Five Great Ways to Learn Thai

Learning to speak Thai is becoming an increasingly popular choice as more and more people
head out to seek adventure and romance in this “Land of Smiles.” At first, the language can
seem daunting – perhaps impossible – to learn. But as you spend more time in Thailand,
you begin to realise that Thai is a language like any other. As you pick up basic words and
phrases, you may develop a desire to take it further, while others just feel satisfied to be able
to order a meal or give directions to a taxi driver. But after the initial learning curve, it’s
common to get stuck on a plane for a while. That’s when those who are really serious about
learning the language begin considering their options for taking it to the next level. Here are
five ways to improve your Thai.

1. Get a Thai girlfriend or boyfriend.

This is by far the most enjoyable way to learn Thai, and allows you to experience Thai
language and culture from an insider’s point of view. Most of the foreign Thai speakers I
know have Thai partners. Having regular close contact with a Thai person will help you to
develop an ear for the tones without expending a lot of brain power trying to decide whether
a word is rising or falling. Although Thai language books have tone marks to denote the
correct tone that should be used, Thai is much like music in that it can seem lifeless and
robotic if you don’t hear it from the source. And besides, what does a rising tone sound like?
Okay, it should rise; but how? It’s one thing to guess how the rising tones should sound, and
another to hear how Thai people use them in everyday language. That’s why having a Thai
partner or friend is a great first step in learning to speak Thai.

2. Invest in quality language books.

Thai language is not exactly on the list of the most popular languages to learn, and therefore,
the quality of books available ranges from excellent to poor and badly done. One series I
have found to be particularly helpful is the Benjawan Poomsan Becker three-book set, which
starts from beginner and moves through to advanced. The books come with audio, which is
essential if you want to speak Thai accurately. The book is well written, has a clear layout,
and is relevant to the types of things you will need to use on a daily basis.

3. Use the many free resources available on the internet.

When I first started learning Thai I came across a website called Although
I never really used the website to learn much in the way of speaking Thai, it has a useful
section on the Thai alphabet where you can click on each of the letters and hear a recording
of them by a Thai person, thus giving you the correct tone, accent etc. If you want to make
your time in Thailand less stressful, learn to read Thai and you’ll never have to worry if
you’re getting on the wrong bus again!
Another great way of course is to use YouTube. The AUA Language School has free samples
of their lessons on YouTube. The samples start at beginner level, and continue through to
advanced. The videos are essentially the same as what you would get if you paid to enrol,
the only difference being that you miss out on the live action and the opportunity to interact
with the teachers. AUA teaches by complete immersion in the language with no translations
or technical explanations. In a typical lesson, the teacher(s) act out a role play and strike
up a conversation using language relevant to the level you are studying. By repetition they
aim to make it obvious to you what certain words mean. This is similar to the way children
learn when they’re kids. Remember, there is no translation for kids, they have to learn from
scratch, and I believe that adults can do that, too! It just takes an open mind, and letting go of
the fear of being wrong.

4. Watch Thai TV or listen to Thai radio.

This method is probably the hardest out of the methods I’ve listed so far. Although I’ve
lived in Thailand for almost three years, I still struggle to make much sense of what’s being
said on the radio or TV. Part of the reason for this is that the type of language being used on
these media is a lot more advanced than say, a language course tailored to meet the needs
of beginner students. Still, it’s a good way to test your ear, and you will see improvements
as you practice. When I say TV, I suggest watching the news, unless you enjoy soaps with
terrible acting and annoying sound effects. Personally, I cannot watch Thai soaps without
wanting to kill myself. Once you can understand the radio and TV, I’d say you’re pretty
much fluent. Good luck. I haven’t done it yet.

5. Music and Karaoke.

If you like listening to music, then using this method to practice Thai can be a great way to
brush up on your language skills while expanding your knowledge of Thailand’s latest pop
stars. The good thing about music is that it uses short snappy refrains that are easy to pick
up and remember such as: chan rak teu (I love you); kid tueng (I miss you); and other such
things. If you’re able to read a bit of Thai, then watching the karaoke videos can be a great
way to reinforce your language skills. By hearing the words, and seeing them written down
below, you can confirm one against the other to make sure that you did hear what you think
you heard. If you don’t mind being a bit silly, the children’s karaoke songs are even better for
a beginner as the language used is much simpler. Within a short time you may find yourself
singing a simple nursery rhyme in Thai; I’d say that’s an achievement!
Of course, there are many other ways to learn Thai; these are just the ones I have found
useful. If you would like to share some of your Thai language experiences, leave a message
below or a link to your own blog post. Happy learning and good luck!

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