Learning Thai – A Beginner’s Adventure

I’ve finally decided to apply myself and learn Thai.  I’ve tried in the past.  I’ve bought the CDs and books and I usually get one or two chapters into them and then I lose interest.  Then the books and the CDs collect dust for a few months until I pull them out and get to the same exact point and give up on them again.

Right now my understanding of Thai is what I refer to as Bar Thai.  Essentially, my Thai is good for bars or restaurants where you don’t necessarily have to do a lot of speaking.  My vocabulary is about 50 or so words and I essentially speak English except that I replace the words I know in Thai.  I don’t think it necessarily helps me communicate any more effectively as I’m sure the receiver would have understood the word in English but it does make Thai people smile when you throw in a few words here and there (hmmm . . . not really sure if that smile is a good or bad thing).  Sure, I can string together a complete sentence here and there but my Thai pretty much stinks.

I want to improve my Thai and get to the point where I can speak and read it near fluently.  I would like to be able to hold a conversation in Thai or read and write Thai at a level that would allow me to effectively communicate with Thai people.  So that’s my goal.

My plan is to commit to spending 15 – 30 minute each day studying Thai.  I’ve read somewhere that the human brain tends to learn best in small chunks.  It’s a diminishing returns sort of thing.  The sweet spot seems to be in that 15 – 30 minute range.  By making it daily it will be repetitive and familiar which are also key for learning difficult material like languages.

I’ve amassed an arsenal of learning tools to help me.  The latest one and the one I’ve been seeing good results with is Its4Thai.   A hat tip goes to Smitty for turning me on to this one.  You can go over there and get 10 lessons for free.  I played around with it and ended up buying the 60 course version which runs about $20 or so if I remember correctly.  It really is a nicely put together little package and I like the fact that doesn’t rush you too much through the material.  Plus the fact that it’s all online means you can go in and complete a lesson from just about anywhere you have an internet connection.

That being said, I did learn the hard way that trying to learn in an environment with lots of distractions really does impact your ability to retain information.  I decided to try and sneak in a short session at work and I went from getting 100% on my lesson reviews to . . . well, let’s say less than 100%.  The material wasn’t really that much harder than previous lessons I had completed so I can only attribute the decline in performance to the fact that between emails, phone calls, and impromptu conversations it’s very difficult to stay focused.

I also decided to pick up Speak Easy Thai based on several good reviews I had run across.  While I think it’s a wonderful tool, the user interface might use a little working on.  Regardless, I’ve done a few lessons there as well and generally find it to be very effective.  I do notice that there is a different focus between Its4Thai and Speak Easy Thai.  This may be only my opinion but I feel that Its4Thai has a relaxed pace in terms of how quickly it introduces new words and concepts while Speak Easy Thai is much more aggressive.  It’s interesting to switch back and forth between the two.

I also liked that Speak Easy Thai came with some bonus features.   It comes with a HTML book called Fundamentals of Thai as well as a Thai / English dictionary and mini-keyboard.  Overall I think it’s an excellent value for the price and would recommend it.

I mentioned the CDs and books that I had previously purchased but never got far into.  Well, my apologies go out to the very talented Benjawan Poomsan Becker who is behind the whole Thai for Beginners book, software, and CDs.  I apologize because I’ve never really committed myself previously.  Her products are excellent but I’ve been too lazy.  I’m sorry for letting you down.  🙂

Speaking of Becker, I also have her Practical Thai Conversation volumes I and II which I picked up about a year ago while I was in Bangkok.  Again, like the Thai for Beginners, these are excellent products and I really appreciate the way that watching something on DVD can make the material stick better.  Alas, much like the Thai for Beginners materials, those DVDs have mostly served to gather dust sitting in my DVD library.

I also acquired the Pimsleur Thai CD which I’ve used in the past.  I like the Pimsleur method though I do think it gets a little bogged down at times.  I want to move on to something more challenging but you have to go through it step by step.

I will also sheepishly admit that I own a phrase book called English*Thai Bar Guide.  But before you let that smirk settle in, I have found it very useful for things other than talking to bar girls.  🙂

There are some really outstanding websites for helping people learning Thai.  The one that has been invaluable is thai2english.comThai Language is another great site for doing translations.  They also have lessons and a forum so it’s more than just a dictionary / translation service.  Last but certainly not least is the Learn Thai Podcast.  I really enjoy that program and they pick very useful phrases to help you learn Thai in small chunks.

So that’s it.  Hopefully along the way I’ll have some posts that help others making the same journey.  Any advice from grizzled Thai language vets would be much appreciated.

9 thoughts on “Learning Thai – A Beginner’s Adventure”

  1. One of the best books for beginners to start learning Thai is Speakeasy-Thai, it helps with the initial pronunciation as well as having loads of useful phrases. It is a first step before someone gets used to the tones. Very helpful and entertaining in the tips section. Download it from http://www.speakeasy-thai.com

  2. “Billy,”

    Have you ever thought about learning basic Thai (pronunciation, conversation, introduction to the alphabet, etc) from a native English speaker? If you’re familiar with the methods the Thais use to learn English, they usually start their students with a local Thai speaker and transition to the native English speaker once their proficiency increases. AUA, who has a decent Eng program does just that, along with most learning centers and schools here.

    Reason I bring this up is for a while now I have debated teaching Thai on the side to other westerners or Farangs here in Bangkok (I do have a day job, I own a consulting company in BKK). I think starting with a native English speaker like myself then transitioning on to a native Thai speaker later on might just work.

    From my own experience, when I was learning Thai (I studied for one year, 6 hours a day in the US), it was a constant battle to get the meaning across to our Thai instructors when we had “quasi-technical” questions about the language. With a native English speaker those issues should be very minimal.

    If you’re interested in talking about this let me know via this blog. I’ll check it periodically to see if you reply. I can send you my credentials later.


  3. Hi Al,

    I wouldn’t be opposed to that but I don’t currently live in Thailand so that makes it a little difficult. Maybe when/if I move there I would go that route.


  4. Billy,

    Thanks for the note. Sorry I misunderstood you. Thought you were here. You’d be amazed at how many guys come here, get wrapped up in “other things,” and never seem to get around to learning the language. Can they survive, sure. However, if you want to do some serious business here it’s best to know the language.

    Take care and good luck.


  5. Ahh… I find myself in the same problem over and over again. What I’ve made most use of (other than asking my mum the same questions over and over again, because I have the attentionspan of a goldfish)are Pimsleur and Lonely Planet’s Phrasebook in Thai. Will look up your links. 🙂

  6. There’s a free site called; teachthai.com. Its from the Department of Education, Thailand. The site keeps things easy, but you have to register.

  7. Hi,
    one tip that you can learn how to speak Thai …is start from your own home.. as the vocabulary is everywhere in your house and it will help you to learn basic thai.
    i have teach people to speak thai within one week from that 😉

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