just two as in English.

But in Thai, unlike English, you can have 3 different words that differ only by b, bp, and p, like ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) and ภัย pai (danger).

In order to satisfy the students’ desire for instant gratification, the teacher can drill the consonant, vowel, and tone sounds using real words, as in these examples (from the intro of the 2009 Paiboon dic):

ดี dii (good) ตี dtii (hit) ที tii (turn)
เดา dao (guess) เตา dtao (stove) เทา tao (gray)
ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) ภัย pai (danger)
เบ็ด bèt (fishhook) เป็ด bpèt (duck) เผ็ด pèt (spicy)
นา naa (rice field) งา ngaa (sesame)
ถุง tǔng (bag) ถึง tʉ̌ng (arrive)
กลัว gluua (scared) เกลือ glʉʉa (salt)
ซี sii (letter C), สี่ sìi (four), สี sǐi (color)

But the focus of the instruction for both student and teacher during this period must be on the sounds, not the words or meanings or grammar. The student will naturally be itching to move on to whole phrases like “Where is the bar?” and “How much is that pad thai?” but the teacher must guide (force) the students to focus on sound first.

I discovered how important this was more or less by accident. The very first day I went to the Thai class at the California Thai temple, I happened to be the only student, so I sat down with the teacher and we drilled sounds because that’s what’s on the first page of “Thai for Beginners.” It has helped me immensely.

Most students want to “jump ahead” to learning whole words and phrases right away, but in most cases I have observed (and I’ve now observed hundreds of people learning Thai at the temple), this impatient behavior seriously damages their long-term ability to function in the Thai language. This is because the students spend the first few months of instruction learning words incorrectly: many students are not even aware that ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go), and ภัย pai (danger) are different words in Thai until long after they have supposedly “learned” these words. This makes it nearly impossible for them to understand a Thai person correctly or speak the words so that a Thai person can understand.

By the time they realize that they should have studied the sounds first, it’s already too late: they’ve accumulated a huge dictionary of incorrect Thai in their head! It takes much more work for a student to un-do damaged learning than it would have taken to learn the sounds correctly in the first place.

For students without access to native Thai speakers, it’s still worth spending a long initial period familiarizing themselves with the sounds via available websites and software. That’s part of the reason I made the pages about Thai sounds on my hobby site

As a side note, it does not matter what system of transcription the teacher uses during this initial period, as long as the system writes each different Thai sound using a different symbol (that is, as long as the transcription system is complete). The focus is on sound, not writing. The students should not obsess over the English(-like) spelling that the transcription system uses.

The teacher must tell the students right at the beginning not to rely on the transcription system as a guide for how to say each word: instead, they must use their ears as the sole guide, and regard each written transcription symbol as just that: a symbol representing the sound they just heard.

With this advice, the student will be able to avoid the enormous pitfalls and wastes of time that have plagued so many students who obsess over systems of transcription.

In theory, the teacher could even discard transcription altogether and start with Thai script during this initial period (in which case the student is guaranteed not to make comparisons with English spelling!) but of course the problem with this is that Thai script has so many ways to write the same sound, leading the student to unnecessary confusion while the focus is on learning the sounds of Thai.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Christy: Speak, speak, speak. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Make mistakes and then keep trying until you get it right. Immerse yourself in the Thai language and culture as much as you can. Ask for help and ask questions when you don’t know or understand something. Accept from the beginning that it’s not an easy language to speak and don’t expect immediate results, but do work hard to make as much progress as you can. Don’t give up.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Colin: Language is a living thing. Learning it in a lab in a foreign country is like putting gas in the car but not going anywhere. It needs Thai input from living people. If you can’t come here, find a Thai. Offer language exchange to foreign students. Find a Skypemate. You can’t speak Thai until you feel it breathe.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Daniel: Don’t be intimidated – just get the basics and make a daily (thrice daily) effort to get out and engage with people at street level.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners David: I would advise students to spend as much time looking and listening, and as little time speaking as possible. It makes sense to me that the more we’re talking, the less we’re able to hear, and if we want to understand Thai, we need to be listening to Thais as much as we can.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners David Smyth: Become literate. Being able to read Thai makes it much easier to take responsibility for your own learning. It also shows Thais that you are serious about learning the language so they are more likely to want to help you to achieve your goals. Not being literate imposes severe limitations on your opportunities to make progress.

  • Make friends with Thais.
  • Use tv/radio/internet etc.
  • Accept mistakes as a natural part of language learning.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Everyone has good and bad days.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Don: Do not use transliteration. It is grossly inadequate to the features of Thai. Do use transcription – IPA style – as it is (at least) capable of revealing certain important features not visible in the Thai orthography. Use detailed written accounts of the language – the kind that require a lot of study. Make sure that when using a teacher, that the teacher is not offering some quick-fix approach. Reject any teacher that uses transliteration. Understand that learning a language is a major task, and that there is nothing more complex that human language – whether humanly devised or natural. Human language, unlike animal language, is capable of an infinite number of utterances. Machine translation from language to language is far short of perfection and may possibly be inherently incapable of ever achieving complete reliability.


Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Doug: Use (relatively) formal methods that ensure broad exposure to vocabulary. Don’t neglect grammar. Spend as much time on task as possible.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Gareth: Don’t give up.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Glenn: It’s probably been said before, and may fall on deaf ears, but: learn to read and write!

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Grace: Stick with it. Don’t be shy. The most important this about learning a language is really wanting to do it in the first place, having the right intention and determination are essential.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Hamish: Don’t fear the tones, learn to read, and most important … Use it or lose it.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Hardie: Crack the book, crack a smile, and reduce your dependency on English-only Thais for your social interactions.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Herb: Again, people are so varied that it’s hard to say something useful to everyone. But just to throw out a few ideas:

  1. Work on being accurate as well as fluent, particularly at the beginning when you’re laying a foundation for later learning. But live with mistakes. They’re part of life and part of everyone’s language learning. The key is to learn from them, get some feedback, and try to do a little better next time.
  2. Just about everything in Thai is learnable if you stick with it long enough. If you can learn to do something correctly, then take the time to do it right and take satisfaction in it. Don’t be sloppy in pronunciation if you can sound better. Learn to gradually sharpen your vocabulary by learning the finer distinctions between synonyms and other words within a similar range of meaning.
  3. Reading is really valuable for developing a good vocabulary and for getting information. But (for me at least) it can be a distraction early on from the work of learning how to converse well. However, once you have a good foundation in the spoken language, read, read, read.
  4. For me, learning Thai is for interacting with Thai people. If I go to class, I want to use the lesson by talking with a Thai person about the topic so I can use the vocabulary and structure I just learned. If I read something, I want to talk to a Thai person about what I read and get their opinion.
  5. Once proficiency starts to increase or employment requires that Thai be used, pay attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it. Don’t be afraid to back up and try again if you sense there was a mistake or feel that you could have said something in a better or more appropriate way. And sharpen your awareness of what you are saying and what others are saying to you or to one another. The better your awareness and the more you develop sharp listening, the more differences you will notice between your speech and native Thai speech. Take one or two of those noticed differences and work on them, putting them into your own speech. This all takes time and effort, but it provides a good way to continue to improve.
  6. Keep a sense of humor. I have made some hilarious gaffes in learning Thai, as have most of my friends, but I am able to laugh at myself, admit my ignorance and slowness in learning, and ask how I should have said it. I never turn down a correction. Once I was in the middle of giving a talk to a group of Mien people, and a lady interrupted me, calling out, “That’s not the way to say it.” I stopped, thanked her very much, asked what the correct way was, backed up and put the correction in, and then tried to regain my thoughts to go on with the talk. Later I thanked the lady and encouraged her to interrupt me any time I said something wrong. If I had frowned or disregarded her comment, I would not only have lost the opportunity to learn something but she would likely never again have offered another correction.
  7. Finally, in language learning, as in other types of skill development, time-on-task is very important. The more one sticks with the language consistently, talking with Thai people, making an effort to read, learn vocabulary, and learn Thai customs and how one should act in various situations, the greater will be the positive payoff.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Hugh: Work hard, every day. Don’t give up. And no matter how old you are you can still learn. If I thought I would go for just one day without learning something new then I would want to leave this life and go on to what ever comes next. Learning new stuff just becomes a little harder as we get older. But we should not get discouraged just because it is hard. In fact, if something were easy, then why do it in the first place? The fun comes when we try something difficult and we succeed. They say keeping your brain active is one way to stave off senility. Well, if you are studying Thai then you’ll have nothing to worry about.

The Thais have a saying “Phak chee loy naa”, literally meaning “the coriander floating on top”. It means that all you see here is the surface of things, the pretty adornments floating on top of the Thai soup. The basic meaning is “We are inscrutable. There is lots about us that we won’t show you.” If you want to know what the soup is really made of then you need to know the language that the recipe is in. When you do, you’ll see that there are lots of goodies in the soup that you would have never been aware of if all you saw was that floating green stuff.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Ian:

  • Never give up. If you feel you aren’t moving forwards, try a different approach or switch to something else (from conversation to reading or vice versa).
  • Don’t confuse learning to read with speaking or understanding. You learn to read to gain the tools you need for conversation. When you learn to read, you needn’t even worry about what the words mean – just as long as you can read them and know the sounds.
  • If the vocabulary is useful and relevant, by all means learn it. If it’s not, don’t bother because it will only slow you down.
  • Some people learn faster than others, so don’t be disheartened if classmates seem to be getting there faster than you. It’s not a race and it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Jim: I would say it’s important to learn how to say things exactly the way Thais say them. Don’t try to learn a lot of vocabulary then make up your own sentences. Also, don’t feel that using ka or krup is demeaning. Use it a lot, especially with older people and even at first when you talk to people your own age. People in Thailand really appreciate politeness. Don’t hang out with foreigners all the time.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Joe: For Thai, I think it’s as important to study Sanskrit and Pali as it is for a student of English literature to study Greek and Latin, to get to the roots of a lot of the vocabulary. Plus you can have fun translating your Thai friends’ last names for them (the Thai interpretations are often incorrect)!

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners John: A few things. I know it can seem tedious, but back off on trying to learn a lot of vocabulary at the start and focus on reading and writing. Once you have a grasp on the consonants, vowels, tone marks, etc. learning vocabulary becomes a lot easier and you have a much better shot of nailing the pronunciations.

Also, wean yourself off of using English transliterations as soon as possible. While they may seem helpful in the beginning, they quickly become a crutch and will ultimately slow you down. Once you learn how to read Thai, you’ll realize how inadequate English transliterations are in capturing the actual pronunciation of many Thai words. Don’t get me started on the supremely annoying (to American English speakers, anyway) of using “r” in transliterations like larb, Sathorn, gor-gai, etc…

I know there are some notable exceptions, but when you start to learn Thai as an adult, I don’t believe you can be fluent and speak clearly without knowing how to read the language.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Jonas: The main advice I would give would be to not fear the “giants” of the language—the main “giants” being the tones, the written language, the sentence structure, and the fact that Thai is from a totally different language group with scarcely any similarities to Germanic or Romance languages that Westerners are familiar with.

I think that while many people are wrestling with these giants and trying to grasp the concepts to the point of giving up, other people are just out there talking to people, being attentive to speech patterns and usage and end up able to communicate even better “pit pit, took took” (sometimes right, sometimes wrong). It is not always as hard as it seems, you just have to “think you can”. If you can’t manage the tones, don’t worry about it right away. Most things are understood from context anyway.

After a certain amount of exposure to the language it is good to go back and try to put labels on some of the things you have learned through language books and courses and then you can progress a lot more quickly, but if you start out trying to dissect the language with theory and terminology it could be much more frustrating. Some people say learning new languages the way we learned our mother tongue is the best method, and I tend to agree—it’s called the immersive method—putting yourself in situations that force you to learn the language.

Oh, and don’t worry about if they laugh at you. In Thailand being laughed at is not an insult, but rather they would say they are laughing because it is “nah rak” (cute), and you can take heart in that you brought someone a smile!

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Jonathan: Make Thai friends and try to use it all the time.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Justin: Don’t be afraid to fall on your face. The first day in Thailand I had a guy laugh at me every moment I talked. Every time I felt cocky about my Thai I would be reminded that I still have much to learn. Thai people can be very direct sometimes. You just need to brush it off and keep trying.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Larry: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all do it.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Luke: Study, study, study. Don’t give up, get as much exposure to the language as possible, learn to read, learn to write, talk to people, make friends, make enemies (if you can speak enough Thai to say something that pisses someone off, you’re doing great).

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Marc: Stick with it! It’s difficult in the beginning, but the more you practice and use the language the easier it gets.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Marcel: Are you committed? Then never despair: it all builds up somehow. If you are not, then mai pen rai, just have fun, they’ll like you anyway for trying and for being (to their ears) funny.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Mark: Persist.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Martin: Remember, Thai, just like any other language, has correct and polite forms, and guidelines for good, “educated” style. If you are serious about staying in the place, a little depth will go a long way. Most Thais appreciate any effort to learn their language, so do it right and they will love you 🙂

  • Learn to read and write.
  • Get decent dictionaries, including a Thai-Thai dictionary like that of the Royal Institute.
  • When you have mastered the basics, have a look at the compendiums of grammar called “Lak Phasa Thai”.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Nils: Learn basic questions and answers to begin with. Get out there and try to implement what you have as you are studying it. Doing a task or even helping others learn is a great way to achieve good retention. Roman script can be useful when learning Thai, but it can never fully portray Thai pronunciation as Thai writing, so dip into the Thai writing system right away starting with a few basic words, the alphabet, the consonants, the consonant classes and tonality.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Paul: You need to realise that you will improve if you keep on practicing; there will always be improvements. It is like a journey, but some of us have further to travel. We will all make it to the end if we keep on going; the only thing that can stop us is the end of our lifespan. The fact is though, anyone who spends enough time learning Thai will become fluent.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Peter: Ya wanta know the way to Carnegie Hall, kid? Practice, practice, practice. Oh, and get a Thai girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, whatever your flavor, but don’t speak any English with ‘em. Take some classes, do all the things I suggested before. For about 10 years, then you’ll have a good start. Go for it. Don’t give up. Be humble and realize this isn’t for sissies.

If you only want to learn enough to get around by yourself, that shouldn’t be that hard, but in all cases, be clear about what your goal is, and how close you actually are to it.

And if you’re in Bangkok, seriously ambitious to learn, and can afford the time and money, you probably can’t do better than the Chula intensive Thai course, check it out.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Rick: First, motivation is everything when it comes to learning Thai (learning anything, in fact). Keep your motivation alive. Motivation can often be stimulated when you can see visible progress.

Second, to be flexible and aware in all aspects of your study. For example, there is a lot of research which shows that we learn best if we study at a level just above our level of competence; not too easy and not too hard. So a complete novice would get nothing out of watching a ‘lakorn’ on TV, or reading the Thai translation of ‘Gorky Park’. Start with a Doraemon comic and the AUA videos.

But this also means we need to constantly adjust our studies as we improve; we need to keep challenging our level of competence.

Third, an incredibly powerful method of learning is to force yourself to *think* in Thai. It’s a bit like the visualisation process that elite sportsmen are trained to use. The brain cannot readily tell the difference between an imagined conversation and a real one, so that the Thai you are mouthing to yourself is more likely to be on tap when you are required to produce it. And, even if it feels a little weird, it’s less embarrassing than making a hash of a real conversation.

Fourth, have a variety of learning methods and recycle them. That is, you may have watched ‘lakorn’ shows and given up on them because they were too hard. After six months or so, try again, and you may be surprised to find how you have improved. There is a visible pointer to your progress. Same with someone whose conversation you used to struggle to understand, or a newspaper you had trouble with.

Fifth (although this is a very personal view): Don’t ‘passive listen’. You may think you’re passively absorbing Thai when you have the TV on in the background as you check your e-mail, but in my case, this kind of passive listening simply taught me to switch off and ignore spoken Thai as a meaningless background noise — exactly the opposite of what I needed.

If I listen now, I make an active effort to understand what is going on. Even better, at my current level, is to download an MP3 from VOA Thai News, stick the cans on and listen to it a few times, writing down what I think I have heard. (VOA has transcripts as well, so I can check how well I am doing).

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Rikker: If you’re serious about learning Thai, tackle the written language. It unlocks the world.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Ryan: Learn to read right away. Start by learning all the sounds of the language. Then you won’t be fooled into poor pronunciation by bad transliteration schemes. Reading and writing ability in Thai will really help your speaking skills more than you’d think.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Scott: Do not give up. I know it sounds silly (and obvious), but the more you can practise, the better. Most importantly, do not get put off when people don’t understand a single word you say – Thai is a strictly tonal language, and people who are not used to speaking with foreigners will not understand anything you say if you aren’t using the exact right tones and intonation at exactly the right time. It’s not your ‘fault’ that you speak using the wrong tone, because you are not used to speaking a language where it is relevant – and it’s not their ‘fault’ for not understanding you, because their brain is not tuned to listen to their language spoken with the wrong tones. Remember that people brought up speaking Central Thai will usually not understand a thing that someone in Isaan is saying (because the tones are all shifted).

So whatever you do, try and try again to speak. As much as you can. Most Thais are very keen to help you speak their language, because so few foreigners can, and so many give up before their brain has had a chance to adjust to speaking a tonal language. (Also, remember that English is also a slightly tonal language, kind of – the words PROject and proJECT have two entirely different meanings).

When you go to the local noodle shop, try ordering in Thai. Try speaking to people you meet in shops. Whenever you have the chance to speak to someone, do.

Also be aware that if you hold a conversation with someone and they say how well you speak Thai, it means they can understand you but it’s still pretty terrible! When nobody comments on it, that’s when you know you’re doing well. And no, I am not quite there yet!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Stephen: Find people who don’t speak English and talk to them. I hear foreigners say in Bangkok they don’t have to use Thai. I’m not sure where they go, but I can easily go outside and find many people who can’t speak a word of English. Start out by buying your morning coffee from a street vendor instead of Starbucks. Strike up a simple conversation. It will be slow at first but after a month you’ll realise how much you improved and you will have met other people in the neighbourhood who will want to talk to you too.

Learning songs is also a great way to learn, and one that I haven’t been doing to be honest. The couple of times I have learned a song I’ve seen how much faster it sinks in. Again I think it’s to do with the evolutionary mechanisms of our brain. That’s why songs are so important to us and why you can still remember songs from your childhood from historical lessons to toy commercials!


Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Stickman: Learn to read and write before you do anything – at least if you have any notions of reaching a decent level.

Consider studying at a language school in a classroom environment. You will be amazed at how much progress you will make in a short time.

I learned more in one month in a language school studying full-time – which meant 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, than I did in my first two years in Thailand conversing with the locals in various environments.

Given that many Westerners in Thailand are retired or taking time out – and so have a lot of time on their hands – studying the language formally really is a great way to spend your time, progress with the language and of course, make some new friends.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Stu: Don’t compare apples with oranges. Thai is not English… However, just because it looks different, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarities. Up to 60% of Modern Thai has roots in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language as is English. There are some amazing similarities that are ‘masked’ through the ‘different look’ of the language. Once you start to scratch the surface a little you’ll realize that the things that you thought were difficult – writing, tones etc, aren’t that difficult at all. They’re just different.

Don’t be put off learning Thai just because you’ve had a bad experience with Thai teachers. Just like many native speakers of English, many Thais don’t have a deep understanding of their own language. 

When learners of Thai ask a question like:

‘Why are there 3 consonant classes?’
‘Why does the high tone actually rise?’

the response is normally something like:

‘There are 3 consonant classes – High, Middle and Low. The High class has ‘x’ number of letters, the middle class has ‘x’ number of letters etc etc.
‘you are a Farang, you don’t need to know that’.

The fact is that for most of them, they’ve never learned ‘why’ themselves.

One good formula is to have several different people that you learn from. Learn something ‘advanced’ from one of them. Something that a normal learner wouldn’t normally know. After that, go and try it out by just dropping it into a conversation with another Thai that you consult with. They will be impressed and think that your level is higher than what it really is. Then ask them to teach you something new. Keep rotating around your ‘Thai Consultants’ with new terms, new words and slang until your proficiency catches up with their perceived proficiency for you. It’s a great way to get past the ‘farang’ Thai that farang get taught and sound more native-like, not to mention keep motivated and positive about learning after each positive impression you make.

Think LOUD … full of colours, sounds, emotions. Make crazy associations and then link them with a system that you can recall.

Know what ‘pushes your buttons’ then wrap the language up in whatever that is.

Excitement is the best memory technique.

What other advice do you give to students of the Thai language?

Have FUN with the language – learn as much as you can about the language as you learn to speak the language. 

Listen and observe – don’t use Thai as a vehicle to ‘say what you want to say’ to Thai people. Learn the stuff that they want to talk about and use the language to learn about them.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Terry: Speak confidently, even if you are not. Speaking tentatively will inevitably skew your tones. Get into reading as soon as possible so you can see how a word is really pronounced. Before that, find materials that use a real phonetic alphabet. Trying to represent Thai in English is hopeless. As someone else pointed out, vowel length is very important in Thai, ie., it’s not just the tones. Listen constantly, even if you don’t understand what is being said. Use the media. I learned to read the newspaper very quickly and I watch Thai TV everyday, especially news shows.

Learning Thai dialects: First, get your central Thai down solid. Then you should realise that the tone changes in Thai dialects are very systematic. For example, take words beginning with a mid consonant with a maithoo that don’t have stop finals, e.g. baan (house) and dai (can). They will both shift in tone from central Thai in exactly the same way. Somewhere there is a chart of about 15 representative words that will allow you to determine all the tone shifts in a particular dialect.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Thomas: If you really want to speak Thai then stop speaking English right now!

Make a list of everything that is absolutely essential to your daily vocabulary. Then go out and learn how to say those things perfectly.

Forget the rest for right now.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Tod: DON’T get discouraged, don’t give up, and don’t put the idea in your mind that Thai is too hard for you to learn! It does take time, constant practice, and there is no magic method of learning Thai, no magic pill you can take and suddenly start speaking in tongues, err in Thai. The Thais have the same idiomatic expression we have in English; “Learn from your mistakes”, but theirs is ผิดเป็นครู (mistakes are your teacher).

You’re gonna make mistakes MANY many mistakes! You’re gonna say things which will make the Thais laugh out loud at you, but it’s part of the process. Get over yourself, laugh about the mistakes and take them in stride as its all part of the process in learning Thai.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Tom: As has been advised in the previous interviews, dedicate a lot of time (preferably early on in the learning process) to learning the tones. Listen to examples of tone pronunciation over and over and over again. Drill them into your brain and practice them every day. Find a good language course with tone examples and listen to it in your car, on the bus, before you go to bed etc.

Communicate with Thais as much as possible. If you don’t live in Thailand, watch Thai films even if you can’t understand anything, the important thing is to immerse yourself in the language, eat, sleep and breathe it, especially at the outset. If you live in Thailand you are surrounded by possibilities, go out and chat with a noodle vendor, a taxi driver etc. make learning more interesting and fun.

Learn to read Thai. It is absolutely fundamental to successful Thai language learning. Do not be intimidated by those alien-looking squiggles. At first I thought learning how to read Thai would be impossible, but when it begins to make sense to you it is very rewarding. Be methodical, learn the consonants in their consonant classes; learn the simple vowels first etc etc. There are now many good Thai language courses that teach how to read and write effectively. If you live in Thailand and cannot read Thai you are surrounded by things that do not make sense: signs, posters, books etc. In my view learning to read Thai is the principal factor contributing to successful Thai language learning.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners Vern: Patience is indicated. I don’t know many people that picked up Thai immediately. Actually I know one girl that really picked up conversational Thai in 18 months to a very high degree. For the rest of us it takes a few years of sustained effort. Speaking Thai everyday is the best thing you can do to progress faster.

There is a great ebook I just became aware of because he decided to let me help him sell it on one of my sites. Learning the Thai Alphabet in 60 Minutes is that ebook. Have a look, you won’t be disappointed – as crazy as it sounds, it really delivers. I’d call it maybe 2 hours though

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…


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