Thai Language School Review: Rak Thai

Thai Language School Review Rak Thai

School: RTL – Rak Thai Language School
Address: 888/104 Mahatun Plaza 10 Fl., Ploenchit Rd. Lumpini Patumwan, Bangkok 10330
Telephone Number: 061-978-5962

Teaching Method: Union Clone


Rak Thai Language School is easy to get to from the Ploenchit BTS exit. The only tricky part is to enter the Mahatun Plaza building you have to go around to the west side of the building, as you can’t enter from the front.

Other than that, take the lift to the 10th floor and you’re there.

What is Rak Thai Language School?

Rak Thai is what I call a Union Clone school insofar as its methodology is based on the original Union Thai method designed and written 60+ years ago to teach foreign missionaries to be proficient in Thai (or at least proficient enough to undertake their task of converting Buddhist Thais to Christianity).

Rak Thai Language School
I 100% recommend ANY student of the Thai language who is sincere about learning Thai to go visit this school

Rak Thai Language School is nicely laid out with well lit classrooms, a small sitting area for breaks, and a really fresh feel to it. I found everyone, from the principal right down to the teachers, great to interact with.


As I said the original materials were written quite a while ago (as in 70+ years). At Rak Thai Language School the director decided that while the Union methodology was good, the materials weren’t up to date.

So Rak Thai re-wrote almost every book to include more contemporary dialog.

This was an excellent decision as the Union stuff was really antiquated. Updating the materials gives the best of both worlds (at least as far as this school is concerned), with a proven methodology and updated, current materials.


Seeing as Rak Thai Language School is a Union Clone it should come as no surprise that they follow the original Union methodology.

In a nutshell, BEFORE exposing students to reading and writing, it teaches conversational Thai via phonetics with no accompanying Thai script (just the English translation).

Once you understand their particular quirks the phonetics are legible.

Note: I’m still on the fence about the phonetics only methodology for the first 4 levels. My own opinion (and seeing as this is my review I can do as I like) is this: exposing students to the Thai script, as in just including in the book along with the phonetics and not even teaching it, would give them a heads up when they advance to the levels where they’re starting to read and write Thai. There is no downside to doing this, and it familiarizes the students with what Thai script looks like, what groups of characters (BTW: called words) look like in real Thai versus karaoke. I see something like this as a win/win for students and not that critical of a change in how the material is taught either.

There are 5 books which teach only Thai speaking/conversation. The lessons build on each other to reinforce the learning process.

Each book or level comprises 60 hours of class time. There are also 5 levels of speaking, 4 levels of reading, and advanced topics of specialized study with topics such as social problems and current Thai news.

Rak Thai Language School also offers the prep course for the Ministry of Education Thai Proficiency Exam.


Rak Thai Language School has a motivated group of teachers who are well versed in the material.

They all came from another well-known Union Clone school, so again, no surprises there. While I am not party to what caused the mass exodus, I can say that Rak Thai appears to be the cream of the Union crop.

Although I have no proof, from meeting most of the teachers I am led to believe the other school, as far as quality teachers goes, is perhaps at a disadvantage.


Classes at Rak Thai Language School run 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, for a total of 60 hours.

If you don’t invest serious time into the materials you’ll wash out after a couple days. Plain and simple, this school is not playing the “study Thai 4 hours a week just so you can live here” game.

There are enough schools hawking their visa programs, so go elsewhere if all you want to do is live in Thailand.

The material is covered thoroughly in class thru vocab and sample dialog. The students study the dialog in class by pairing up, and then again one-on-one with the teacher. Because these classes are 3 hours long, and because they run 5 days a week, there is no way students are gonna retain the material without studying and reviewing it outside the class. It is just too fast paced and too intensive to even think you’re going to get away without additional study.

The sample class I sat was a Level 4 conversation class. Honestly, I didn’t want to sit it, and it was only after Juntima’s urging that I did. I tend to do poorly when put under pressure; my comprehension and clarity in speaking Thai takes a noticeable and precipitous dip.

Upon entering the classroom the teacher introduced me to the other students and then had them ask me questions in Thai. I was sweating bullets, being put on the spot like that. Plus, the teacher was pretty merciless about me using my internal tilde key to toggle between Thai and English. She chided me several times to speak Thai NOT English unless I honestly didn’t know the Thai word.

My classmates included a Japanese woman and an American woman (both who in my opinion spoke Thai FAR clearer than the off-toned stuff comin’ outta my mouth). The American had only been in Thailand 7 months yet her Thai was really clear and totally understandable!

Anyway, after this question answer period (which seemed to go on forever), we covered new vocabulary which had come up in our free-speaking dialog. It was the most continuous Thai I’d spoken in over a month. I came tottering out of that class drenched in sweat and limp as a noodle from speaking that much Thai at one time.

It was possibly the most fun I’ve had in a Thai language class in quite a while.

ED Visa

Rak Thai Language School does offer ED visa support and has several promotions for people interested in studying Thai and getting an ED visa too. It’s pretty much the same as other schools although I believe due to the intensity of the classes (60 hours), there’s some tricky twists as far as studying, taking time off, etc.

Certainly studying Thai 60 hours in a month meets the 4 hour a week minimum set up by the Thai Ministry of Education. Check with the school for current promotions and schedules

Should I Study at Rak Thai Language School?

Like I mentioned, Rak Thai Language School has to be at the top of the heap for a Union Clone school. I say that not only because of their excellent teachers but because of the re-write in their material.

Most of the other clones of this methodology are still using the original material which is quite stale, often too formal, and not all that applicable in Thai society today. But using this method certainly does get students speaking something resembling Thai with both a good vocabulary base and good grammar structure.

I 100% recommend ANY student of the Thai language who is sincere about learning Thai to go visit this school, take a level test, and sit a sample class. As far as price point they are in line with, or a little cheaper, than other Union Clone schools.

Classes are intensive and run on very clearly defined timetables (as opposed to schools who’s material repeats endlessly so you can jump in when ever you want). So after you enroll, you might need to wait until the next cycle begins to start your class from book one, page one. That’s NOT a negative thing at all and given the intensity of these classes actually makes pretty good sense.

I hope you found this review of interest. Good Luck.

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

What to Read Next

26 thoughts on “Thai Language School Review: Rak Thai”

  1. Thanks for this website, I think I will be enrolling to this school before going back to the Philippines. I will have a whole month off so I thought of learning a new language. I am a fan of Thai TV series and would really want to learn Thai, maybe for professional reasons also, in the future. i checked their website and the price is reasonable, rather cheap compared to other schools. I have studied Spanish before in Manila so Im quite excited to study a new one. The Instituto Cervantes which is supported by the Spanish government also do this type of teaching- NO English /Or local language on the 1st day and teaching is only in Spanish. It was easier of course since our national language has a lot of spanish words. With Thai, it might be a struggle but let’s see.

  2. My difficulty with using the English script or even International phonetics to learn basic Thai was that in classes there wasn’t much commonality in pronunciation given the diversity in the students’ nationalities – one Singaporean, one Austrian, one Chinese, one Japanese and one Australian student, so by the time the repetition exercises were completed the spoken words bore little resemblance to the actual Thai pronunciation. At least with beginning with the Thai script, once you have mastered or even approximated the pronunciation it seems to stick. I also found it a complete waste of time as I already had a fair grasp of most of the Thai letters So I transferred to a one on one class with AAA where I feel I am making some headway in what will be a long journey

  3. It’s very hard to compare “Union Clone Schools”, or schools which teach via the Union Methodology of module based curriculum versus schools like L/X and others which teach via the repeating cycle method. It’s like trying to compare apples to durian…

    On one hand, repeating cycle schools mostly have lessons which are stand alone (as in they don’t build off one another and missing the previous lesson does not severely limit the student in understanding subsequent lessons). In theory, this means a student can enroll and start the next day without too much of a problem.

    On the other hand, because Union Clone Schools teach module based, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week for a 4 week ‘cycle’, IF you sign up and it’s not exactly when the cycle starts you have to wait until the next cycle begins. Some schools are starting to see the logic in scheduling staggered cycles. They are teaching the same level or module but they are spaced two weeks apart. The most wait time a newly enrolled student could experience is two weeks.

    I agree heartily, the lack of english by the teachers was one thing which put me off about this school early on. I routinely visit this school and while they still prefer that “target language approach” in class they are much more open to actually explaining things in english. I agree they do have a great group of dedicated teachers who honestly want foreigners to learn thai..

    I’d say both schools provide ‘bang-4-the-baht’, just in different very different ways. It’s up to the individual to see which method is a better fit for them..

    MR B, because you’re attending two very different schools, I think you have the best of both worlds.

    Good Luck, thanx for the comments

  4. I am attending this school and Language Express, downstairs in the same building. There is no comparison between the 2 schools. If you wanna learn Thai and quickly, this is the place to be. Todd mentioned above korean or japanese “ninja-thai learners”. This school has a lot of them, which I believe is a good sign of quality.

    It is true that the main teaching is done in Thai. But I think things has changed quite a bit since they have opened. A lot of the teachers can speak English and often the explanation is translated when too complicated in Thai.

    I think all in all I had about 8 Thai teachers between this and the other school and it is clear to me that yes the method is important, but it really depends on the master teaching the discipline.
    If the teacher is there just to get a salary, the students won’t get much out of it. If the teacher loves his/her job and put passion in the teaching.students will get a lot out of it. All the teachers here are extremely passionate and a lot of them have Thai language degree which means that this is the job they always wanted to do. It doesn’t matter whatever method they used because they engage the students all the time.

  5. I wanted to touch on this and this school’s review is as good as any..

    Rak Thai (and other Union Clone Schools too) have their conversational books available in thai language for foreigners who are hell bent on using them..

    However, in talking to the teachers it became apparent that when a foreigner comes in thinking or saying “I can read thai” it doesn’t necessarily mean they can read thai fast enough or clear enough to keep up with the class…

    Personally, I am of the mind that foreigners overestimate their proficiency in thai by a factor of at least 10 and quite possibly more.. <- (except for me, of course, because I make no bones about possessing sketchy thai language skillz). ;P

    I have witnessed first hand foreigners waltzing into schools professing to read thai, demanding that they be allowed to use the thai script versions of the books, only to see them fall on their faces in the interview process when the thai was spoon fed to them a piece at a time! The ones that still bluff their way into class using thai only text books invariably blame the school, the method, the teachers and/or the other students, when the real reason was they possessed less than mediocre thai reading skillz.

    Listen up! You ain't goin' to thai language school to impress no one. You're there to learn thai. It's NOT a competition, it's learning. Suck it up and deal with the fact that perhaps you don't know as much as you think you know comin' into class and you'll go a LOT further a LOT faster!! Then again that's my personal opinion…

    That's why most Union Clone Schools MAKE you start with karaoke.

    Still, I have noticed some schools now have thai script under the karaoke AND they have the thai font larger than the karaoke too! This at least lets you see what real thai looks like as you're learning to speak..

    Good Luck

  6. Now now Christophe. Play nice, we all can’t be you 😉
    Also try not use so many words that I hafta google the meanings of.

    If I’m not mistaken, I’d swear you attended at least one module at RTL.

    I started writing these reviews because there was NOTHING out there in internet-land other than b/s testimonials on the schools’ websites. Granted my writing style is “homespun”, but being just a dumb hillbilly from Ohio that’s most likely to be expected.

    There haven’t been any great innovations, secrets or tricks in acquiring a second language which have come down the pike in a LONG TIME.. In fact almost everything I’ve read about SLA shows that motivation is often times the factor which far out weighs methodology.

    Motivation is what makes us undertake something, makes us stick with it and makes us invest the amount of time in learning.

    Almost every school I’ve toured starts book one, page one with “Hello”, then “How are you?” which progresses to “What is your name?” and down the line to more complex constructs.

    What I did and still do like about RTL (and probably all Union Clone schools)is the high emphasis put on constructs where the subject/verb/object can be subbed out. This allows the learner to make up their own constructs with the vocab they possess while adhering to thai word order; which is critical in getting Thais to understand your spoken thai..

    You gotta crawl before you walk and walk before you run.
    Step by step is how it’s done.

    Still thanx for the comment..

  7. instead of all this homespun conjecture it might be more enlightening to research what has been verified through SLA research. The guessing games and pundit paradigms are rather archaic.

  8. Tod, I agree with your opinion about “needs tweaking”. Today I face FALSE understanding of meaning. Even more, teacher try to explain 3-rd, uncommon meaning of word. It was frustrating, because after I translate word, I easily figure common, second and 3-rd meanings together.

    About consonants – same as you, order? Never, even in Thai alphabet they not come in order by class. I just remember class of them. And not remember how many in each class.

    So, I think for English-speaking student the best is to combine methods. Valuable things are conversation patterns, many times direct translation doesn’t have true meaning, especially in ภาษาพูด


  9. I’ll be the first one to admit that having teachers speak 100% Thai out of the gate especially in the early books is NO FUN AT ALL! I don’t care how “cut-in-stone” their methodology is, or how many thousands of foreigners learned this way; it needs “tweaking”. As it exists now it’s sure a ไม่ทันสมัย method. Sometimes I wanted to bite out my own veins watching the charades, the miming and the drawings on the white board all in an attempt for the teachers to avoid “feeding” students the English meaning. It was a HUGE time waster.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the school and all the teachers at Rak Thai. Other than being sort of ไดโนเสาร์’s where it comes to embracing change (as almost all Thais are to one degree or another) they are certainly able to effectively teach via the Union method. I think their reticence to speak English is more a fact that their primary demographic is other Asians, who might not possess ฮาร์ดคอร์ English skills.

    คนแมว ;While it is anecdotally interesting to point out that kids learn languages silently by observation and context, kids are compelled to do that because they’re kids and can’t talk yet!! As adults we already possess one language (at least) and are able to make cognitive leaps in logic when learning another language. Plus we have the ability to ask questions. Have you noticed that once kids do learn to talk the first thing outta their mouth is; “Why?”

    I do agree with kriswillems, a person can indeed come to grips with the tone rules, consonant classes & vowel lengths in about a week of hard study. It takes motivation but it can be done.

    For me there was NO need to remember all the consonants. I still can’t recite the Thai consonants in order, (because it has less than no value to me personally). About all I know is; it starts with a chicken – ends with an owl and there’re 42 other characters in between. I learned just the mnemonics for the mid and high consonants. I’ve found if it ain’t one of them it’s gotta be a low class consonant. The tone rules are not all that convoluted either, and again, with some discipline you can get your head around them in pretty short order.

    As far as the “test results” you posted from students who took the MOE proficiency exam. Most Union Clone schools offer a special class which “teaches” the exam, just before it’s given at the end of every year. Before when the MOE gave the Thai ป.๖ test, it had value as you were rated against a Thai standard. Now all you do is test against everyone else taking the exam at that time. If you tested with a bunch of retards you might get artificially high scores, conversely if you went in with a bunch of korean or japanese “ninja-thai learners” you could get a low score indeed.

    Still thanx for the comments…

  10. kriswillems wrote:

    :Somebody that’s fluent in English and that is a talented teacher can probably explain the Thai writing :system in one week or less to new students.

    kris, I really want to see this genius, who will remember all consonants, vowels, reading rules and tone marks in one week… in fact, if you study alone, you can do this about 30% faster than in class with another students, but this will cost about 20k baht, not 6k per month. And Thai language needs a time to “stay well” inside mind.

  11. The reason to study in RTL… Simple. There is nothing about school name, but teachers.

    3 of my friends study with the teachers some time ago in UTL… Their results:

    Friend 1 –

    Speaking and Listening 6
    Reading 6
    Writing 6

    Friend 2 –

    Speaking and Listening 6
    Reading 6
    Writing 5

    Friend 3 –

    Speaking and Listening 3
    Reading 5
    Writing 5

    The numbers above represent Ministry of Education test results. 6 is highest possible.

    Sometimes I feel methodology doesn’t help me to move forward … but, in fact I not only read, write and speak faster with expanded vocabulary, but also have a lot of interest in language itself.

    Speaking only Thai from beginning? Works 100%. Just imagine, only children in the class, not mature persons. Show them glass and say it’s name. Draw pictures and explain meanings.

  12. I just wrote this review on Google and want to post it here as well.

    I have lived in Bangkok for 10 months and spent 8 of those months studying Thai at RTL. RTL has 8 or 9 teachers that left UTL language school (near Asok) to start their own language school. It was highly recommended to me by friends and so that’s where my wife and I decided to do our language study.

    The teachers are all wonderful, funny, and patient. They feel like family. As students, we care about the teachers as well. They take time out of their weekends to take students to markets and other sites around town not on the tourist trail. Two weeks ago, my teacher bought me a Thai snack (Roti Saay Mai) that isn’t readily available nearby for me. Super nice people.

    Classes are 3 hours in the morning or afternoon, 5 days per week and last for 1 month. There are 5 modules of speaking courses and 4 modules of reading/writing. You have to complete at least 3 speaking modules before beginning the writing modules. They use the same curriculum as UTL and many students from UTL have switched over to taking classes at RTL. The prices are 6,000THB per month (I think they’re 7,000 at UTL) and there are sometimes promotions. No English is spoken from day 1 of Speaking Level 1, which sounds frightening, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you catch on and understand.

    I am in no way affiliated with RTL outside of being a student there. Please give RTL a try. I promise you will not be disappointed.

  13. Kris, “Another way the school assisted me was giving me the Thai-only-version of the books (that are normally in phonetic script).” I’d be interested in seeing the Thai only versions of their books. When I check out Thai courses, being forced into transliteration drives me to distraction. And finding no Thai script at all brings out the bad women in me!

    Learning how to read Thai is a challenge but coupled with sound files shouldn’t be as difficult as tackling script only. The Thai language is like a song (enjoyable). And the Thai script is beautiful (artistic). My handwriting is poor so I developed my own version. It’s legible and easier to write (doesn’t cramp my fingers).

    I so agree – motivation really is the key. That, and not giving up until you’ve found what works for you.

  14. I don’t know why, but to me it looks like there’s a group of people that has great difficulty with understanding the Thai orthography. This group of people needs months to come to a reasonable speed of reading. And there’s another group that can read within a week. So, for some, more than just a tweak would be needed. I saw most people giving up in the fourth module, that’s the first module with Thai script. The tweak you talk about would be to start with the fourth module, which would result in a huge number of students giving up from the beginning.

    I think module/book 4 in the union method is hard for many, because the Thai teachers can’t speak English and the students can’t understand enough Thai. Somebody that’s fluent in English and that is a talented teacher can probably explain the Thai writing system in one week or less to new students.

    In the school I went to they allowed you to study book 2 (in phonetic script) on the same day as book 4 (Thai writing and reading), which means 7 classroom hours per day and another 4 hours of homework. I did book 6 together with book 3 and spent 5 more hours per day on the bus to school, but it was really hard. I managed to do that for one month…. I was exhausted.

    Another way the school assisted me was giving me the Thai-only-version of the books (that are normally in phonetic script).

    In the end I think motivation/effort is the number one factor in any study. No matter which method you follow (with or without phonetic script), your success and speed at which you’ll achieve it will mainly depend on your motivation, effort and talent.

  15. Kris, couldn’t they tweak their course to accommodate those who want to learn Thai script first? Or maybe there just aren’t that many who don’t want to wade through transliteration…

  16. Having followed the courses at a union school myself, I have mixed feelings about spending 3 months reading only phonetic script. I think it’s the wrong way of studying Thai and I’ve always refused to look at the phonetic script, but I do understand why the union schools stick to this method.

    I think the main reason is motivation. Teaching somebody to read can be done in 1 week (or less), but teaching somebody to read Thai at a reasonable speed will take a long time. If the books would be in Thai script from the beginning students would spent hours on decrypting what’s written there. The course would be boring and overwhelming and wouldn’t look very fun for some.

    The union method just isn’t made for this way of teaching. The core of the union method consists of teaching sentence constructions. This is what what makes the union schools different from other schools and this is (in my opinion) also the reason why it works so well. But, if you want to teach sentence constructions from the very beginning, you’ll need to find a way around the Thai script. So, that’s why they start with the phonetic script.

    In the end they sacrifice a bit efficiency for the sake of the motivation of students.

    People that like to start with the Thai script from the beginning are in my opinion better of with the maanii readers (available with exercises and audio on several websites) or with David Smith’s “Teach yourself Thai”. After having gone through these, you can use the Thai-script-version of the books in a union school and you can probably skip 2 or 3 modules (that are about reading).

    I did it this way. I followed 4 or the 7 modules, did a course about social problems and did the government exam preparation course (followed by the test). So, learning to read by yourself can save you some time and money.

  17. Toby, educating businesses in Thailand would be a great idea. Have you connected with the group at TCDC? I met several Thai design org guys at an Icograda regional meeting but at the time ThaiGa(?) was limping along.

    I love the Thai script. It’s so beautiful. Artistic. But I don’t write longhand enough (I need to get back into it).

  18. Maybe I should make that my mission while here in Thailand; promote the benefits of a well designed website and brand! In Thailand, website design really doesn’t seem to be perceived as a valuable marketing tool and bad design seems to be the norm unfortunately, eben some of the biggest companies websites are shocking!

    Thai certainly is a beautiful language, reading and writing it is probably the most exciting part for me, so it was great to be able to leave the phonetics behind… and for me repetition is a big part of the way i learn, so transferring my vocabulary note books from phonetics into thai script really helps me burn things into my brain!

  19. Toby, “There are so many badly designed language school sites out there!” Agreed. Most are sooooo painful to look at (reason why I hold my breath when Todd sends over a school I don’t know).

    It’d be great if you can convince other Thai language schools of the importance of good design. I know it’s not always easy to do as small businesses will spend money on most anything else. Educating clients is a big part of being a good designer but it’s one of the bits I grew tired of.

    Thai teachers were insisting that I start with transliteration but phonetics/transliteration didn’t work with me (I still can’t read transliteration). I’m a visual person and knew something was wrong so I rewrote my study materials using what I though was a doable transliteration style. What a waste of time. Once I ditched transliteration I could ‘see’ how Thai is supposed to be pronounced.

  20. Tod, another thorough review, which really does help those trying to decide on which school to attend. I wish there were (had been) more schools in less densely populated areas, such as Chiang Rai etc. which offer visa support…a very real issue (pain in the neck) for farang wanting to stay long term. It would have been nice to have the option of moving away from Chiang Mai during our stay…not that I don’t like CM of course 🙂

  21. Thanks Catherine, glad you like the design. There are so many badly designed language school sites out there! I wanted to do something that the school could be proud of, the time I spent studying with the various teachers was really valuable and the teachers really helpful, so i was really pleased I could help them.

    The phonetics system for me at least, was a good system, i had enough vocabulary by the time I started the reading and writing modules, i found i wasn’t trying to do to much at once. I think also the fact by the time you’ve done a few speaking only modules only using the phonetic system, you’ve learnt a hell of a lot which builds up your confidence.

  22. You know I too thought a phonetics only based conversational system wouldn’t be good. However, I’ve met quite a few people who learned conversational Thai from this type of methodology. Their Thai is pretty darned clear and their structure good too.

    I dunno why, but a lot of foreigner’s studying Thai who I’ve spoken to don’t wanna learn to read it. This phonetics system of learning gets them speaking Thai close to correct pronunciation in regards to vowel length and tone (the two big ones for foreign speakers). I also don’t see the down side in giving foreign speakers a sufficient vocabulary before teaching reading and/or writing. At least they’re able to converse and understand what’s being taught by that point.

    Sadly, learning to read Thai right ‘outta the gate’ involves front loading a lot of time which provides little perceived “bang-4-the-baht” early on to the student. Reading is memorization plain and simple. Memorize what words look like, how they sound and what they mean. It’s a tough slog to get to where you can read Thai even half way fluidly, where as speaking sometime resembling Thai seems to “click” faster with more sense of accomplishment.

    I forgot to mention that RTL does have their conversational books available written in Thai script too, in case you can read Thai already.

    Glad you liked the review; it’s good to see a new school like this come along. ..

  23. Toby, when Todd mentioned reviewing this school I immediately went to their website. My first reaction? Thank goodness it’s not an ugly design! I create banners for each of the posts and it matters to me. Congrats on creating a clean design for Rak Thai (and thanks from me).

  24. I can honestly say the school is great. I studied with 4 of the teachers there for 5 months(in the school they all previously came from) and they were all fantastic, passionate about teaching, friendly and knew what they were teaching. It is intensive but well worth the time invested there and the fact the new material is all updated…well, I definately intend to go back and continue my studies.

  25. Tod, Sounds like a decent school but I think I would be turned off by the phonetics. In my opinion phonetics just make the learning process longer and harder when Thai script is finally introduced.

    It’s great there are more schools catering to those that want to learn, might be nice if someone took reviews like this into consideration and came up with a whole new teaching curriculum.


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