A Woman Learning Thai...and some men too ;)

Learn Thai Language & Thai Culture

Tag: language-methods-thai (page 1 of 3)

The Challenge: Two Weeks to Learn Thai in Bangkok!

Olly and Jay's Learn Thai Challenge

Going Head to Head in Bangkok..

This is exciting stuff. Lately I’ve been tweeting from @ThaiLanguageRes about a Learn Thai Challenge driven by Olly Richards (I Will Teach You A Language) and Jan Van Der Aa (Language Boost).

When chatting with Olly about the different study methods he’s using, he kindly offered to explain in a video created especially for readers of WLT. Fabulous.

Thanks Ollie! I couldn’t help smiling when I noticed a taste of Hugh Grant charm coming through (I’m a fan).

At a little over a week into studying Thai Olly and Jan are making quite a go of it. And to help them along, on Day six they were treated to a Thai Masterclass by our very own Stu Jay Ray. Lucky them!

To follow their Two Week Thai Challenge go to Olly’s YouTube: Olly Richards and/or his Instagram: iwillteachyoualanguage.

Jan (who will continue for 21 days) is documenting the journey as well on YouTube: Language Boost and Instagram: janvanderaa1.

To get quick updates via twitter, Olly’s account is @Olly_IWTYAL and mine is @ThaiLanguageRes.

See you there!

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Finding Thai Language Partners

Finding Thai Language Partners

One thing is for certain:

If you want to learn to speak Thai, finding native Thai speakers is a must.

And they’re quite easy to find, if you know where to look.

In this post, I’ll share with you the absolute best places to find Thai language partners. As a bonus, I’ll even throw in a strategy that will allow to get more practice time out of your partners.

Let’s dive right in.

We’re going to see two types of resources for finding Thai language partners: Online and offline resources. We’ll focus on the former since they are generally more accessible.

These online resources are language exchange websites/apps, dating websites and games, among other things.

Language Exchange Websites and Apps…

Language exchange websites and apps are probably the most obvious places to find language partners, if you don’t live in Thailand. There are a few language exchange platforms which offer a wealth of native Thai speakers who will willingly teach you Thai as long as you agree to teach them English in return.

I recently tested several websites and apps and there were only a handful that I found worth using. And note that these are more than sufficient for finding Thai language partners.

Here they are:


HelloTalk is by far the best of all language exchange platforms. It has a great number of Thai speaking members who want to learn English, which makes it really easy to find partners.

Finding Thai Language Partners

This app is available to both iOS and android devices. The chat platform looks a lot like the one on Viber and Whatsapp, if you know what these here.

On HelloTalk, you’re limited to sending messages to no more than 15 people per day. Trust me, though, 15 persons per day is enough.

At least in my case, most of them replied to a simple “Hi, how are you?”. You also have the option to write a detailed description of yourself, so don’t miss out on doing so to increase your success rate.


As far as websites are concerned, I found no other that matched Italki in terms of the quantity of members who speak Thai. Here’s the result I got, a day after I sent about 15 messages:

Finding Thai Language Partners

I have sent messages to about 40 different people in 5 minutes on Italki and I have not been limited.

Conversation Exchange

A third language exchange resource should not be needed, but if you’re looking for an extra one, Conversation Exchange fares decently.

Finding Thai Language Partners

Conversation Exchange’s limit is around 10 people per day, which is largely sufficient. As with HelloTalk and Italki, most replied to my initial message. You can also put a description of yourself in your profile.

The downside of Conversation Exchange, though, is that you cannot upload a profile picture (you can only use one of the avatars they offer), so it’s not as personal. Also, the website looks old, which makes it less appealing to use. I was surprised to see that several Thais still used it despite its looks.

Dating Websites…

Before I go into my review of dating websites, know this: Dating websites do not have to be used to find love. A lot of their members are open to friendship. Do you see where I’m getting at with this?

That’s right, dating websites are a gold mine for finding Thai language partners. And the big upside is that they won’t necessarily want to practice English with you. So you can end up practicing Thai 100% of the times, which is awesome.

Here they are:


One of the best free dating websites out there to find Thai partners is ThaiFriendly. It has a huge number of people you can talk with, and of course, you can do so in Thai.

Finding Thai Language Partners


ThaiFriendly is all you should need, but if you’re looking to try a different dating site, Badoo isn’t too bad. The big downside is that you’re limited in terms of the number of people you can message every day, unless you purchase “Super Powers”. Despite the limitations, I’ve had great success with it in the past, especially playing the “Encounters”.

Finding Thai Language Partners

Regardless of the dating website you choose to use, make sure you state it in your profile that you’re looking for friendship (if that’s all you’re looking for), so that you don’t lead anyone on.

Here’s a sample profile that you can adapt to your own needs:

Hi everyone, I’m Marc, a 30 year old Canadian man who loves to travel. I’ve been to Thailand a few times, also to Europe and South America. Traveling is my passion and the only thing in life that truly gives me happiness. I’m currently working as an English teacher, which allows me to travel a lot. I love to talk with Thai ladies, which is the main reason why I joined this website. I’m very much open to friendship and I would like to meet new people.Feel free to send me a message and we can go from there.

If you can write it in Thai, that’s even better.


Nowadays, there’s a great range of games that have chat and/or microphone features. In some of these games, you can play on a server located in Thailand, where you’ll have the chance to practice with countless potential practice partners.

Here are a couple of games where you can play on a Thai server, but note that there are way more such games that exist:

Counter-Strike Go

Thai servers


Thai servers

Maybe you prefer a more “in-person” approach?

If that’s the case, I may have you covered. If you live outside of Thailand, you still might be able to find Thais with whom to practice in person.

Where can you do this might you ask?

By getting involved in the Thai communities outside of Thailand.

As it turns out, in some large urban areas, there are established communities of Thais. An easy way to find them is to do a search on Facebook. Type the word “Thai community” and then type the name of the city where you live.

Let me give you an example. If you live in Dallas, you’d proceed as follows:

Finding Thai Language Partners

In this case, it’s quite obvious, there’s only one result worth noting, the Thai Community Center of North Texas.

Upon browsing through their page, you can see that they’re involved in various events which you could take part of, like this bowling tournament:

Finding Thai Language Partners

Here are a few communities of Thais in other cities that I found by doing a quick search:

Los Angeles




Now that you know where to find Thai language partners, let me give you some useful information about practicing with them.

Useful Info about Practicing with Thai People…

Time Difference

When you practice with Thais, be mindful of their time zone. If you sleep at night, here are the best times to get a hold of them:

  • On the USA’s east coast: early morning and possibly late in the evening.
  • Europe: Morning and afternoon.
  • Australia: Afternoon and evening.

The Line App

Finding Thai Language Partners

Line is very popular in Thailand. It’s an app/program that serves as a platform that can be used to communicate by chat, audio and video. You might be asked for your Line ID when talking to Thai partners, so I suggest you make one.

A Quick Word about Thai People

There’s one thing that stands out about Thais and it’s that they’re an extremely humble and polite people, which, to experience it for me in person was simply priceless, such a contrast to the people I’m used to in my home country. IF you do get the chance to experience the land of smiles one day, you’ll see what I mean.

Strategy for Maximizing Your Practice Time with Language Partners…

Over the years, I’ve had countless language partners and still today, I have a handful of them that are highly reliable. I can practice with them and get explanations about grammar, whenever I need it.

I’m now going to show you how you can get this level of reliability in some partners as well.

First, as I quickly mentioned earlier, start by making a neat profile on the app/website. If possible, write your description in Thai as this will entice more people to reply or even send you a message on their own.

Secondly, send a very short message such as “Hi, how are you?” to as many potential partners as you can, whether on language exchange or dating platforms.

Then, DO NOT jump to language exchange right away. That is a common mistake that people often make. When I did that, I noticed that the language exchange took place for a week at most, and then died down tremendously.

Why does this happen?

Well, it’s hard to say, but my best guess is that teaching someone else a language or learning it can feel like work, and some of us already have our hands full with that.

Fortunately, there is a better approach.

The trick I found is to focus on friendship. That’s right, make this person your friend by having interesting conversations on common interests and you’ll gain someone who is more dependable and who’ll genuinely want to help you with your Thai.

Also, try to take the conversation elsewhere, like on Skype or on Line, as early in the process as possible. You’ll have more freedom like sharing files, making audio/video calls, which you may not get on language exchange and dating websites/apps.

This is what concludes this guide on finding Thai language partners. Follow it and you’ll surely succeed in the same way that I did.

Good luck!

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Luke Bruder Bauer: How I Learn Foreign Languages

Luke Bruder Bauer

The discussion of how I learn Thai is something that is kind of difficult for me to pull together. Usually, it ends up sounding really cluttered and disorganized. That’s because it is. A lot of people then say, “you must just really have a knack for languages”. This kind of irks me, and so I guess I will try to put it into words here with the hope of maybe inspiring others to try to incorporate my methods?attitudes?strategies? for learning foreign languages. Since people usually ask me about my accent, I will focus on that first.


Don’t be lazy early on. To build your skills for an accent, you need to get far away from your native language. Even if sounds appear to be exactly the same, just assume they aren’t. If you are good at recognizing differences in sounds to begin with you may not need this. For example, I didn’t realize until about year three of learning Thai that the ก sound I was saying was not really like a ‘g’ in English in most cases. However, while I had been clear enough before, the knowledge being formalized just helped me to further distance my accent from an American one, my native language. 

When I started learning Thai, I was taking classical guitar lessons at the university. I had been playing guitar for about seven years already, and had been playing fingerstyle for about two years. I thought I was pretty good, but the prof I had just ripped my technique apart in his two-minute analysis of 10 minutes of my playing. I realized that many things which I found natural were actual inhibiting my progress and really slowing me down. Sometimes I built ceilings for myself that could only end in injury. 

Fortunately, compared to playing guitar, foreign language lessons aren’t physically demanding. But it doesn’t mean we don’t have to focus on how each muscle moves when producing sound in our mouth and throat. With Thai, mimicking correct tonal pronunciation and observing how your mouth and throat move, not just “what it sounds like”, are very important to internalizing these sounds and separating them.

While I would like to tell you that I went through each and every sound in the Thai phonemic system and learned them in and out, like I kind of mentioned above, I started out without really analyzing anything that closely at all. I just wanted to learn how to say stuff and say it as naturally as possible. I always stood by this. Fortunately, my friend who taught me Thai at the time was great at making sure I pronounced things the way they were said and not how they ‘should’ be read. Whenever I had a question, I asked it. And I basically always had questions.

So to summarize: Be a blank slate when you begin, assuming no sounds to be similar to the ones you know – to add in, once you can identify that this อา is similar to “a” in at least some contexts, you can think of it as “a” as you want to, but try to be like “that weird open-mouthed ah” or something, don’t ever just think of it as “a”. Eventually, that thing you are referring in this round-about manner in order to differentiate will just become อา and u won’t have to think about how its pronounced

Vocabulary/Sentence Patterns… 

I try not to think too much in terms of vocabulary, although with words I have not mastered, I still do fall back on this. For most words which I actively use though, I always try to think of them in the contexts in which they appear. Below is a short summary of how I go about learning vocabulary by working with natural texts.

I watch one hour of television every night in my target language, and after one week of watching one genre, switch to another. I don’t worry about understanding everything for the first month or so, I just do my best. Then, whenever I’m ready, I start going back through all the stuff I watched and parse it for new vocabulary, etc. Then go back through it again with new knowledge. And voila, increased fluency!

Once again, the important thing is try to get far away from your native language, remembering words within contexts of small chunks. Also, by engaging with natural texts, you are likely to be able to pick up new flavors of words, as they are being used independently of prescriptive language standards or translations. You can work back towards your native language later, because eventually you will want to be able to have options for translation in mind if need be, but it shouldn’t be your focus when figuring out when and how to use the new words you are learning.

It may sound obvious but I feel so many people are too caught up in either:

  1. Learning something until they have it perfect (usually not possible until you start working on harder things to challenge your skills. You will feel more comfortable when you go back to the easier stuff and you will be able to get closer to ‘perfect’).
  2. They go through info too fast and say “I’m done with that”, not revisiting it later to really maximise the gain from each resource. Also they (the second type) tend not to be very good at learning about their own learning habits, because they leave less time for reflection.

Luke Bruder Bauer
YouTube: lbb2r | Facebook: Luke Bruder Bauer

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TPR: Total Physical Response 500+ Thai Word List Translated


In Andrej’s post, TPR: Total Physical Response Explained, he went over the basics of TPR for us.

The main idea of TPR is to teach comprehension through actions: the instructor gives commands, and the student carries them out. It is mostly used with beginners. Usually, the student doesn’t speak during TPR sessions, but speaking can be integrated later by having students take on the role of the instructor.

To help you with possible words and phrases, below is an edited version of Reid Wilson’s 502 Words that Can Be Learned with Total Physical Response, translated into Thai.

PDF: Total Physical Response Thai Word List.

The translations were done by Khun Pairoa and myself, then checked by Khun Narisa (thaiskypeteachers.com). Any mistakes are mine.

UPDATE: Tracy took the time to put together the below video created from the list. He’s so cute :)

I got a Thai friend to do audio, and a couple of my kids made a short video that we can use with my younger children. I appreciate you posting the list of 500 words in Thai. Thanks.

Please feel free to suggest more words and phrases to improve the list. After they’ve been added, audio will be recorded.

PSSST: The words and phrases in this list would work wonderfully as a smartphone app.

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TPR: Total Physical Response Explained


Total Physical Response (TPR) is a language teaching method developed by James Asher and has been in use for several decades. There’s a large amount of information, including sample curricula, on the web, and Asher and his colleagues have also published various books, available for instance from tpr-world.

The main idea of TPR is to teach comprehension through actions: the instructor gives commands, and the student carries them out. It is mostly used with beginners. Usually, the student doesn’t speak during TPR sessions, but speaking can be integrated later by having students take on the role of the instructor.

A typical first TPR session…

The instructor and the student sit on a chair. The instructor says “stand up” (in the target language) and stands up, then “sit down” and sits down. He repeats this one or two more times and then invites the student to do the action with him (for instance, using a hand gesture) – “stand up” – both stand up, “sit down” – both sit down. This is repeated a few times. Finally, the instructor stays on his chair and just says the commands, and the student performs the actions. This is again repeated a few times.

Now the instructor adds a new phrase, for instance “point to the door”. In order to introduce the new phrase, the instructor demonstrates it a couple of times alone and then does it together with the student a few more times before the student does it alone. Such a sequence could look as follows:

Instructor demonstrates the new phrase alone: stand up – point to the door – sit down – point to the door – stand up – sit down – point to the door – stand up – point to the door.

Instructor and student together: stand up – point to the door – sit down – point to the door – stand up – sit down – stand up – point to the door – sit down – point to the door – point to the door.

Student alone: (random mix of commands).

After “point to the door”, the instructor could introduce “point to the window”, “point to the table”, “point to the ceiling” one by one. After having introduced the verb “to point” and the nouns “door”, “window”, “table”, “ceiling”, the instructor could teach a new verb, ”to go”, with the same nouns: “go to the door”, “go to the window”, “go to the table”. Next, this could be expanded with “look at”, “run to”, and other objects available in that particular room.

In TPR, it should be avoided to “test” the student, the goal is always to have 100% success with any command. If the student can’t respond correctly, then the instructor has made a mistake. There are three basic rules for the instructor to make this fun and help the student learn:

  1. New phrases need to be introduced one by one.
  2. New and old phrases need to be mixed in an unpredictable, random way, and.
  3. Newly introduced phrases need to be practiced until the student is really confident before moving on.

Another important rule, especially in the beginning, is to keep the form of the command and the introduced phrases fixed. Even small changes to familiar phrases are likely to cause confusion, and with confusion learning breaks down.

Nothing is translated in TPR – students learn to understand the new language through actions. Associating sounds and actions is a powerful and efficient way of learning, and it can also be a lot of fun for both sides. TPR in its basic form can be used to teach a lot of concrete vocabulary by making creative use of the objects available in the house or class room. Advanced TPR phrases could be “put the red pen next to the book… now take the cup and hold it for a moment… now put the cup on the plate… now take the blue pen and put it in the cup…”, or you could even teach advanced sentence structures like “if the blue pen is in the cup, then take the bottle” or “shut the door after you’ve put the book on the table”.

My own experience with TPR…

Earlier last year I did a few TPR sessions with three different instructors as a beginner student of Khmer. I prepared my own curriculum, and instead of the instructor demonstrating a new action, I did it myself and had the instructor say the corresponding Khmer command. After a few rounds of eliciting the new command, we would do the normal sequence: the instructor giving commands, I performing the action. It was an interesting and fun experience, and I certainly would have continued if I had stayed in the area.

In the very beginning, I couldn’t distinguish individual words, but as soon as several commands of the same type were introduced (“go to the door”, “go to the window”, “go to the chair”), some words became clear (“go to”). Later more and more words became clear (“door”: “go to the door”, “point to the door”, “open the door”, “close the door”), until full phrases were transparent. I struggled when I went too quickly with new words, or sometimes with words that sounded similar (I remember mixing up table and cupboard), but otherwise it was surprisingly efficient. It was an amazing feeling to see myself respond correctly to that alien new language almost from the get-go.

At the end of this post, I would like to suggest two TPR-inspired techniques which can be used with a (trained) native speaker friend: Dirty Dozen, and TPR with objects. Similar to TPR, these two techniques are based on the idea that comprehension comes first, speaking later. One night’s sleep before activating the new vocabulary seems to be a good general guidance.

Dirty Dozen…

Dirty Dozen is a stripped down version of TPR aimed at learning a set of new words (a dozen seems to be a good number, not too few and not too many). These words can be names of objects, but also verbs or other words shown in pictures. Instead of doing some action, the learner (and the instructor during the training phase) just points to the correct object or part of a picture. As in TPR, one starts with two or three words and then adds one after the other. Supporting phrases in Dirty Dozen are usually “This is X” – “Where is X?” or “Show me X!”. 

As an example, you could go with your instructor to a motorbike parked on the street and start learning the parts it’s made of.

TPR with objects…

This works with almost any object – chopsticks, a jar, your purse, a notepad etc. Take the object and start manipulating it Dirty Dozen style. There’s an amazing amount of language which can be practiced with simple objects. For example, with a paper cup you could learn: take, give, turn upside down, push, drop, fill, empty, drink, sip, hold, crush, perforate, put in, take out, stack (if you have more than one), spin, roll, balance on two fingers, etc etc. For a buck or two, you can buy bits and pieces to practice colors, comparisons, shapes etc. There are many, many possibilities.

The process is always the same: the instructor says the new phrase and demonstrates it a few times, and then lets you do it. New phrases are introduced one by one, and new and old phrases are mixed randomly. In the initial session, the student just does the action and doesn’t speak, but student and instructor can switch roles the next day if the student wants to activate the new vocabulary.

NOTE: The post, Total Physical Response 500+ Thai Word List Translated (pdf download included) is live. Sound files will come later (after I get suggestions).

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Olle Kjellin’s Method for Improving Your Thai Pronunciation

Olle's Method for Improving Your Thai Pronunciation

Improving your Thai pronunciation…

Unless you are like Adam Bradshaw, who wears Thai like a second skin, it’s possible that your Thai pronunciation is lacking.

For Thai pronunciation help there’s one product on the market that I’m familiar with: Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s Improving Your Thai Pronunciation. It’s a decent product but if you are like me, more practice is needed.

Concerned with my Thai accent I started following a Facebook discussion about Olle Kjellin’s chorus repetition approach to acquiring native-like prosody.

Throughout the discussion, Olle was generous with his advice:

A small number of sentences — any sentences — will typically cover all that exists of prosody and segmental pronunciation in a particular language. With a small enough number of sentences you will be able to master them pronunciation-wise to 100% in x weeks, where x depends on the difficulty of that lg, but I assume 4-8 weeks on an average. All (=all!) other sentences in that language will obey exactly the same rules of prosody and pronunciation, so if you master your base sentences you will (theoretically) master all other sentences, and you will might be able to pass as a native, or native-like, as far as pronunciation is concerned. You will then have “acquired” rather than “learnt” the basics of a second language.

If you choose sentences at random, they will likely conform with the statistics of that language. But if you choose sentences from a common textbook for learners of that language, many kinds of otherwise “typical” sentences will likely be hidden from you, by kind textbook authors who don’t want to make it too difficult for the learners.

But I admit that I myself have picked sentences from book2.de, despite their being over-articulated. After all, over-articulation too is a way of native pronunciation. And since I don’t want to see the written language until I master the basic pronunciation (as is the situation for all native toddlers of any language), I may not be able to catch all sounds correctly if spoken too casually (as also is the situation for all native toddlers of any language).

In Olle’s in-depth tutorial (pdf download), Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity, he goes into great detail about acquiring language porosity and using Audacity. Briefly, here’s what to expect:

Are you learning a new language? Do you, like me, have the ambition to learn it well, to sound as “native” as possible, or at least to have a listener-friendly pronunciation that will not embarrass me or annoy the native speakers? This paper will show you how to achieve that, and explain why it is possible, even if you are not a child.

In these 21 pages with its 34 illustrations you will learn how to:

  • Produce perfect pronunciation exercises with your favourite sentences for free.
  • Practice the way that will give you the best result, for example perfect pronunciation, if you wish.

If you missed it, here’s Ollie’s pdf download again: Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity – The Best Method!

Following Olle’s method, Alexander Giddings (the OP on FB) originally planned to practice 30 sentences over 30 days. Each day he added a new sentence while reviewing four previous sentences: “100 chorus repetitions per sentence per day for a total of 500 x 30 = 15,000 chorus repetitions”.

After practicing the method for several months Alexander adjusted his mindset: An update on the prosody acquisition project according to the method proposed by Olle Kjellin.

Using a combination of Ollie’s tutorial and the mistakes and advice Alexander shared, I put together a few points to create a prosody course of my own:

  • Select materials that are native Thai, not stilted, unnatural sounding coursebook Thai.
  • Select recordings by a middle-class, educated Thai female raised in Bangkok.
  • Break up any long sentences but listen to the entire sentence each time (important).
  • At one sitting, listen to 50-100 repetitions of each set.

That sorted, off I went in search of real Thai (Thai-Thai, not English-Thai). After asking around (thanks Sean) I finally decided to use the native audio from Thai Recordings. They also come with a transcript in Thai script sans Thai translations. Olle and Sean do stress to listen only (no reading) but I’m anal like that. You might as well ask me to stop breathing – I just ‘need to know’.

Here’s the process I used:

  1. To get the files ready I first downloaded both the Thai audio and transcripts.
  2. I then quickly went through the transcripts, creating individual sentence sections.
  3. Listening to the recordings while reading the script, I made needed adjustments and corrections.
  4. As a sentence per day is the plan, I then cut up the audio files into single sentences.
  5. I created an audio file at regular speed and a file on slow.
  6. I also created files with seven sentences (a week’s worth). By having seven sentences in one recording I’m able to practice sentence run-ons that are common in spoken language.
  7. And being anal (as previously mentioned) I made text files for each of the seven sentences, noting any vocab new to me.

Now that I had my files sorted, here’s Olle’s method (tweaked to suit):

  1. First, listen to the slow version a few times.
  2. Repeat single sentences hundreds, thousands of times.
  3. When a break is needed, listen to the seven sentences for that week.

Practice tips:

  1. Put the volume up loud when you first start new sentences (you want to saturate your head with sound).
  2. After your ears begin to recognise words, loudly shadow (repeat at the same time) what you hear.
  3. Gradually lower the sound level of the audio until your voice takes over.
  4. Record yourself saying the sentences.
  5. Check for pronunciation mistakes.
  6. Once a week, have your Thai teacher give a critique.

Recording tips:

  • To change speed in Audacity: Effect >> Change speed >> Default settings
  • To create loops in iTunes: Controls >> Repeat >> One
  • To create loops in Audacity: Transport >> Loop Play

Useful resources…

Olle Kjellin: Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity – The Best Method!
Olle Kjellin: Choral Practice – the Neurophysiological Opportunist’s Way
Olle Kjellin: Accent Addition: Prosody and Perception Facilitate Second Language Learning

Facebook: Pronunciation Best Practice
Alexander Arguelles: The Shadowing Technique
WLT: Recording My Thai Lessons With a Blue SnowBall

NOTE: I was going to wait four weeks or so before sharing this post but as I keep talking about it on Facebook, sharing now made more sense. Besides, I can always report my progress later.

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Tim Ferris: How to Learn a Language in Three Months

Thai Frequency Lists with English Definitions

Can you learn a language in three months?…

When revamping WLT I discovered several timestamped posts the never saw the light of day (WP gremlins working overtime). This is one.

Gotta love this guy. Tim Ferris’ post, How to Learn Any Language in Three Months gets into wonky theories for learning languages. If you remember, back a few years I wrote about his previous advice in Thai Sentence Deconstruction. It received mixed comments.

Just my opinion… In learning Thai, if you work hard, three months is barely enough time to attain a smattering of a vocabulary, start using simple sentences, and get your ears used to Thai tones (but your mouth might take longer to catch up).

Btw: If you want to see what real motivation looks like, read Paul Garrigan’s series: My Quest to Speak Fluent Thai in Six Months

Anyway, to help out Tim’s theory I’ve matched available Thai resources with his advice.

Tim’s three months promise boiled down to a few key points…

1) Choose learning methods and study materials that interest you.

As Nils mentioned in Learning Styles and Language Learning, mixing and matching learning styles just might suit you best. And for Thai study materials, the huge amount of Thai resources I compiled to go along with tips from David Mansaray and Robert Bigler in How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country should be enough to get your whistle wet.

2) Start out with the most common 100 words (spoken and written).

This is an idea I stand behind, which is why I created a Top 100 Thai Vocabulary series: Compiling a Top 100 Thai Vocabulary List and A Top 100 Thai Word List Created from Phrases and UPDATED: Top 100 Thai Vocabulary List. Choosing the top 100 Thai words is not an exact science but I had fun trying (and I’m not done yet).

3) Once you are comfortable with sentence structure, start adding more words.

This is yet another subject covered on WLT in the post Thai Frequency Lists with English Definitions. That’s a lot of words.

So here’s a question for you. What do you think of Tim’s claim that you can learn a language in three months? How about six months even? Or two years? Which reminds me, there’s a post on learning Thai in two years waiting to be set free…

Of course, there are many variables to learning a language – available time, motivation, brain space, prior experience with learning languages, decent study materials even.

And if everything was on your side, how much could you realistically accomplish?

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Tim Ferris: Thai Sentence Deconstruction

Tim Ferris: Thai Sentence Deconstruction

How to Learn (but not master) any Language in an hour…

Tim Ferris from the 4 Hour Workweek makes bold statements about learning languages. In my early days of learning Thai I came across his post How to Learn (but not master) any Language in an Hour. I loved his idea of deconstructing sentences.

Here’s the reasoning: Before you invest (or waste) hundreds and thousands of hours on a language, you should deconstruct it. During my thesis research at Princeton, which focused on neuroscience and unorthodox acquisition of Japanese by native English speakers, as well as when redesigning curricula for Berlitz, this neglected deconstruction step surfaced as one of the distinguishing habits of the fastest language learners…

He doesn’t say that deconstructing a language on its own is a fast way to learn a language. It’s what he uses to choose the easiest language (for him) to learn.

How is it possible to become conversationally fluent in one of these languages in 2-12 months? It starts with deconstructing them, choosing wisely, and abandoning all but a few of them.

Obviously, I’d already chosen Thai, so Tim’s explanation on how to decide which language stays or goes was a moot point. But if you are curious, please do read his article: How to Learn (but not master) any Language in an Hour.

What did interest me was the exercise of deconstructing Thai. After fiddling with it, showing it to Hugh, then walking through bits with Thai Skype Teacher Khun Narisa, below is the result.

Thai Sentence Deconstruction…

Tip from Khun Narisa: you must first understand the grammar of your own language before you tackle Thai!

What you see here is written Thai. If you want written and spoken Thai side-by-side (and add transliteration if you must), download the pdf: Thai Sentence Deconstruction.

The apple is red.
subject + verb + adjective

แอปเปิ้ล สี แดง
Apple + red colour.
noun + adjective

It is John’s apple.
pron + verb + noun + poss + noun

มัน คือ/เป็น แอปเปิ้ล ของ จอห์น
It + is + apple + of + John.
pron + verb + noun + conj + noun

I give John the apple.
pron + verb + indirect ob + direct ob

ฉัน/ผม เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น
I + take + apple + to give to + John.
pron + verb + direct ob + v + indirect ob

We give him the apple.
pron + verb + indirect ob + direct ob

เรา เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ เขา
We + take + apple + to give to + him.
pron + verb + direct ob + v + indirect ob

He gives it to John.
pron + v + direct ob + conj + indirect ob

เขา เอา มัน ให้ จอห์น
He + take + it + to give + John.
pron + v + direct ob + v + indirect ob

She gives it to him.
pron + v + direct ob + conj + indirect ob

เขา เอา มัน ให้ เขา
She + take + it + to give + him.
pron + v + direct ob + v + indirect ob

I don’t give apples.
pron + negative + v + noun

ฉัน/ผม ไม่ ให้ แอปเปิ้ล
I + not + give + apple      
pron + negative + v + object

They don’t give apples.
pron + negative + verb + noun

(พวก)เขา ไม่ ให้ แอปเปิ้ล
They + not + give + apple
pron + negative + v + object

He doesn’t give apples.
pron + negative + v + noun

เขา ไม่ ให้ แอปเปิ้ล
He + not + give + apple.
pron + negative + v + object

I gave John an apple yesterday.
pron + verb + indirect obj + direct obj + time expression

ฉัน/ผม เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น เมื่อวานนี้
I + take + apple + to give + John + yesterday.
pron + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj + time expression

She gave John an apple last week.
pron + v + indirect obj + direct obj + time expression

เขา เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น อาทิตย์ ที่แล้ว
She + take + apple + to give + John + week + last.
pron + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj + time expression

We’ll give John an apple tomorrow.
pron + aux + verb + indirect obj + direct obj + time expression

(พวก)เรา จะ เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น พรุ่งนี้
We + will + take + apple + to give + John + tomorrow.
pron + aux + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj + time expression

Tomorrow we will give an apple to John.
time exp + pron + aux + v + direct obj + prep + indirect obj

พรุ่งนี้ (พวก)เรา จะ เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้จอห์น
Tomorrow + we + will + take + apple + to give + John.
time expression + pron + aux + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj

I must give it to him.
pron + aux + v + direct obj + prep + indirect obj

ฉัน/ผม ต้อง เอา มัน ให้ เขา
I + must + take + it + to give + him.
pron + aux + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj

I want to give it to her.
pron + v + v + direct obj + prep + indirect obj

ฉัน/ผม ต้องการ เอา มัน ให้ เขา/เธอ
I + want + to take + it + to give + her.
pron + v + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj

What is Tim looking for? How verbs are conjugated, placement of objects and their pronouns, negatives, tenses, sentence structure (SVO, SOV, etc), possible noun cases, and auxiliary verbs.

With the sentences Tim chose to compare, in Thai you won’t find that much to fuss about. Similar to English, Thai is SVO (subject-verb-object). And verbs? There is no conjugating going on.

The most difficult bits with learning Thai (for me anyway) is keeping up with context, remembering classifiers, getting the tones right, and giving suitable respect to those on the receiving end.

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How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country: Thai Resources Included

How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country

Video: How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country…

In David Mansaray’s latest video he asks interpreter and translator Robert Bigler for his views on learning a language in a foreign country. In the video, Robert also discussed how he actively studies languages.

This is one of the best videos on learning languages. It’s that good. Actually, this video is what I’ve come to expect from David. David’s How to Use Motivation Effectively video is brilliant.

How to learn a language in a foreign country…

My original intention was to share only the bare basics but I found so MUCH good stuff I asked David for permission to post the full list. Thank you for your generosity David!

And while I’m handing out thanks, thank you for introducing us to Robert too. He’s a jewel :-)

If you enjoyed the video as much as I did, please leave comments on David’s YouTube channel: How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country.

In the interview Robert gives advice on learning resources. I’ve added top favourites for learning Thai to the post below. I could easily add more but I ran out of time. If you have other suggestions, please do share them in the comments.

For even more resources for learning Thai, go to WLTs FREE Thai language learning resources. If you want to read about the resources, WLTs check out Archives.

Talking points: How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country…

Prepare yourself: get as much information about the country as possible, acquire enough of the language to have a basic conversation, be open-minded and interested in the language as well as the culture and people.

Learning resources…

The bare essentials: a good dictionary with sample sentences, basic grammar book, self-study course with dialogs, a good phrase book.

Instead of buying ten books and merely glancing at each, take one small book to focus on.

Dictionaries with phrases:
Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English dictionary (hardcopy with CD)
New Model English-Thai Dictionary ฉบับห้องสมุด (Set) (ปกแข็ง) (hardcopy)
P. Sethaputra English-Thai Dictionary of Contemporary Usage (paperback)
Thai-language.com dictionary (online)
Thai2English dictionary(online)

Talking Thai–English–Thai Dictionary

Note: This dictionary doesn’t have sentences (yet) but it’s still the best dictionary on the market.

WLT: Android and iPhone: Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary Review

Grammar books:
Thai: An Essential Grammar (hardcopy) and Kindle edition
Thai Reference Grammar: The Structure of Spoken Thai (hard copy)

WLT: Review: A Guide to Thai Grammar Books

Self-Study courses:
Essential Thai (hard copy)
FSI Materials: Thai Language Wiki
Glossika Thai
ITS4Thai online
ITS4Thai iOS apps
Jcademy: Cracking Thai Fundamentals (online)
Teach Yourself Thai Complete (hard copy)
Thai for Beginners (hard copy) and iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad App
Thai language products at Paiboon Publishing
Learn Thai Podcast (online and iTunes)
L-Lingo Thai (online) and iOS iPad

WLT: Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Thai Bites
WLT: David Smyth Updates Teach Yourself Thai
WLT: FREE Download: Glossika Thai Fluency 1 GMS and GSR
WLT: ITS4Thai DRAW + iPhone and iPad Review
WLT: Thai for Beginners iPhone App
WLT: Review: Learn Thai Podcast Relaunches!
WLT: Using the Assimil Method with Essential Thai

WLT: iPhone Apps: Thai Language Phrase books
WLT: Thai Language Phrase Books: A Mega Review

Natural materials…

Start with natural material as soon as possible: radio programs, newspaper articles, magazines, on subjects you are interested in.

Cat Radio
Surf Music: Thailand
Thailand Radio Stations
Radio Thailand and Thai TV & Radio Pro (iOS apps)

Paul Garrigan: This is the Sound of Thailand

Onlinenewspapers.com: Thailand
Learn how to read Thai newspapers at Paknam Forums
Learning from the news > Learn Thai from the Bangkok Post

WLT: Free Download: Advanced Thai Reading and Vocabulary Building
WLT: Learn Thai from the Bangkok Post

Thai TV:
FukDuK.tv (offline for now – will be back)
Thai tv Online, ThaiTVonline.tv

Frequency lists…

Use frequency lists. The same 3-4000 words come up all the time. Learn them. Work with them. If you don’t understand something, ask people to explain.

Chula University: 5000 word frequency list (no longer online at Chula)

You’ll notice that Chula’s list is all in Thai. When I asked Mark Hollow (programmer) about the English he graciously created several versions for download.

WLT: Thai Frequency Lists with English Definitions

Words, phrases, conversations…

Learn phrases you’ll use in discussions pertinent to your life: who you are, where you are from, what you do, how old you are, etc.

Have a basic set of structures: how to say what happened in the past, what is going on right now, what’s going to happen in the future.

Anticipate likely conversations, prepare your replies, talk to yourself in the foreign language, rehearse as if you are on stage.

When preparing for conversations on certain subjects write down repeatedly used words and expressions. Go through them. The words you lacked in previous conversations are the words you need to focus on.

If you hear a nice expression use it in your next sentence. Make sentences out of the words you’ve just heard.

When you have problems with expressing yourself, immediately look it up. If there is something you cannot say because you don’t know the word, look up that word.

Don’t learn words on their own without context. If you learn them in context you will get exposure to the words and structures. Exposure is the key.

You don’t need a lot of material but you have to be able to reproduce them automatically so it’s essential to actually speak the language. You need to get used to talking. Your muscles need to be trained.

How to listen…

Be a good listener. You will benefit from the wealth of knowledge received from the person you are talking to.

To get into the flow of the language listen to audio. Get a lot of exposure by listening. Listening helps to practice the language passively. Listen carefully and attentively. Don’t listen in the background.

Glossika Thai
Self Study Thai: Audio, transcripts, English translations and flashcards from VOA
Thai Recordings: Five minute audio clips with transcripts for intermediate learners of Thai

WLT: FREE Download: Glossika Thai Fluency 1 GMS and GSR
WLT: Free Podcasts in the Thai Language
WLT: ดึงดูดใจ: Thai Lyrics and Translations

Create a natural environment…

Create a natural environment by getting involved in discussions of interest on TV and radio. Sitcoms are a great way to get use to structures that come up in everyday conversation. If you lack the words to get your point across in your fake conversation, look them up. Keep talking. Say something like, “I’m sorry I have to look up the word”.

Thai videos on YouTube:
Andrew Biggs on YouTube
Andrew Bigs: Easy English
Adam Bradshaw’s YouTube Channel
AUA: Learn Thai Language Videos
ฝรั่งป๊อก ป๊อก Farang Pok Pok (search for other episodes)

WLT: AUA Thai Videos on YouTube
WLT: Thai Movies: A Relaxing Way to Study Thai

Tips on reading, writing, speaking…

Writing and reading is the whole package. When it comes to internalising grammatical structures and vocabulary, writing does a lot.

Write by hand, not by using the computer.

Copy books. Look at the words. Really get involved. Read the sentences out loud. Write them. Look at them. Get embedded in the language environment.

Speaking and reading:
AUA Thai: Reading and Writing videos
Learn2SpeakThai: Learn Thai with Maanii Books
Slice of Thai: Voice Viewer
Thai Reader Project

WLT: Andrew Biggs is Tongue Thai’d on YouTube
WLT: AUA Thai: FREE Reading and Writing Videos
WLT: Download 12 FREE Manee Books
WLT: Free Online Thai Readers
WLT: FREE Resource: Thai Reader Project
WLT: Thai-English Readers with Mp3s
WLT: The Easy Way for Beginners to Read and Write Thai

Language exchange…

For language exchange using email, you both choose the topics you are interested in. Each prepares text. Each corrects the other’s. You have the time to work with whatever tool you feel comfortable with (a dictionary, sentences from books, etc).

ALG Crosstalk Project: Bangkok

WLT: How to Learn Thai via Skype: The Series
WLT: Online Language Exchange Partners

Meeting native speakers…

When going abroad for an extended period of time, try to meet people by: joining clubs, fitness clubs, playing sports, and doing volunteer work.

Volunteer work is the best way to actually live with the people and not just beside them or next to them.

Be honest enough to tell people that you appreciate being corrected. Encourage people to correct you. Ask them to help you out. But also ask them not to judge you. There is a major difference between correcting somebody and judging somebody.

But it’s not the mistakes you should be worrying about. It is not being told about your mistakes.

It’s very important, especially in the beginning stages, that you meet someone you feel comfortable with to talk to.

When you get to the stage where you are open enough to actually learn from others without feeling bad for making mistakes, then you will be really successful.

Making progress is why it’s very important to have somebody around you who is understanding, but is also honest enough to actually tell you what you are saying wrong.

How to deal with communication snafus…

There will be moments of frustration, even when you believe that you are well-prepared. When this happens, don’t give up. Keep practicing.

You will make a lot of mistakes and at first might not understand much of what they are saying. When you make mistakes ask people to help you out.

When you struggle in conversation, once back at home get out your dictionary and turn to the subject at hand.

A final word from David Mansaray…

When it comes to spoken language people are willing to let some things go, but when it comes to writing people are a lot more sensitive to mistakes. They are going to be a lot more honest when correcting your mistakes. Writing is a great tool for the shy because you don’t have to immediately deal with that confrontation, you can look at your own mistakes to see where to improve.

It’s really important to have someone that you trust to help you with your language. Who you practice language with is also very important. When going through the stages you can be physiologically fragile. If you are not corrected in a friendly way then you can lose confidence in yourself, and that can make you retreat.

Where to find David and Robert…

David Mansaray:

Web: David Mansaray
YouTube Channel: davidmansaray
twitter: @DavidMansaray

Robert Bigler:

The Polyglot Project Podcast: Robert Bigler

Please join me in congratulating David and Robert on their fabulous video at: How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country.

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How Audio-based Language Learning Trumps the Textbook

How Audio-based Language Learning Trumps the Textbook

Guest Post…

Purna Virji possesses a talent for learning new languages with six in her present language-speaking repertoire. She is a former producer for an Emmy-nominated television show with a master’s degree in international journalism. She currently works at Pimsleur Approach, the world leader in the audio-based, language-learning program developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur.

How audio-based language learning trumps the textbook…

“We listen to a book a day, talk a book a week, read a book a month and write a book a year,” said author and educator Walter Loban. Is it any surprise that an audio-based program is the best way to learn a foreign language?

Language is chiefly a spoken form of communication. It was born and evolved that way at least 100,000 years ago, with reading and writing only emerging relatively recently. Even with the rise of the books, then the Internet, texting and so on, the vast majority of day-to-day communications remain oral, driven by listening and speaking rather than reading and writing.

While this reason alone may be enough to conclude that audio-based programs are the most effective way to learn a language, there is also a growing body of research-based evidence to back it up.

How You Learn as a Child…

Let’s begin with how we actually process language. As a child, you learned your native language by listening to people talking, not by studying textbooks. In fact, we listen for up to a full year before speaking, and reading and writing comes much later, mirroring the evolution of language itself. Therefore, learning language by listening can be considered the more natural way.

Leading anthropologist Terence Deacon agrees. “Writing and reading occurred recently,” said Deacon. “We are not well designed to do so and as a result a lot of people have difficulty acquiring reading and writing. If language itself were like that we should expect to find those kinds of problems with our ability to acquire language.” Clearly, for the majority of people, this is simply not the case.

The Science of Language Learning…

A groundbreaking 2001 study by the Carnegie Mellon Center for Cognitive Brain Processing found that the eye and the ear process information differently.

“The brain constructs the message, and it does so differently for reading and listening,” said Marcel Just, Carnegie Mellon Psychology Professor. “The pragmatic implication is that the medium is part of the message. Listening to an audio book leaves a different set of memories than reading does. A newscast heard on the radio is processed differently from the same words read in a newspaper.”

The experiment found that there is more working memory storage in listening comprehension than in reading, and that because spoken language is more temporary than written material, the brain is forced to process the language straightaway. The research went a considerable way to confirming what language learning researchers had long posited- that not all language learning methods are equal.

Better Pronunciation…

Moving away from pure science, there are numerous advantages of using an audio-based program rather than textbooks or visual programs. Firstly, using an audio-based program enables you to perfect your pronunciation and accent. By listening to native speakers on CDs, you can compare and improve your accent in a way that is simply not possible using textbooks. Therefore it is important to choose an audio-based system that uses only native speakers, and preferably one that focuses on breaking down unfamiliar strings of sounds.

In addition, learners naturally read words in their native accent. For example, take the German word ‘welt’ (world). A native English speaker would naturally pronounce it as it is written; however, it is actually pronounced ‘velt’. Even if they immediately read that it should be pronounced ‘velt’, the connection has already been made in their brain and it can be difficult to reverse. Learning using an audio-based system eliminates this potential problem.

Tune in to the Language…

Next, listening regularly to the language makes it possible for your brain to tune into the language’s unique cadence and rhythm. Every language is spoken differently, such as the musicality of the Romance languages and the perceived ‘harshness’ of German and English. With audio language learning methods, your ability to hear and understand the language, with all its different sounds and rhythms, will be speeded up.

In addition, the intonation of language varies considerably. Has anyone ever said to you, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it”? Linguistic researcher CMJY Tesink says, “Language comprehension in (verbal) social communication calls upon pragmatic listening skills, since the listener is often required to work out the non-literal meaning of the speaker’s message by using the context and his own knowledge of the world.” Audio-based learning programs tune the learner’s ear into the unique and often subtle intonations of language.


To state the obvious, books do not talk back! Although the interaction in audio-based programs is not real, per se, the best programs recreate real situations and conversations as closely as possible, preparing learners for those all-important conversations with native speakers.

The voguish term for language learning now is “language acquisition”, which differentiates between the direct instruction of language rules and the more natural, interactive approach now recommended by experts. Audio-based learning programs are much more conducive to this new, “acquisition” style of learning than books, which rely heavily on direct instruction.

Moreover, audio-based programs provide a kind of inbuilt revision. As the learner reacts to the voices on tape- answering questions, repeating pronunciation and so on, the new words and phrases are reinforced in their memory. In addition, as audio-based programs focus on real conversation, the learner will hear words and phrases repeated regularly, but not in the endlessly repetitive way that turns so many people off language learning.


Pragmatically, audio-based programs beat other systems hands down simply because of their portability. Considering that one of the top reasons people give for not learning a language is “I don’t have time”, portability and convenience are major strings in the bows of audio-based programs.

Practice and daily contact are widely acknowledged to be crucial ingredients in language learning success, and using an audio-based program means you can listen to the language wherever you go and whatever you’re doing- on your daily commute, while working out, or even while catching up on household chores. You don’t have to sit down with books or a computer, or try to find a window free in your schedule every day. Audio-based programs will fit effortlessly into your lifestyle, and it will therefore be easier to keep up with your language learning.

There is little doubt that audio-based language learning programs will grow even more popular, and will doubtless undergo exciting changes as the “digital age” marches on. Isn’t it time that you turned on and tuned in?

Purna Virji

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