Learning Thai: Schools, Courses and Online Classes

When it comes to learning Thai language in Thailand, you have quite a few options.

You can go to a physical school, so long as you have the free time. At a school you’ll get to study with other learners and practice in and out of the classroom.

You can take one-on-one private lessons. This will speed up your learning but you’ll have to take it upon yourself to practice in between lessons.

Or you can study online. Studying online lets you practice at your own pace, while saving you time. But you still have to practice to get the most out of your learning.

If you’re looking for a time- and cost-efficient way to learn Thai, then checkout Thaipod101.com. And all ExpatDen Kit readers get 25% off select courses.

If you want to find out about all the learning options available to you, read through this guide.

This guide shows you how to learn Thai at language schools, the courses they offer, and your online options.

General Rules

With forty-four consonants, fifteen vowels, and five tones, Thai language is probably one of the most challenging languages to learn. But you would be happy to know that not all of these consonants and vowels are used. The ones borrowed from Sanskrit language will usually be used in formal or royal writings. So unless you’ll be running for a position in Thai government, you need only to learn the basic alphabet and tones.

Also, Thai grammar rules are straightforward. In contrast to the English language where there are several exceptions and lots of different styles to follow, writing a Thai sentence is less complicated.

The five tones are the tricky part. Because different tones mean different things. I learned that the hard way when I tried asking a kid where his aunt, paa with falling tone, was but ended up being told to go to the forest, paa with low tone.

One time I wanted to buy kluai, or bananas, and the lady kept giving me the side eye. Only later did I realize that I told her I wanted to buy male genitals.

Also, eating at restaurants and food stands was sometimes a disappointment. I would order something with kai, or chicken, but would be given khai, or eggs.

Benefits

Speaking of food, some local eateries ask you to write your order so they can line them up. This is easier when you can speak Thai. If not, the staff are usually helpful enough to write your order for you.

Being fluent in Thai, I have opened myself to opportunities that are not readily available to non-Thai speaking expats. Going places has gotten easier. And doing mundane tasks, like ordering my tom saeb nueato more complicated tasks like giving directions to our condominium to a non-English speaking delivery guy over the phone, I can do more efficiently.

Finding jobs is even better when employers know you are fluent in Thai. Only some Thai employees these days can speak English. Some workflow processes will require you to talk Thai to coworkers. Those who are seeking managerial positions definitely need this. At some point, there will be a subordinate or two who will need you to explain a process in Thai.

How Did I Do It?

For the first ten years, I learned Thai with Thai friends who were eager to teach me. Learning how to listen and speak in different situations came first. The reading and writing came later, only more recently.

It took me a few months to converse on a daily basis. Although my tones are far from perfect, my listener will usually know what I’m trying to say based on context.

I started with learning one word per day and tried to use them in conversations. That’s how I built my vocabulary. It’s very helpful when you’re on the receiving end of the conversation and trying to understand what the speaker is saying.

For example, I started by memorizing the numbers one through ten. That opened up a whole new world of topics. The second word I learned was naam, or water. This paved the way for me to learn that Thai words are straightforward. Anything that’s in water form has naam in it. The third word I learned was suay for beautiful. By doing so, I then realized that Thai is different than English in that the adjective comes after the noun.

By using the words I learned in conversations, I discovered these lessons which I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

My conversational Thai is not perfect, but it’s functional. Right now, I’m not only learning to read and write Thai at a language center, but I’m also learning how to correct the tones I have adopted through habit.

How Can You Do It?

There are a variety of ways that you can learn how to speak, read, and write Thai. But like most learning endeavors, you need to put in the time and dedication. A three-month course will give you the basics. And with a one-year course, you can expect to have the proficiency of a first grade Thai student. This all depends on how intensive your learning is, of course, and how often you learn and how fast of a learner you are.

Learning Methods

You can try to teach yourself Thai, like I did in the beginning, or you can do so through the following methods.

Learn Online

Despite the lack of social interaction and immediate feedback, there are benefits to studying Thai online. For example, when and how you learn is up to you. If you are self-motivated and commit to your studies, you could advance quickly and use what you learn in the real world.

Thai Pod 101

One online learning course is Thaipod101.com. When you sign up, you get a seven-day free trial of all their premium offerings which include spaced repetition flashcards, Core 2000 Word Lists, ten downloadable PDF lesson notes, and more.

Their lessons are divided into four proficiency levels:

  • absolute beginner
  • beginner
  • intermediate
  • advanced

Their lessons revolve around practical uses of the language, allowing you to apply everything you learn to daily life.

The program, called My Pathway, will lay out lesson plans according to your skill level. But if you want to give yourself a break from the lessons, there are other resources such as the PDF cheatsheets, bonus apps, flashcards, and word banks.

The fastest way to learn, though, is to study one-on-one with an instructor by upgrading to a Premium Plus membership. This means you get a more personalized program based on your skills and needs, and there are regular assessments which keep track of your progress.

Learn Thai From a White Guy

Another popular course for learning Thai online is Learn Thai from a White Guy.

When you sign up, Brett Whiteside, the “white guy,” sends you five free lessons so you can see how the course works

Brett’s Foundation Course helps you to learn Thai script so you can learn the sounds and tonal rules of Thai consonants and vowels.

The foundation course takes about two weeks to complete if you practice everyday for 30 minutes.

After you finish the Foundation Course, you can move on to the four follow-up courses that focus on:

  • speaking short sentences
  • speaking long sentences
  • speaking in short dialogues
  • sounding like a native speaker

Brett’s lessons are easy to remember thanks to his clever use of mnemonics, which help you remember Thai scripts.

For example, Brett asks you to imagine a chicken’s beak for the Thai letter ก, or gor gai. Gai in Thai means chicken.

So thinking of the letter ก as a chicken’s beak helps you remember the name and sound of the letter.

Each of the Learn Thai from a White Guy courses focuses on getting you fluent in Thai at a speedy rate using clever learning tactics.

Nonetheless, both Learn Thai from a White Guy and Thai Pod 101 have something to offer if you’re eager to learn Thai at your own pace.

You can even use the two courses to complement each other.

Enroll In a Thai Language Course

If you’re looking to learn in a classroom setting, there are a number of language centers in Bangkok. The teaching method usually goes by modules, on weekdays, and varies in price. Most of these centers serve two different purposes though. One purpose is for students to learn Thai, and the other purpose is for students to secure a Thai students’ (Non-ED) visa.

Learning with a group means you’ll interact more, and there will be more people to help you other than the instructor. However, this also means that instructor’s focus is divided in the class and learning is based on the pace of the class.

A simple Google search will provide you with a number of options based on where you are located, although most language centers are along the BTS and MRT lines.

Based on inside sources, Duke Language School is considered the number one language school in Bangkok. AUA Thai has a unique teaching style, adapted from a famous algebra teaching method. Rak Thai Language‘s method of teaching is similar to the Union Thai method, which was designed over 40 years ago for teaching missionaries to be fluent in Thai.

Pro Language School regularly updates their teaching materials. Jentana & Associates is best for those looking for learning specific vocabularies about business, office, law, and so on. Sumaa is also considered a good school by many people. Other schools, including Modulo Language SchoolUnion Thai Language, and AAA Thai Language School, are also good. Each school has their owns strengths and weaknesses. You should choose the one whose teaching method you love the most.

For more serious learners, one of Thailand’s most prestigious academies, Chulalongkorn University, is home to the Center for Thai as a Foreign Language (CTFL). Currently, the program is divided into three courses.

  • Intensive Thai Program
    • Price: 27,000 baht
    • Times: Mondays to Fridays from 9:00am to 12:00am or 1:00pm to 4:00pm
    • Duration: six weeks
    • Benefits: ED Visa
    • Enrollment: odd months
  • Communicative Thai for Beginners
    • Price: 12,000 baht
    • Times: Mondays to Saturdays from 6:00pm to 8:00pm
    • Duration: ten weeks
    • Enrollment: January, April, July, and October
  • Thai for Mandarin Chinese Speakers
    • Price: 27,000 baht
    • Times: Mondays to Fridays from 9:00am to 12:00am or 1:00pm to 4:00pm
    • Duration: six weeks
    • Enrollment: odd months

Read Thai Language Books

There are a thousand and one books out there about Thai language. Depending on your skill level or goals, you’re sure to find a book that will cater to your needs. But how do you find the best ones? How do you look for the perfect book without spending a week in Kinokuniya browsing the language shelves? Thailand Starter Kit has shortlisted a number of books. Find out the best Thai book for you here.

Books can provide a good reference point. However, Thai language uses a lot of tones that must be heard and spoken. If you learn through books, you risk not learning the right tones. Books should be used as a secondary resource.

Also, there are a number of secondhand bookshops around Bangkok for those who are looking for a more cost-efficient route. A popular one is Dasa Book Cafe between Sukhumvit 26 and 28. You can visit the cafe or browse their DasaBase page for the list of books they have in stock. And there are also a number of secondhand bookshops in Chatuchak’s weekend market and at MBK Center.

Sign Up for a Private Class

One-on-one instruction is the most effective way of learning Thai because your instructor can assess you more effectively. This is how I’m learning to read and write Thai.

Through an employee incentive program, I take private class at Sumaa Language and Culture Institute. Private classes are ten hours long and tuition fees are paid for sixty hours. Sumaa also gives students the option of studying at the language center or at their own place. Classes last an hour from Mondays to Saturdays and start at 650 baht an hour and at 900 baht an hour if studying at the student’s preferred place.

I’m learning to read and write Thai currently through my employer’s incentive program at Sumaa Language and Culture Institute. Private classes start at 39,000 baht, which gets you sixty, one hour classes. Students also have the option to pay for a minimum of ten, one hour classes and then add more classes later at 650 baht per class.

Sumaa gives students the option of studying at the language center in Sathorn or at their own place. If students prefer the latter, the fee starts at 900 baht per hour.

francine and her private teacher
Me and my private teacher at Sumaa Language and Culture Institute

Aside from Sumaa, there are a number of Thai language centers in Bangkok as mentioned in a previous section offering private classes.

There are also freelance Thai teachers you can approach. They can teach you at food courts, coffee shops, or your office and condo. Rates range from 300 to 500 baht per hour. You can look for them on findmyfavouriteteacher.com, craigslistwomenlearnthailand.com, and Bangkok Expats Facebook group.

There are also online tutors who can teach you Thai via Skype. Thai Style has a list of teachers and offers six types of courses.

  • Short Thai Course
    • Registration: 1,800 baht
    • Price: 300 baht an hour
  • Speak Thai Course
    • Registration: 3,900 baht
    • Price: 300 baht an hour
  • Speak, Read, and Write Thai
    • Registration: 6,800 baht
    • Price: 300 baht an hour
  • Read and Write Thai Course
    • Registration: baht 3,900
    • Price: 300 baht an hour
  • Speak Thai Course 
    • Registration: baht 3,900
    • Price: 300 baht an hour
  • Upper Intermediate Thai
    • Registration: baht 3,900
    • Price: 300 baht an hour

italki is another option to help you find an online private tutor.

Learn With Thai Friends

Many of these avenues for learning all promise fun. But in my opinion, the best way to have fun while learning Thai is to learn with people you’re most comfortable with–friends. Perhaps it was a stroke of luck that I was surrounded by Thai friends who weren’t only supportive and honest, but also patient.

They were quick to point out if I was using the wrong word and would not hesitate to launch into a quick Thai tone lesson, even in the midst of our bowl of koey tiaw, or noodles. They were the ones who introduced me to the one-word-a-day practice and suggested we begin our mornings at work not with sawadee, or hello, but with “What word would you like to learn today?” It was their blind trust in my Thai language skills that gave me the courage to converse with anyone in Thai despite my imperfect tones.

Bonus Isaan words were handed out at no extra costs, together with a round of Thai slang. And when I failed to get my point across, they would take over, pat me on the back and say, “practice makes perfect.”

Other Methods

There are many YouTube channels that help you to learn to speak Thai. But my favorite channels are Mari Johnson, SpeakTKhai RightNow, and ThaiwithMod.

Bangkok Post has an English Clinic for those who want to learn English. The lessons include Thai words translated into English. But you can use this website to your advantage when you reverse the direction of learning. You get to learn the Thai equivalent to most common English words.

Also another activity that has helped me improve my Thai is listening to Thai music and watching Thai movies with subtitles. It’s a win-win situation. I get to have fun while I learn new words, especially slang.

Now, on to You

When it comes to learning Thai, different styles work for different people. Some learners may like a brick-and-mortar type setting. Others may prefer to learn online.

While there is no one best way to learn Thai, Thaipod101.com is a good choice if you want to study online and learn on your own terms.

And all Thailand Starter Kit readers get 25% off select courses.

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