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Category: Interviews (page 1 of 14)

Interviewing Thai Teacher: Kruu Cherry

Interviewing Thai Teacher

What Makes a Good Thai Teacher?…

Welcome to the forth post in the Thai Teacher Interview series. If you missed it, Yuki Tachaya (PickUp Thai Podcasts) was the first Thai teacher interview, the second Kannaphat Saelee (Jan), and the third Waan Waan (Learn Thai with Waan Waan).

Note: At the end of each interview you can download the interview questions to ask Thai teachers of your own choosing.

Interviewing Thai Teacher: Kruu Cherry…

Name: Chutima Saetang (Cherry)
Professional name: Kruu Cherry
Age range: 30-40
Location: Nonthaburi, Thailand
Facebook: Rian Thai Kruu Cherry
Twitter: @Thaikruucherry
Skype: krucherryteach

What made you want to teach Thai?

I might have started out like many other Thai teachers by teaching Thai to my foreigner friends. At first, they all gave me the same feedback that I have a talent for teaching and that I should try teaching other foreigners. So, I decided to try teaching Thai and have been teaching for the last two years or so. Now I have been teaching Thai for two years, I have received a lot of positive praise and feedback, way beyond what I could ever have expected.

What qualifications do you have to teach Thai?

The most obvious qualification needed for teaching Thai is of course, Thai, which is my mother tongue. I graduated from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University in 2013, with a bachelor’s degree in Education and in 2017, I attended specific training on ‘Teaching Thai to Foreigners’ held by Sumaa Language and Culture Institute. Aside from these two qualifications, I also love reading both fiction and non-fiction texts, which help me to develop my vocabulary and enable me to teach students in a way that they enjoy.

What are the age brackets of students you teach?

I have taught students from age 10 – 70. I could say people’s ages do not matter, but when it comes to learning a new language, you are never too old to learn!

What are the types of courses that you offer?

Normally I offer both face-to-face Thai lessons and online lessons, but I’m currently living abroad so at present, I can do only online lessons via Skype. My main courses are constructed to follow the skill levels of students and their goals. These include things such as Thai speaking for beginners, speaking Thai with confidence for intermediates, discussion classes for advanced students, Thai for travelling, and even a step-by-step Thai reading class!

What motivates you to continue teaching Thai?

“Happiness” Teaching is a passion of mine, and something that I want to do every day. It gives me a huge sense of energy and happiness when teaching. This may sound like a cliché, but it is true. After I finish teaching, I feel like I have achieved my goal in life, which is to help others. It is such an incredible feeling to see student’s not only progress, but their happiness when they achieve their goals for learning a language. Some of my students started learning Thai for fun, much like a hobby, and then they became more serious learners who fell in love with this beautiful language, like me.

Is your teaching approach more teacher centred or student centred?

I enjoy both approaches. I have my own unique teaching style which is both flexible and relaxed, but I do not enjoy fixed teaching approaches. My approach depends on a student’s preference, such as their learning style and approach, level of Thai and learning goals. I always design a specific lesson plan with my students in mind. For example, if a student is at a beginner level and knows nothing about the Thai language, I will provide a structured plan and everything they need to know for leaning Thai, but if a student has been learning Thai before and already knows what he wants to learn, then I can prepare a lesson based on these needs.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of teaching Thai?

In my opinion, I always assess and plan a specific lesson for my students, so I have found it is quite challenging to design approaches suitable for each student, as well as their strong and weak points of skills I can help to improve. The good point is that the more I teach, the more experience I gain and as a result, it only takes one or two more lessons until I am sure that we are on the right track and that students are happy with their learning. Student’s happiness is the most important thing for me. We cannot do things well if we are not happy doing them.

Ideally, when should an absolute beginner start speaking Thai?

First of all, you do not need to know many words to be able to start speaking Thai. For instance, I always start teaching students with just six Thai words: I, you, love, very, true, and really. From these six Thai words, you can then say ten simple Thai sentences. Secondly, it is important for you to be able to use words you learn to make a sentence, not just learn and/or remember the words. To do this effectively, you should learn vocabulary in context and duplicate that sentence from a model sentence. Finally, as a teacher, I must bear in mind that my students take lessons with me because they want to be able to speak Thai. So, it is my responsibility to make them feel that speaking Thai is easy and that I can give them the confidence to do that even from day one of learning.

How important is reading Thai for helping foreigners to learn the language?

Reading Thai is a crucial aspect that helps you to learn Thai faster and it is the best way of improving your pronunciation. Some people can learn Thai through a transliteration system, especially those people who live in Thailand or love watching Thai TV programs or movies. This is because they already have an opportunity to listen to native Thai sounds and it is easy for them to mimic these. However, for those who live abroad or do not have opportunities to interact with Thai people, it is very difficult for them to pronounce Thai words correctly by reading only a transliteration. Sometimes transliterations alone do not make sense for English speakers, even if written in English. Therefore, reading Thai scripts is a more productive method of learning the Thai language.

What do you to do relax?

In my free time, I enjoy interacting with my friends from different countries, as well as trying to improve my English as much as possible. I also enjoy reading books, watching some TV shows, and talking to my family and friends back in Thailand.

Kruu Cherry,
Rian Thai Kruu Cherry

Thai teacher interview questions…

The download has additional questions for you to pick and choose from – enough for everyone’s liking.

Download: Questions for potential Thai teachers

Watch this space for more Thai teacher interviews.

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Interviewing Thai Teacher: Waan Waan

Interviewing Thai Teacher

What Makes a Good Thai Teacher?…

Welcome to the third post in the Thai Teacher Interview series. If you missed it, Yuki Tachaya (PickUp Thai Podcasts) was the first Thai teacher interview, and the second Kannaphat Saelee Study Thai).

Note: At the end of each interview you can download the interview questions to ask Thai teachers of your own choosing.

Interviewing Thai Teacher: Waan Waan…

Name: Napaporn Yinbanroeng
Professional name: Waan Waan
Age range: 30-40
Location: Bangkok
Facebook: Learn Thai with Waan Waan
Youtube: Learn Thai with Waan Waan

How long have you been teaching Thai to foreigners?

Since 1999. Now it is not difficult to guess how old I am, right? Lol

What motivates you to continue teaching Thai?

As a teacher, I do not consider myself to be only a language teacher but more like someone who understands what my students feel when they experience cultural differences but unable to express themselves because of the language barrier. It is such a rewarding sensation to bridge the gap and help them have mutual understanding with the Thai people using the Thai language.

How long do you see yourself teaching Thai?

As long as I still enjoy it. With the social media nowadays, it makes it even more fun to create teaching materials. I find myself enjoying going around Thailand filming different things related to the Thai language for my students, be it cultural, psychological or linguistic aspects of the country. I‘ve got so many ideas in my head for creating resources for my audience and I hope to deliver that to them in a fun and creative way. I also want to write books that my students can use and also do some recordings for audio lessons or organizing workshops / meetups / outings for people who not only want to learn the language but want to immerse themselves in the Thai environment and culture. As you can see my career still has lots of room to grow. Hope you guys do not give up before me! lol

What student age brackets do you teach?

My students are mostly adults between 20 to 60 years of age. Sometimes I have some students who are younger or older than that. The youngest one is 6 years old and the oldest one is 65 years old.

What are the types of courses that you offer?

I offer a variety of courses to fit all kinds of students’ needs. As I tend to create my own materials to teach them, each course can vary from beginner Thai, intermediate, to advanced business Thai, not only conversational, and reading but also writing courses. For example I had a student from Q8 petroleum company so I created teaching materials from his work documents. And when I taught students from the US embassy the teaching materials were created based on their needs to pass the exam held to test their ability of using Thai at the work place. Some other students of mine are from different industries eg Unilever, Chanel, Thai namthip (Coca Cola) and as you can imagine I had to design the courses and activities that were suitable for their interests and nature of work each one has to deal with on a daily basis. All you need to do is contact me and let me know what types of course suit you best, I may have to assess all 4 of your skills and we will further discuss possible options in detail.

What nationalities have you taught?

I have taught students from all over the world like in Asia I have had Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Burmese, Indian, Filipino, Cambodian, Indonesian, Taiwanese, Korean students. From Europe, they are from France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Spain, England, Scotland, Belgium, Ireland, etc. and of course students from the US, Australia and Brazil as well.

Apart from Thai, what other languages do you use to teach Thai? Have you studied and/or lived abroad before? If yes, please tell us about your experiences as an overseas student or expat.

English and Chinese language. English was my major subject and the minor subject at the university was Chinese. I lived in Guangzhou, China for my study for two years so that is very useful when I teach students who speak Chinese.

I was also a cultural exchange student in New Zealand and travelled to the US and South America for a year which helped a lot with character building and understanding of different cultures. I realized I became more extroverted after all these years of traveling and living abroad since I had to try to communicate with the locals using English and Chinese. Speaking a language is a skill, just like driving and swimming , which means you will have to actually “do it” and practice a lot if you want to be fluent. When it comes to speaking, I have to say it is really your own choice to have to push yourself against your true nature in order to master a language. I myself was an introvert before and I had to break out of my comfort zone to improve my language skills. All of these experiences greatly give me sympathy for my students as a language learner.

What are some of your favorite teaching methods?

My teaching methods are dependent on whom I teach and how many of them in one class. Some students can learn best when they listen, some by speaking and some by reading. When I start a new class I have to determine what each student is like, what are their interests and learning methods in order to deliver the best lessons to them. Having said that, my favorite methods are flash cards and role play. At the beginning I would make my students look at pictures and listen to a lot of series of words repeatedly without taking notes and I will have them repeated those words with increased speed each time they repeat them. Then I will teach them sentence structures and put those words into sentences and stories. I tend to want to train them to listen and speak with the Thai speed and I also teach them both the proper Thai and the spoken street Thai. So social media like Facebook and Youtube are used for some short listening practice as well as teaching materials created by me.

Is your teaching approach more teacher centered or student centered?

Both teacher centered and student centered approaches are used with different groups of students. I have a course outline of what the students are supposed to learn and I let them determine what they want to learn. With structured lessons and my help, they will grasp things naturally and develop their language skills gradually.

Do you use course books in teaching Thai?

Sometimes as a supplementary material. I prefer my own selected materials.

How do you assess whether or not your students understand what you are saying and/or teaching?

By letting them do exercises after each lesson…maybe making sentences, role play, making questions from what has been taught, etc.

What do you do when it is obvious that your students do not understand what you are saying and/or teaching?

I give them more examples and let them practice with different approaches. One thing I always keep in mind is that each student has their own way and their own pace of learning things and everyone can have a bad day, so sometimes I have to tell myself not to be too hard on them and I will try to find out what works best for them and help them achieve their goal gradually. The key is to Jai yen yen! ☺

What are your thoughts about the use of transliteration in teaching Thai?

I am not too strict when it comes to transliteration. A student said to me once transliteration is like learning another language that no one actually uses in reality …and I agree. So I tend to let my students spell things the way they hear it and it works very well considering they are from different countries having different mother tongues.

In your opinion, how important is reading and writing Thai in helping foreigners learn the language?

I think it is important to learn to read Thai. There are a number of students who claim to read before speaking so I think it is very important on day to day survival because if you can read at least you will be able to read road signs and go around by yourself. However, to go beyond your limits you are required to speak the language as well. In my opinion it is best if you learn to speak a bit before starting to read and the reading exercise should be prepared based on the vocab you previously learn from speaking lessons so that it enhances your speaking ability eg pronunciation and so on. I do not teach reading from ABC (ก ข ค), but I teach them based on their three groups of consonants and built up exercises are created afterward.

Ideally, when should an absolute beginner begin to speak Thai?

As mentioned above, it is your own choice to break out of your comfort zone and start using it. I would say anyone can speak another language from day one they start to learn even if it’s a short sentence like “bpai nai ไปไหน” or a word like “ห้องน้ำ toilet”. When I was traveling in South America I didn’t speak any Spanish, the first word I picked up was Banos as it was written at the toilet every time the bus stopped for it. So I started to say “Banos” and some other words came up from time to time. Later when I had a chance to take an intensive short Spanish course in Sucre, Bolivia, I walked to the market from day one that I learned to buy my food and it wasn’t just ready to eat food, but I tried to buy a kilo of beef / pork and some veggies because I wanted to cook by myself. Yes, I went with my notes taken in class but the next few days I got better and better I didn’t need it anymore. Then one day I wanted to buy sugar but it seemed the sugar shops only sold a kilo at least so I had to think of how to get a small quantity of five baht sugar. So I walked to the fruit juice stall that I had my juice for the past days and tried to tell the seller I only wanted to buy a small amount but those people wanted to sell me a kilo, can I buy just a bit from you? And yeah I got a five baht of sugar for my cooking that evening…And I was so proud of my limited Spanish language at the time. I am not good at Spanish but did you get what moral of the story is?

Last but not least, do I have to tell you speaking a language cannot kill you unlike when you learn to drive or to swim? :D You are not gonna die or hurt yourself by speaking it, right ? So just go out and have a laugh with your new learned language as soon as you can, ok?

With love,
Waan Waan, your Thai teacher
Learn Thai with Waan Waan

Thai teacher interview questions…

The download has additional questions for you to pick and choose from – enough for everyone’s liking.

Download: Questions for potential Thai teachers

Watch this space for more Thai teacher interviews.

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Interviewing Thai Teacher: Kannaphat Saelee (Jan)

Interviewing Thai Teacher

What Makes a Good Thai Teacher?…

Welcome to the second post in the Thai Teacher Interview series. If you missed it, the first interview was with Yuki Tachaya (PickUp Thai Podcasts).

Note: At the end of each interview you can download the interview questions to ask Thai teachers of your own choosing.

Interviewing Thai Teacher: Kannaphat Saelee (Jan)…

Name: Kannaphat Saelee (Jan)Interviewing Thai Teacher
Professional name: Jan
Age range: 30 – 40
Location: Bangkok
Website: Study Thai
Facebook: Study Thai With Kru Jan
Skype: jankannaphat

How long have you been teaching Thai to foreigners?

Almost 7 years. I started in 2011 in Chiang Mai and moved to Bangkok in 2017.

What made you want to teach Thai?

I find teaching Thai to foreigners very challenging. Even though you’re a native speaker and speak perfect Thai, it doesn’t mean you can teach it to others. I have a good understanding of both English and Thai, not just the language but also the way both cultures think and interact . So I enjoy helping foreigners to understand the similarities and differences to bridge that cultural gap. And because I enjoy helping others see the connections, it never feels like work.

What qualifications do you have to teach the Thai language?

Apart from being a native speaker of the language, I also have a degree in linguistics. I’m officially trained and have worked in 2 licensed schools in Chiang Mai, teaching Thai as a foreign language. And with 7 years of experience under my belt, I am confident of my qualifications.

What student age brackets do you teach?

All ages, the youngest student I ever had was 8 and the oldest one was 80. Yes, 80! You can never be too young or too old. People often debate about the best time to learn a new language, and I always say the time is now.

What are the types of courses that you offer?

I offer:

1. Survival Thai ( 2-6 sessions)
2. Beginner Level (Beginner Level 1, 2)
3. Intermediate Level (Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate Level 1, 2)
4. Advanced Level (Pre-Advanced and Advanced Level 1, 2)
5. Reading & Writing Thai (15 – 20 sessions)
6. Customized Thai Lessons

Have you studied and/or lived abroad before?

Although I get asked many times whether I have studied or lived abroad before, I actually studied in Chiang Mai University and have always lived in Thailand my entire life. So, I jokingly tell my students if I can learn to speak English fluently growing up in Thailand, they have no excuse not to learn Thai!

Is your teaching approach more teacher centered or student centered?

Both. I always listen to my students’ requests and suggestions but I make the final decision on what is best for them. I pay attention to each student individually and see how they learn best. Each student requires a unique approach to learning. Some methods might work with some students, while others may not. And sometimes, students don’t know what they need most. So while I follow a specific course overall, each lesson is tailored to the individual student or class.

What are some of your favorite teaching methods?

I have seen so many learners fail in learning to read Thai or they find it’s extremely difficult to conquer. So, after having successfully taught many students to read Thai, I found it’s best to teach them for a shorter time with specific orders.

I designed a reading & writing course that will help students to learn Thai script in 30 hours within a 5-week period. It has worked really well so far. I was confident it would work from the beginning, but when I really started to see increased comprehension, I knew this unique approach was gold.

For conversational Thai, I sometimes take my students to a local coffee shop, restaurant or a market, so they can learn from using the language in everyday life. It’s relaxing and effective.

Do you use course books in teaching Thai?

I use books and handouts and online materials. I wrote my own books and all materials to use in my lessons.

What your thoughts about the use of transliteration in teaching Thai?

It’s not the best idea and could cause confusion. However, it’s useful for complete beginners. They just need to stop depending on it as soon as possible.

In your opinion, how important is reading and writing Thai in helping foreigners learn the language?

I think being able to read Thai script is essential in learning Thai and eventually mastering the language. The more interactions you have with the language the more likely it will stick. Also, Thai language is a phonetic language so learning how to read will help you better to pronounce and communicate with the locals.

I usually recommend students to learn to read Thai if they want to speak Thai well. Thai language is all about the pronunciation. With the romanized transliteration you can never learn the real sounds. It’s only close but not the same.

I wrote about the benefits of learning how to read and write Thai. You can find here: Five Reasons for Learning to Read and Write Thai.

Do you use technology in teaching Thai? If yes, what do you use?

Yes, I also offer lessons on Skype. I use google spreadsheet and online whiteboard as tools. In my classroom, I put all my flashcards on iPad, so I don’t have to carry the cards everywhere and it’s easy to share to my students. Furthermore, I put all my lessons + audio recordings on Dropbox so that my students have access and can download from anywhere.

What are some of the issues unique to a particular nationality in learning Thai that you have observed in your students?

Hmmm…. It seems to be harder to learn Thai for those who come from English speaking countries. Most of them only speak one language and learning your second language is harder than your third.

How do you help your students overcome those issues?

Since I have a good understanding of the English language, I show them how it works in English and how it works in Thai. I explain the similarities and the differences. It usually helps.

In your opinion, how important is learning about Thai culture in helping foreigners learn the language?

I think it’s the other way round, learning the language helps foreigners learn Thai culture. For example, we have many words with ใจ (jai) which means heart in Thai e.g. ใจดี ใจร้าย ใจร้อน ใจเย็น เข้าใจ เปลี่ยนใจ. We use the heart to understand and we (Thai people) would say “change the heart” as opposed to “change the mind”. Because ใจ (jai) is simply THAT important in Thai culture.

How do you assess whether or not your students understand what you are saying and/or teaching?

I give my students an evaluating exam from time to time to see their progress. Sometimes I just ask them if they understand and if they say they do, I ask them to explain back to me.

What do you do when it is obvious that your students do not understand what you are saying and/or teaching?

I explain again but in different ways or give them lots of examples. I always make sure they understand correctly.

How strict are you in respect of tones and/or vowel length?

Strict. All for their good. I correct them every time they say a word wrong, especially a super common word, until they get tired of that and finally remember the tones. I don’t mind doing it over and over.

What are your thoughts about beginners learning and using colloquialisms, slang and/or swear words when they speak Thai?

I always tell them to avoid using slang and swear words that they don’t fully understand. When you are not sure, don’t use it. Because it could offend people.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of teaching Thai?

Answering students questions. My students are from all over the world, with different backgrounds. They ask all sorts of questions related to the Thai language. Some questions you have never thought about before. But as a teacher, you should have a good answer for them. So, I find this challenging. It also determines whether they think you’re a good teacher or not because understanding their questions is important too.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Be patient with yourself but don’t wait until your Thai is perfect to speak Thai. Be comfortable making mistakes because that’s the best way to learn Thai. Try to use it in your daily life even when they speak back to you in English. Take the opportunity and get yourself fully immersed with the language if you’re in Thailand. Finally, practice, practice and practice.

Good luck!

Kannaphat Saelee (Jan),
Study Thai

Thai teacher interview questions…

The download has additional questions for you to pick and choose from – enough for everyone’s liking.

Download: Questions for potential Thai teachers

Watch this space for more Thai teacher interviews.

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Interviewing Thai Teacher: Yuki Tachaya – PickUp Thai

Interviewing Thai Teacher

What Makes a Good Thai Teacher?…

Welcome to the first post in the series! So just how did this series came about? Well, my foreign friends kept asking me to refer Thai teachers who’s skills looked good, so I scanned social media to find possible candidates for consideration.

Soon enough I realised that my friends needed additional help so I came up with questions to put to the teachers. Of course there’s more to it but that’s the series in a nutshell.

Note: At the end of each interview you can download the interview questions to ask Thai teachers of your own choosing. Good luck and happy hunting!

Interviewing Thai Teacher: Yuki Tachaya from PickUp Thai Podcasts…

Teacher: Yuki Tachaya
Age range: 30-35
Sex: Female
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Website: PickUpThai
Facebook: PickUpThai
YouTube: Yuki Tachaya
Twitter: @pickupthai
Products: PickupThai Podcasts (Learn real Thai the super fun way)
E-book for learning Thai The Unforgettable Day of Forgetful Tamago
PickUpThai merchandise for learning Thai (T-shirts, mugs, phone cases & more).

How long have you been teaching Thai to foreigners?

Exactly 10 years. I’ve been teaching since 2008.

What made you want to teach Thai?

I started from teaching English to Thai people. After doing that for a few years, I tried doing the opposite, teaching Thai to English-speaking people. And after having given a few classes, I discovered that I was pretty good at explaining things to people and helping them to understand, especially things that most Thai people know how to use but can’t explain. And while my students enjoyed studying with me, I also enjoyed teaching them. I then realized this is what I want to continue doing for a long time!

What motivates you to continue teaching Thai?

I myself am also a language learner. I picked up English and Japanese quite fast without living abroad. I know how to be successful at learning foreign languages and I want to use my experience and expertise to help people to be successful at learning Thai with the methods I used to learn foreign languages. I don’t just offer private lessons to individual students, but I also constantly post free and fun lessons on my website as well as videos on Youtube in order to share my knowledge with Thai learners. Most importantly, my sister and partner, Miki Chidchaya, and I have also developed our own Thai teaching/learning method through our self-made Thai learning materials PickupThai Podcast in order to reach out to a larger group of students and help more people to be successful by learning realistic, authentic, practical Thai the fun way. I don’t want to keep the knowledge to myself and waste my skills, so I want to keep teaching Thai in many different forms for as long as I can.

What qualifications do you have to teach the Thai language?

I’m a native speaker of the language and I have a liberal arts degree, with an English major from Chulalongkorn University. I’ve also completed a research student course in Second Language Acquisition at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. And I have first-hand experiences learning foreign languages so I understand what a learner has to go through (all the difficulties and obstacles). I’ve been in their shoes and I know what they have to do in order to be successful.

What student age brackets do you teach?

The youngest student I’ve taught was 15 years old, and the oldest 67.

What nationalities have you taught?

More than 70% of the students I have had are from the United States and Japan but I’ve also had students from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Holland, Germany, Sweden, China, Taiwan, and Bolivia.

What percentage of your students are beginner, intermediate, advanced?

50% beginner, 30% intermediate, 20% advanced.

Apart from Thai, what other languages do you use to teach Thai?

English and Japanese.

What is your level of proficiency in those languages?


Have you studied and/or lived abroad before?

I lived in Japan for two years (I passed the highest level of Japanese proficiency test and was awarded the Japanese Government scholarship before I had been there). I’ve also lived in United States for about five years. Currently, I spend half of my time in Thailand and half in the United Kingdom. (I could speak English fluently before I had left Thailand for the first time.)

Is your teaching approach more teacher centered or student centered?

Student centered. This is what I care about the most when it comes to teaching private lessons. Classes will only work when tailored to each student’s goals and needs.

What are some of your favorite teaching methods?

For students who already understand and speak some Thai, I love to do a free conversation with them on the topics of the their interest. I try to let my students talk as much as they can. I mostly ask questions to encourage them to speak. And I generally correct their mistakes made during the conversation at the end of the class so they know what’s the correct and natural-sounding way to say and pronounce things. I always focus on helping my students to sound natural like native speakers rather than textbooks.

What is your philosophy regarding the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing?

Learning a foreign language is all about imitating native speakers. So, it’s important to listen a lot before learning to speak and read a lot before learning to write. That way, you will be confident in what you put out. Never stop practicing listening and reading. It’s so important in helping you to become a fluent speaker and a good writer as well. On the other hand, you also should not wait until the day your Thai is perfect to start speaking or writing. It’s OK to try and make some mistakes. After a few times, you will learn the correct things and won’t repeat them.

If you do not use course books, what do you use?

PickupThai Podcast, the materials my partner and I developed ourselves because we couldn’t find any textbook that teaches Thai the way we think is the most effective – teaching the real unaltered Thai, the exact language that we Thai people speak and use, from fun stories and entertaining resources. We learn the best from what we’re interested in or enjoy. Most people give up too soon, because they lack or lost interest in their learning. We believe that it’s very important to create a fun learning process in order to help students achieve the most effective results and become successful.

What system of transliteration do you use?

The Paiboon system, just because we think it’s the one that Thai learners are most familiar with.

In your experience what, if any, are the shortcomings of that system?

The system includes some uncommon characters that aren’t in the English alphabet, although they’re pretty common in IPA (international pronunciation alphabet), so quite a few people don’t know how to read or pronounce them. For certain vowels, short and long vowels are also not differentiated so the pronunciation could be inaccurate.

What are your thoughts about the use of transliteration in teaching Thai?

It works for those who want to come to Thailand for a short period of time and only want to know how to say basic phrases to get by on their trip. For people who want to take Thai studies seriously and really want to come live in Thailand long-term, knowing how to read Thai script is a must.

In your opinion, how important is reading and writing Thai in helping foreigners learn the language?

Since there are many different transliteration systems, every time they start using a new book, they’ll have to relearn how to read. This could be confusing and unnecessarily time-consuming. Knowing how to read Thai script could help you to pronounce words more accurately. But the thing that makes the biggest difference is the fact that every single thing apart from Thai language textbooks is written in Thai script. So a person who knows how to read Thai can learn and practice Thai from any resources they could find. This gives them a huge advantage and helps them to progress much faster.

Ideally, when should foreigners start to learn how to read and write Thai?

It all depends on your goal. If you plan to live in Thailand, you should start learning how to read and write as soon as possible. But if you’re just learning Thai to be able to connect with the locals on your vacation, then there might not be a need to know how to read at all, especially if you have a short amount of time to learn to speak, you definitely should spend your time learning conversation instead. But even if you decide to learn Thai script, you can do that while also learning conversation. There’s no need to wait until you can read to start learning to speak. This is what I usually do with my students. We do both simultaneously and transition from transliteration to Thai script whenever the student is ready.

What do you believe is the hardest subject matter to teach in the Thai language?

Ending particles because they don’t exist in English, yet they are such an important characteristic of the Thai language. Thai people use them all the time, at the end of most sentences. There’s no way to ignore them. And explaining how to use each one is quite challenging.

What is your philosophy in respect of teaching vocabulary?

I only teach vocabulary from context. That way, learners will know how to apply the words in real conversation. And I don’t believe in rote-memorization. I also don’t think that it’s important to remember all the vocabulary words you learn the first or second time you look at them. In real life, when you hear the words you have learned over and over again, you will naturally remember them without using things like flashcards. And just by memorizing words without applying, you will soon forget them anyway. If you learn a word once, next time you see or hear it, you may not remember it yet and that’s completely fine and totally normal. After you have heard it ten or fifteen times, you will naturally remember it. Language learning is all about repetition, not memorization.

How do you assess whether or not your students understand what you are saying and/or teaching?

My classes are very interactive and engaging. I always ask my students to produce sentences using the vocabulary words, phrases or grammar structures that they’ve learned, and not just listen to me. So it’s quite clear and easy to know if they understand something or not from their output.

What do you do when it is obvious that your students do not understand what you are saying and/or teaching?

I always make sure that my students truly understand the information before moving on to the next lesson. I won’t be satisfied and let them move on until I make sure they know how to apply their knowledge in real usage. I don’t mind repeating things over and over at all. It’s very important that they learn, even if it takes time or even if we have to go slowly or go back to the previous lesson. Because there’s no point in reaching the last lesson and finishing a book if the student can’t really use what they have learned.

Ideally, when should an absolute beginner begin to speak Thai?

As soon as day one! There’s no reason to delay speaking Thai. You don’t need to wait until you’re fully confident and certain you won’t make mistakes. In fact, learning from mistakes is an excellent way to progress. But always keep listening to native speakers to learn the right information because after a while, you should know how to speak correctly and stop making the same old mistakes.

How do you get your students to use Thai?

I always encourage my students to practice composing sentences using words and grammar structures that they’ve learned and focus on letting my students talk as much as they can during the class, instead of me talking. On top of that, I usually let students who can speak Thai to speak as much as they can, even though they’re not fluent. And outside of the class, I also encourage them to find every opportunity to talk to any Thai friends they have, whether in real life or online.

How strict are you in respect of tones and/or vowel length?

Generally, I’m quite strict. I always correct my students’ tones and vowel length if they mispronounce, especially the words of which the meaning would change if pronounced incorrectly. Some words are more acceptable to let slide, but the pronunciation of some can be crucial to understanding.

What are your thoughts about beginners learning and using colloquialisms, slang and/or swear words when they speak Thai?

For colloquialisms and slang words, they should understand all of the words we use and know how to speak like we do. If Thai people use certain words, there’s no reason for them not to use them. For swear words, it’s different. Because not everyone swears. Some people swear less than others. Some don’t swear at all. So if they don’t swear in their language, they shouldn’t do it in Thai either. With that being said, I encourage them to learn the meanings of the words so that they understand what the words mean when they hear them but they don’t need to use them.

What are your thoughts about beginners using ภาษาวิบัติ or ‘social media Thai’?

It comes and goes with time. It doesn’t last forever. Although a lot of words don’t sound very proper and rather annoying, they do add some fun to the conversation and help people express feelings.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Practice listening and reading as much as you can. The more information you gain, the more you will be able to put out. There’s no shortcut to success. Learning a language takes time. But you won’t be discouraged if you enjoy your journey. Try to do everything you like in the language you’re learning if possible. If you like cooking, instead of watching a video teaching how to cook in English, watch ones in Thai. If you’re a movie lover, instead of watching Hollywood movies, watch Thai ones. If you like novels, find ones in Thai that you enjoy. Basically, do everything you like in Thai whenever possible. You learn the best when you’re not learning. Last but not least, if you find learning from real-life materials too difficult, PickupThai Podcast can be a good start. It’s the next best thing. Try free samples on our website and you’ll know that learning a language can be so much fun!

Yuki Tachaya
PickUpThai Podcasts

Thai teacher interview questions…

The download has additional questions for you to pick and choose from – enough for everyone’s liking.

Download: Questions for potential Thai teachers

Watch this space for more Thai teacher interviews.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Frank Smith

Frank Smith

Name: Frank Smith
Nationality: US
Age range: 50-60
Sex: Male
Location: US
Profession: University language lecturer (Khmer)
Websites: Study Khmer and Study Lao

What is your Thai level?

Speaking: low-mid advanced
Listening: high advanced
Reading and Writing: low advanced

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

Mostly colloquial/informal, but I can speak polite/formal when needed; I also speak Issan (Lao) at pretty much the same level as I speak Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

General interest in Southeast Asia, but my ability greatly increased when I moved to Thailand…then I learned it to function as a member of society on a daily basis.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I lived in Bangkok from 2002-2008; visited once a year starting in 1999, visited 3x a year from 2009-2013, now back to once a year. I’ll eventually retire to Thailand.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?


Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I started learning from an informal Thai tutor in Seattle in 1999 once I knew I was going to visit, both speaking and reading/writing. From the moment I first landed in Thailand I tried to speak only in Thai to all Thais I interacted with, a strategy I maintain to this day. The only exception was a group of Thais educated in the US (mostly artists and musicians) I interacted with in my first few years of speaking Thai–I spoke English with them then, but speak only Thai with them now.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not really, since I was pretty much always working on improving my Thai from the moment that I moved there.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

Learning vocabulary and grammar from an old (1950s or 60s?) textbook (I no longer have it and can’t remember the name or author), constantly practicing with native speakers in a wide range of social situations, reading signs, newspapers, magazines, watching karaoke videos, reading songbooks.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?


Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Not difficult at all, because I was already fluent in [spoken and written] Khmer when I began to study Thai.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

After living in Thailand about 1.5 years and using it daily, there was a moment when I had finally figured out all the proper spoken uses of ก็ (and distinguishing those uses from how it’s used in Khmer) and was able to use it confidently in my own speech; that was a significant moment that I remember clearly. Other, related, ‘a-hah!’ moments like that came when I was able to start using the final particles นะ and เลย correctly in my speech.

How do you learn languages? (learning styles)

I learn languages by using them as much as I can for communication, with periodic study of vocabulary and grammar to fill in gaps in my communicative ability. When I decide to learn a language, I will refuse to speak anything but that language to native speakers, no matter how good their English is and no matter how much they protest.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: Pronunciation, speed/fluidity, use of colloquial vocabulary, domestic issues/relationship discussions, pop culture, expression of personal feelings/opinions.

Weaknesses: political vocabulary/discussions on issues such as politics, the economy, etc.; tones.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Probably the same misconception that all students of a language that differs radically (grammar, etc.) from their native language share: the belief that every word in the target language (in this case, Thai) must have an exact equivalent in their native language. Once one accepts that the “semantic range” of many Thai words is way, way broader than any one English (or whatever) word, learning gets a lot easier. “Translation” and “word lists” are very inefficient and often frustrating ways to try to learn a new language.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Khmer (fluent), Lao (probably the same level of proficiency that I have in Thai, including reading and writing), Vietnamese (knew it well years ago, but I can only speak it now when I’m physically in Vietnam), Spanish.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No…and as a language teacher, I highly recommend NOT trying to learn two or more languages at the same time.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Speak as much Thai as you can, to native speakers, as often as you can…resist the urge to resort to English, despite how much more comfortable it might be. Have as your goal “thinking in Thai,” and get away from the notion that learning Thai means translating from English words or grammar into Thai. Also, learn to read and write as soon as you start to learn to speak, and do not use any sort of phonetic transcription or transliteration.

Frank Smith
Study Khmer and Study Lao

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: David Algeo Smith

Tomas Drayton

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: David Algeo Smith
Nationality: American
Age range: 50-60
Sex: Male
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Profession: Violin/fiddle teacher
Website/blog: I have a couple start-stop travel blogs which may have some interesting writing, not exclusively about Thailand, but I’d rather share my music here (there are 2-3 Thai traditional tunes on the album including Khang Khao Kin Kluay–“Bats Eating Bananas”): ค้างคาวกินกล้วย

What is your Thai level?

Intermediate spoken, beginner reading.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

I’ve always tried to speak polite standard Thai. Although I lived primarily in Chiangmai I didn’t learn “kham muang” or any dialects apart from the odd phrase.

I know some curse words and other “mai phraw” words but even with friends I’d go there only very rarely.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Necessity! When I first arrived in Thailand in late 1989 I quickly realized I needed to learn the language if I wanted to stay–and I really wanted to stay for awhile.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I lived in Chiangmai from December 1989 until about November 1994, then in Bangkok until late 1995. Then I spent about another year in the North in 1997-1998 and another six months in the North and Isaan in early 2001. During those years I often explored the South when on visa runs to Malaysia and I did several runs to Laos in the early ’90s– when it was very different from today.

Sadly, since 2001 I’ve only been able to manage about five 2-month visits up to my most recent in 2014. I feel as if I’ve really been trying to move back toThailand for 20 years now! Without success 😔

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

I started learning almost immediately–within the first month of my arrival in December 1989–and I continued learning for my entire immersion experience through 1995.

Actually I’ve never been a formal student in the academic sense but feel I’ve never stopped learning since I caught the “Thai bug”, and I probably will always be an eager student of this language.

That said, since I’m not the world’s best language student, I find it difficult–even almost pointless–to continue to study the language when I’m not living in Thailand. So since 1998 I haven’t progressed much past the low to mid intermediate level, to my increasing regret today.

But every time I return for a visit the skills come back quickly and within days I’m improving to advanced intermediate levels. That tells me I can reach higher levels–if only I were to apply myself to more disciplined study.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

It was right for me! But I never took formal lessons. I was very lucky to have a good Thai friend whose mission in life was to pull Westerners into the Thai cultural orbit, and I learned my first words and sounds from her.

I used a notebook to create my own transliteration which eventually made a lot more sense to me than the others available at the time. And I was fascinated by the alphabet early but concluded that I’d be better off focusing on listening and pronouncing words first.

I started with my friend to get to the market (beginner), then I continued with other friends I made in the music world (intermediate beginner), then finally with my girlfriend (advanced beginner).

This was during my early immersion period from 1990-1993. When I returned to the States for a year in 1996 I stopped studying completely and really missed it.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

No, but I was living and playing with Thai musicians on a daily basis then later I had a Thai girlfriend. None of my closest friends at that time had any more than basic English–not even enough for “Thaienglish”, really!

My friends were all Chiangmai or Phrae musicians with very little experience dealing with farang. I learned a lot from them even though they always talked in Chiangmai dialect with each other–very graciously they spoke “Bangkok” with me.

My girlfriend was from Lopburi so her “mother tongue” was the one I was trying to learn: Central Thai. I have her to thank for teaching me in the most patient, empathetic manner imaginable. I was so lucky to meet her, and my years with her were my best in Thailand.

To succeed in love and in music in a totally foreign culture I had to rely on these friends/colleagues/lovers to be my teachers, and they all taught me so much more than just the language. I learned about food and family and phu yai/phu noi and about Thai music and politics, and about jai rawn/jai yen and grengjai, and so much more.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

As a beginner I tried my “teacher/friend’s method–hers was an excellent way to get me quickly comfortable, on my own, in the neighborhood market😀

But seriously it was a total immersion situation and as a young musician on a Thai salary I never had the resources to try school or take AUA classes. I learned from the friends and acquaintances I made.

Did one method stand out over all others?

I grew up as a Suzuki violin student. Suzuki music students can achieve a high level of ability on the instrument with listening, imitation, repetition, review, and delayed music reading. I applied those childhood skills in my Thai learning.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

I started basic reading almost immediately but I still can’t write today because I don’t know how to spell and I’m too lazy to work on improving my “five-year old’s” handwriting.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I could see right away that Thai is an alphabet and not an inscrutable “script”. And since I love reading I didn’t find that particularly difficult.

After learning the basics of the consonants and vowels from my first “friend/teacher” I largely taught myself to read. I was familiar with the “black book”–we had one lying around–but as I’ve already mentioned I was rather lazy. So I did not study the tone rules used in word construction ( that’s on my extensive to do list now–thank you Ajaan Smyth and Khun Cat for making some very fine resources available). Instead I used my “Suzuki ear” to learn the correct pronunciation.

Reading for me was all about what I could gain just running around in daily life. I learned to read all the “changwat” on the “thabien rot”, street signs, billboards, any other signs (bus signboards were so much fun to figure out, even if I wasn’t particularly waiting for a bus!), and of course menus.

By this point (maybe 2-3 years in) I completely ditched most transliterations. I simply didn’t need them anymore, and most of them aren’t helpful past the beginner stage. I recommend the beginner create her own if needed.

Oddities like the positioning of the vowels and the many dipthongs/tripthongs never threw me for a loop because I thought it was a fascinating way to construct words–if nothing else, Thai words on the written page are memorable, even if you don’t know what the word means or precisely how to pronounce it.

And off the page, all those weird vowel sounds were a lot of fun to try out loud with friends–lots of laughs there, and lots of successful learning too.

By the end of my initial 5-6 years of immersion I was reading trashy magazines and comic books, but I never really graduated to newspapers–too many abstract concepts for me! And I was too often stubbornly lazy with the dictionary even though I usually had two or three handy. If a friend tried explaining it to me and I still didn’t understand a written word, I’d might look it up. Or, more often, I’d forget to do so if I didn’t have the “dik” with me.

But my instinct during that period told me to delay serious reading study until I could speak somewhat competently, so that’s what I did.

Unfortunately at that point I had to return to the West. Which was a huge culture shock, by the way. In fact I’m still recovering 😂

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

I saved this question for last because I’ve had several and want to relate this to you right.

Thais compliment foreigners way too much so they always say “geng” even when we’re not. But when they start saying (about you) “phud phraw maak” or “phud chat maak” then you can be sure you are making at least some progress. In Khorat I met a shopkeeper who asked me if I worked for “sathan thoot” (the embassy). That bowled me over.

Another moment was when I could read everything in a 20-page menu (no English) and ask the waiter to explain a new (for me) dish and understand everything he said and decide how to order competently–and humorously!

But my first “ah hah” moment was a very beautiful moment one morning in Chiangmai when my girlfriend woke up and said: เมื่อคืนฉันฝัน (Last night I had a dream…) and I understood everything she said to follow. This was my first experience truly grasping abstract concepts in Thai.

How do you learn languages?

I’ve outlined above a little about how I learned Thai. I listen a lot and don’t talk much at first. I’ve been fortunate to have had the time and inclination to get immersed in new cultures and stay awhile.

In Thailand I learned from friends, then colleagues, then intimate partners, and finally from everyone I encountered in dozens of provinces of Thailand.

But to reach the next levels I know I have to stop being lazy with reading and dictionaries and go back to creating vocabulary lists. This is the hard work that everyone must do to advance.

But then there’s the fun stuff: watch TV, the dumber the material the better (don’t be put off by soap operas and reality TV), listen to the radio, watch Thai content with English subtitles and Western content with Thai subtitles, watch the news. Graduate to Thai content with Thai subtitles, if you can get that kind of material now.

I can see from this blog that a whole new world of Thai learning has opened up, and I’m really impressed–and inspired. We didn’t have all those resources in the ’90s.

I recently spent about six months in France and I learned right away what I needed to do: get out of my comfort zones, speak French as much as possible, and watch TV–lots of it. Before long I had the best beginner French I’ve had in 40 years of interest in that beautiful, funny language.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my Thai pronunciation is pretty good because of my music background. I can hear and imitate the tones easily. Maybe they’re not even “tones”– just distinct, unique “sounds”.

Taw Tao, Paw Plaa and Ngaw Ngu are very foreign sounds for Western speakers, but they are not impossible–just a nice challenge to get right.

Also, while I’m somewhat shy and not really gregarious, I found in Thailand I really loved engaging verbally with people on a daily basis. Maybe this is why I loved everything about Thailand. It awakened something new in me which gradually turned into a strength that I utilized everyday.

As for weaknesses, there’s no question: reading and my non-existent writing.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I’m not sure, but this is an important question I’d like to answer thoughtfully. Perhaps I’m a good example for some of how not to learn!

I’ve had a lifelong love of languages but I always found the Latin languages and German far too difficult. In Thailand, however, I discovered I can easily reach a level, that with increased, more serious study would lead to certain advancement–even for a B-C student like me.

The tones are conquerable, even for a lackadaisical reader, and the reading itself is really fun, especially if you like reading but aren’t a stellar student.

Learning Thai, as a young adult, was for me like being a five year old again, in only the most positive sense of that universal experience. The entire world is yours once more, a marvelous place of wonder, which is how I’ve always felt about Thailand.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I was a C student in French in high school but gradually gained a beginner level over several visits to France over the years. I have very basic Spanish and even poorer German but only because of my extensive travel in Europe and in Mexico and Central America.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

When I first arrived in Thailand I was just coming from several months in France.

But no, Thai was all I could wrap my head around once I’d left Europe, “for good”, I thought at the time.

This might be the right place for me to mention that in the ’91-’95 period I did not return to the West for about four years. In that period, life was just Southeast Asia for me–apart from a couple quick trips to Japan and Korea during the latter part of my 5-6 year immersion.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Every student is different: just explore a lot and find out the many different methods and resources that work best for you.

What worked best for me was having close Thai friends early in my experience. Get a job with Thais and hang out with people who don’t know English.

Find an intimate partner and meet everyone in her/his family and learn as much as possible about relationships and why they matter in Thai society.

Like everyone the world over, Thais love to gossip about friends, family and workmates. Don’t be afraid to join in! In my years with the band I learned so much about band politics and the internal hierarchy of that small world, and it really helped me to gain wider comprehension of the culture and the language–which are two things we can’t separate anyway​.

Get out of your city and/or schooling bubble, or comfort zones, and travel as much as possible to remote areas or “ban nawk”. That’s where I learned the most.

But even in the towns and cities you can learn a lot by getting out to market or “bai theeo khon deeo”. Go out solo and engage with women in the market and with songthaeo drivers and motorcycle mechanics and the woman who does your laundry. Ultimately I probably learned more from the general public than I did from my many wonderful friends.

Use humor, follow the Thai penchant for sanuk and “law lehn” and don’t be afraid when they laugh at your mistakes. Thais are way too complimentary of foreigners but they appreciate​ us too–and for good reason, I believe. We all have much to offer each other.

I like having a Thai-Thai dictionary and a good three-way, if available. Lately I’ve been carrying Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s brilliant Thai-English/English-Thai dictionary and her Thai for Intermediate Learners in my travels.

David Algeo Smith

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Tomas Drayton

Tomas Drayton

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Tomas Drayton
Nationality: British
Age range: 26
Sex: Male
Location: London, UK.
Profession: BA South East Asian Studies Student at SOAS, University of London.

What is your Thai level?


Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

In the beginning I tried to learn as much slang and ‘Thai-isms’ as possible in some vain hope of speaking exactly like a Thai. However, when I started studying at SOAS the best advice I got was that as foreign Thai speakers, regardless of how good your Thai can be there will always be slight communication barriers, therefore it’s best to accept your role as a foreign Thai speaker, and compensate by veering into the more polite and formal ways of speaking.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

Initially I went to Thailand on holiday, and as a vegetarian I learnt about three phrases. I ended up staying much longer than planned and just slowly built up more and more, so it was more circumstantial than anything else. I then applied to study at SOAS as there was a year abroad programme at Thammasat University, which sounded much more appealing than working!

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

Not currently.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

I have been a Thai language student at University level since September 2013. Previous to that I had been learning independently for about two years.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I was very keen to learn Thai at first and stuck at it for a good six months which built a good foundation of basic spoken Thai. I bought a book and just used to look at it every day while in Thailand, trying to learn and use one new phrase or expression each day.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

More so just as and when I could than a rigid timetable. However once I started learning it at university level of course I had to do much more controlled study in order to pass exams etc.

What Thai language learning methods did you try? Did one method stand out over all others?

I don’t buy into or even understand various language learning ‘methods’, some seem absolutely insane! Perhaps they do work for some people, but getting too deep into scientific language learning technique comparisons seems to me a waste of learning time!

I think for a grammatically uncomplicated language like Thai in which much of the emphasis is in speech and pronunciation, the best bet is to be practising speaking as much as possible. The only way to remember a language for me is to use it!

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

Not soon enough! I think the earlier you can start learning to read and write the better, as it makes pronunciation so easy. I started properly being able to read and write at SOAS once I started studying there, as it is absolutely the first thing you do.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Thankfully I had David Smyth to teach me so it was relatively easy. I’d say after a month or so of learning it becomes easy.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Probably the first time I was ever understood asking for vegetarian food by a Thai person!

How do you learn languages?

Speak ๆๆๆๆ

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

I think putting off learning to read and write is a big one, as being able to read just makes everything so much easier. Also, I think the idea that it is very hard is quite a misconception. If you think it’s very hard and you won’t be able to do it, you won’t.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I learnt French to quite a good level in school, but cannot remember any now!

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No I think I’d find that very hard.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

I truly believe that the best way to learn is through friendly chit-chat with Thai people. If you are in Thailand, go out and about and try to chat to people. If you aren’t in Thailand but are preparing to go, get practising specific phrases you are going to use. Once you can get a basic framework of Thai conversation and confidence in speaking and using Thai, the rest just follows.

I started by going out and trying to make small talk about the weather, inevitably someone would say something I didn’t understand, so I would go back, check my book to try and work out what they had said, and then would just try again the next day with someone else.

I think getting over the confidence barrier in speaking and getting the belief that you probably can learn Thai is the trick.

Tomas Drayton

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Karsten Aichholz

Karsten Aichholz

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Karsten Aichholz
Nationality: German
Age range: 35
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Aspiring writer. Actual entrepreneur.
Website: I run a website that provides people with free guides on living, working or starting a business in Thailand: Thailand Starter Kit

What is your Thai level?


Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

Professional Thai. I can read and understand the fee structure of a an SET-traded fund, but for the life of it have no idea why the lady with the pancake makeup and the helmet haircut is angry at that other lady on some soap opera.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

My former business partner is a language prodigy. Unless I studied the language extensively I would come across as having learning-disability when sitting next to him in a meeting. I also didn’t want to be the guy who after 10 years in a country still doesn’t speak the language. Initially it was that and some curiosity.

Later on it was mostly for social reasons and some limited business benefits.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I have been living in Bangkok since 2006.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?


Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

Back in 2006, the first year I arrived in Thailand, fiddled around with books and websites without making much progress beyond ‘turn right’, ‘vegetarian, please’ and ‘that’s not vegetarian’. I got serious when I first took an intensive Thai class at Chulalongkorn University in 2007. I wrote a review about that experience here: Thai Language School Review – Intensive Thai at Chulalongkorn University. I’ve been studying on and off ever since.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not as much as I’d like to have. Doing full-time intensive classes forced me to do it for a few weeks each and it helped a lot. In other years it was more of a ‘time permitting’ approach where I’d take up regular classes when my work schedule permitted.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I did some self-study (okay, to maintain current level), an intensive Thai class (very good to overcome roadblocks), and took private lessons (great if you can find a topic that interests you and combine it with dedicated self-study). 

Did one method stand out over all others?

One very labor intensive but effective way of self-study was to put entire sentences from Thai Grammar Books on Anki flash cards. It definitely helped with getting a more intuitive understanding of grammar. I would gladly pay good money for ready-made, sentence-based flash cards that can be purchased by topic. Finding topics that excite me (e.g. finance) was one of the biggest factors in making me more dedicated to self-study.

This said, the biggest improvements came from externally imposed schedules that force you to commit time and thought to learning the language.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

The first word I read in Thai was the transcription on the McDonald’s sign. That was a week after arriving. I picked up enough to ‘make out’ words reasonably quickly, but didn’t learn how to properly read and write until I took an intensive Thai class that taught me about a year after I arrived.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

It didn’t come naturally beyond some newbie gains, but I feel more at ease with written Thai than colloquial Thai.

How do you learn languages?

With dread and reluctance. I wish I was kidding. My work-around is to find a setup that forces me to study or provides a tangible reward in the near future (e.g. signing up for a class, learning the lyrics of a song, reviewing essential information for my business…).

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I have a hard time doing something for which I don’t see rewards in the near future. Though once I believe there’ll be a benefit, I can put up with a lot in order to reach it.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That reading is hard and grammar is easy.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

I’m a native German speaker and picked up English on the internet. French I struggled with in school long enough to allow me some rudimentary communication while crossing a French-speaking country.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

That would be pure horror to me. Nowadays when I try to speak French, Thai comes out. I can’t imagine how confusing it would be to learn two languages at once.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Find a very specific benefit you’ll want that requires speaking Thai. It’ll give you a lot of direction, motivation and you’ll have an easier time showing self-discipline. In my humble opinion, motivation alone won’t work: Stop Asking How to Get Motivated.

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you’d like to read more interviews the entire series is here: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners.

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Index: Successful Thai Language Interview Compilation

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

The First Fifty Successful Thai Language Learners…

Well, that’s a wrap. For now anyway. Below are the first 50 interviews in the Successful Thai Language Learners series. My thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute.

Just to let you know … I’m slowly making inroads into the second 50 interviews. So far there are 28 – that leaves only 22 to go. When the magic 100 interviews has been reached I’ll create an ebook to share.

If you’d like to be a part of the series please contact me.

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Interview Compilation: What Advice Would You Give to Students of the Thai Language?

Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language Learners

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?…

This has got to be my favourite question in this series. As the advice given is many and varied, I won’t even attempt to summarise.

Aaron Handel

Aaron Handel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: You can learn to speak Thai. You don’t need to be a genius. You do need perseverance. For some, it helps to have a good teacher. Others learn with CDs and a good book. If you want to start by learning to write, all I can say is good luck! If you want to start by learning to speak, you will need a book with transliteration (Thai written with English letters or symbols). The transliteration must have tone marks. You must have sound that follows the book. There are many books to choose from. Frankly, I think it’s beneficial to have several books for learning Thai. You might prefer one transliteration system over another. Whatever tools you use, you will need to break the tonal barrier. It simply cannot be avoided. Put some effort into tone pronunciation right from the start.

Not everyone learns in the same way. Learn at your own pace. Seek quality, not quantity. Remember, the turtle reaches the finish line before the rabbit.

Dtòw mah tĕung sên chai gàwn gràdtàai
เต่า มา ถึง เส้น ชัย ก่อน กระต่าย
Literally: Turtle come arrive line victory before rabbit.

Aaron Le Boutillier

Aaron Le Boutillier: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAaron: Well, I still consider myself very much a student, however, my advice would be:

  • Learn to read,
  • Find your Thai voice and…
  • Never ever ever think it’s the listener’s fault for not understanding. They don’t understand because you are saying it wrong, lose the ego and swallow hard and try again :)

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAdam: Make as many Thai friends as possible and be willing to teach them English in exchange for them helping you with your Thai.

Andrew Biggs

Andrew Biggs: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersAndrew: 60 million Thais can speak it. You’re no different. Ditch the excuses and get on with it.

Celia Chessin-Yudin

Celia Chessin-Yudin: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersCelia: Get a speaking partner, who will correct you.

Chris Pirazzi

Chris Pirazzi: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChris Pirazzi: One thing I’ve discovered is absolutely crucial but left out of nearly all “programs” of Thai study: on their very first day of learning Thai, students should sit down with the teacher and go over all the sounds of Thai (where “sounds” means consonants, vowels, and tones), independent of how the sounds are written in Thai script. The students should sit there and verbally drill the tricky sounds with the teacher until the students are able to make and understand all the sounds that differ between Thai and English.

The teacher should critique the sounds made by the students and refine the students’ pronunciation until the students can make each sound correctly (i.e. until the teacher, as a native Thai listener, can distinguish which sound the student is trying to make). So in some sense, the teacher is acting as a “voice trainer” for the students.

The teacher should then say words to the students and verify that the students can correctly recognize and distinguish each sound that they hear. If it takes 5 sessions to do this, so be it: it’s worth it.

The teacher must drill not only the 5 tones and all the Thai vowels including the tricky อื vowel, but also make sure that the students can correctly make and distinguish b/bp/p and d/dt/t and the other consonant contrasts that English lacks.

Note that it’s even important for the teacher to drill sounds that English already has, because many sounds have different distributions in Thai. For example, even though the b, bp, and p sounds occur in various English words, the English-native student is not used to thinking of them as three separate sounds instead of just two as in English.

But in Thai, unlike English, you can have 3 different words that differ only by b, bp, and p, like ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) and ภัย pai (danger).

In order to satisfy the students’ desire for instant gratification, the teacher can drill the consonant, vowel, and tone sounds using real words, as in these examples (from the intro of the 2009 Paiboon dic):

ดี dii (good) ตี dtii (hit) ที tii (turn)
เดา dao (guess) เตา dtao (stove) เทา tao (gray)
ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go) ภัย pai (danger)
เบ็ด bèt (fishhook) เป็ด bpèt (duck) เผ็ด pèt (spicy)
นา naa (rice field) งา ngaa (sesame)
ถุง tǔng (bag) ถึง tʉ̌ng (arrive)
กลัว gluua (scared) เกลือ glʉʉa (salt)
ซี sii (letter C), สี่ sìi (four), สี sǐi (color)

But the focus of the instruction for both student and teacher during this period must be on the sounds, not the words or meanings or grammar. The student will naturally be itching to move on to whole phrases like “Where is the bar?” and “How much is that pad thai?” but the teacher must guide (force) the students to focus on sound first.

I discovered how important this was more or less by accident. The very first day I went to the Thai class at the California Thai temple, I happened to be the only student, so I sat down with the teacher and we drilled sounds because that’s what’s on the first page of “Thai for Beginners.” It has helped me immensely.

Most students want to “jump ahead” to learning whole words and phrases right away, but in most cases I have observed (and I’ve now observed hundreds of people learning Thai at the temple), this impatient behavior seriously damages their long-term ability to function in the Thai language. This is because the students spend the first few months of instruction learning words incorrectly: many students are not even aware that ใบ bai (leaf) ไป bpai (go), and ภัย pai (danger) are different words in Thai until long after they have supposedly “learned” these words. This makes it nearly impossible for them to understand a Thai person correctly or speak the words so that a Thai person can understand.

By the time they realize that they should have studied the sounds first, it’s already too late: they’ve accumulated a huge dictionary of incorrect Thai in their head! It takes much more work for a student to un-do damaged learning than it would have taken to learn the sounds correctly in the first place.

For students without access to native Thai speakers, it’s still worth spending a long initial period familiarizing themselves with the sounds via available websites and software. That’s part of the reason I made the pages about Thai sounds on my hobby site slice-of-thai.com.

As a side note, it does not matter what system of transcription the teacher uses during this initial period, as long as the system writes each different Thai sound using a different symbol (that is, as long as the transcription system is complete). The focus is on sound, not writing. The students should not obsess over the English(-like) spelling that the transcription system uses.

The teacher must tell the students right at the beginning not to rely on the transcription system as a guide for how to say each word: instead, they must use their ears as the sole guide, and regard each written transcription symbol as just that: a symbol representing the sound they just heard.

With this advice, the student will be able to avoid the enormous pitfalls and wastes of time that have plagued so many students who obsess over systems of transcription.

In theory, the teacher could even discard transcription altogether and start with Thai script during this initial period (in which case the student is guaranteed not to make comparisons with English spelling!) but of course the problem with this is that Thai script has so many ways to write the same sound, leading the student to unnecessary confusion while the focus is on learning the sounds of Thai.

Christy Gibson

Christy Gibson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersChristy: Speak, speak, speak. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Make mistakes and then keep trying until you get it right. Immerse yourself in the Thai language and culture as much as you can. Ask for help and ask questions when you don’t know or understand something. Accept from the beginning that it’s not an easy language to speak and don’t expect immediate results, but do work hard to make as much progress as you can. Don’t give up.

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersColin: Language is a living thing. Learning it in a lab in a foreign country is like putting gas in the car but not going anywhere. It needs Thai input from living people. If you can’t come here, find a Thai. Offer language exchange to foreign students. Find a Skypemate. You can’t speak Thai until you feel it breathe.

Daniel B Fraser

Daniel B Fraser: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDaniel: Don’t be intimidated – just get the basics and make a daily (thrice daily) effort to get out and engage with people at street level.

David Long

David Long: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid: I would advise students to spend as much time looking and listening, and as little time speaking as possible. It makes sense to me that the more we’re talking, the less we’re able to hear, and if we want to understand Thai, we need to be listening to Thais as much as we can.

David Smyth

David Smyth: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDavid Smyth: Become literate. Being able to read Thai makes it much easier to take responsibility for your own learning. It also shows Thais that you are serious about learning the language so they are more likely to want to help you to achieve your goals. Not being literate imposes severe limitations on your opportunities to make progress.

  • Make friends with Thais.
  • Use tv/radio/internet etc.
  • Accept mistakes as a natural part of language learning.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Everyone has good and bad days.

Don Sena

Don Sena: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDon: Do not use transliteration. It is grossly inadequate to the features of Thai. Do use transcription – IPA style – as it is (at least) capable of revealing certain important features not visible in the Thai orthography. Use detailed written accounts of the language – the kind that require a lot of study. Make sure that when using a teacher, that the teacher is not offering some quick-fix approach. Reject any teacher that uses transliteration. Understand that learning a language is a major task, and that there is nothing more complex that human language – whether humanly devised or natural. Human language, unlike animal language, is capable of an infinite number of utterances. Machine translation from language to language is far short of perfection and may possibly be inherently incapable of ever achieving complete reliability.


Doug: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersDoug: Use (relatively) formal methods that ensure broad exposure to vocabulary. Don’t neglect grammar. Spend as much time on task as possible.

Gareth Marshall

Gareth Marshall: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGareth: Don’t give up.

Glenn Slayden

Glenn Slayden: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGlenn: It’s probably been said before, and may fall on deaf ears, but: learn to read and write!

Grace Robinson

Grace Robinson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersGrace: Stick with it. Don’t be shy. The most important this about learning a language is really wanting to do it in the first place, having the right intention and determination are essential.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHamish: Don’t fear the tones, learn to read, and most important … Use it or lose it.

Hardie Karges

Hardie Karges: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHardie: Crack the book, crack a smile, and reduce your dependency on English-only Thais for your social interactions.

Herb Purnell

Herb Purnell: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHerb: Again, people are so varied that it’s hard to say something useful to everyone. But just to throw out a few ideas:

  1. Work on being accurate as well as fluent, particularly at the beginning when you’re laying a foundation for later learning. But live with mistakes. They’re part of life and part of everyone’s language learning. The key is to learn from them, get some feedback, and try to do a little better next time.
  2. Just about everything in Thai is learnable if you stick with it long enough. If you can learn to do something correctly, then take the time to do it right and take satisfaction in it. Don’t be sloppy in pronunciation if you can sound better. Learn to gradually sharpen your vocabulary by learning the finer distinctions between synonyms and other words within a similar range of meaning.
  3. Reading is really valuable for developing a good vocabulary and for getting information. But (for me at least) it can be a distraction early on from the work of learning how to converse well. However, once you have a good foundation in the spoken language, read, read, read.
  4. For me, learning Thai is for interacting with Thai people. If I go to class, I want to use the lesson by talking with a Thai person about the topic so I can use the vocabulary and structure I just learned. If I read something, I want to talk to a Thai person about what I read and get their opinion.
  5. Once proficiency starts to increase or employment requires that Thai be used, pay attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it. Don’t be afraid to back up and try again if you sense there was a mistake or feel that you could have said something in a better or more appropriate way. And sharpen your awareness of what you are saying and what others are saying to you or to one another. The better your awareness and the more you develop sharp listening, the more differences you will notice between your speech and native Thai speech. Take one or two of those noticed differences and work on them, putting them into your own speech. This all takes time and effort, but it provides a good way to continue to improve.
  6. Keep a sense of humor. I have made some hilarious gaffes in learning Thai, as have most of my friends, but I am able to laugh at myself, admit my ignorance and slowness in learning, and ask how I should have said it. I never turn down a correction. Once I was in the middle of giving a talk to a group of Mien people, and a lady interrupted me, calling out, “That’s not the way to say it.” I stopped, thanked her very much, asked what the correct way was, backed up and put the correction in, and then tried to regain my thoughts to go on with the talk. Later I thanked the lady and encouraged her to interrupt me any time I said something wrong. If I had frowned or disregarded her comment, I would not only have lost the opportunity to learn something but she would likely never again have offered another correction.
  7. Finally, in language learning, as in other types of skill development, time-on-task is very important. The more one sticks with the language consistently, talking with Thai people, making an effort to read, learn vocabulary, and learn Thai customs and how one should act in various situations, the greater will be the positive payoff.

Hugh Leong

Hugh Leong: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersHugh: Work hard, every day. Don’t give up. And no matter how old you are you can still learn. If I thought I would go for just one day without learning something new then I would want to leave this life and go on to what ever comes next. Learning new stuff just becomes a little harder as we get older. But we should not get discouraged just because it is hard. In fact, if something were easy, then why do it in the first place? The fun comes when we try something difficult and we succeed. They say keeping your brain active is one way to stave off senility. Well, if you are studying Thai then you’ll have nothing to worry about.

The Thais have a saying “Phak chee loy naa”, literally meaning “the coriander floating on top”. It means that all you see here is the surface of things, the pretty adornments floating on top of the Thai soup. The basic meaning is “We are inscrutable. There is lots about us that we won’t show you.” If you want to know what the soup is really made of then you need to know the language that the recipe is in. When you do, you’ll see that there are lots of goodies in the soup that you would have never been aware of if all you saw was that floating green stuff.

Ian Fereday

Ian Fereday: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersIan:

  • Never give up. If you feel you aren’t moving forwards, try a different approach or switch to something else (from conversation to reading or vice versa).
  • Don’t confuse learning to read with speaking or understanding. You learn to read to gain the tools you need for conversation. When you learn to read, you needn’t even worry about what the words mean – just as long as you can read them and know the sounds.
  • If the vocabulary is useful and relevant, by all means learn it. If it’s not, don’t bother because it will only slow you down.
  • Some people learn faster than others, so don’t be disheartened if classmates seem to be getting there faster than you. It’s not a race and it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

James (Jim) Higbie

James (Jim) Higbie: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJim: I would say it’s important to learn how to say things exactly the way Thais say them. Don’t try to learn a lot of vocabulary then make up your own sentences. Also, don’t feel that using ka or krup is demeaning. Use it a lot, especially with older people and even at first when you talk to people your own age. People in Thailand really appreciate politeness. Don’t hang out with foreigners all the time.

Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJoe: For Thai, I think it’s as important to study Sanskrit and Pali as it is for a student of English literature to study Greek and Latin, to get to the roots of a lot of the vocabulary. Plus you can have fun translating your Thai friends’ last names for them (the Thai interpretations are often incorrect)!

John Boegehold

John Boegehold: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJohn: A few things. I know it can seem tedious, but back off on trying to learn a lot of vocabulary at the start and focus on reading and writing. Once you have a grasp on the consonants, vowels, tone marks, etc. learning vocabulary becomes a lot easier and you have a much better shot of nailing the pronunciations.

Also, wean yourself off of using English transliterations as soon as possible. While they may seem helpful in the beginning, they quickly become a crutch and will ultimately slow you down. Once you learn how to read Thai, you’ll realize how inadequate English transliterations are in capturing the actual pronunciation of many Thai words. Don’t get me started on the supremely annoying (to American English speakers, anyway) of using “r” in transliterations like larb, Sathorn, gor-gai, etc…

I know there are some notable exceptions, but when you start to learn Thai as an adult, I don’t believe you can be fluent and speak clearly without knowing how to read the language.

Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonas: The main advice I would give would be to not fear the “giants” of the language—the main “giants” being the tones, the written language, the sentence structure, and the fact that Thai is from a totally different language group with scarcely any similarities to Germanic or Romance languages that Westerners are familiar with.

I think that while many people are wrestling with these giants and trying to grasp the concepts to the point of giving up, other people are just out there talking to people, being attentive to speech patterns and usage and end up able to communicate even better “pit pit, took took” (sometimes right, sometimes wrong). It is not always as hard as it seems, you just have to “think you can”. If you can’t manage the tones, don’t worry about it right away. Most things are understood from context anyway.

After a certain amount of exposure to the language it is good to go back and try to put labels on some of the things you have learned through language books and courses and then you can progress a lot more quickly, but if you start out trying to dissect the language with theory and terminology it could be much more frustrating. Some people say learning new languages the way we learned our mother tongue is the best method, and I tend to agree—it’s called the immersive method—putting yourself in situations that force you to learn the language.

Oh, and don’t worry about if they laugh at you. In Thailand being laughed at is not an insult, but rather they would say they are laughing because it is “nah rak” (cute), and you can take heart in that you brought someone a smile!

Jonathan Thames

Jonathan Thames: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJonathan: Make Thai friends and try to use it all the time.

Justin Travis Mair

Justin Travis Mair: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersJustin: Don’t be afraid to fall on your face. The first day in Thailand I had a guy laugh at me every moment I talked. Every time I felt cocky about my Thai I would be reminded that I still have much to learn. Thai people can be very direct sometimes. You just need to brush it off and keep trying.

Larry Daks

Larry Daks: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLarry: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all do it.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Luke Cassady-Dorion: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersLuke: Study, study, study. Don’t give up, get as much exposure to the language as possible, learn to read, learn to write, talk to people, make friends, make enemies (if you can speak enough Thai to say something that pisses someone off, you’re doing great).

Marc Spiegel

Marc Spiegel: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarc: Stick with it! It’s difficult in the beginning, but the more you practice and use the language the easier it gets.

Marcel Barang

Marcel Barang: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMarcel: Are you committed? Then never despair: it all builds up somehow. If you are not, then mai pen rai, just have fun, they’ll like you anyway for trying and for being (to their ears) funny.

Mark Hollow

Mark Hollow: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMark: Persist.

Martin Clutterbuck

Martin Clutterbuck: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersMartin: Remember, Thai, just like any other language, has correct and polite forms, and guidelines for good, “educated” style. If you are serious about staying in the place, a little depth will go a long way. Most Thais appreciate any effort to learn their language, so do it right and they will love you :)

  • Learn to read and write.
  • Get decent dictionaries, including a Thai-Thai dictionary like that of the Royal Institute.
  • When you have mastered the basics, have a look at the compendiums of grammar called “Lak Phasa Thai”.

Nils Bastedo

Nils Bastedo: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersNils: Learn basic questions and answers to begin with. Get out there and try to implement what you have as you are studying it. Doing a task or even helping others learn is a great way to achieve good retention. Roman script can be useful when learning Thai, but it can never fully portray Thai pronunciation as Thai writing, so dip into the Thai writing system right away starting with a few basic words, the alphabet, the consonants, the consonant classes and tonality.

Paul Garrigan

Paul Garrigan: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPaul: You need to realise that you will improve if you keep on practicing; there will always be improvements. It is like a journey, but some of us have further to travel. We will all make it to the end if we keep on going; the only thing that can stop us is the end of our lifespan. The fact is though, anyone who spends enough time learning Thai will become fluent.

Peter Montalbano

Peter Montalbano: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersPeter: Ya wanta know the way to Carnegie Hall, kid? Practice, practice, practice. Oh, and get a Thai girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, whatever your flavor, but don’t speak any English with ‘em. Take some classes, do all the things I suggested before. For about 10 years, then you’ll have a good start. Go for it. Don’t give up. Be humble and realize this isn’t for sissies.

If you only want to learn enough to get around by yourself, that shouldn’t be that hard, but in all cases, be clear about what your goal is, and how close you actually are to it.

And if you’re in Bangkok, seriously ambitious to learn, and can afford the time and money, you probably can’t do better than the Chula intensive Thai course, check it out.

Rick Bradford

Rick Bradford: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRick: First, motivation is everything when it comes to learning Thai (learning anything, in fact). Keep your motivation alive. Motivation can often be stimulated when you can see visible progress.

Second, to be flexible and aware in all aspects of your study. For example, there is a lot of research which shows that we learn best if we study at a level just above our level of competence; not too easy and not too hard. So a complete novice would get nothing out of watching a ‘lakorn’ on TV, or reading the Thai translation of ‘Gorky Park’. Start with a Doraemon comic and the AUA videos.

But this also means we need to constantly adjust our studies as we improve; we need to keep challenging our level of competence.

Third, an incredibly powerful method of learning is to force yourself to *think* in Thai. It’s a bit like the visualisation process that elite sportsmen are trained to use. The brain cannot readily tell the difference between an imagined conversation and a real one, so that the Thai you are mouthing to yourself is more likely to be on tap when you are required to produce it. And, even if it feels a little weird, it’s less embarrassing than making a hash of a real conversation.

Fourth, have a variety of learning methods and recycle them. That is, you may have watched ‘lakorn’ shows and given up on them because they were too hard. After six months or so, try again, and you may be surprised to find how you have improved. There is a visible pointer to your progress. Same with someone whose conversation you used to struggle to understand, or a newspaper you had trouble with.

Fifth (although this is a very personal view): Don’t ‘passive listen’. You may think you’re passively absorbing Thai when you have the TV on in the background as you check your e-mail, but in my case, this kind of passive listening simply taught me to switch off and ignore spoken Thai as a meaningless background noise — exactly the opposite of what I needed.

If I listen now, I make an active effort to understand what is going on. Even better, at my current level, is to download an MP3 from VOA Thai News, stick the cans on and listen to it a few times, writing down what I think I have heard. (VOA has transcripts as well, so I can check how well I am doing).

Rikker Dockum

Rikker Dockum: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRikker: If you’re serious about learning Thai, tackle the written language. It unlocks the world.

Ryan Zander

Ryan Zander: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersRyan: Learn to read right away. Start by learning all the sounds of the language. Then you won’t be fooled into poor pronunciation by bad transliteration schemes. Reading and writing ability in Thai will really help your speaking skills more than you’d think.

Scott Earle

Scott Earle: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersScott: Do not give up. I know it sounds silly (and obvious), but the more you can practise, the better. Most importantly, do not get put off when people don’t understand a single word you say – Thai is a strictly tonal language, and people who are not used to speaking with foreigners will not understand anything you say if you aren’t using the exact right tones and intonation at exactly the right time. It’s not your ‘fault’ that you speak using the wrong tone, because you are not used to speaking a language where it is relevant – and it’s not their ‘fault’ for not understanding you, because their brain is not tuned to listen to their language spoken with the wrong tones. Remember that people brought up speaking Central Thai will usually not understand a thing that someone in Isaan is saying (because the tones are all shifted).

So whatever you do, try and try again to speak. As much as you can. Most Thais are very keen to help you speak their language, because so few foreigners can, and so many give up before their brain has had a chance to adjust to speaking a tonal language. (Also, remember that English is also a slightly tonal language, kind of – the words PROject and proJECT have two entirely different meanings).

When you go to the local noodle shop, try ordering in Thai. Try speaking to people you meet in shops. Whenever you have the chance to speak to someone, do.

Also be aware that if you hold a conversation with someone and they say how well you speak Thai, it means they can understand you but it’s still pretty terrible! When nobody comments on it, that’s when you know you’re doing well. And no, I am not quite there yet!

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStephen: Find people who don’t speak English and talk to them. I hear foreigners say in Bangkok they don’t have to use Thai. I’m not sure where they go, but I can easily go outside and find many people who can’t speak a word of English. Start out by buying your morning coffee from a street vendor instead of Starbucks. Strike up a simple conversation. It will be slow at first but after a month you’ll realise how much you improved and you will have met other people in the neighbourhood who will want to talk to you too.

Learning songs is also a great way to learn, and one that I haven’t been doing to be honest. The couple of times I have learned a song I’ve seen how much faster it sinks in. Again I think it’s to do with the evolutionary mechanisms of our brain. That’s why songs are so important to us and why you can still remember songs from your childhood from historical lessons to toy commercials!


Stickman: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStickman: Learn to read and write before you do anything – at least if you have any notions of reaching a decent level.

Consider studying at a language school in a classroom environment. You will be amazed at how much progress you will make in a short time.

I learned more in one month in a language school studying full-time – which meant 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, than I did in my first two years in Thailand conversing with the locals in various environments.

Given that many Westerners in Thailand are retired or taking time out – and so have a lot of time on their hands – studying the language formally really is a great way to spend your time, progress with the language and of course, make some new friends.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersStu: Don’t compare apples with oranges. Thai is not English… However, just because it looks different, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarities. Up to 60% of Modern Thai has roots in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language as is English. There are some amazing similarities that are ‘masked’ through the ‘different look’ of the language. Once you start to scratch the surface a little you’ll realize that the things that you thought were difficult – writing, tones etc, aren’t that difficult at all. They’re just different.

Don’t be put off learning Thai just because you’ve had a bad experience with Thai teachers. Just like many native speakers of English, many Thais don’t have a deep understanding of their own language. 

When learners of Thai ask a question like:

‘Why are there 3 consonant classes?’
‘Why does the high tone actually rise?’

the response is normally something like:

‘There are 3 consonant classes – High, Middle and Low. The High class has ‘x’ number of letters, the middle class has ‘x’ number of letters etc etc.
‘you are a Farang, you don’t need to know that’.

The fact is that for most of them, they’ve never learned ‘why’ themselves.

One good formula is to have several different people that you learn from. Learn something ‘advanced’ from one of them. Something that a normal learner wouldn’t normally know. After that, go and try it out by just dropping it into a conversation with another Thai that you consult with. They will be impressed and think that your level is higher than what it really is. Then ask them to teach you something new. Keep rotating around your ‘Thai Consultants’ with new terms, new words and slang until your proficiency catches up with their perceived proficiency for you. It’s a great way to get past the ‘farang’ Thai that farang get taught and sound more native-like, not to mention keep motivated and positive about learning after each positive impression you make.

Think LOUD … full of colours, sounds, emotions. Make crazy associations and then link them with a system that you can recall.

Know what ‘pushes your buttons’ then wrap the language up in whatever that is.

Excitement is the best memory technique.

What other advice do you give to students of the Thai language?
Have FUN with the language – learn as much as you can about the language as you learn to speak the language. 

Listen and observe – don’t use Thai as a vehicle to ‘say what you want to say’ to Thai people. Learn the stuff that they want to talk about and use the language to learn about them.

Terry Fredrickson

Terry Fredrickson: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTerry: Speak confidently, even if you are not. Speaking tentatively will inevitably skew your tones. Get into reading as soon as possible so you can see how a word is really pronounced. Before that, find materials that use a real phonetic alphabet. Trying to represent Thai in English is hopeless. As someone else pointed out, vowel length is very important in Thai, ie., it’s not just the tones. Listen constantly, even if you don’t understand what is being said. Use the media. I learned to read the newspaper very quickly and I watch Thai TV everyday, especially news shows.

Learning Thai dialects: First, get your central Thai down solid. Then you should realise that the tone changes in Thai dialects are very systematic. For example, take words beginning with a mid consonant with a maithoo that don’t have stop finals, e.g. baan (house) and dai (can). They will both shift in tone from central Thai in exactly the same way. Somewhere there is a chart of about 15 representative words that will allow you to determine all the tone shifts in a particular dialect.

Thomas Lamosse

Thomas Lamosse: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersThomas: If you really want to speak Thai then stop speaking English right now!

Make a list of everything that is absolutely essential to your daily vocabulary. Then go out and learn how to say those things perfectly.

Forget the rest for right now.

Tod Daniels

Tod Daniels: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTod: DON’T get discouraged, don’t give up, and don’t put the idea in your mind that Thai is too hard for you to learn! It does take time, constant practice, and there is no magic method of learning Thai, no magic pill you can take and suddenly start speaking in tongues, err in Thai. The Thais have the same idiomatic expression we have in English; “Learn from your mistakes”, but theirs is ผิดเป็นครู (mistakes are your teacher).

You’re gonna make mistakes MANY many mistakes! You’re gonna say things which will make the Thais laugh out loud at you, but it’s part of the process. Get over yourself, laugh about the mistakes and take them in stride as its all part of the process in learning Thai.

Tom Parker

Tom Parker: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersTom: As has been advised in the previous interviews, dedicate a lot of time (preferably early on in the learning process) to learning the tones. Listen to examples of tone pronunciation over and over and over again. Drill them into your brain and practice them every day. Find a good language course with tone examples and listen to it in your car, on the bus, before you go to bed etc.

Communicate with Thais as much as possible. If you don’t live in Thailand, watch Thai films even if you can’t understand anything, the important thing is to immerse yourself in the language, eat, sleep and breathe it, especially at the outset. If you live in Thailand you are surrounded by possibilities, go out and chat with a noodle vendor, a taxi driver etc. make learning more interesting and fun.

Learn to read Thai. It is absolutely fundamental to successful Thai language learning. Do not be intimidated by those alien-looking squiggles. At first I thought learning how to read Thai would be impossible, but when it begins to make sense to you it is very rewarding. Be methodical, learn the consonants in their consonant classes; learn the simple vowels first etc etc. There are now many good Thai language courses that teach how to read and write effectively. If you live in Thailand and cannot read Thai you are surrounded by things that do not make sense: signs, posters, books etc. In my view learning to read Thai is the principal factor contributing to successful Thai language learning.

Vern Lovic

Vern Lovic: Compilation Series: Successful Thai Language LearnersVern: Patience is indicated. I don’t know many people that picked up Thai immediately. Actually I know one girl that really picked up conversational Thai in 18 months to a very high degree. For the rest of us it takes a few years of sustained effort. Speaking Thai everyday is the best thing you can do to progress faster.

There is a great ebook I just became aware of because he decided to let me help him sell it on one of my sites. Learning the Thai Alphabet in 60 Minutes is that ebook. Have a look, you won’t be disappointed – as crazy as it sounds, it really delivers. I’d call it maybe 2 hours though

The series: Successful Thai Language Learners Compilation…

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