This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
AUA Thai Language Program…
School: AUA Thai Language Program
Website: AUA Thai
Address: 21st floor, Chamchuri Square, Rachadamri Road, Bangkok Thailand 10330
Telephone Number: 02-252-8398
Location: Take the MRT to the Sam Yan Station and use exit #2 (the Chula Uni exit).
Basic Info: This is quite an established school and has been around a long time. The primary AUA campus is devoted to teaching English to Thai nationals, and most of the classrooms are utilized for this purpose. The Thai Language Department is located at the back of the building on the 3rd Floor. This campus has a library, a Book Store, and a pretty good food court too. There are ample places to sit in the shade outside, relax, interact with other students before class, etc.
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Materials: Early on (as in a fair few years back) they used a set of books written by Marvin Brown, which taught Thai the conventional way. By that, I mean via karaoke or phonetics, with the English and Thai translations. However that stopped some time ago (although those books are still for sale at the AUA Book Store and well worth purchasing). Now there are NO materials, as in no textbooks, no hand outs, no vocabulary sheets, really no nothing at all! (read below to see why)
Method: AUA Thai now teaches via a method called ‘ALG’ (Automatic Language Growth). It is a totally passive learning methodology. It’s based around the concept that children learn a language by watching and listening to adults interact. What this means is there’s no verbal interaction between the students and the teachers; as in you can’t ask questions and there’s no ‘repeat after me’ or question/answer stuff in Thai with this type of learning. Students just sit in the class and the two Thai teachers use a variety of props, white board examples, and mime to convey the meaning of what they’re saying in Thai to the students.
I’ve sat a class in every level they offer and to say the least, they are entertaining! Even a person with a limited Thai vocabulary can get the idea of what the teachers are talking about. They talk about a wide variety of subjects with differing degrees of difficulty based what level you’re in. Some of the topics are: Thai Culture, Current Thai News, Thai Holidays, Provinces in Thailand, Buddhism, Ghosts, etc.
They also offer a Reading & Writing Thai course. If you haven’t progressed to at least their level 5 via the ALG method you hafta test into the class. They use the same two book set Marvin Brown developed. They don’t follow them page by page but use supplemental support material for learning. I like both the Reading and Writing books because they’re typeset in a ‘handwritten’ style of font, making it a little bit more difficult to read initially. However once you can read it, you can read about anything written in any font in Thailand (well except maybe that super-stylized one they use in adverts which looks like backwards English letters).
The writing course is equally good. There are ample practice exercises to get your hand used to writing Thai characters. They also teach you to write Thai script in a more ‘Thai-sized’ manner than those kids books you can buy to practice writing Thai where you’re writing in 1 inch script. Is it only me or do Thais seem to write really, REALLY small, yet have no difficulty reading it?
Teachers: Honestly, even though I was (and still am) totally flummoxed by their passive learning methodology I’d be hard pressed to find more motivated Thai teachers. I’ve rarely met such good actors, ones who could mime out meanings of words to a group of foreigners better than the group of teachers they have there. The props are multi purpose. An umbrella can become a sword or a cane, given the need. Really, the teachers are quite the creative lot! My hat’s off to them for their skills in this area.
Classes: This school wins on availability of classes HANDS DOWN. You can show up about any time they’re open (which is a good number of hours a day and on Saturday too) and find your level of class to sit. It’s one of the most versatile schools in that regard I’ve ever toured, and even a quick perusal of their website bears this out. The Reading and Writing classes are a little more structured versus the listening ones, and are given at defined times throughout the day.
ED Visa: This school most definitely does NOT fall into the ‘visa-mill’ category in any way shape or form! In fact, AUA seems to go out of its way insofar as not hawking ED visas as a means to an end to stay in Thailand. With that being said, they do offer visa assistance service but you must pay tuition and attend I believe a minimum of 15 hours a WEEK for the entire year! This is far more hours than most private Thai language schools require. Most schools usually follow the Ministry of Education’s minimum guidelines which is 4 hours a week of class time.
Miscellaneous: AUA recently started a program known as Real Life Bangkok (no longer online). It’s a 30 hour course with 30% class-time and the other 70% spent traveling around Bangkok learning situational Thai in the actual situations! It’s broken down like this:
Orientation & Group Language Classes (4 Hours): This covers basic techniques, and gives insightful methods of communication.
Getting Around (10 Hours): Taxis, Trains, Boats, Busses, and Motorcycles
The Market (3 Hours): Trips to various markets, learning bargaining techniques, etc.
Food & Eating (13 Hours): Food stands to restaurants, noodles to rice, food from the North to the South.
The price point for this class is quite low especially as the classes are done either 1-on-1 or in groups no larger than 3 people. I think the value should be quite good and if I had money to spare I’d enroll just for the novelty of trying to speak Thai with Thais in unfamiliar situations. It’s about the most innovative thing I’ve seen come down the pike in the ‘learn Thai as a foreigner’ market in a while. I’ve know some private schools to do field-trips with students, etc. However, I’ve never seen a class designed totally around learning Thai in situ like AUA’s offering.
Bang-4-The-Baht: This school also wins hands down on price point! AFAIK, there is no school in Bangkok offering hourly rates or ‘blocks of time’ as inexpensively as AUA does and the more hours you buy, the cheaper it gets! This alone would make me pick it as a good investment ONCE you have some basic Thai under your belt.
I say this after witnessing more than a few newbie students exiting a level 1’s class (and even some exiting level 3 classes too). They had the ‘deer in the headlights’ look you see so often on Thai language students. It’s that totally overwhelmed glazed over expression. I think this is exacerbated because you, as a student, can’t ask questions during (or after class), there’s no formal vocab, no hand outs, etc. I most definitely am NOT downing their methodology! If it didn’t work I doubt they’d continue teaching it. I’m only saying, for a ‘fresh off the boat’ foreigner wanting to get a handle on the Thai language it might not be the best choice or course of action. Even though it’s cheap as chips to attend AUA I think a newbie would be better served taking one of the crash courses offered at a myriad of private Thai language schools BEFORE enrolling in AUA’s program.
Did I get anything out of the classes I sat? Yes, most definitely! It increased my comprehension of ‘normal speed’ spoken Thai (versus that over enunciated ‘retard speed’ some schools teach but not a single Thai speaks). I sat every level up to 5 and understood them all quite well. Perhaps I’m no longer the best judge of how much bang-4-the-baht a new Thai language learner would receive.
Hope you found this of some marginal value.
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com
(who BTW: is NOT affiliated with any Thai language school)