Thai Language School Review: Duke Thai Language School

Thai Language School Review Duke Thai Language School

Website: Duke Language School
Address: 10/63, Trendy Building, 3rd floor Sukhumvit Soi 13, Wattana, Bangkok Thailand 10110
Email: [email protected]
Tel: Land: 02-168-7274 Mobile: 082-444-1595

Teaching Method: Union


It’s an easy walk from either the Nana or Asok BTS station to the Trendy building on Soi 13. Take the escalators up to the third floor and you’re there!


The materials are possibly some of the best “Union type” I’ve seen in my years in this country. They are contemporary, current, and totally re-written! Gone are the endless pages of boring text (like most Union clone schools have). In their place are labeled pictures and nice diagrams. 

Honestly, I can’t say enough about how fresh and meaningful the material is versus the old Union stuff.

The two co-founders of Duke Language School put a TON of time weeding out the useful teaching material from the dated stuff which was garbage.

They re-wrote what was left, organized it in a more logical way, and that included thinning out the artificial sounding constructs. The end result gives the lessons a good flow and real-life feel to them.

Many schools get duped by the printer to run WAY too many textbooks but Duke did a limited first run. The plan is to weed out any mistakes (it happens), get suggestions, and then make corrections and further tweak the system before the second run.

I’ve been to schools where, before they teach a single word, the teacher goes through the textbooks page by page to tell students about the mistakes. That won’t be the case at Duke Language School.

Teaching Method

It is definitely a Union based methodology as they teach speaking before they teach reading and writing Thai.

Now that’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination so don’t take it as a negative. 

I’ve met some pretty talented foreign speakers of Thai who learned via karaoke and some still can’t tell a chicken กอ ไก่ from an owl ฮอ นกฮูก (the first and last letters of the Thai alphabet).

Of all the possibly hundreds of Thai students I’ve spoken to, the FIRST thing they want to learn is speaking and understanding Thai.

Then way down the list, and I mean WAY down the list, is learning to read and write. Personally, no matter how many people say, “being able to read Thai makes you speak better Thai”, I don’t buy it. Kids can’t read a character, yet they seem to be able to develop competent spoken language skills sans reading. 

To me speaking and reading are horses of a different color. I doubt that many people if ANY think about how a word is spelled in Thai before they say it out loud. If they do, they must be some pretty slow clunky speakers of Thai. I mean it just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Now is reading Thai useful? Heck yeah it is! But is reading Thai necessary to learn to speak it? Nope, it is abso-tively posi-lutely NOT necessary to learn to read before you start to speak coherent Thai.

At Duke Language school students are first taught how their karaoke Thai system works, what the symbols mean, and sounds are made.

In looking at it, it’s almost 100% the same as Benjawan Becker’s phonemic transcription method, so transitioning from Duke’s textbooks to Benjawan’s is almost seamless.

This is a huge plus because I’ve been to some schools that have their own “proprietary school specific karaoke” which often bears little resemblance to anyone else’s method so you can’t easily switch between available materials (and we all do).

Face it, there’s no one who has more books in print about learning Thai than Benjawan does, so if a school uses her karaoke there is a plethora of other materials a student can use to supplement their learning.

Once the phonetic system at Duke Language School is learned the class starts on the basics with meeting greeting, names, questions, etc. They do the typical 50 minute classes with a 10-15 minute break in between.

Audio Visual

Duke is also one of the first schools I’ve been to that uses audio visual and big screens to teach Thai.

It’s incorporated into almost every level they teach. And they are constantly developing additional ways to use it in the school’s curriculum. I believe it will become the “gold standard” as far as teaching Thai to foreigners goes.

Students watch a short clip or a presentation, then talk about and discuss it. It’s a no-brainer in today’s tech-savvy world, especially with all of the resources available in internet-land.

You can also download your class audio files from their website.

Duke offers monthly field trips which students, no matter their level of Thai, can participate in.

To encourage the students to interact with each other and further their Thai ability, on the field trips they incorporate various activities. This also helps build friendship between students no matter what module or level they’re learning at school.

FWIW: these aren’t just those b/s trips to a Soi side street vendor, J/J Market or Pratunam, but decent day trips, which in talking to the students, seem to be well received and attended.


Sitting in a trial class I was impressed that the teacher went out of her way to speak clearly.

She spoke slowly enough so students could comprehend and understand her, but not too slow to make it feel like she was “spoon feeding” the students.

Teachers at Duke Language School are competent in the teaching method, are engaging, and no matter how off-toned or poorly pronounced the students are, seriously try to get them to break out of their shell and speak. The teachers are sticklers on getting pronunciation, vowel length and intonation right. 

But that’s a plus, seeing as it’s the key to being understood in Thai. Sitting outside talking with the front desk staff, I could hear the laughter and animated conversations going on in the rooms. Too many times sitting in class, it’s no fun learning Thai (or any language), but these teachers appear to go out of their way and make it fun. It can and does make learning a lot easier.


Duke Language School’s use books that Bingo (Arthit Juyaso) poured his blood, sweat and tears into writing from scratch. Bingo is a co-founder of Duke Language School. He also wrote some great articles on learning Thai for us, including:

Duke Language School’s use books are, IMHO, the best, most comprehensive and information filled books on Thai conversation I’ve ever seen being taught in any school! They’re broken into three books (modules).

Journey 1: Survival “Practical Thai for everyday life”

journey 1 practical Thai for everyday life

The essential tools you need to survive in this country and go about your business independently. This coursebook covers the following topics:

  • Understanding the sound system and the numbers of the Thai language.
  • Introducing yourself, greeting and saying goodbye.
  • Getting a taxi and giving simple directions.
  • Buying street food.
  • Asking for directions inside a building.
  • Using public transportation and talking about locations.
  • Ordering food and solving difficult situations at a restaurant.
  • Buying clothes and describing colours, shapes and sizes.
  • Telling time and making appointments.
  • Getting a haircut and expressing degrees.
  • Buying things and using services at convenience stores.
  • Buying medicines and describing symptoms.
  • Solving communication breakdowns.
  • Talking about personal life.
  • Starting and holding a casual chit-chat in Thai.

Total number of unique words: 764
Core vocabulary (essential words): 584

As you can see these first 15 lessons teach you the survival Thai you’ll need. It provides a great foundation vocabulary which you will build on in the subsequent modules. In many ways learning a language is like building a house. IF you don’t start with a good foundation your house will be rickety and unstable. It’s the same with learning Thai, a good solid foundation is needed to build on.

Journey 2: Conversational “The basics of communicative Thai”

Journey 2: Conversational "The basics of communicative Thai"

Develop your understanding of the Thai language and learn to say exactly what you want to say. This coursebook covers the following topics:

  • Expressing frequency, quantity, and number-related concepts.
  • Describing things using adjectives and expressing degrees.
  • Expressing similarities, differences, and comparing things.
  • Understanding the concept of Thai time expression.
  • Talking about people’s appearance and personality.
  • Describing directions of movements and changes of things.
  • Expressing perceptions, emotions, and feelings.
  • Talking about your skills and abilities, and the limit of them.
  • Giving instruction, expressing order or events, and describing purpose of things.
  • Making requests and commands.
  • Offering suggestions and expressing opinions.
  • Describing actions and consequences, causes and effects.
  • Making guesses and talking about probability.
  • Expressing likes and dislikes.
  • Talking about future plans, expectations and hopes.

Total number of unique words: 602
Core vocabulary (essential words): 497

This book is where you take the survival Thai from the previous module and start the building process from basic to more advanced structure. You learn to construct more complex sentences as well as how to sound more like a Thai when you say things. This last point is critical when trying to get Thais to understand you. The more you can say things which Thais are used to hearing, the better their comprehension of what you’re saying is.

Journey 3: Fluency “Real Thai in cultural context”

Journey 3: Fluency "Real Thai in cultural context"

Learn about different aspects of Thai culture to help you speak Thai in a natural way with confidence. This coursebook covers the following topics:

  • Extended family and kinship terms.
  • Social status and its impact on Thai pronouns.
  • Understanding “face” and “greeng jai”.
  • Regions of Thailand and Thai dialects.
  • Thai food and table etiquette.
  • Buddhism in Thailand.
  • Ghosts, spirits, and superstitions.
  • Thai ceremonies and rituals.
  • Thai festivals and national holidays.
  • Thai entertainment, arts, and pop culture.
  • Formal Thai in formal situations.
  • Understanding “sabaai-sabaai” attitude.
  • Thai slangs, idioms, and proverbs.
  • Thai pride, and an introduction to Thai history.
  • Cross-cultural topics and discussions.

Total number of unique words: 607
Core vocabulary (essential words): 402

Duke Language School: Journey 1-3

The books are character and situation driven, which is a trend we’re starting to see by more and more thai language schools. What sets this material apart from the rest is the supplemental material which is interspersed within each lesson. They touch on everything from culture, fun facts and interesting tidbits of how the language goes together. In all the years I’ve been touring Thai language schools, this is some of the best material I’ve ever seen.

It also seems that they’re not resting on their laurels with just these books and have plans for more – Explore 2, 3, and Discover. Explore 3 in particular, is all about learning Thai through media, e.g. Facebook, blogs, ads, emails, letters, articles, songs, video clips, movies, etc. It’s contemporary and shows how Thai is used in a multi-media context today. As far as I know, no other Thai language school has such a course. Explore 3 will be the link that connects the Journey series (speaking) with Explore (reading & writing) before moving on to Discover (the advanced levels).


They run four weeks of group classes or terms that are available in the morning, afternoon or evening. They also offer private lessons too.

ED Visa

DLS is approved by the Ministry of Education to offer ED visa assistance and support for both their six month and their yearlong Thai courses.

Should I Study at Duke Language School?

If, as a student of the Thai language, you want to do intensive courses in Thai (versus milking the current education system by learning Thai four hours a week just to get a visa to stay here) this school is at the top of the pile!

Hands down I’d recommend Duke Language School over ANY other school out there that I’ve been to so far.

No other schools can compete with Duke in terms of quality material, qualified teachers, and an overall good atmosphere to learn the Thai language. They have some of the most competitive pricing for group lessons. Make sure to check their website for promotions, etc.

After going to so many schools, saying the same old B/S spiel, “Hi, I just moved here to Thailand. I love the country, the people and the culture so much that I want to learn Thai“, I’ve become a pretty darned jaded foreigner as far as how Thai is taught. It takes a lot for a school to wow me nowadays, but I can honestly say, with no reservations at Duke Language School I was indeed wowed!

I hope you guys found this review of interest. As I said in the beginning, after a long break I’m a little rusty writing Thai language school reviews. If you’re wanting to learn Thai you should definitely put Duke on your list of schools to scope out. Be sure to sit a trial lesson while you are there.

Good luck, and as always I’m not affiliated with ANY Thai language school, I just want you guys to know what’s out there in the learn Thai marketplace.

What to Read Next

43 thoughts on “Thai Language School Review: Duke Thai Language School”

  1. Useless Teachers with Masks on you cant see thier lips to help pronuciation and the course if at fast speed and Teacher does not take time to help students who battle with it. I would NOT recomment that Schol at all I left half way as I could not take it anymore

  2. I am about to complete Journal 3, and will continue to do the Explore Series. Thumbs up for this school, my teacher is so dedicated and patience, I learnt so much the last 3 over weeks but the courses are intense, you really need to put the effort in. They are serious in teaching you Thai.

  3. I have enrolled for 3 courses at Duke, starting 1st June 2018.

    Their websites are not updated but I have been informed that the following modules now applies : –

    Journey 1-3
    Explore 1-2
    Connect 1-3

    I was tempted to buy 7 courses ( a discounted price) but I like to see how well I fit in and progress before buying more.

  4. Hi Phil. I’m Bingo, principal of Duke Language School. We have completed our revision of the “Journey” textbooks and they have been in use for a while now. They contain both phonetic transliteration and Thai script in the vocabulary and dialogue sections throughout the books, in which the Thai script is written underneath the phonetic guide. We eventually discarded the plan to put Thai script and phonetic on separate pages for practical reason: the Journey textbooks are content-rich and as they are now each book is roughly 260-270 pages thick (A4 size), if we put Thai script and phonetic guides on separate pages I’m afraid they’ll look more like phone books, and no one wants to carry a phone book around. Besides, students would have to pay considerably more due to the increasing cost.

    As for the suggestions to create Thai-script-only version, we decided not to implement that (at least not yet) for a couple of reasons: 1) Currently each Journey textbook comes in two editions: English-Japanese and English-Korean. If the Thai-only version is released, we’ll end up with 5 different editions per each level which will be an administrative nightmare printing-wise and stock-checking-wise. 2) there is simply not enough demand for it. Most of our students are quite content with starting their conversational classes with the aid of phonetic system. After 3 courses, those who wish to pursue higher levels of Thai will then attend the reading-writing courses. Also, as Anne and Peter pointed out, some people share the passion for learning the script, some don’t. A lot of people just want to be able to speak.

  5. If anyone from Duke Language School is still following this thread, I’d be interested to know if they still have plans to implement the changes mentioned above by their representative.

  6. I’ve recently finished what DLS call “journey 1,2,3” conversational Thai, and overall would give them a big thumbs up. The textbooks are up to date and topical (much better than those at Pro Language where I had a few lessons last year) that follow a storyline through out the series. Contrary to what one of their teachers posted here a while ago, the karaoke and Thai scripts are still together with the karaoke thai bigger and bolder than real Thai…. although if you really want to read the Thai, it is easy enough to cover the karaoke with a bit of paper!
    “Duke offers monthly field trips which students, no matter their level of Thai, can participate in” ….they must have dropped that nowadays, at least for the first 3 conversational Thai courses.
    The first 2 courses had plenty of “edutainment” games such as buying and selling stuff with funny money, or directing another student around a big map on the floor. “Journey 1” covers the usual small talk, “Journey 2” has a fair amount of grammar to learn. The third was a bit more serious, but still fun, and used audio-visual aids (ie YouTube videos) to teach the subject matter which in “Journey 3” covers Thai society, culture, festivals and entertainment etc. Some people might think that some chapters in this book might verge on nationalistic browbeating when they talk about Thais being “greeng jai” and polite.
    One aspect of this course was that you had to discuss and compare Thai culture, society, etc to your own country, I was a bit put off by the teacher asking me “farang kit/tam arai?” … would expect an uneducated bargirl or taxidriver fresh from Issaan to lump all Caucasians together but I would expect a university educated teacher to know that there are many different ‘farang’ societies who all think differently! Especially as I was the only caucasian in the class and she knew where I came from. When I asked her why she and other Thais would say “kon Asian” (Asian people) but not “kon farang” she became slightly aggressive. Being called a farang does not particularly worry me, but I did pointedly use the phrase “kon dtaang-chaat’ (foreigner) when I replied.
    With any school there is going to be a bit of variance in the teachers, 2 out of the 3 were excellent, one not so good. Apart from the little matter above I personally thought that her diction was not as clear as the first 2 teachers, and that perhaps she spoke too fast.
    Overall, a school well worth checking out and I will probably return next year for the reading and writing course (although I will check which teacher is rostered for the course!).

  7. Thanks, Anne. I might have to email them. It seems their night/weekend classes work on a drop-in type format, and I’m not sure how that would work, if students are just popping in and out on different days, and how they would know what to teach from day to day if one person has been to 7 classes so far, and another has only been to two, etc. I wouldn’t want to be either floundering with people much more advanced, or bored if things I already know are being re-taught.

  8. I attended a night class a while back and the night classes are as good as the day ones. Duke now has a new set of books written by one of the co-owners, Bingo, that focuses more on colloquial Thai…not that I’m really in a position to know what colloquial Thai is 🙂 But it does seem like it’s trying for more natural language.
    You can sit in on a class (for free) and look through their books before you sign up.
    If you email them with your questions you’ll get a prompt & in-depth reply.

  9. Has anyone attended Duke’s night and weekend classes? Since I’ll be moving to Bangkok for work, I don’t have the option of classes during the day. Are they as worthwhile as the regular classes, or would I find another school to work out better? (I’d rather avoid the expense of private lessons if I can find a good class that meets outside of office hours. )

  10. Anne: I’m in a similar situation, though somewhat elder I suppose. I’m living in Bkk with my Thai wife since 4 years, both of us working at a university, where I’m supposed to speak English (not as an E-teacher). I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. The discussion about yes or no karaoke is purely academic. Calm down guys; most people want to speak basic Thai, which is difficult enough. Pushing them on the first-read-then-speak track means most of them will quit frustrated. I speak some basic Thai and to improve I will join a school, but definitely not waste my time with the alphabet, as I’m not interested at all in reading Thai (what for? Newspaper, books – come on). Most of us simply want to communicate adequately, which is understand and speak the language. Don’t reason these kind of people into knowing the letters as a MUST-requirement to learn the language.

  11. Thanks! I’ll check it out. BTW, I’ve signed up for the Duke Language school for November. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

  12. Hi,

    I think the debate about karaoke script verses Thai script is for the super keeners. I’ve lived in BKK for 6 years and other than numbers I only know about 50 Thai words that I wring the life out of when I go shopping or take a taxi. Most of the expats that I know, and I know loads, are in my same boat. Over the years I’ve taken Thai lessons a few times and dropped out each time. I am back at it again and am really enjoying it this time…for some reason. But I will say that it is hard enough for me to have faith that I can learn even basic conversational Thai that if I had to learn the Thai script at the start I’m sure I would drop out again. The academic evidence behind Karaoke vs Thai script doesn’t seem to exist (no studies that I’m aware of) but there is the pragmatic truth that learning Thai for the average non-Thai is daunting. I am very impressed when I hear people say that they are learning to read and write Thai.
    I am happy to take the crutch of karaoke and hope to learn the Thai alphabet once I have some basic conversational skills. We don’t teach babies to read…and I’m certainly at the infancy stage in my Thai 🙂

  13. I’m interested in taking private classes for speaking but also reading and writing.

    How would compare it to Baan Aksorn ? Both place are near my office and I’m still not sure which one to choose

  14. Thank you Khun Keith 🙂 We look forward to meeting you the next time you’re in Bangkok!

  15. Khun Serene, having karaoke on one page for those wanting to concentrate just on speaking and listening on one page and อักษรไทย for those wanting to read and write as well on the other page sounds like a great compromise, and might even encourage more students to learn to read and write Thai. 🙂

    From Tod’s review, it sounds like you have put a great deal of effort into making quality materials for learning Thai already; this will only make it better. Keep up the good work!

    I hope to stop by your school next time I am in Bangkok.

  16. I just read the above, and can’t let it go without a comment. The spelling of the word เล่น does indeed indicate the short vowel, because the use of ไม้เอก makes the vowel short.

  17. Hi Tod,

    Sorry to go with the same subject. I think phonetic Thai has a few shortcoming when you compare it to karaoke. The RID for instance says เล่น is pronounced as เล่น which is not correct (because it’s pronounced with a short vowel). It’s actually not possible to write certain Thai words in Thai phonetic script…. So, I am not against the use of karaoke in Thai dictionaries.

    Anyway, I am sorry that I high-jacked the comments to go on with this discussion (about karaoke vs Thai script).

    The review you made was excellent and the course material provided by this school looks nice. Your level of Thai must be pretty good after all these years and most schools and teachers probably know you…. (I’ve seen you once in a big group, at it was pretty easy to recognize you). Still, your reviews always look as if you were a new student, entering the school for the first time, and you really manage to get a lot of inside knowledge about the different schools. Keep up the good work.

  18. Leo; that Thai phonetic script used in a LOT of thai-thai dictionaries is a god-send.. It’s really helpful in pronouncing unfamiliar words; especially ones with what I call “invisible vowels”, or those tricky “double function consonants” which end one syllable and then stand alone for the next one too!

    Even as simple as thai phonetic script represents how to pronounce the word correctly syllable by syllable (สวัสดี=สะ-หฺวัด-ดี), you gotta have all the tone rules dialed down to near perfection or you’re mostly pissing in the wind tryin’ to pronounce a word.

    As far as you “Kris”, while your story of learning thai is anecdotally interesting, last time I checked (which I do once in a while); this is a review of a Thai language school, NOT about the most effective methodology to go about learning the language.

    Please keep in perspective that how you learned thai just happened to work for you.

    Your comments are welcome and anything which helps Catherine’s website is a plus, even reading my stuff!!!

  19. Oops, I forgot to mention I did also a book called level 7 before going to social problems.

    Learning to read Thai by myself took about 1 month, I got 2 hours per week help of a Thai teacher (I was still in Europe) that mainly checked my pronunciation during this month.

    The biggest progress of all I made during the 30 hours private course (4 hours per week). The teacher really pushed me to my limits.

    In the end, if I would have to choose to do 1 thing different, I would ignore the karaoke from the first minute and I would go for private courses instead of group courses.

  20. No, I can’t compare a bunch Thai script learners with a bunch of Karaoke learners, because the school(s) I went to mainly used karaoke in the first levels.

    I was the only one in the classroom with a book in Thai only. I never had to do any module twice and in the end I was the only farang left. So, I didn’t hold back the group. I went faster than them. Because I learned to read myself beforehand, I could skip 2 modules (2 months) about writing. I also skipped the first book because I thought is was too easy. So, I went to level 6 within 3 months. After that I did social problem and had 30 hours private course with the director of the school. After that I did the government test. I got a 5 on all skills, except for writing, I got a 3 for that. 6 is the level of a native speaker.

    So, in the end skipping karaoke didn’t make me go slower, it helped me save 2 months.

  21. Ok, but how can you tell it’s the karaoke that’s making them mispronounce? I thought you were comparing a bunch of karaoke learners with a bunch of Thai script learners. If you aren’t, I don’t think you can come to that conclusion – native english speakers tend to be pretty sloppy when it comes to pronunciation in my experience, and I don’t think switching to script will help with Thai, because it doesn’t help with, for example, Russian.

    Yeah, Thai phonetic script is nice. Harder to learn than karaoke, but easier that full-up script. A nice compromise.

  22. In my class we used a karaoke system that matches with most European languages, but not with American English. The German speaking would have no problem with it, but the Americans read it wrong. า (aa) became แ, โอะ (o) became ะ and so on.

    Thai people use Thai phonetics script for knowing how to pronounce the ambiguities. That works just as good, and maybe even better than karaoke.

  23. Kris – I agree that many learners don’t try to pronounce things correctly, but I don’t think it’s related to the text as much as a general lack of discipline. If somebody is going to ignore vowel length while using karaoke, they’re probably going to ignore it while using script too, for example. Is it possible the the people you observed learning with script were of a different cut that the ones learning with karaoke? I agree that pronunciation come first though.

    One advantage that karaoke has over script, which I don’t think has been mentioned here yet, is that it can remove, or at least reduce, ambiguity. Parsing isn’t an issue. Words have only one possible pronunciation (in theory, however some karaoke isn’t modified to show the tone exceptions like in he=เขา). On the other hand, homonyms, in this case – words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings, become more ambiguous to a reader, so it’s a bit of a toss up.

  24. Assuming it takes (at least) 10 months to get to the level of a 10 to 12 years old, the 1 month or less it takes to do study basic reading is not that huge anymore. And it’s not lost time, because in the end you would have to go through the difficulties anyway, including the difficulty of the extremely slow reading in the beginning.

    I’ve one more problem with karaoke, which I’ve noticed with farang at the beginners level. That’s that some of them read the karaoke as if it was their native language, leading to completely incorrect vowel sounds. If you go for karaoke or not, the first thing anyone should work on, before any reading or speaking, is pronunciation of vowel sounds, vowel length, consonants and tones. (Again) because it is much harder to unlearn/forget than it is to learn.

  25. Excellent review Tod; sounds like a great school. But I don’t get the 4 weeks thing – is that just the length of a single level? I mean, it’s only 60 hours.
    Ah yes, the timeless karaoke ve script debate☺. Let me add my thoughts. Thai was my 4th language, but my first foreign script. If I hadn’t learned with karaoke, I would have quit. That’s because I had no experience with a foreign script, and certainly not one a brutal as Thai, so I would have hade no confidence that it all would have paid off. And even if I had stuck it out, it wouldn’t have paid off the way it should. You said that you were “reading” before you were pronouncing things correctly. That’s not a good thing, because it reinforces incorrect pronunciation, and I would have done the same thing if I hadn’t used karaoke.
    I used karaoke, and was able to work on other aspects of the language immediately. But I even screwed that up because I completely ignored tones and vowel length. Who cares, right? Heh heh. What an idiot I was. So I screwed up using karaoke, but should my conclusion be “either way, your gonna’ screw up, so it doesn’t matter”? While I’m sure everybody is going to screw up to some degree, that’s not my conclusion. It does matter, but I think it depends on the person.
    This is my opinion. If your goal is to reach a high level in Thai, you have already learned a foreign language with a different script to a high level, you have heard of the difficulty of the Thai script and are still convinced that avoiding karaoke is the best way to go, then you should learn without karaoke. Otherwise, you will probably be better off using karaoke.
    Some tips for both types of learners: learn correct pronunciation first. Tones and vowel length are even more important that consonant and vowel sounds, because there is no leeway to the former but there is for the latter. So be anal in the beginning. When you read, read out loud, with correct pronunciation. No cheating, no mumbling. Do not learn the script before you can pronounce it. Listen to audio before you start reading and writing stuff. Otherwise you will fossilize incorrect pronunciation.
    Some tips for karaoke learners: use a textbook that weans you off of it very quickly, like Becker. You want the karaoke to disappear as painlessly as possible. In the future, you will be reading tons of stuff, and none of it will be in karaoke. When you try to recall the correct pronunciation of a word, you want Thai script to pop up in your mind, not karaoke, because thinking of karaoke gives your brain one more step to take, and that can slow you down.
    Some tips for Thai only: You could learn the script to a decent level of comfort before starting to study other things. This will take a long time, maybe more than 100 hours, and you won’t understand what you’re reading. You’ll have to stick to some pretty simple stuff, because without knowing how words are parsed you will mispronounce things. Even single words sometimes have more than one possible pronunciation, so you have to memorize the right one. This kind of long, out of context study is a bad point of this method.
    But that’s not the only way to avoid karaoke. How do people learn Chinese script? They don’t usually learn several thousand characters ahead of time (actually, the Heisig method advocates just that, but it’s not the most common way). What they do is to learn the characters as they encounter them. The first characters/words they encounter are the most common, and so having a few hundred down is actually quite beneficial. So the other method I recommend for Thai only learners is to spend a couple dozen hours learning the script, and then jump into normal studies, with an intensive effort of memorizing each word – both the sound and the written form. I believe we actually memorize words in written form, and even blocks of words/sentences when we read more often than we realize anyway, so I don’t think this will cause much additional effort in the long run.

  26. You guys all bring up some valid points about learning w/thai script versus w/karaoke BUT.

    There is a HUGE (as in really big investment of time) which you have to front load when you go about learning to speak thai by using thai script.

    It’s most definitely NOT that most students want to go the easy way!! It’s that most students want to speak something which sounds like thai FIRST, then learn to read. It’s got nothing at all to do with schools wanting students to pay for more levels and EVERYTHING to do with the time investment it takes to even begin to read “retard thai” (beginning conversational thai) with a proficiency where you could keep up in class.

    You have to commit to memory (by that I mean, NOT just know about it, but being able to parrot it out every time); the 44 consonant characters, the 32 vowel sounds (and the vowels which change their form), the consonant classes, the word ending protocols, the tone marks and when the ไม้เอก ไม้โท shift from making เสียงเอก เสียงโท into เสียงโท เสียงตรี (for low class consonants), you need to know what consonants ห can be a silent character for, etc. There’s just SOO much that has to be learned and memorized BEFORE you can begin to work out how to pronounce the words by trying to learn conversational thai with thai script.

    I’m not sayin’ it can’t be done, I’m saying there’s an inordinately high amount of time with very little “bang-4-the-baht” as far as return on investment BEFORE you can even start speaking thai with any degree of accuracy.

    Conversely, the karaoke systems taught in most schools today can be acquired very rapidly, and students are able to replicate the sounds pretty darned close, pretty darned fast. This gets them speaking something which sounds a LOT like thai faster and that’s the objective of thai conversation classes; hence the catchy title “conversational thai”.

    Most people (that I’ve met) who say they want to learn to speak using thai script, stutter, hem-haw, and just plain butcher simple words when tryin’ to spit out even a basic thai sentence like คุณชื่ออะไร. It comes out so garbled, so mispronounced that they’d be better off using karaoke..

    I mean it was almost painful for me to sit in a class with people who allegedly could “read thai” when they were learning conversational thai. Plain and simple they most definitely could NOT read thai with a proficiency that would let them keep up in class, participate in the exercises, and understand what was being taught at the same time. They just didn’t have reading thai, or really pronouncing thai words correctly down to the degree it takes to learn conversational thai that way.

    Remember reading thai and speaking thai out loud are two different things, I could read comprehend and understand thai WAY before I could read the sentences aloud with any degree of accuracy. Now you may be different, you might blaze away reading out loud. Unfortunately, most people I’ve met who say they can read thai and that they’re going to take thai conversational classes in thai script, well they sorta remind me of an idiot savant; except without the savant part. <-pun intended..

    Everyday Thai for Beginners was a book I skipped buying for the longest time simply because of the title. I could read really well, so I wasn't a beginner. Then I opened the book saw it was ONLY in thai script and bought it. I went thru it cover to cover, every exercise, every sentence drill. It is a GREAT book. The constructs are/or were contemporary, the vocab useful, and I'd say anyone could benefit from this book even if you can only read thai at a "retard level".

    As I said, there are schools which offer their conversational thai classes with books either in karaoke or thai script and Duke said they are going to incorporate thai into their books soon.

    However in talking to 4 or 5 schools which do this, to a school every single teacher said; "Foreigners say they can read thai better than they do, and this hurts the entire group". It got so bad that now some schools "test" you into classes if you're wanting to use thai script, so as not to take away from the other students. I watched a foreigner test into conversation level one at a school, and while they were adamant they could read thai, what came out of their mouth sure didn't sound much like thai to my foreign ears (and I can understand some piss-poor pronounced thai from foreigners).

    I'm not tryin' to rain on anyone's parade with my comments; I'm telling you what I have witnessed first hand and the feedback I've got from the people teaching thai to foreigners..

    You learn however you want to, because at the end of the day if it works for you, GREAT!!

    Just don't be in such a hurry to discount other very viable methods of learning conversational thai to other people simply because you don't think that it's practical for you. Nor should you try to draw a parallel of who achieves better proficiency in thai by comparing karaoke learners to thai script learners. While the "incredibly astute thai learner" series on this site is anecdotally interesting, that's about as far as I'd go with it.

    To me karaoke is a crutch to use while you're beginning to walk with this language and once you have some proficiency in speaking, it can be discarded along the path as you learn to read thai script.

    Sorry this was long, hope it was of some value. . .

  27. You could say not using karaoke at all narrows down your choices at a beginners level, but at that the same time it also broadens your choices. I learnt to read Thai with the Maanii readers. I think these basic schoolbooks, with the assistance of a teacher are a very good tool to learn Thai.

    The only problem I had with using the Maanii readers is that they don’t teach conversational Thai. Thai people can speak before they start to read, so there are no textbooks for Thai people about conversational Thai.

    … so in the end you’re forced to go the a language school or buy books intended for English speakers and the karaoke comes.

    In my opinion, the most important reason why all language schools stick to karaoke, is that students choose to go the easy way. Students would be frustrated by the huge challenges and difficulties if one would start with the Thai writing system from the very beginning. Students would feel bored, facing those challenges and would not pay for the next module.

    The second reason, is that some people just want to speak Thai, they don’t want to learn to write or read.

    I am convinced that your pronunciation will be just as good if you start to study with Thai script right away, just look at Luke Bauer, the last advanced Thai students that was interviewed on this website.

    The vast majority of the most advanced students interviewed on this website started with Thai script from the very beginning. This is just remarkable, because only a small minority of us does start with Thai script from the very beginning. There almost seems to be a statistical relation between the level you’ll eventually reach and the point where you’ve started to use Thai script (But I don’t think it’s a causal relation).

  28. I have to agree with Khun Tod on all counts; check his post about trying to pull his eyes away from karaoke text that is way too prominent. I have the same problem. Yet to ignore opportunities to learn Thai that offer only karaoke thai is to narrow one’s choices down drastically. Many resources exist that offer Thai script along with karaoke, and while I agree it is hard to drag one’s eyes away from the karaoke, it gets easier with time. Somewhat. 🙂

    “Everyday Thai for Beginners”, by Wiworn Kesavatana-Dohrs is an excellent book. The author is a college professor in the United States teaching a year-long introductory Thai language course and uses her book for the course. Yup, no karaoke. You need at least to know the alphabet and basic pronunciation rules. She estimates students will need 10-15 hours to master the Thai writing system; which I think is somewhat optimistic, but should get you started.

    As for private lessons, they are great. Although you might want to check if your teacher has a suitable lesson plan for you.

  29. I feel the same way about karaoke. It is simply a distraction, and when I try to remember how a word is spelled, I can see only the karaoke version in my mind.

    Today I just heard about a textbook called “Everyday Thai for Beginners”, by Wiworn Kesavatana-Dohrs. Apparently it has no karaoke in it, only Thai. I think it must be unique in that respect. It comes with a CD. I have ordered a copy already.
    The site says “This is not for learning Thai from beginners level, it is for learning spoken Thai as the Thai’s speak it and you should already have basic Thai ability.” See

    I have decided to go with private lessons, and forget the language school. I looked at a sample lesson from the school I was thinking of, and it’s all karaoke, mixed up with some IPA. Things like backward C’s and U’s with lines through them. For heaven’s sake, just give me the Thai! The one school I have heard of using Thai only for those who want it costs more for group lessons than I shall be paying for one-on-one, where I get 100% of the teacher’s time, so it’s a better value for me.

  30. Hi Tod,

    I understand you opinion. But your seem to assume speaking the the only goal all students have. When I said studying until a higher level, I thought it was clear this should also include reading and writing.

    If from the very beginning your intention it to study Thai until a level you can read and write, why would you waste your time with learning karaoke? And more important, why would you waste your time with learning to forget karaoke?

    I read a few karaoke books before I went to school and it took a really long time to forget karaoke. Every time I was thinking about a word, the karaoke popped up in my head. If I would have ignored the karaoke from the very beginning this would not have happened and it would be much easier to learn to write.

    Speaking is indeed the most important skill when learning a language. And I agree with you that you can get a perfect pronunciation by only using karaoke. But your pronunciation will be just as good if you study with books in Thai only (possibly combined with phonetic Thai for a few words that are exceptions). I don’t see any reason why there would be any difference.

    For me personally, I think being able to read and write at an early stage is a very useful tool in the language learning process. If you can read books, websites, chat in Thai, a whole new world opens up.

    I would feel very frustrated is I could only speak.

  31. As I said, the reason more schools don’t offer their conversation classes (especially the beginning levels) in thai script is; most foreigners who come into a school saying, “I can read thai”, are able to do it at such a piss-poor level and are as slow as a snail doing it that they can’t keep up with the lessons.

    You can’t be tryin’ to remember the consonant classes, the vowels sounds and tone rules when you’re trying to learn how to speak. Instead you need to be concentrating in SAYING the word correctly. That other stuff will come into line IF you want it to.

    I will say this one last time, I have NEVER EVER met a single foreigner who was able to prove to my satisfaction that them being able to read made ’em speak clearer thai. It just hasn’t happened. If they’re out there, they’re sure thin on the ground. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.<- Forrest Gump quote.

    That's why most schools teach speaking conversation levels in karaoke FIRST before you learn to read or write. Now some might have the thai script there too, but it's to familiarize the student with what thai looks like so that when they do get to the reading writing levels it clicks easier.

    Sadly, I must disagree with your two statements. One about karaoke being a waste of time for people wanting to study higher levels and the other that karaoke is only useful for those who want to know some very basis spoken thai.

    I've seen some pretty in-depth contemporary topics taught in karaoke thai at schools nowadays.

    In the review I said, I've met people who couldn't read a single character in thai, learned ONLY thru karaoke, yet spoke light years clearer than a LOT of foreigner speakers of thai that I've met.

    Still thanx for the comment, hope you found the review useful..

  32. At Piammitr you can get textbooks in Thai only (I’ve never used the karaoke books.) However, the teacher still writes in karaoke on the whiteboard during the first 3 modules.

    The transcription are a waste of time for those that plan to study until a higher level, but I am convinced that are helpful for those that only want to know some very basic spoken Thai.

  33. I am studying “Thai, an essential grammar” by David Smyth. It is a very useful textbook, I believe, but the transliteration always comes first, before the Thai, is in bold as you say, and anyway it is not karaoke, it is IPA and I cannot read most of it. It makes no sense to me, but the positioning and bold text still force my eye to go there first, try to pronounce this gobbledegook, fail and then finally read the perfectly comprehensible Thai. Frankly, I think it would take longer to learn to read that IPA than to learn to read Thai – and for what?

    I took a look at the website of that Baan Aksorn; it looks lovely, but it is really expensive. For their minimum of 300 an hour for group lessons I could hire a Skype teacher for one-on-one lessons, and save on the transportation costs too. And that way I can avoid the karaoke issue entirely; just tell I don’t want to see it, just write everything in Thai. But I would miss out on the social interaction with other learners.

  34. Hi, this is Khru Serene from Duke Language School 🙂

    We have plans to revise our textbooks and include both karaoke and Thai script.

    The Thai script will be printed on a separate page to avoid confusion.

    As this is a massive amount of work, it will take us a few months to complete every book.

    Feel free to contact me or visit me at Duke Language School if you have any questions 🙂

    Thank you…

  35. That is one thing which drove me crazy too!

    In almost all the schools I’ve been at which offer the thai and karaoke; the karaoke is type set WAY TOO LARGE and it’s placed WAY TOO close to the thai script. Because karaoke is sort of engrish, native engrish readers eyes are automatically drawn to it FIRST.

    A person really has to concentrate to pull their eyes off the karaoke and look at the thai script.

    At one school where I sat a level; I finally resorted to cutting a piece of paper which I could use to screen out the karaoke on the pages. It was tedious and not all that fun.

    That’s why I was glad when some schools made the leap and offered the beginning levels of conversational material in just plain thai script or just plain karaoke.

    As I said, so few people come into beginning thai conversational classes already reading thai (or if they do read it, they read it so slowly that they’d be way better using karaoke, no matter what they think). It makes it almost not worth the cost to the school to offer that material in thai.

    Thanx for the thanx & good luck out there…

  36. Tod,

    Thanks for another great review! I always find them interesting. Thanks to Catherine as well!

  37. Roberta,

    You’ve hit on a pet peeve of mine regarding the typography of Thai language materials. Too often the design has the same font size for both the karaoke and the Thai with the result that the Thai characters appear half the size of the karaoke. One book even puts the karaoke in bold type, further drawing the eye away from the Thai script.

    But the Duke school does sound intriguing, especially if you want to hone your listening skills like I do. Private lessons are great, but can be expensive to get the requisite hours of practice. I think I might check out Duke on my next trip to Bangkok as their prices for group lessons seem pretty reasonable.

    I also wondered about AUA. Their method is unorthodox, but could be good listening practice, also at a reasonable rate, I think.

    Baan Aksorn lets students opt for all their learning materials in Thai script only, except for vocabulary definitions in English. I am not sure if the other materials contain karaoke or phonetic Thai. I do know that the headmistress is not a big fan of karaoke, but agrees phonetic Thai can be useful.

  38. Todd,

    Thanks very much for the reply. I agree with you about writing, but typing I found essential as I need to use on-line dictionaries to look up words in Thai.

    My problem with the karaoke is that it distracts me too much. I just cannot help reading it first, even when the real Thai is right next to it, because my eye just goes to it automatically as it recognizes the English characters, and the words are separated so I don’t have to parse the Thai, it has been done for me. But parsing the separate words from the continuous Thai script is one of the hardest things about reading it, and I need as much practise as I can get, so I need to see it without the distraction.

    Perhaps I would be better off taking private lessons over Skype. I can ask the teacher to type all the new material for me and save it for review after the lesson. I cannot type fast enough to take notes in real time. But this would not provide the kind of social interaction I need if I am ever going to gain enough confidence to try speaking to Thai people in their language. That is why I am thinking about trying a school.

    Actually I am on the point of giving up. It has been nearly four years since I started trying to learn, and I have previously failed to learn several much easier (European) languages so I don’t know why I am expecting more success with one so much more difficult, and at my increasingly advanced age.

  39. If I remember correctly there are some schools which have textbooks available in Thai or karaoke. I can’t tell you off the top of my head which ones they are.

    I just got off the phone w/Duke Language School and at this time they don’t offer that option. Firstly because they’re a brand spanking new school and secondly because so few foreigners attend a thai language school already being able to read thai.

    Now please believe me, this next part is NOT downing your thai ability, these are just my opinions;

    Knowing how to read thai, calculate the tones & type thai, are valuable skills; although I’d give a pass on learning to hand write anything more than your name & address. Writing thai by hand is so far down the list as a skill which has real value that it’s almost not worth the effort it takes to learn. Typing thai? YES that has value, just like texting in thai does, but writing, hmmmm, no, not so much (other than to impress thais that a foreigner can indeed write thai).

    By your own admission, possessing the skills you have, you still “don’t know how to say anything of much use in the real world”, which consequently leave you in a socially isolated situation. This would lead me to believe that all that knowledge isn’t getting you speaking thai, which is what you hafta do to get any better.

    As for myself, my ability to read/understand thai is literally light years ahead of my spoken thai ability. That’s because I learned to read/understand & type thai BEFORE I started speaking it, much like what you outlined in your own learning experience. It’s as if we learned thai ‘backwards’, instead of learning to speak first.

    I’d say, go take a sample lesson at Duke and see where you are with their conversational courses. Also research some other schools too; because what I think is the cat’s meow as far as a school may not mesh with the way you as an adult learner of thai acquires knowledge.

    Good Luck, what ever you do, DON’T give up! I know if a dumb hill-billy from Ohio like myself can learn to speak something which sounds enough like thai so that the thais answer me back in kind, that anyone who really wants to can too.

    Thanx for reading the review…

  40. Is there any recommended language school in Bangkok which does NOT use karaoke Thai? I have already learned how to read, and can calculate tones. I can also type in Thai, but have not yet tried to learn handwriting as I have little need for it. But I desperately need help with conversation. I really don’t know how to say anything of much use in the real world, and am therefore very socially isolated. I am very shy, and usually afraid to try to speak Thai to strangers. I would like to try a school and see if that can help.


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