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…
- 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.
- 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.