How Do You Motivate Yourself to Study Thai?

What is Your Motivation to Study Thai?

This article was originally posted on

  • Get your FREE Thailand Cheat Sheet ​by entering your email below. The ​Sheet, based on ​our experience with living and working in ​Thailand for 10+ years, shows you how to ​save time and money and ​gives you the tools the thrive in Thailand.

Are some languages seriously harder than others… or…

According to the graphic below, for English speakers Thai is in the medium range of difficulties at 44 weeks. The hardest languages to learn are double that at 88 weeks. And apparently it takes a mere 23-24 weeks to learn Italian.

But seriously, I believe they have the graph all wrong.

MOTIVATION should be in huge letters at the top of their factor list. Because without motivation, the other talking points don’t mean a thing – and the 23-24, 44, and 88 week estimates turn into unattainable dreams.

So, what do you do when you run out of steam to study Thai? How do you revive your language learning passion?

Do you listen to Thai music?
Which singers, which songs?
Do you watch Thai movies?
Which actors, what movies?
Do you (gasp) watch Thai tv?
Which programs?


And while I’m at it… what is YOUR motivation for learning Thai?

23 thoughts on “How Do You Motivate Yourself to Study Thai?”

  1. Hi Rick. Good suggestions! I’m also a huge fan of Kristy Gibson. She’s talented, comes across as a genuinely kind person, and lovely to look at to boot.

  2. I try to keep motivated by finding new ways of learning. For example, I used to do translations of VOA Thai podcasts, which were all very worthy subjects with plenty of solid vocabulary.

    When that began to flag, I switched to reading the celeb gossip in Khao Sot which is totally different style and gives me back that novelty feeling.

    And of course there is the radio (94.5FM in Bangkok) for listening to luuk thung, which I like, all the way from the serial depression of Mike Piromporn to the gritty regionalism of Jintara Poonlap and the powerful voice of Kristy Gibson (yes, really).

    There’s always a new avenue to stimulate your learning.

  3. Great find. I really like the graphics. Ah, but anyway, yeah, motivation. Just go outside, anytime you wish you could communicate better is my motivation.

    My family too. And understanding my students. Humor is important to me. When I can understand their jokes I feel Tops! 😉

    I wrote about this (sort of) which I will attach here: Learning Thai “ah-ha” Moment. So for me the big thing is learning Thai through my passion which is writing (reading will come!). My tutor has remarked how much better I am too so I know this is working!

  4. Snap, guilt is a very good reason 😀 And now that you mention it, some of their other numbers look suspicious too. I’ll have to contact them to see what’s up.

    Keith, I know people who managed it in a year so 7+ is a bit ott. And I’m thinking that you need to include all the hours you spend practicing, doing homework, and even just absorbing the sounds of Thai (ok, maybe only half marks for those). It all adds up. Hope. Hope. Hope.

  5. PS. There are nearly 300 living languages in China. Some are so different that our Chinese tour guide couldn’t understand a word that our Chinese oarswomen was saying/singing.

    If they are referring to Mandarin as Chinese, a survey (of 500,000 people in China) completed a few years ago, revealed that just over half can communicate (at least) orally in Mandarin.

    The population of China at the moment is around 1.33 billion, so let’s accept that the figure of 1.2 billion is a little old…it still don’t add up!

  6. The figures worry me. 1110 lesson hours! I have 3 one hour lessons a week, that’s 7.4 (ish) years to become reasonably competant in Thai! Now that is demotivating!

  7. What keeps me motivated? Guilt, and fear of forgetting what I’ve learnt!

    Youtube lessons, online forums and Thai Movies with subtitles are three of my most used resources. However, with the latter, I’m never quite sure about the accuracy of the translation.

    I’m kind of surprised Vietnamese doesn’t get a mention in the medium or hard category.

  8. Hey Josh, I have western Jazz (I play it when the man isn’t around). Mushy girly stuff? 😀 Nah (amongst others) I like the old-fashioned music. I go for the sultry types, with meaningful crooning.

  9. Hi Catherine,

    1110 hours in 44 weeks is nearly 4 hours a day, 7 days a week. Who on earth has that sort of time; no wonder my Thai is stalled.

    To answer your questions:

    I like traditional (orchestral) Thai music but it is very hard to find. I have a few Loso CDs but don’t listen to them much now and I have the ubiquitous Carabao CDs and DVDs but whenever I play them a fight breaks out outside our hose. So music wise it is my Western favourites, but also Teresa Teng ) who died in Thailand so that counts, doesn’t it.

    I do watch Thai movies but have to buy DVDs as we don’t get movie channels on our TV, (I don’t think we have, I am frightened to scan through all the channels in case I happen upon a screaming woman in a Thai soap or the ‘ta-da’ drum roll at the end of a ‘comedy’ show’s punchline – which has cost us a few TVs in the past). But I don’t usually watch them again which I do for some Western movies. But nearly all our movie DVDs have Thai subtitles, should I switch them on. I like the ghost movies like Shutter; (which is all of them I think except the kick boxing ones, the other category).

    Thai TV? Never, ever. Not even for the news. Thai TV is a reason to emigrate from Thailand not a reason to stay and learn its language. I would rather be forced to have a five hour dinner with Thaksin with the condition I couldn’t say the word meglomaniac even once, even under my breath.

    But one thing does help. Lists, like your 100 phrases. I look at that and think, well I know nearly all of them and find I remember easily the couple I didn’t know or had forgotten. I then look at one of the longer lists like Hugh posted and tick off those I already know and think, well I am not doing so bad after all. Then, inspired, I get my books out again, open them up, get a glass of wine, put on some Teresa Teng, close them and listen to the music.

  10. Jazz typically won’t have lyrics, if that’s what you are asking for. If you just like jazz in general and don’t need lyrics, then I can give you a list of about 300 CDs you absolutely must have in your library. I’m quite a jazzophile.

    If you are into the mushy, girly Thai song stuff, I would suggest buying some OST CDs or even some of the CDs from TV shows like “The Star” and the other American Idol-like contest shows. Plenty of sappy mush-mush music on those! ^_^

  11. Amy, great to hear that these posts inspire. And thanks! I’d almost forgotten about the Bangkok Podcast Thai series (ooops, how soon I slip). They should be on the list… a list I just thought of… double thanks for the idea 🙂

  12. When I feel demotivated, I’m like Lawrence and read language blogs (like yours; I peruse the archives) and read about successful Thai language learners. I also like listening to the Bangkok Podcast Thai Language series. I’ll pick out one of Rikker’s episodes or listen to one of the other episodes where someone’s learnt Thai well.

  13. Thanks for your list Josh. I’m more of a softly softly gal (but I have my crazy days too!)

    I mentioned it to Kaewmala and she suggested that I go for Jazz from the 1970s-1990s, So if anyone has any names, I’ll do a sweep around Bangkok’s music stores. Any suggestions on music stores too? I mean, there’s bound to be a store in BKK known for oldies… right?

  14. I like the heavier music more than anything, but I’m not sure if that is your style or not. But, the bands I listen to most are: Silly Fools, Big Ass, Ebola, Krungtep Marathon, Potato, Nologo, Carabao, Da Endorphine (thanks to my wife), and then a whole list of individual, random songs.

  15. Martyn, my present diet doesn’t allow for spaghetti but loads of wine… totally allowed.

    Lawrence, the documentaries are quite well-spoken (and often enjoyable) it’s the game shows with the screeching fishwife Thai that I can’t take. Thais don’t act like that in real life so why go for it on TV?

    I’m with you on reading the about successes – so every time I get a new interview to code I perk up and smile 🙂 Btw – James Higbie sent his interview… it’ll go live at the end of the week. All good stuff.

    Michel, odd that they wouldn’t count the other official languages. Also, don’t the majority of Thais understand Central Thai? They might not speak it in their daily lives but it’s there somewhere.

  16. The 20.4 Million is an old matter on Internet: actually it is only the Thai that have Passah Klang as a mother language: So only Central Thai.
    Lanna, Issan and Southern Thai are not counted!

  17. Maybe they are only counting the people that live in Bangkok, because they are the only ones who speak proper Thai?

    When I feel unmotivated to learn Thai, the last thing I really want to do is hear it. I find the language as it is spoken in Thai music and television to be extremely irritating. Serious Thai movies are okay, but Thai comedy’s fall into that irritating category.

    If I want to gain some motivation, I will typically go online and read some language blogs. Reading about other people’s successes and ideas can re-spark my motivation.

  18. Martyn, well spotted: According to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand has a population of about 70 million people.

    And that does not include those outside of Thailand…

    I’m not sure where the people who did the graphics are getting their numbers. But what I’m seeing is that typically, for a lot of things Thai, expats get it wrong. Perhaps Thailand just isn’t important/popular enough to pay too much attention to? And because no one would notice?

    Teensy case in point: I purchased “100 useful Words in 37 Languages” for my latest language fascination – to get by in a language with just 100 words. The European languages look ok but the Thai is a total joke.

    Thanks megga for answering my questions. I’m seriously interested to know what others use to keep themselves going with Thai. Reason… To try out the 100 word theory (noted in the previous posts), I’ve challenged myself to muggle by in Italian with just 100 words. And as advised, I’m downloading Italian songs, movies, books about Italy, the lot. Listening to Italian songs garners a sultry, sexy response. I don’t get the same from Thai music.

  19. Catherine I’m a little confused by the 20.4 million native speakers in the Thai graphics. Can you shed any light on that low number?

    Sek Loso – I have most of his CD’s.
    Not a big movie fan but the ones i do watch are here in Thailand and usually dubbed in Thai.
    No particular actors. I like comedy movies best.
    Yes. With one ear open and one eye shut.
    Mainly soaps.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.