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

Learn Thai Language & Thai Culture

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.

Share Button
The following two tabs change content below.
Karsten is a 30-something pro-gamer turned tech entrepreneur. He loves giving talks at events and universities, checking nutrition labels for carbohydrates and getting into trouble with Tuktuk touts. Karsten blogs about living and working in Bangkok at Thailand Starter Kit.

28 Comments

  1. Wow. Sounds like a serious course for serious students. Am I mistaken, or did Andrew Biggs study at Chula?

  2. On ‘serious students’: While a lot of language classes encourage students to communicate in the taught language (Thai in this case), this was one of the few instances where I actually saw students sticking with that. Even in breaks, after class and on school trips my class mates nearly exclusively used Thai with each other. It was a bit weird when I first heard some of them speak English and noticed they were completely fluent in it.

  3. That must mean that they had the motivation and the ability to speak nearly exclusively in Thai — both good signs!

    Were they mostly native speakers of English? Perhaps Thai had become the students’ Lingua Franca. :-)

  4. FWIW: Andrew Biggs got his degree in Thai at Ramkhamhaeng NOT Chula.

    Interesting review. Personally after the way I was treated there a couple years ago I wouldn’t have gone back and scoped ’em out for a review EVER! I’m glad you did it.

    I was put off by their condescending attitude towards me when I showed up in my “standard uniform” of a KISS t-shirt and levis. My answer to their inane question of “why do you want to study Thai” was “I want to study Thai because you people suck at English.” which probably didn’t win me any points either. They were haughty, full of themselves, their material had been copied so many times the pages were skewed in the books, and their phonetic system and the English translations were littered w/mistakes. To say I was “underwhelmed” by such a “famous Thai uni” was putting it mildly.

    As far as receiving a “certificate from a well known Uni”; that piece of paper is about as worthless as tits on a tomcat. Most every school gives out those wall decorations, and outside of this country or Asia, Chula Uni ain’t hardly on the map. Before the “gold standard” paper to possess was the Ministry of Education’s ป.6 test for foreigners, now there’s nothing which carries any real weight.

    I think they’re prohibitively high priced, and way over rated as far as “bang-4-the-baht”. Their “claim 2 fame” is their name, not their program, that’s all they’re selling. I think if a person wanted to attend a Uni for Thai a better option would be Srinakharinwirot or Ramkhamhaeng University. Then again that’s just my opinion.

    Face it NO one needs to go to a University to learn this language.. There’re more than enough quality Thai language schools scattered around the country which crank out some pretty proficient foreign speakers, readers, writers of Thai for a fraction of the price Chula charges.

    Still interesting review, I’m sure glad I never went back….

  5. Tod, [shaking head] what am I going to do with you?

    I thought Philip wrote a decent review. He didn’t just cover what he felt was good about the school, he pointed out the cons as well (he just used different words than you is all ;-)

  6. In hindsight (which I happen to have boxes of if anyone wants any), perhaps my comments about Chula were more than a little harsh.

    I’m a down to earth guy who dresses in an pretty “lo-so” (low society) way. This isn’t the first place I’ve walked into and been looked down on solely because of the way I was dressed. Still, I show up at EVERY school dressed the same, because I’ve found if they’ll be polite to me, they’ll be okay with anyone else.

    My grandfather told me courtesy doesn’t take a college degree, and perhaps both the people at Chula’s Thai program and myself should take that to heart a little more often..

    Again, sorry for the coarse comments. In my defense I am recovering from a near fatal bout of Dengue Fever, so I might be crankier than my normal, pleasant, easy going, non-judgmental, soft spoken self. ;P

  7. Keith – between ‘Western’ nationals and Japanese nationals it often was indeed the best spoken language they shared. Things are a little different of course at lower levels, but it definitely was standard ‘intermediate’ and up. Overall makeup was traditionally very mixed in basic classes and 50% Japanese / 50% others in higher levels. I heard nowadays there’s a lot more Chinese students (possibly due to a Chinese government initiative).

    Tod – No worries, no harm done :) I felt some members of the faculty were quite opinionated and often in a way I did not agree with (otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed I guess ;)). However, that was my very subjective impression and it didn’t seem to affect actual teachings very much. Thus, I didn’t really consider it relevant for the review. I try to be pragmatic about those things.

    I have no idea what – if any value – that certificate will have in practice. I considered it a nice goodie if I ever have to show some paperwork of my Thai skills (since, as you said the Ministry of Education no longer offers that exam). However, it wasn’t a deciding factor in my decision to study there.

  8. Here is a link to the program that works:
    http://www.arts.chula.ac.th/~asc/

  9. Thank you Liam. I’ve edited the url into the post.

  10. I’ve met a few people that followed this course and I was impressed with the level that reached within a very short time. I think this course, even though it’s very intensive should be considered as a beginners/intermediate course. After the course you’ll have a lot of academic knowledge, but you’ll still have problem to understand some slang language. Also, if you compare your knowledge with that of Thai students at a Thai university, you’ve to realize, that you know very little. I think you’ve to situate their most advance course around ม.๒ or ม.๓ level.

  11. สวัสดีค่ะ

    ขอบคุณมากสำหรับบทความดีๆเกี่ยวกับการเรียนภาษาไทยที่จุฬาฯ :)
    เป็นประโยชน์กับคนอื่นมากๆค่ะ

    Well, I’m Thai. I’m trying to find a good Thai course for my Japanese friend.
    Thank you for your kindly review about intensive Thai course at Chula.
    It’s really useful for us. :)

    My friend’s going to take a course at Chula in this summer. He can communicate in Thai in daily life, can write short message to express his opinion, can understand main topic of medium passage. From your review, I think he proably can take THAI 3. Isn’t it?

    Anyway he has never take any Thai test. I’m worried that he might go to the wrong class because of the exam result. He has limited budget and short term student exchange period in Thailand. So he can take only one class. Hope you understand his situation and could you please tell us about the placement test detail?

    Thank you for your kindness. If you have any question about Thai, please feel free to ask me.

    Tanya

  12. My guess would be Thai 2 or Thai 3.

    Either way, usually the sheer number of new words (800+ per class) guarantees that there’ll be a healthy amount of words he doesn’t know, even if he gets put into a lower level.

    If he’s on a tight budget, he can also look into other intensive Thai classes (e.g. Srinakarinwirot University offers one that’s cheaper).

  13. ขอบคุณค่ะ :)

  14. Hi,

    I’m a student in this program. I will say that the teachers are quite good. I would recommend it to learn Thai but they really don’t teach grammar or at least some teachers being aware of this try their best to add it in, but yeah kinda weird. You go from nothing to the expectation of writing sentences in a very short period of time.

    My big complaint with this program are the extra curricular activities, I work full time and didn’t attend all of the activities and they would not pass me even though I easily passed the Thai learning portion. I had to sit in a room and watch a truly useless movie while the person put the movie on and left the room (meaning no learning point at all) and then the next day I had to go to a snake farm. Considering this is the oldest university in Bangkok and Thailand I was stunned and confused at the point for doing these activities. I was honest about my work situation from the beginning and attended all classroom hours as I had prepared to do. When I went to the office to inform them on certain activity days that I couldn’t attend nobody raised a fuss until the exam day when they said I would not pass because of this. I was frustrated because I paid to learn Thai not go to a snake farm. By the by I kept thinking what if you were truly terrified of snakes?

  15. Derek, they tell you during the class already that you have to do the extra curricular activities with a minimum of 8 hours for each class that you attend. As you have been studying with them you know also that there are more than just 1 or 2 activities to choose from (not only the snake farm!), that you didn’t go is you’r own choice.

    I’m studying also at Chula and there are many activities that you can choose from, I don’t like it either but it’s part of the deal, and another thing is that you say you couldn’t do it because of work…
    When you sign up with them you also sign an agreement that you will not work during the period that you study at Chula, this is so that people have enough time to make their homework and do study during the time that you are free.
    But are you that Swedish guy?

    I must say that I learnt a lot in a short period of time, sometimes it is very hard to keep up as they really go very fast and that’s why it’s called intensive, you really have to work hard and there’s not much time left for something else besides studying.

    There are people who are less than 6 months in Thailand and are able to have a small conversation, read very well, write very good and are able to do presentations in Thai!! that’s really great to see that someone can make that much progress in such a short time.

  16. feb 20 2014
    just called SWU, asking to visit to check out classroom/teacher/books, they say the whole program is closed for revision, and have no idea when it will open again, if this saves anybody some time …….

  17. also, chula appears to not be open for now

    Dear students,
    Due to the political uncertainty and travel inconvenience, CASCA is sorry to interrupt the courses and refund the fee of 19,750 baht
    to the students. The students will be able to get the money back from 27 January onward.
    You have two options to choose: either get the refund or transfer it to the next course, which will start on 12 March 2014.
    You may come to get the refund by yourselves or, if you cannot come by, what you have to do is just printing the attached files out,
    fill in the forms and send them back to CASCA via mail.

  18. Thanks Mike. That will save people a lot of time.

  19. Hi I’m looking at enroling at Chula language class this year.

    Just confused can you just get a tourist visa for thailand or do you have to get student visa for the 6 weeks?

  20. I was on a work permit / non-immigrant B visa when I did the class.

    Not sure about the legal requirements. I’d be surprised if someone got in trouble for doing a 6 week course on a tourist visa. Could always check with the university / embassy if you want to play it safe.

    On a side note, they now officially disallow(!) students to be working during the duration of the course and also increased fees to THB 27,000.

  21. On FCLT I came across a useful discussion about Thai schools in Bangkok started by 黃崇哲. He mentioned that he did not have a fondness for Chula, and when asked why, he replied:

    黃崇哲 Before telling you the reasons, I would like to give you my credentials and the rubrics I use to evaluate language schools. I am a well-experienced Chinese language instructor working at a university in Bangkok. According to my teaching experience, language course has to be fun and interactive in order to help students to learn, especially being interactive. A good teach asks questions and students answer them with new grammar or vocabulary. The teacher correct students’ oral mistakes if necessary. Besides, teaching should focus on developing listening and speaking skills because it is hard for students to practice these two skills alone at home.

    So back to Chula intensive Thai. They way they teach is very traditional and passive. The teachers took turns to lecture and students listen. Although some teachers did occasionally ask questions, however, most questions are yes-no questions which did not give students enough chances to practice speaking in classroom. Therefore, the average speaking ability in my class is lower than the average reading and listening ability. (I am not sure about the writing part, because I did not have an opportunity to see others’ compositions.) For people who are fond of this passive way of learning, they might find the place suitable for them. But as for me, it is a total waste of time and money because Youtube can do the same thing for me, so why spend 6 weeks and 27,000 THB on it? I know the average educational quality in Thailand is not high but I thought they might do better in Chula and it turned out not.

    Hope this information is useful to you.

  22. Hi, I’m starting at Chula in a few weeks. Wondering if anyone had issues with the dress code? I’m trying to figure out if we have to wear uniforms…

  23. No uniforms when I attended level 6 in 2013 (they’re only for undergrads), but you are expected to dress somewhat conservatively. Cleavage, spaghetti straps, and short shorts/skirts are out.

  24. If 300 baht per hour is correct, that seems awfully expensive for a class.

    I have a very good private tutor who I pay 350 baht per hour.

  25. Hi,

    I was just wondering how does the CU levels of Thai correspond to CEFR levels of Thai? What level should I study until if i want to attain intermediate proficiency?

    Thanks very much for your help! :)

  26. Hi,

    I am planning to study Thai2 at Chulalongkorn this coming 1Nov and was wondering if there are any scholarships available to fund my studies?

    Thanks in advance!

  27. @Felicia – A friend of mine from the US studied based on a scholarship from the US government. They paid for the class and living expenses for a year under the condition he would work for the US government afterwards for a period of at least 2 years if I remember correctly. He did however apply and arrange for that in advance and before starting with Thai at level 1 and did the entire course.

  28. hi guys.i also can speak thai language. for conversation. but I want to learn reading writing thai languages.
    harish

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*