Successful Thai Language Learner: Marc Spiegel

Successful Thai Language Learner: Marc Spiegel

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Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Marc Spiegel
Nationality: American
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Management

What is your Thai level?


Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

Professional Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

I believe that if you are going to live and work permanently in a country where your language is not the native language of the country then it is important to learn the language of the country in which you reside. Especially in Thailand where many people do not speak English in order to truly integrate to society here I believe it is critical to learn the language.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?


September 2008.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

I studied approximately 600 hours (reading, writing and speaking).

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I studied 4 hours per day, 5 days per week.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?


What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I studied at Baan Aksorn.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?


Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Reading was not so difficult to learn once you master the alphabet, but writing is another story, especially when it comes to tone marks.

How do you learn languages?

I’ve always learned languages by studying in school and then reinforcing and expanding my capabilities through practice and use.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I have a natural knack for languages; however, as I am not the most patient person I am sometimes challenged by the speed in which I become conversant in a foreign language. I have a tendency to try and move too fast sometimes.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Thinking you can get by learning transliteration. Of course you can learn the language, and I do have friends who are fluent; however, their pronunciation is quite poor and there are many instances where Thai people do not understand what they are saying until they hear most of the conversation and can understand the topic they are trying to speak about. In order to truly master Thai I strongly believe you must learn to read Thai properly.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I speak French proficiently (business vocabulary as well), and I know some German, Italian and Spanish.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?


Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?


Do you have a passion for music and/or do you play an instrument?

I have always had a passion for music and I did play the drums for a short period of my life.

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

Stick with it! It’s difficult in the beginning, but the more you practice and use the language the easier it gets.

Marc Spiegel

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

12 thoughts on “Successful Thai Language Learner: Marc Spiegel”

  1. Good morning Todd! I always appreciate hearing your two satang’s worth (and I do consider you a successful Thai learner 🙂

    Everyone learns differently so I can see where some students will want the crutch of transliteration. I just couldn’t do it. Even today, someone will send me transliteration instead of Thai script and I’ll go blank. The minor words are no problem (kha, krap, etc) but send me anything where tones are an issue and I have to take a stab at what they are trying to get across.

    Truthfully, without the kickstart I got from 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet, I’d be… well… I’d hate to think where I’d be.

  2. I’ll chime in with my two satang’s worth.

    I think the reason so many schools teach via phonemic transcription or “karaoke” is; front loading the learning of how to read and correctly recognize and tone Thai words is so labor intensive. Early on it yields very little “bang-4-the-baht” in terms of a new language learner feeling they’re making measurable progress in Thai. In fact, it’s a down right “buzz kill” to most students to undertake it right outta the gate learning this language.

    I’ve met some pretty proficient foreign Thai speakers who can’t read a lick ‘o Thai, learned totally via the “karaoke” method and had pretty darned good intonation in their spoken Thai (certainly well enough to be understood completely the first time around by any demographic of Thai society).

    I believe in a multi-pronged approach; where you learn a fairly good spoken vocab via “karaoke” and at the same time (to a lesser extent) are exposed to learning how to read and then write Thai. This is the methodology used in most Thai language schools and seems to work well for the broadest cross-section of foreign learners who undertake this language.

    Don’t get me wrong, I totally commend Marc Spiegel and the commitment he put into learning the Thai language the way he did.

    Unfortunately not every one can devote 4 hours a day 5 days a week to study the Thai language. That’s a HUGE chunk ‘o time outta a person’s life; actually his 600 hours equaled out to 30 WEEKS of just in class study time without factoring in home work, self review or out of class practice.

    Kudos must go out to him for the commitment both time and effort wise which went into his Thai language proficiency.

    Sorry for the long post with “my take” on learning Thai. Perhaps seeing as I’m NOT a “Successful Thai Language Learner” I shouldn’t weigh in. ..

  3. it’s really very interesting to learn about this one.. i have always admire people who are able to learn others’ culture because i think it’s hard learning about it? it takes time and effort to do so.. he really must have been very dedicated to it

  4. Michael, I’m always glad to help 🙂 And that dedicated post is on the way. My good friend Sarawan and I will do a bit of brainstorming and come up with a range of resources to share. And we have others to ask as well. Good luck!

  5. Thanks Catherine for your very well written thorough answer !!

    This is overwhelming dear <3 thanks I am going to check things out now….

    And Yes, I do think this certainly deserves a good and useful post dedicated for this subject alone 🙂 !!

    Thanks much and we will keep in touch

  6. Martyn,

    “Regular study and learning to read and write Thai from the off appear to be the nuts and bolts of Marc’s success”.

    Time and time again, those interviewed advise learning to read Thai first (or as soon as).

    “Marc Spiegel’s approach to learning Thai is very orthodox, almost robotic in its straight as an arrow method to learning the language”.

    I should take a page out of his page… life… huh?

  7. Catherine I checked out your link to The Parent Vine, there’s some lovely big Thai alphabet flashcards on the post. I really must get around to downloading some coloured one’s myself. What a shame I can’t draw chickens, monkeys and boats. Stick men are about my limit.

    Marc Spiegel’s approach to learning Thai is very orthodox, almost robotic in its straight as an arrow method to learning the language. Regular study and learning to read and write Thai from the off appear to be the nuts and bolts of Marc’s success.

    I know I keep saying it and fail to do it regularly but I’ve got to start getting into the habit of reading just a little bit of Thai each day. Only then will I get all those chickens and monkeys into the big language boat.

  8. Michael, I haven’t come across online Thai schools for children but there is a child-safe forum for learning Thai (they’ll know more about the subject than I do):

    Learning Thai at your local Wat in the US (if you have one) is doable (but obviously, not online).

    IMHO, your best bet would be to go with a Thai Skype teacher. Here’s a list of teachers:

    The reason I’m saying this is because you’ll want to instill proper pronunciation right from the beginning. Many adult learners have had to relearn Thai pronunciation. It tends to stall the learning process (some quit out of frustration). Whereas a decent Skype teacher will guide students properly from the very beginning.

    The additional benefits of learning Thai via Skype is that you’ll have an audio record of each class. The audio files are invaluable for both students and parents. For practice, you can put the sound files in Anki or BYKI. I prefer BYKI because it has games, quizzes, etc.

    A Thai Skype teacher can create a course from known and trusted materials available in Thailand. And shipping them to you would be dead easy.

    There are many materials available for kids here:

    Thai movies for kids are in an abundance on YouTube or here:

    And if your kids are of that learning level, you can get the complete series of Sesame Street in Thai. Sesame Street swears they don’t know about the Thai version so you might have to source it from someone here.

    Btw: Parent Vine is a wonderful resource for parents of children with a Thai background:

    A dedicated post on the subject might be useful… so please let me know how you get on.

  9. Hi Catherine, Thanks for the post.
    I wonder if you can tell as for a good online language school, for children from within the United states, Homeschoolers (not depending on time and place) and this of course is OK with all online conferences and methods of communication…?

    Some referrals from you might be nice 🙂

    Thanks again

  10. Erin, that’s a question that begats many questions…

    Where do you live?
    What is your budget?
    How do you learn languages?
    Do you want to learn online, one on one, classroom setting, Skype?
    What are your aims (tourist Thai – professional)?


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