Learning to speak Thai is becoming an increasingly popular choice as more and more people head out to seek adventure and romance in the “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 tone should sound, and another to hear how Thai people use it in everyday language. That’s why having a Thai partner or friend is a great first step in learning to speak Thai. ThaiLoveLines.com offers a great way to meet Thai women and form lasting relationships. Read my blog post on the Top 5 Dating Sites.
2. Invest in quality language books.
Thai language is fast becoming a popular language to learn. But 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: Thai for Beginners, Thai for Intermediate Learners, and Thai for Advanced Readers (follow these links to purchase on Amazon). 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.
Investing in a good dictionary is also important if you want to build your vocabulary. Some English-Thai dictionaries differ slightly in their translations of the words, so it’s a good idea to buy one that follows the standard translations. Again, I recommend Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s dictionary, which, like her language series, is well thought-out and easy to use.
3. Use the many free resources available on the internet.
When I first started learning Thai I came across a website called learningthai.com. 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!
Other great Thai language sites:
Another great way to practice Thai 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 teachers 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 adults can do that, too! It just takes an open mind, and letting go of the fear of being wrong. Watch the sample video below.
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 own Thai language experiences, leave a message below or a link to a relevant blog post. Happy learning and good luck!