So You Want to Learn to Speak Thai?
With my planned move to Thailand coming up, I’ve spent the past few months beginning the long journey of learning to speak Thai. During that time I’ve tried out various resources. I’ve listened to tapes, used iPhone and iPad apps
and attended a class in Bangkok. Here are my findings so far.
If I had to recommend one resource above all the others, it would be the iPhone and iPad application Talking Thai. It’s a Thai / English dictionary you will find yourself using all the time. If you have an iPhone, it’s especially useful, as it will be in your pocket whenever you need it.
It’s very well laid out and has over 150,000 entries. You can search for words using English, Thai script or Thai sounds. It has a good quality recording in Thai for every word, so you can press the speaker icon next to the word and hear how you’re supposed to say it. You can ask it to explain the spelling and it will break the word down into syllables with a short explanation on each one.
You can also ask it to find words inside the word you are looking at. So if I look up ‘toast’, I can see that the Thai word is ka-nom-bpang-bping. I can then see that ka-nom means candy, dessert, snack or sweets, kan-nom-bpang means bread, and bping means roast, toast, cook or broil. Pretty nifty, huh?
It’s pretty expensive for an app at $25.99; but if you are serious about learning Thai, that’s peanuts really.
My next favourite is an iPad application called L-Lingo Thai. It’s basically Rosetta Stone for the iPad. I think I paid $20 for it, but I can see it is now selling for $6.99. There are 65 lessons each of which introduces a number of new words, grammar concepts and sentences. Each lesson has 4 quizzes with 30 questions each where you are shown pictures and writing while listening to a Thai speaker. Each quiz took me about half an hour to complete, so you get an enormous amount of content for your money. You need a dictionary to complement this application though, as not all the words introduced are explained thoroughly.
Next on the list is Thai for Beginners for the iPhone and iPad. It’s made by Paiboon Publishing who also make Talking Thai. It’s supposed to be a study-aid for the book of the same name, but you can use it independently. It’s a less rich learning experience than L-Lingo, but is also very good. You get 10 lessons, plus some good tone and writing guides. Each lesson is basically a list of vocabulary and sentences, which you can quiz yourself on afterwards. The choice of content is very good and you will find yourself becoming well-versed in such concepts as number, months, time and colours. Currently it sells for $20.99.
Other apps I tried were uTalk Thai, Learn Thai, Speak Thai and Read Thai. These are all good in their own ways, but none of them are as rich in content as the three I recommend above.
I’ve also listened to a few tapes on speaking Thai. I tried Pimsleur Thai, Linguaphone PDQ and Thai for Beginners. These are all pretty expensive, but are available at a very low [*cough*] price if you have an internet connection and know where to look.
I think listening to tapes is an outdated method compared to using applications. However, I listened to the Pimsleur tapes all the way through (15 hours). They offer a good introduction to speaking and listening to Thai. They are also effective at helping you understand how the grammar works. This was the first Thai language resource I used and I must admit I learned quite a lot from it. However, having to press pause and rewind all the time gets pretty annoying.
I found the other two tapes much less useful than the iPhone apps. I didn’t listen to much of them at all before giving up.
At the moment I’m in Bangkok checking out some Thai schools, as I’m intending to come to live here on an education visa. I was looking for a reasonably-priced but good quality classroom experience. After a lot of research, I narrowed my choices down to Language Express at Ploen Chit and Pro-Language in the Times Square Building on Sukhumvit.
The Language Express offices are nice, and there’s a good coffee shop in the front. The staff were helpful and explained all the options well. I sat in on a class with paying students attending. The classroom was fairly basic, but the teaching and materials were good. Everyone was very friendly and overall it was a good experience. The only negative was that the class size was a bit bigger than I would have preferred, with about 10 students in total.
They have a number of different class levels; and you can attend as many classes as you want once you sign up. When you think you are ready, you sit a test to move up to the next level. From the look of the timetable, it seems they have plenty of classes available. I was quoted 34,000 baht for a year's tuition with student visa included. I think this is the one I’ll sign up for.
I also went to Pro-Language. The offices are not quite as nice, and the lady who served me was less helpful and knowledgeable than the one at Language Express. The classrooms also looked pretty basic. I wanted to take a trial lesson there, but it seems they only offer them once a month. This makes me suspicious that what I’ll get during the trial won’t be the same as what I’ll receive after I’ve paid. I was going to wait until I’d attended the trial before writing this, but I’ve decided it’s not really worth it given the circumstances. If something happens that changes my mind afterwards, I’ll ask Stick to tack on an update.
One positive with Pro-Language is the price. I was quoted 23,000 baht for a year’s tuition with student visa. So if you are mostly interested in the visa, this might be a good option.
Of course, the best method of learning Thai is living here and interacting with Thai people. If all goes well, that’s what I’m intending to do in a few months.
Good luck with your Thai learning experience.
I found that when I studied Thai in a classroom environment my progress really accelerated. Learning the basics with self-study resources is one thing, but I reckon you'll make MUCH faster progress in a classroom.