Thai Language School Review: AUA Thai Language Center

Thai Language School Review: AUA Thai Language Center
  • School: AUA Thai Language Center
  • Website: AUA Thai
  • Address: AUA Language Center Head Office 179 Rajdamri Road Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330Telephone
  • Number: 02-114-7625
  • Location: Take the BTS to the Rajdamri Station.
  • Teaching Method: Automatic Language Growth (ALG)

What is AUA Thai Language Program?

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.

But they also have the Thai Department to teach Thai to foreigners.


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).


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?


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.


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.


Occasionally, AUA have 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.

Should I Study at AUA Thai Language Program?

This school 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.

If you want to learn more about the ALG teaching method from the AUA Language Center, you can check out this YouTube channel: Comprehensible Thai. The channel is run by Thai language teachers from the AUA.

Hope you found this of some marginal value.

(BTW: is NOT affiliated with any Thai language school)

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42 thoughts on “Thai Language School Review: AUA Thai Language Center”

  1. I think it’s inaccurate to call ALG “a totally passive learning methodology.” The approach can in fact involve a lot of activity and interaction on the part of the learner. For example, learners can communicate with speakers of the target language using their own language and non-verbal communication, and also they can be actively engaged in activities rather than merely observing them.

    Learners can also speak the target language where they can do so spontaneously as a result of having internalized it through experience, but should avoid consciously trying to speak or think about the language (ALG would argue that these things, which adults can do and young children cannot, are what prevent adults from effortlessly approaching native-like levels of ability in second languages).

    All of these kinds of interaction can be observed in AUA Thai Program classes already. For example the teachers often ask questions of the students and there are many games and other activities that students actively participate in.

    I think the program would benefit from more opportunities for active engagement that keep with the ALG approach, but I think at the same time there’s value in both opportunities for active and passive learning.

    I discuss this in more detail in a post on my blog, Beyond Language Learning: Is Automatic Language Growth “passive learning”?

  2. Just a note to all;
    AUA- is moving to a new location after being on Rachadamri Road for ever. The new location is in Chamchuri Square on the 21st floor. From the looks of the pics on the website, the school is really nice looking, well laid out and I think will be better suited to what they’re tryin’ to do.

    It looks like they’ll be teaching English, Thai and Japanese at this new location.

    While it’s true I have “locked horns” with David Long and the methodology AUA uses to teach Thai, I have rarely met someone with more conviction in what they’re doin’ than he has. That alone gets kudos in my book, plus he speaks some pretty wicked clear Thai too. I think they offer a quality product at an incredible price point.

    I just want people to know they’ll be open for business at the new location starting on Tuesday the 4th of September. To get to the new location you can take the MRT to the Sam Yan Station and use exit #2 (the Chula Uni exit).

    More info is on their website. .

  3. Not to cast dispersions errr, aspersions, but you seem almost as proficient at “Googling” and at reading “Wikipedia” as I am.. 555+

    Here’s a suggestion (seeing as it’s MY review); How about actually commenting on AUA, whether their methodology as it’s taught works, how their classes seemed to you, or something relevant to the topic at hand “learning Thai”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for self promotion, (nice plug for your videos BTW!). However I’m not all that fond of bloviating or grandstanding. Rather than seeing how many big words you can work into a post (seeing as we’re not playing Scrabble), try to stay on topic.

    Sadly, we are all not blessed with the lofty education you profess to have, nor (as you might have discerned) are we “in the discipline”. We’re just foreigners tryin’ to do our best to learn the Thai language. .

    Ease up a little bit, or in an easy to understand American idiom “gear down big shifter”; It’s not like we’re doing something serious like solving world hunger here..

    I recently ‘re-discovered” the two AUA books called Reading & Writing, which are titled appropriately enough “R” text (mostly reading) and “W” workbook (mostly writing). They are an excellent set of books to have and well worth the 500 baht price for the set. In revisiting them I’ve found a lot of good information in them. ..

  4. To explicate the actual usage of theoretical that would be the usage of models to work with ‘formal languages’ which are not natural languages. Applied runs the gamut of many, disciplines within the greater field of ‘linguistics’ These include, but are not limited to the following: A.I., Corpus Linguistics, Forensic Linguistics, Field Linguistics (with sub disciplines within it), Phonology, Phonetics, Descriptive Grammar, language teaching.

    What seems to be the layman’s hackneyed understanding is that SLA or TESOL is what applied linguistics refers to while everything else is theoretical. That ideas is Patently false: I already gave a short list above on the separation.

    As for research on learning or teaching methods (depending on which camp you are in) and this is REPEATING myself from some of my YT videos (again source those) is that TPR has the most research behind the method and it is the fastest way to acquire the initial comprehension.

    For those of you whose learning of languages only extends as far as Thai, I would suggest you follow Stu Jay’s (google him) advice.


  5. I think there needs to be a definition for what some of the people are tossing around as ‘theoretical linguistics’ and ‘applied linguistics.’ As a linguist the usage of those terms is not in fitting with how we in the discipline use them.

  6. Say what you will about Krashen; last time I checked, this was a review of a Thai language school, not a theoretical linguistics debunking site. (BTW: I am NOT a cunning linguist either, just a guy whose tryin’ to learn Thai, although I will get that SLA book after googling it, so thanx!!). ..

    I still believe if the input you’re receiving as far as the target language is totally incomprehensible to you, you’re not learning a thing. This is why sitting in a beer-bar or on the side of your Soi yields such poor results in learning Thai.

    With AUA’s multiple levels and multiple topics, at least a person is goin’ into the class armed with an inkling of what might be discussed. Plus your average “run-o-the-mill-thai” on the Soi, ain’t likely to use a white board, props, acting, or mime to make you “connect the dots” as far as what they’re talkin’ about.

    Is it the best method out there? Doubtful. .. Are there better methods? Quite possibly… I just offer out opinions of what I’ve seen on the market for foreigners to learn Thai here in Bangkok. At the end of the day it boils down to what works for you. ..

    As cheap as AUA is to attend and as much improvement I’ve seen in my Thai listening comprehension from the classes I’ve sat there, it definitely gives “bang-4-the-baht”.

  7. Joe,

    “I highly recommend Long’s book Problems in SLA (2007), which lays out a rigorous approach to evaluating learning/teaching methodologies.”

    Excellent. Something I can sink my teeth into. I’ve ordered Problems in SLA and if you have other SLA books to suggest please do. I do have books (and a course) on linguistics but most of what I’ve read about SLA I’ve found online. Amazon has many titles (with good reviews) but I just don’t know enough about the cream of SLA to plonk down hard cash.

    “there’s no reason good multimedia can’t remain a keystone of any updated methodology”

    So very true 🙂

  8. Catherine, further to your germane point about the entertaining videos, there’s no reason good multimedia can’t remain a keystone of any updated methodology. 🙂

  9. “I do think that Krashen’s “i+1” hypothesis is 100% spot on. In fact he’s got a video on YouTube which shows two ‘sample’ german classes. One is just him spouting German and the other uses comprehensible input. See which one is most effective.”

    Such anecdotal evidence does not give us an empirical picture of how effective the approach is, nor does it supply us with enough to discern a valid hypothesis.

    Why did Krashen choose to use numbers (1+1) when these theoretical components are neither definable nor empirically quantifiable. Actual cross-sectional, longitudinal classroom-centred research by leading experts in SLA finds no credence for 1+1 or the Natural Approach/ALG.

    Krashen *appeared to be* a pioneer for the 1970s, but his theories have since been discredited and replaced by what I would say are more scientifically valid, reliable SLA hypotheses put forward by such groundbreaking pioneers Michael Long (the Manjusri of SLA, and my personal hero in the field).

    Long was one of the first to implore researchers in applied linguistics to undertake comparative analysis of SLA theories using empirical research rather than pure speculation a la Krashen.

    Newer theories include Long’s own interaction hypothesis, Merrill Swain’s output hypothesis, and Richard Schmidt’s noticing hypothesis, all of which fly completely in the face of 1+1 and passive learning.

    I highly recommend Long’s book Problems in SLA (2007), which lays out a rigorous approach to evaluating learning/teaching methodologies.

  10. I have said a lot about this very topic. Instead of rewriting all that I covered. You can see the ALG, Krashen, TPR (Asher) nexus by watching my YT on it. FOund here

    And if that U R L didn’t take you can just google clugston and krashen together looking for videos and you will find it.

    BTW I cover FSI and DLI (which I attended) in another vid

  11. There’s a HUGE disconnect between theoretical linguistics and what filters down and is actually taught in the classroom(s). This has been going on for many, many years now.

    While I’m certainly not a fan of AUA’s Automatic Language Growth methodology, I have met more than a few foreigners who sat thru a couple hundred hours and speak some pretty darned clear Thai (for foreign speakers). Now I will add that every one of them also supplemented their Thai language acquisition with other out of class activities, be it; another school, online resources, books etc. In fact I can’t recall ever meeting a single person who learned ONLY via AUA’s method (other than maybe David Long).

    I do think that Krashen’s “i+1” hypothesis is 100% spot on. In fact he’s got a video on YouTube which shows two ‘sample’ german classes. One is just him spouting German and the other uses comprehensible input. See which one is most effective.

    You can sit in and amongst Thais out on the street or stay at home and watch those mindless Thai soap operas until your brain calcifies. Yet you’re unlikely to pick up anything other than the odd word in Thai. That’s because the material is way beyond most new learners’ current comprehension level. Almost everyone will agree that comprehensible input can and does make a difference in language learning. Now sometimes the way the material is presented can make the difference.

    I can only speak from experience after sitting more classes than I care to count in numerous Thai language schools. I seem to “learn” Thai when I’m put in a position where what’s being taught and spoken about is just slightly above my current comprehension and speaking level. Otherwise I’m just “parroting” what I already know with very little real ‘learning’ or active thinking taking place.

    I completely agree that adults learn things (languages included) totally different from the way children learn, and this is why I am not a huge fan of AUA’s ALG system or the methodology of an un-named school which purports to teach Thai via a “direct method”. I’m pretty much against any methodology which prohibits the asking of intelligent questions in class. To me questions lead to answers, those answers lead to understanding and that understanding leads to effective usage.

    I don’t think there’ve been any new revolutionary or ground breaking innovations in the field of second language acquisition in a LONG time now. Every new language learner needs “x” number of ‘basic’ words, structure, etc, before they can begin to use the language. Things like; questions words, opposite words, comparative phrases, tensing or time markers, etc are all part of the foundation which needs to be taught out of the gate. That’s why some of my reviews about basic or introductory levels offered at schools read like a “cut-n-paste”. There’s only so many ways this material can be presented, none of it innovative or revolutionary.

    Last time I checked (which I do once in a while) Stephen Krashen is still viewed as a pioneer in the field of second language acquisition. Face it, anyone who bucks traditional language learning is either a pioneer or a pariah, sometimes both at the same time, depending on which faction you talk to.

    Interesting comment, good luck learning Thai. I still say AUA is one of the best and most cost effective ways to increase your comprehension of spoken Thai and your understanding of how the language goes together IF you already have a base-line “working vocabulary” of the Thai language.

  12. Joe, I’m also of the mind that learning like children isn’t 100% possible for adults. But I am fond of AUA’s videos and feel that enjoyment is often a large chunk of successfully learning a language. No matter what method, if you find it boring and you don’t have the type of personality to sit through boring, then you won’t learn as well.

    “I wish more language schools would actually keep abreast of the latest classroom-centered research in SLA”

    Ditto. I’m not into classroom learning but I do read about SLA when I find the time. I often feel that I’m more interested in the process and theory – actually learning languages comes second.

  13. Krashen and his Natural Approach methodology is nearly as old-fashioned as FSI methods by now, and mostly discredited in the field of applied linguistics, where classroom-centered research has demonstrated that the approach produces no better proficiency levels than the grammar-translation genre.

    The problem with Krashen’s hypotheses were that the main theoretical constructs — eg ‘i +1’ and ‘monitor’ aren’t measurable, hence the hypotheses containing these components are not scientifically valid but rather purely theoretical. A bit like Chomsky’s Deep Structure/wired grammar hypotheses, where the contents of his postulated ‘black box’ can’t be quantified. Pure theory.

    More problematic is the assertion of Natural Approach/ALG advocates that second language acquisition mimics first language acquisition, or that adult language learning is related to child language learning in any way. All adults are already fluent in at least one language. Thus they have access to meta-linguistic tools (ways of talking and thinking about language), ie more highly developed cognitive/learning/analytic skills, with which to work on language development.

    To take just one example, it has been found that the typical order of acquisition of discrete grammatical structures is completely different for adults than for children. This flies in the face of Krashens ‘natural order hypothesis.’

    Also child language learners are not passive, they begin producing language as soon as they are physically capable of doing so. The idea that comprehension precedes production is only true of very young infants and adults are not infants, to state the obvious!

    Which is not to say that ALG doesn’t work for some people. People vary in cognitive orientation and one size doesn’t fit all. I believe that you get out of a language course what you put into it, regardless of methodology. But I wouldn’t try and pass off the idea as a valid hypothesis 😉

    I wish more language schools would actually keep abreast of the latest classroom-centered research in SLA.

  14. Yes, now I remember…Automatic Language Growth.
    That was 10 years ago and I think I even gave them a call and told them that I’d love to take lessons but I just couldn’t stand living in Bangkok.

    So now, the question is: Why haven’t they opened up another branch outside of Bangkok? Not enough market share?

  15. There are three text books no longer used by AUA in their Thai program; called Thai Course Book 1, 2 & 3 which say “prepared by’ Marvin Brown. I think they’ve still got ’em for sale at the main AUA campus bookstore.

    They really aren’t bad learning materials (once you get past the squirrelly phonemic transcription). The Thai script is on one page and the facing page has the ‘karaoke’ and English translation. There is also a book called “Small Talk” which I found of good value too.

    I mentioned the “companion set”; Reading/Writing books in my review, which I believe are still used in the AUA reading/writing Thai program. I really liked both those books especially out of all of ‘em. I think it’s worth picking up the entire set if they’re still in stock. I doubt they’re gonna do another print run. They used to sell the cassettes, but haven’t for a long time, although I’m sure the sound files are out there somewhere on a file sharing site.

    Ever since AUA switched to their ALG (Automatic Language Growth) method those first three books I mentioned just sit collecting dust in the bookstore.

    Back on the subject of Krashen; man there are got some great You Tube videos of presentations he’s done over the years, and that paper he did certainly covers the pros and cons of the various methodologies available in language acquisition quite well. He’s enjoyable to watch and read too. Just watched one where he did 6 short talks about various subjects and it was quite funny in its own right. He’s certainly opinionated about what he believes works and doesn’t work, but he also backs up his beliefs with facts from studies, many which weren’t even done to prove his theories.

  16. When I first arrived in Thailand 10 years ago, I reviewed the material that AUA had on their website. I read the testimonials and gave it a lot of thought and was ABSOLUTELY convinced that the AUA method was the best way to learn Thai (or any other langugage).

    Now, 10 years later I use my Whatever Works method.

    I’m sure that the people at AUA are very dedicated and love what they are doing. And, if I had the time (which I don’t) I would study Thai language at AUA.

    Bottom line: If you’re an expat that has a lot of time to spend and doesn’t mind living in Bangkok then the AUA course is the right choice for you! But, I would strongly advise rounding out your studies with audio-lingual CDs and whatever else you can get your hands on.

  17. I have tried discussing AUA’s method, Krashen, Suggestopedia and audio-lingual with the DOS’s of several schools here in Thailand and the feedback I got was like what Copernicus encountered when he said that the earth is NOT the center of the universe….

    These “Communicative-TEFL-true-believer” wackos are SCARY! They will NOT listen to reasonable alternatives. They will NOT admit that thier methods are ineffectual.

    The “mantra-word” that they like to use is that the student “acquires” language. Really? How can you “acquire” something that sounds like incomprehensible nonsense?

    This is the argument I used with one of these guys some years ago and his fists (he was a BIG guy, about 6 foot three) started to clench like he was going to hit me….I backed off.

    I guess I rattled his “reality-box”…(I asked him why HE didn’t “acquire” the Thai language after having lived in Thailand for 15 years and having a Thai wife)

    I audited a few TEFL teacher training classes (here in Phuket)just to see what it’s like…

    Have you ever been to one of those money-manking sales seminars? Or an Amway meeting? These people are out of touch with reality.

  18. Sorry to come across as harsh to ‘Kevin”, I didn’t realize he was talking solely about FSI’s methodology and not necessarily about just FSI’s material.

    On another topic;
    Ever since Rick Bradford mentioned Stephen Krashen’s material in a post on a Thai language forum, I’ve read about as much as I can of his published stuff. Krashen’s stuff, not Rick Bradford’s (although Rick does write some interesting stuff too, lol).

    Here’s a snippet from Krashen;
    “What theory implies, quite simply, is that language acquisition, first or second, occurs when comprehension of real messages occurs, and when the acquirer is not ‘on the defensive’… Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. It does not occur overnight, however.

    Real language acquisition develops slowly, and speaking skills emerge significantly later than listening skills, even when conditions are perfect. The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.”

    Obviously Krashen’s ideas run counter to many language schools the world over which rely on heavy repetition to “pound” the language into someone’s head or teach you the language rules before you speak. I’ve sat too many classes at schools where I was “put on the defensive”, compelled to speak when I wasn’t comfortable with the material being taught and I walked outta those classes with next to nothing in terms of language acquisition.

    The second paragraph in the snippet would certainly seem to back up AUA’s “AGL” methodology (which I call “passive listening”). So their methodology has merit even with a maverick like Krashen; who back in the day was quite the outspoken person concerning second language acquisition.

    His paper “Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition” is well worth the read. I am certainly no “cunning-linguist”, but there were things he covered which I have seen with my own eyes as yielding fruit in my attempt to acquire some level of functionality in spoken Thai.

    Like I said in my review, AUA is cheap as chips to attend, and I believe if a person has the time to invest in it, AND if it’s supplemented with some other methodology of learning (even self study of Benjawan Becker’s books and C/D’s), I think a person can learn to speak Thai from attending their school.

    Oh, you can go to You Tube and search Stephen Krashen; he’s got a LOT of vidz (some which are quite old). They’re worth the watch. Certainly he’s not the final word in language acquisition but.. He certainly makes some very valid points.

    Anyway, just thought I’d throw in my two satang’s worth. . .

  19. Kevin, the gang discussed doing just that but it’s been agreed that something needs to go in. Most at a learner’s stage won’t be able to read the Thai script and since the course doesn’t teach it, it’s needed.

    As soon as the old version gets cleaned up and the transliteration in, we’ll copy off the files into a new site, redo (update) the old phrases, and then rerecord. That’s the plan.

    Yes, I know about Living Hour. I bought one of their books back when they first started. I just don’t feel that the god thing goes well with learning Thai…

  20. Catherine:

    How about dispensing with the Roman transliteration system altogether and relying on audio files?

    Incidently, the old FSI sound files are pretty gíg-gáwk (กิ๊กก๊อก)
    (Thai slang for “crappy”) So…if you could find a native Thai speaker to volunteer to redo all of original sound files…wow!

    BTW…I found a cool Thai language website that has Thai slang: They also publish a book called: “The Original Thai-English Language Cognate Dictionary and Learning Tool”

  21. Kevin, each member of the team has a different opinion on which one to use so it might have to be eeny, meeny, miny, moe… or what Glenn suggested.

  22. Theoretically, the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) can be used with any language. However, the symbols and diacriticals necessary to mimic the appropriate sounds for Thai are quite complex. It’s not something most people would get excited about!

    Actually, the system that Becker uses is the best I’ve ever seen. Perhaps you could get her permission to use it.

  23. Hi Kevin, I have a copy of the free FSI materials being sold and it’s not that hot. I was just talking to Glenn Slayden last week about a solution to the transliteration on the FSI materials at so we should be revving back up soon. Knock on wood (and anything else within reach!)

  24. Tod: I totally agree with you on the fact that the FSI materials are basically out-dated. That’s pretty obvious by looking at the typewritten pages (probably hacked out on an old Woodstock)

    I wasn’t talking about the material itself but rather the METHOD that is almost universally used throughout the world by business-persons, etc.

    Yeah, that FSI stuff is pretty laughable now, but the basic methodology survives to this day.

    Catherine: BTW…There is a publishing company that has already taken the FSI Thai course and published it in a MUCH more readable and usable format. I can’t think of the name offhand but I’ll try and get it to you ASAP

  25. All transliteration systems irk me… and if you look at the Thai Language Wiki, you’ll see Thai script, no transliteration (sadly, we’ve all come to an agreement that it needs to be added).

    I haven’t heard that language teachers are in fear of the courses – but I have heard of teachers using online courses to supplement their teaching. The internet has brought a great deal of resources within our grasp.

  26. WOW… That’s quite the myopic take on how people can acquire a second (or third, forth) language, you’ve got there. I mean, don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel..

    The FSI Thai material isn’t bad, but it certainly ain’t “cutting edge” in its methodology or its antiquated material by a LONG SHOT. The Wiki dealy people are working on to up-date it is a BIG improvement but, it still ain’t “all that”.

    Theoretical and even Applied Linguistics have come ahead light years in terms of ‘what works’ when learning another language since that FSI Thai stuff was first rolled off the shelf. It’s already been proven people learn things differently, even people in the same demographic group.

    FWIW; It’s no secret that I’m not a great fan of AUA’s methodology, BUT. .. . I have spoken Thai with a few students who put hundreds of hours into that system. They spoke some pretty darned clear Thai for foreigners. And their pronunciation was a LOT better than foreigners I’ve spoken with who used other methods of learning the Thai language. Now they did invest TONZ of time, and possibly another methodology could have yielded similar (or even better) results, but, they were pretty clear Thai speakers in their own right.

    I think a rank beginner would do better getting at least some understanding spoken Thai under their belts before taking AUA’s classes. Sitting even the beginner class knowing only “two-word-tourist-Thai” would be literally mind-numbing. Still, they are an EXCELLENT adjunct to bring someone’s comprehension of spoken Thai to a higher level; especially given the number of levels and topics they have. This almost assures that a student can get “comprehensible input in the target language which is just slightly above their current level”. Because it is well known that is where true language learning takes place.

    I won’t even comment on having deep or intelligent discussions with ESL teachers here in Thailand about the efficacy of different teaching methodologies other than to say the statement seems like an oxymoron.

  27. BTW…I’m a former business owner (electronics). I’m 57 now and semi-retired. But I do remember all of my associates that did business in Japan in the early 80’s used audio-lingual courses to converse in Business Japanese.
    Businessmen generally don’t have time to attend classes. They listen to language tapes (now CD’s) in-flight, while driving, etc.
    I know, I did that myself!

  28. True..They are outdated. The thing that irked me about the course is the transliteration system. They should have used the Haas transliteration system.
    Not all FSI courses are the same. Some are second to none, like the German course. I have a German friend here in Phuket who uses it to teach German here in Phuket.
    However, audio-lingual is a solid learning method. I believe that most teachers oppose its use because they have a fear of losing their jobs.
    As a teacher myself, I see audio-lingual materials as a valuable assistant. I don’t feel threatened by it at all.

  29. Kevin the method used by FSI is only one out of many that work. Each to their own.

    And btw – if you insist on using the FSI Thai materials as is, then you will be backing up because they are old-fashioned. I know because I’m working with a team to update the phrases: Thai Language Wiki

  30. Actually, the best language learning method is the one used by just about every government in the world to train its foreign service personnel (and its espionage agents as well!) :

    The audio-lingual/phrase-base method. The US Dept. of State has a branch called the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) which is responsible for teaching government employees foreign languages.
    This is supplimented with regular classroom instruction by a native speaker.

    I’ve gotten into plenty of arguments with other ESL teachers on this subject. But the fact remains. The so-called Communicative method does NOT work. What I find so amusing is that Farang that want to learn Thai INSIST that a Thai teacher speak to them in English and translate each and every word!
    After they leave the class, they go back to their school and expect Thai students to understand the “blah-blah-blah” (that’s what English sounds like to Asians BTW) that they use in the ESL classroom.
    Hypocrisy at the highest order!

  31. As I mentioned, some people will really take to the ALG method while others will be bored to tears (yours truly).

    I just met an American woman who had been in Thailand for three weeks. She had the ability to perfectly mimic any Thai word she heard with tones, vowels, consonants that were all right on. She also had an uncanny memory and never seemed to forget the Thai words that were told her (she never wrote anything down either). In three weeks of simply traveling around she had a vocabulary of about 100 words with perfect tones. I am sure she had a lobe in her brain that is missing from mine. I don’t think that she would be an appropriate candidate for the ALG method.

  32. I thought I’d pop in a positive word for the ALG approach — I did a few months with them intensively (4-6 hrs/day, 5 days/week) when I first arrived in Thailand. It worked extremely well for me, as a half-Thai who had had some exposure to Thai throughout my life, but just about zero active knowledge of the language.

    For me, the immersion method brought out a lot of knowledge that must have been buried deep in my subconscious. Traditional Thai classes always seemed to block my learning, confusing me with weird transliteration and rules that didn’t quite jibe with what I ‘felt’ to be true. That’s not as relevant for total beginners, but might be useful for other people in my shoes. For me, it’s still the most successful method given my background (and normally I ALWAYS prefer a structured approach to learning, so it’s quite unusual for me to like this kind of organic and seemingly aimless approach)

    Most importantly – and this would be true for the total beginner as well – it taught me how to listen to the everyday Thai around me. I live most of my life here in an English-speaking environment, and when I’m out and about, I have the bad habit of tuning the world out and letting my thoughts wander — the classes soon got me into the habit of really paying attention to what people were saying, and giving me the confidence to listen and puzzle things out even if I only recognized 15% of the words. I quickly lost this habit again when I stopped the classes.

    The downside is the total time investment required, which just isn’t practical for most people. And sitting silently in classes is mentally exhausting – I couldn’t maintain concentration for more than about 2 hours at a stretch. Fortunately, I had a pretty dull copyediting project on at the time, so I would bring my proofs with me – I’d do a couple hours of class, and when I couldn’t take any more, I’d go sit in the garden and do a couple of hours of work. When that got boring, I’d switch again. So that kept me more focused than usual on both projects. However, once I started full-time work, it just wasn’t feasible for me to put that kind of time into class anymore, and my Thai language learning plateaued for the next several years.

    The number of hours is deceptive, and can pass more quickly than you think. Athough there are 10 levels in total, they push you through the first 5 levels pretty quickly if you’ve had any exposure to Thai at all. They started me at level 5, and they did this for other friends of mine who had lived in Thailand for a year or two, even though they had no active Thai to speak of.

    Overall, I’d recommend the approach, and if I had the time I would have continued. And – even though I know that the ALG folks are purists and might not agree with me here — I think it’s also a great supplement to other language approaches, it really helps build comprehension and listening/understanding skills. Even if you don’t buy into the whole method, the drop-in schedule makes it very easy to take in a class now and then around your other class schedule.

    Hugh – one last note – it’s true that children experiment with language, not just absorb it passively, but there’s still a long latency period when they’re absorbing everything and understanding everything before they start speaking. And I think even with the ALG approach, when you do start speaking, it is still with that experimental approach that a child has…it will come out garbled at first and work its way out over time. It’s just that, by taking so much time to listen and absorb first, you develop a better internal sense of what feels right or wrong, which helps you continue to self-correct as you go along, even if you initially mess up the pronunciation or word choice or whatever. I think that internal sense gets lost if you try to copy the sounds before you’ve learned to hear them correctly – your own (usually incorrect) pronunciation is what gets wired in your brain. At least that’s how I felt when I tried to copy a Thai teacher’s pronunciation of a word before I had heard it enough times to really feel it internally. I’m not drawing conclusions as a linguist or an expert in the ALG method – but if I compare my experience learning Thai through ALG with watching my toddler daughter learn to speak, the analogy rings pretty true for me.

    That’s my 2 cents – hope it’s helpful!

  33. Thanks! Loved the writeup. Questions:

    1) how’s the book store as a resource compared to “normal” bookstores in town (Asia Books)?

    2) do they allow/encourage you to take notes during class?

    3) what kind of people do they appear to have as Thai language students?

    4) I have attended AUA Pattaya for 3 years or so and the curriculum is not the same as AUA Bangkok (for those who might be wondering). I wonder which method AUA Chiang Mai uses?

    Thx again


  34. Tod, Very interesting review. My classes are up at Pro Language and I am looking into other options and trying to understand the different teaching methods. These reviews plus the input from People like High and Cat are immensely helpful.

  35. I’d be interested in hearing more about the happy balance. With the classes limited by time (most at 4 hours), going strictly ALG would leave new students lost.

    Btw – I was told awhile back that AUA teachers used to take their students on walk-abouts. To break up the monotony of sitting in a classroom, they’d head out to the streets to hear actual, situational Thai.

  36. I just called David Long not 10 minutes ago and spoke to him about the “Real Life Bangkok” program to sort of clear up how it’s done. He said it is NOT based totally on the “ALG” method, but strikes a ‘happy balance’ between ALG and learning Thai the traditional way via phonetics, Thai script and “phrozen-phrazez”.

    I got the impression from him, because AUA (at least at Ratchadamri) believes so wholeheartedly in the ALG methodology, that the description for the RLB program on their website downplays using a more traditional method to teach Thai, even for an innovative non-traditional program such as this.

    I honestly don’t know, as I HAVEN’T taken the class and am just reporting back on what I gleaned from my conversation with David.

    Anyway, sorry to make it more murky, but that’s the best I can do.

  37. Hugh, from what I understand, the Real Life Bangkok course is ALG as well.

    What I’d like to see is a RLB course where students are given materials (phrases with sound) to practice before hitting the streets. Watching teachers act out the scenes would come in handy but only if the materials were available as well.

  38. Tod,

    Thanks for a good thorough review of AUA Bangkok.

    I wanted to make a comment on the ALG methodology which I thought was rather crazy even when Marven Brown tried to explain it to me. One thing, and maybe the most important, is their basic premise is probably erroneous. Children do not learn languages the way that is explained in the methodology. They do not sit passively and listen all day to adults talking. They continually experiment and try to talk too. Any parent knows this. In fact, just the other day I was talking to a mother holding her 10 month old and as we were talking the baby was going “gaa, goo, gaa gaa”. He wanted in on our conversation. We acknowledged him with some smiles and hugs and “gaas” and “goos” of our own.

    And yes, there are lots of listen and repeats all the time. Most Thai babies’ first word is “mum” which is Thai baby talk for eat. A Thai Momma, as she puts the food to baby’s mouth says “Mum mum”. The thousandth time she does this the baby then says “mum”. Sounds like listen and repeat to me.

    Please note that AUA Chiang Mai does not use the ALG methodology. I have talked to a number of people who have studied both and have not run into one who prefers ALG to the more conventional methodology. For those interested there are lots of YouTube videos how this class works. It just might be perfect for you but remember, you won’t be able to say anything for about the first 600 hours. I can’t keep quite for more than 6 seconds so this method was not for me.

    I did like the “walk around the street with a mentor” program. That kind of stuff really works for me.


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