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Thai Language School Review: Intensive Thai at Chulalongkorn University

Intensive Thai at Chulalongkorn University

Introducing Karsten Aichholz…

Throughout my time in Thailand I’ve tried a number of different Thai classes, private teachers and self-studying. However, one major hurdle for me was always that I simply wasn’t diligent enough to progress anywhere near the rate of advancement I was hoping for. Thus, I decided to take some time off from work (and having free time), to take the most intensive, demanding and unforgiving Thai class I could possibly find. And boy did I get what I asked for.

Below you’ll find my review of the Intensive Thai Class offered by Chulalongkorn University, which I attended for a basic class (‘Basic 2’) in 2007 and an intermediate one (‘Thai 6’) in 2012.

Intensive Thai at Chulalongkorn University…

The School: Intensive Thai is offered by the Faculty of Arts at the Chulalongkorn University. The university is easy to reach by BTS (Siam) and MRT (Sam Yan).

Teachers: Chula prides itself on being an academic institution and thus tends to have a more academic focus in their contents. This means all the teachers have majored in linguistics or a related subject.

Schedule: A class consists of 30 lessons, taught either entirely in the morning (9am to 12am) or in the afternoon (1pm to 4pm), Mondays to Fridays, over roughly six weeks. New classes start several times a year and are on a fixed schedule. You might need to wait several weeks until a class for your Thai level becomes available. For people who’ve already studied some Thai, in order to cut down on possible waiting time, check to see if there’s the option to start at a slightly more advanced level.

Contents: The very first level, Thai 1, uses a phonetic system and not the Thai alphabet. While the basic class (‘Basic 2’ which is now called ‘Thai 2’) focuses on teaching students how to read and write Thai, build up general vocabulary and learn basic grammar. Regular dictation sessions make sure you review new vocabulary.

The more advanced class focuses on teaching how to read newspapers. Contents range from crime reports, religious events, and entertainment news to politics and economics. Aside from reading newspaper articles in class (and studying the vocab as homework), students also give presentations. The presentations consist of students presenting a news piece of their choosing (from a Thai newspaper or news website), in front of the class, all in Thai.

The original lesson plan for the most advanced classes (Thai 7 to 9) focus on language, culture and society. At the time of this writing there are plans to have at least one class focused on ‘Thai for business’. Personally I prefer a more pragmatic and business-related class (especially in the advanced levels). However, if your study focus is on linguistic or culture-related, this class would be a perfect fit. Expect a fair share of Buddhism-related vocabulary.

Language Levels and Course Structure: The first time I took the class they still had their old system of Basic 1 to 3, followed by Intermediate 1 to 3 and finally Advanced 1 to 3. This system changed in 2012. Now there’s Thai 1 to 6 (which covers the old basic and intermediate levels) and elective courses Thai 7, 8 and 9 (the old advanced classes). Thai 1 doesn’t include Thai writing and uses a phonetic script to teach language basics. Actual Thai writing is taught within Thai 2.

The three upper levels (advanced classes) aren’t required to be taken in any specific order. Each only has Thai 6 as a requirement. However, these courses have yet to start (these details have been provided by the faculty).

Placement and Advancement: You can either start at Thai 1 or take a placement test (THB 500) to qualify for a higher level. At the end of each level there is an exam. If you pass it successfully, you also qualify for the next level. I haven’t heard of anyone who was interested in continuing their studies failing the exam. Grading is a bit confusing with attendance and other factors playing a role, so I suspect they tend to pass people as long as an effort has been made.

Class Size and Composition: A class is usually about 10 people in size. Basic classes might be a little bigger with a very diverse crowd of people in terms of nationality and age. The more advanced classes tend to be smaller and younger with often half of the participants being Japanese.

Chula Intensive Thai: Overview…

Pros:

  • It’s intensive. I haven’t seen another method to advance this fast in Thai. The workload is so massive that you’re forced to study hard (or drop out).
  • You receive a certificate from a well-known institution. Chulalongkorn University has offered this class for close to three decades and itself has a very good reputation in Thailand. You’ll receive a certificate for completing the 3rd, the 6th and the 9th level of the language class. Please note that the last one requires you to take level 7 and 8 as well in order to qualify for the certificate.
  • It’s fast. If you aren’t long-term in the country, this is a way to quickly gain Thai language skills. A single class takes no longer than six weeks.

Cons:

  • Intensive works both ways. Totalling up classes, studying, homework, and excluding your commute, calculate about 30 hours per week.
  • Considering the price and the reputation of the university, the scripts and handouts are not up to par in quality with what you’d expect. However, compared to what I’ve seen at other schools in Thailand, the overall standards don’t seem to be that high either. So relatively speaking, Chula’s materials would qualify as ‘decent’.
  • Quality of grammar teaching is somewhat lacking, but again, this is something that’s shared with other schools in Thailand. My personal recommendation would be to pick up Thai Reference Grammar by James Higbie. It blows any self-made publication by this and any other language school out of the water.
  • It’s an institution, so flexibility and service is somewhat limited. For example, placement tests are often offered only once a month on a single morning. Also, there’s no soap in any of the bathrooms (eww…).
  • According to a friend of mine, in his experience a lot of Thai language schools tend to help you out with the paperwork for getting an education visa. While you qualify for an education visa with a Chula class, that ‘service’ isn’t considered part of their job so you’ll have to handle it yourself.
  • Expenses: THB 25,000 per six week course, which comes down to a little less than THB 300 per hour. If you take all classes from start to finish, you’ll spend THB 225,000 for a one-year course in tuition alone. For many Europeans it might be cheaper to live and study the Thai language back home without tuition fees. UPDATE: It’s now THB 27,000 per six week course.

Other Opinions: A friend I met during my first stint at Chula in 2007 put up his own review on ThaiVisa. He decided to quit the program after Advanced 2 and has described his reasons and insights in that post. It’s already been a few years; I hope the more advanced classes are now more pragmatic and goal-focused.

My overall take on the program: If you asked me to describe this class in one word it would be ‘intensive’. With few exceptions everyone who studies here, does so full-time during the course. With three hours of daily classes Monday to Friday and a similar amount of hours for review of vocabulary, home work, preparations and mandatory extra-curricular activities, it doesn’t leave much time for a full-time job.

On the plus side, it yields corresponding results. Reading the newspaper is something that’s taught in an ‘intermediate’ class. Within a year, you can reach a level at which point you can write speeches in Thai. In the past, the final exam of the last course was to write an eight page essay in Thai. Language-buffs aside, the people I met at these classes were some of the most fluent I encountered during my years in Thailand.

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Thai Language Schools in Pattaya

Thai Language Schools in Pattaya

Sourcing a Thai language school in Pattaya…

On moving to Pattaya one of my first orders of business was to find a decent Thai language school that could fulfill my two main requirements: provide me with a 1 year education visa and be able to teach me to speak Thai competently.

While the Education Visa is a necessity the actual learning of the Thai language is a goal anyone seeking to to live, or stay long term, in Thailand should have.

As I have chosen to live in Pattaya the schools I will be reviewing are all Pattaya based but some do have offices in Bangkok and Chiang Mai as well. While there are a multitude of Thai language schools in Pattaya I have chosen the top 3 schools in the area based on ease of access, variety of schedules and payment plans and the fact that these three schools all offered a 1 year student visa.

Disclaimer: The following review of Thai language courses offered in Pattaya is based on my personal experience attending a free class at each school and talking with both representatives of the school and students, as well as looking over their teaching materials. These reviews constitute my opinions and my opinions only, your experience may differ.

Also keep in mind that everyone has a different learning curve and style and what may work well for one student doesn’t necessarily work well for another. Anyone interested in learning the Thai language while in Thailand should do their homework and look into the various schools/teachers available and if possible sit in on a free class to get a feel for the teachers teaching style and the methods used by the school. Only then can you make an informed decision as to what is best for you.

Also note that all the free classes I sat in on were beginner’s courses which had all just started at the beginning of the week and at most had only a few classes under their belt.

Review: Thai language schools in Pattaya…

PLC: Pattaya School of Languages and Computers

Location: 194/10-11 Moo 9 Pattaya Klang Road

Info: As the name suggests PLC offers a wide variety of classes from Language to computers and web design. The representatives I spoke to were well-informed about classes, schedules and cost.

Materials: The lessons in the text book seemed to flow together nicely and the reviews at the end of each lesson were very helpful. Since I am new to learning Thai I can’t give a comprehensive report on the text book used but in my opinion I could easily follow the lessons which were in English and Thai with phonetic spellings and tone marks which helped to get pronunciation correct.

Teacher: The teacher who taught the free class I attended was very knowledgeable and spoke both English and Thai fluently. She took her time going through the lessons to make sure everyone understood the lesson. She also corrected bad pronunciation.

Students: Students seemed eager to start class and seemed to have a good grasp of vocabulary and speaking small sentences.

Class: This was a group class that consisted of 8 people. PLC also offers individual classes and smaller classes for a different fee.

Schedule: Classes are offered Monday through Friday at varying times to fit any schedule.

Cost: Learning Thai in a group class will cost you 3000 baht for 20 hours, 9000 baht for 60 hours or 17,000 baht for 120 which includes a 1 year Education Visa. There is a 100 baht nonrefundable registration fee for all classes.

My Take: The class, teacher and method seem to be put together well but the class was rather boring, sticking strictly to the materials at hand. I think I could learn to speak Thai well here but I worry that I might lose interest over time.

Pro Language

Location: 116/33 Moo.9 Central Pattaya Road (Pattaya Klang)

Info: Pro Language is another outfit that has offices in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya. Their representatives were very knowledgeable about classes, schedule and pricing and even went the extra mile to make sure I learned a little Thai while signing up for the free class.

Materials: The course book is well laid out and lessons flow easily one into the next with reviews and vocabulary at the end of each lesson. The lessons are laid out in both Thai and English with phonetic spellings and tone marks to get the pronunciations correct. The beginner’s material actually has you dealing with not only words but sentence structure with later lessons dealing with reading and writing Thai.

Teacher: While the teacher followed the lesson plan he would often deviate from the lesson bringing students real lives into the examples and using real places in Pattaya to make his point. The class was much more interactive with the students being asked simple questions in Thai and giving the responses back in Thai using sentences and proper sentence structure. Emphasis was there when it came to pronunciation, tone and sentence structure.

Students: Seemed eager for class, showed great participation and had very good vocabulary and sentence skills.

Class: The class was small at just 4 people which made for a much more personal experience.

Schedule: Classes are offered 7 days a week at varying times to fit any schedule.
Cost: Group pricing starts at 9000 baht for 60 lessons up to 25,000 baht for 180 lessons and a 1 year Education Visa.

My Take: My teacher was very knowledgeable and both fluent in Thai and English. The materials are easy to follow so there should be no problem studying on your own. The class is very interactive and hands on which for me is very conducive for learning. The teacher made me feel like I was getting a one on one lesson and often used examples from the student’s lives to teach lessons which made the lesson much more personal and easy to remember.

Callan & Walen

Location: 194/74 Soi Paniad Chang Moo.9 Central Pattayaq Road (Pattaya Klang)

Info: Callan & Walen is a very well known School both in Pattaya and Bangkok. Their representatives were very knowledgeable about classes, schedule and pricing and the offices were very nice.

Materials: The course book seemed very well put together but unfortunately there was no phonetic spellings and much of the course book is in Thai. This is in fact part of the Walen method in which they get you to start reading Thai early on and not rely on phonetic spellings. While this may be good in theory I think a little help in the beginning is paramount when starting off with Thai. One worry is that I would be lost with the materials when studying on my own.

Teacher: The teacher seemed to follow an inflexible lesson plan that hinges on mostly repetition of words. While this method may work well for others I can’t see where this would help me to speak Thai in the long run. The teacher seemed almost mechanical and I didn’t hear her correct the pronunciation of any of the students during the class.

Students: Seemed mechanical but had a good vocabulary although sometimes pronunciation was off.

Class: The class size was nice at 6 people but you would think with that few people there would be more interaction going on between students and teacher, there wasn’t much if any.

Schedule: Classes are on offer 7 days a week with lessons to fit any schedule.

Cost: Group lessons start at 9900 baht for 60 lessons, 19,200 baht for 120 lessons and 24,960 baht for 180 lessons which includes a 1 year Education Visa.

My Take: While the class size is perfect I don’t feel their method of teaching will work for me. Repetition can be a good thing but without sentence structure and pronunciation into the mix I feel I would be wasting my time. A strong vocabulary is important but if I can’t put that vocabulary into proper form then I don’t think I’ll be speaking Thai.

My choice of a Thai language school in Pattaya…

After sitting in on free classes offered by these schools I decided to go with Pro Language as their methods, materials and teachers really suited my style of learning and I feel I will get the most out of their classes.

This doesn’t mean the other schools aren’t worthwhile. If you are thinking about learning the Thai language in Pattaya I encourage you to sit in on the free classes offered by these schools. You may find that one of the other methods suits your learning style better. You may also have different teachers than I had for each class and they may make the learning experience much different than what I observed.

Whatever you choose, making the choice to learn the Thai language is a daunting one but one that I think will make your experience in Thailand all the richer.

Talen (AKA Tim Bull)

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