Thai Language School Review: Thai Language Station

Thai Language School Review: Thai Language Station

Thai Language School Review: Thai Language Station…

School: Thai Language Station (TLS) Bangkok
Telephone Number: 02-632-9440
Address: Thai Language Station, 62 Thaniya Building 11th floor, Silom Road, Bangrak, Bangkok Thailand 10500

How to get there on foot: BTS (Sky Train) Sala Daeng Station Gate No.1 or the MRT (Subway) Silom Station

Basic Info: Thai Language Station belongs to a chain of schools founded by a half Thai, half Japanese guy named Fuji. Fuji has 2 schools in Japan and 2 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thai Language Station’s main location is in the Times Square Building, BUT, here’s the thing. At that site they don’t teach Thai to English speakers. They only teach Thai to Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese. In fact, they don’t even have English language Thai textbooks at Times Square, and not a piece of advertising inside their office is in English either. So, if you’re not one of the nationalities mentioned (Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese), don’t even bother going to the Times Square Building. Native (or second language) English speakers are taught at the Thaniya Building on Silom.

When I entered Thai Language Station in the Thaniya Building I thought I’d mistakenly walked into the Times Square building. That’s how close the schools are to being carbon copies! The only difference is at Thaniya, the signage is also in English.

Materials: Thai Language Station has 8 different levels of material. The first 4 levels start out like most other phonemic based transcription systems. You are introduced to the phonetics used to represent Thai sounds and corresponding Thai characters. Next up is conversation-based text such as: greetings, information gathering (name, age, etc).

The conversations are very straightforward, although there is NO corresponding Thai in the book to start exposing you to the Thai writing system. You’ll only see phonetics and English (and their phonetic system is more than a little squirrelly). In fact, it’s downright confusing! If I hadn’t known the Thai vocabulary beforehand their system would have been totally impossible to understand without taking the time to learn it first. As it worked out, I ended up asking the teacher to write the sentences in Thai script.

However, due to a massive re-write, their quirky phonetic system is about to change. I was informed that it’s going to include Thai script and incorporate a universally understood phonetic system (Benjawan Becker’s Paiboon Plus, to be exact).

Method: The method is conversation based. After the first book of basic Thai it progresses into longer, more difficult, yet still high frequency conversations which are useful in day-to-day Thai living.

The first 2 books on reading and writing have karaoke Thai, real Thai, and English. Once you get thru 4 levels of conversation you’re then exposed to writing and reading Thai. The last 2 books are ONLY in Thai and English.

Aside from the squirrelly phonemic transcription (karaoke Thai) the methodology is pretty good. It has a lot of high value, high usage phrases, sentence constructs, etc.

Out of class homework is assigned for people learning to write Thai. The final 2 books are in a short story format with questions. The materials have been upgraded to a more “current events” based reading class. The teacher takes articles out of the newspaper, magazines, etc., or the students bring an article of interest.

One other thing you don’t see all that often is that Thai Language Station WILL sell their text books to any Tom, Dick and Somchai who walks thru the door. This is total departure from other schools where you hafta enroll before you can purchase the books, and even then you can only buy the books for the level you’re attending.

Then again, with the quirky phonetics and no written Thai in the first 4 levels, unless you know which characters make up which corresponding Thai sounds, the books are of little value as self study material.

Teachers: I spoke to several teachers and they seemed more than qualified to teach Thai to foreigners. They also have an entire contingent of teachers who ONLY teach to a specific demographic (Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) and don’t teach ANY of the English speaking classes. Sadly, the teacher who taught the class I sat had to go to a private lesson right after so I couldn’t talk to her. Fortunately a Thai teacher of mine from 3 years ago teaches at Thai Language Station part time so I called her to get the low-down on the qualifications and quality of the teachers. She said ALL the teachers who teach Thai to native English speakers are required to pass an “in house” test, so yes, they are indeed qualified to teach.

Classes: At Thai Language Station classes run for 45 intense minutes of learning Thai. The books are not taught in a format which repeats endlessly (like some un-named schools) where you can just jump in when ever you enroll. No matter the level, the entire class starts on page 1 of what ever book you’re learning. Given that fact, you might need to wait until a sufficient number of students enroll in a particular level before a class will start.

From what I’ve heard the classes at Thai Language Station are well attended, and some have as many as 10-15 students. This can be a double-edged sword. Big classes can get side-tracked quite easily as new learners of the language question the minutia of Thai. The class I sat only had 5 students so moved along quite well.

There is a HIGH emphasis on getting both the tones and vowel length correct and the teachers hammer students to get it right (even if she makes him say it 15 times). While this may seem frustrating to early learners of the Thai language, in reality it is a blessing as those 2 things are the most problematic areas for foreign speakers of Thai.

ED Visa: Thai Language Station offers the cheapest price I’ve EVER encountered for the yearly ED visa. They have the most lessons for students who sign up for a year (a mind-wobbling 210 lessons!) They offer a 6 month visa program (105 lessons) if students don’t want a full year. And if you don’t need an ED visa, the price for group lessons drops to the lowest price I’ve ever seen offered in Bangkok (60 lessons at just 75 baht a lesson)!

Interestingly enough, Thai Language Station has an innovative “intern program”. This is where someone works at the Thai Language Station office, answering correspondence, speaking to people interested in studying Thai, and various other office tasks. In return the school provides an ED visa, extensions of stay free, and the freedom to study Thai when ever.

I spoke to a Chinese girl who’d just graduated Uni and was enrolled in the program. Now, to my foreign ears, it sure sounded like she spoke Thai pretty darned close to a Thai national already.

Bang-4-The-Baht: I give Thai Language Station a very high “bang-4-the-baht”, based on their methodology, the teachers, and their incredibly low price point. I wouldn’t deduct ANY points for anything but their quirky phonetic system. As I mentioned earlier, that is changing with the new material (supposed to be rolled out sometime after the New Year).

Hope this helps,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com | Reviewing Thai Language Schools in Bangkok
Your man on the ground, in the trenches, errr, I mean, in classrooms at Thai language schools in Bangkok.

NOTE: Tod is NOT affiliated with any Thai language school.

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24 Responses to “ Thai Language School Review: Thai Language Station ”

  1. I wonder if this emphasis on correct pronunciation of the tones right from the start is really necessary. I recently worked for a short time with a colleague who is married to a Thai national and has lived in Thailand continuously for the past 25 years. He speaks, reads and writes Thai fluently enough for his everyday life there, although he has never lost his strong Lancashire (UK) accent. I asked him how he managed with the tones, and his reply was that he “doesn’t bother with them”.

    Personally, I spend so long trying to remember or work out what the tone of each syllable is supposed to be that I never actually _say_ anything!

  2. Roberta, all I know is that if I use the wrong tone it’ll throw some Thais off, stalling the conversation. Maybe what he means by not bothering with tones is that he’s concentrated on speaking and not on worrying so much? I envy those who jump in and just get on with speaking Thai. They don’t fuss about mistakes, they just barrel through.
    Catherine recently posted..A Guide to Thai Grammar BooksMy Profile

  3. Well, in all actuality, Thai teachers probably spend too much time “beating” the tones into their students’ heads; often in an over pronounced way too. This gives “us” an even more foreign sound to our already foreign accented Thai! Anyone whose been here a while can “hear” the tones when Thais speak, but they are far more subtly enunciated than Thai teachers make us say them.

    The tones in Thai most certainly ARE an integral part of the language. People who says, they “don’t bother with the tones” certainly aren’t speaking “fluent Thai”.

    However, it is entirely possible they are speaking “fluid Thai (way more important). By “fluid” I mean they’re saying things the way Thais do, using familiar idioms and “phrozen phrazes”. Thais are used to hearing things said a certain way. Usually, no matter how “off toned” a foreigner says something like that, Thais understand it and automatically correct the errant tones in their heads.

    IMHO; the two components which are possibly more important than proper tone when speaking this language are; “vowel length”, and “Thai sentence structure”. I speak some pretty off-toned Thai (but make no assertions about my fluency either). Yet I’m almost universally understood by the Thais when I speak my American accented version of it because I say things the way they do and I try to get the vowel lengths correct on words.

    Seeing as I don’t know your colleague, all I can relate is that I’ve met a lot of foreigners here; ones who I’d heard from people were “fluent in Thai” only to find out after talking to them they were more “effluent”, than fluent. Not that I’m casting aspersions here, only relating what I’ve “seen with my own ears”.

    One last thing; my experience (based solely on Thais comprehending what I’m sayin to them) is; hitting the falling and rising toned words (especially single syllable ones, and ones which begin or end a sentence), and then “blurring” the mid-hi-low tones will be totally understood by Thais. I highly doubt ANY foreign speaker of this language will ever be mistaken for native speakers by the Thais.

    Sorry for the long reply. ..

  4. Donovan, the author of my new fav language blog, just published a post on the subject. The Mezzofanti Guild: Get Your Foreign Language Pronunciation Right From The Start
    Catherine recently posted..A Guide to Thai Grammar BooksMy Profile

  5. In one of her books, Benjawan Becker advises her readers who are having problems with tones to concentrate on at least getting their vowel lengths right.

    And thanks Tod! this school looks like a real find. :-)

  6. Thanks for reminding me Keith. Benjawan Becker has a CD out (now a classic): Improving Your Thai Pronunciation

  7. From the preface to “Fundamentals of the Thai language”

    quote–
    In a letter discussing a proposed system of Romanising the Thai alphabet, written to the Siam Society in 1912, His Majesty King Rama VI wrote:

    “I propose that the tone value of the Siamese consonants might be ignored altogether … since the context would always make clear the meaning.”
    –unquote

    Thank you, your majesty!

    There is a word in Thai that sounds more or less like “cow”. So far I have discovered eight meanings for this word, but I am sure there must be more… Here are the ones I know about –

    knee; beard; he/she; white; rice; news; to enter; mountain

    So, if I say in Thai “I want to eat some —” and say “cow” where I put the blank, will Thai people think I mean a beard? Or a mountain? And if I go to a doctor and say that my “cow” hurts, and I’m limping, will he think I mean I have painful news? Indeed, most of the time the context does make the meaning clear, whether we use the correct tone or not. Doesn’t it?

  8. Roberta, if you’ve ever used the wrong tone and tripped into a cuss word in Thai, you’ll soon see that context doesn’t always win out. The snafu can result in a startling reaction from Thais!

    I’m not saying that context doesn’t sometimes work, but why risk taking the chance of insulting or confusing when you can just get the tones down?

  9. I fancy that mispronouncing a tone in the middle of a sentence must sound to a Thai like hitting an off note when playing the piano . . . (And my “piano” is way out of tune. :-)

  10. Keith, I suspect you are right! Also, as non Thai speakers, our pronunciation is being monitored much more closely than native Thais (except for in the school system, obviously).

    In saying that… while Thais do make judgements on accent – “she’s from the North”… he’s from the South” … “they’re upperclass” – just like in English, when sentences are spoken at regular speed, words tend to blur into each other. Some tones get mangled, lost, trampled on.

    After not being understood the first time I switch gears and speak the Thai word or sentence really fast. When speaking slowly, Thais focus on each syllable and tone. Fast, not so much.

  11. Unfortunately, it is my experience that Thais are some of the least intuitive people I’ve met when it comes to making “leaps of logic” as far as context when foreigners are speaking Thai.

    The deal breaker seems to be when a Thai sees (not hears) it’s a foreigner speaking Thai. They seem have an ingrained or predisposed inclination that they can’t understand it, no matter how clearly enunciated it is, so they don’t. Even things they’ve heard a hundred times a day, related to doing their job; when a foreigner spits out the same exact phrase the Thai person in front of them used a moment ago, it just seems to “lock the Thais right up”.

    I too use Catherine’s method of spitting out what I want to say faster (and more “blurry”); sometimes they understand it better.

    Early on in my learning, I tried speaking Thai in a sing-songy (up and down) voice. I had hoped I’d blindly hit the correct tone here or there on a word or two, but that didn’t pan out.

    BTW: the Thai word for “beard”, actually has an “R” (ร) in it, and is spelled เครา, even though it might sound to you like Thais pronounce it as a “cow-word”.

    Actually “cow-words” is one of the topics I go over in a sort of “stand-up comic routine” I use with new students learning Thai.

  12. Cow-words? Come on Todd, you can’t just leave us hanging like that. I mean, right at this very moment I’m dying from laughter and curiosity :-D

  13. That’s interesting. It seems a bit counterintuitive that speaking faster would make it easier to comprehend.

    Though now I can see where speaking slowly might make it difficult for the listener to parse the words correctly into groups.

    Maybe not the best example, but something like:

    เข้าใจเงิน (kâo-jai ngern) = understand money
    เค้าจ่ายเงิน (káo jàai-ngern) = he pays

  14. Catherine, you are not accusing Tod of cow-wordice now, are you? :-)

  15. Keith, speaking slowly and clearly does have its downfalls. If your pronunciation isn’t spot on it shouts out just how far off you are.

    For weeks I was having a hard time getting taxis to the park that butts up to the (now) old PTT building. I’d say PTT slooooooooowly and success wasn’t a sure thing. One time I even had four to five Thais waiting to figure out what I was trying to say. But when spitting PTT out rapid fire, no prob.

    I have a few recordings of sentences with super fast talking followed by slow enunciation. If I can find them I’ll share because they demonstrate how the long vowels get reduced, with some bits falling away.

    Ah. I was talking to a Thai friend about it just today and she passed on a slightly naughty Thai joke about foreigners learning Thai. We didn’t have time to write it out so she’s coming back on Friday.

    Cow-wordice? lol… good one :-)
    Catherine recently posted..FREE Online Resources at Everyday Thai Language SchoolMy Profile

  16. Try this…

    PTT : ปตท : por tor thor

    It comes out much smoother if you just spit it out. Fast.

  17. Good point. I was thinking about that too. Speaking slowly and carefully could actually signal that I am emphasizing that the words I am mispronouncing are actually what I mean.

    One example of what you are saying that comes to mind is สวัสดี which should start off with a low tone but that everyone pronounces as a mid tone.

    I imagine there must be quite a few jokes about foreigners learning Thai!

  18. Ah. Spoken vrs written Thai. James Higbie goes over that in his book, Essential Thai. In order to teach tones he tweaks the script to suit. Not all, mostly where it counts.

    Getting a Thai friend to share jokes about foreigners hasn’t been easy for me. They don’t want to offend so mostly keep mum. I have a fairly off the wall sense of humour but that still hasn’t opened the flood gates. But I’ll bet Tod knows a Thai joke or two!

  19. Here’s a post that goes contrary to what I’ve learned is successful for speaking and writing Thai. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it’s just not what works for me. It’s a good read and might work for others: Learn by exaggerating: Slow, then fast; big, then small.

    We’ve already discussed how some Thais don’t ‘hear’ unless you speed up your speech. And now to the writing bit… When you learn how to write, Thai teachers force you into the teeny tiny script taught to grade schoolers because that’s what they started with. It cramps my hands so I went looking for a book that teaches adult handwriting, nice and fluid. Scroll down on this post to: Writing Thai the easy way…

  20. All I know is ฝรั่งกินฝรั่ง and that “Bridge over the River Kwai” are subjects of amusement.

    I picked up Reading Thai is Fun on one of my trips to Thailand. It is an interesting book, although I am not sure about his alphabet charts where he tries to group all the letters by shape.

  21. After watchin’ a LOT of foreigners learning Thai try to construct Thai sentences and speak (in language schools), it seems to me that it’s not so much the off-toned pronunciation, as it is pausing at the wrong time in a phrase or sentence which gives the Thai an artificial “chopped up” quality.

    I have yet to attend a Thai language school which teaches foreigners when to pause when speaking or reading Thai aloud. I dunno why they don’t teach it really.

    Continuous script is hard enough to make your way thru, so knowing where and when it’s okay to pause would be a good thing. Some of the most common “pausing errors” I’ve observed are; pausing in the middle of a compound word, pausing after a noun or verb which is followed by an adjective/adverb and of course, pausing because you’re trying to remember how to say the rest of what you’re wanting to say, leaving what you said earlier just dangling in space.

    This inability to know where to pause is highlighted even more during an intermediate Thai class I sometimes attend on Saturday. We are given a set of hand outs all in Thai which contain, vocabulary (we might not know), a short story on a current topic consisting of several paragraphs, another page of questions about the topic to initiate conversation and a page of questions where we write the answers out. After we cover the vocabulary, the teacher reads the story aloud; then we go around the room round robin, each reading part of it out loud. Very few students hear where the teacher paused when she read it (because their brains are in comprehension mode, not listening mode), so when they read aloud they don’t pause in the correct places to keep any cohesiveness to the story. When it’s my turn, I’m the exact opposite. I’m guilty of taking a BIG, DEEP breath and them not pausing until I reach a space in the text, often gasping for air as I finish reading an especially long line of Thai.

    There are words in Thai which can be markers to denote a “comma” or pause in speaking. Words I call coincidentally enough; “comma words”. Some of the more easily identifiable ones are แล้ว, ว่า, ที่, ถ้า & ก็. The last one is used a LOT in spoken Thai at the beginning of a sentence to give what the speaker says a more speculative quality. ว่า is a tough one in spoken Thai because 9 times out of 10 if it starts a sentence it means ผม/ฉัน คิดว่า, although in written Thai its almost always coupled with another word.

    On the topic of “cow-words”; I’ve been developing a short 15-20 minute “orientation talk” to give foreign learners of Thai some pointers on things I’ve learned the hard way. It covers a brief history of the Thai language (according to Tod), the alphabetic system, vowels, the total dissimilarity between what English speakers think of as a long and short vowel and what it means in Thai. I go over some frequently mispronounced words in Thai, with the most mispronounced word spoken by foreigners in this country; เกาะ = island, (usually written in English as koh). This is also where I talk about “cow-words”. I also cover some other common pronunciation “fox-paws” which can put foreigners “standing on thin ice over deep water” when speaking Thai to Thais. It’s all done “tongue firmly in cheek”, I take a lot of joking jabs at both the Thais and foreigners; I’m an equal opportunity discriminator in that regard.

    Anyway, glad this has sparked some interesting conversation!!
    As always; thanx Cat, for allowing me a platform to bloviate..
    Tod

  22. Keith, the River Kwai was one of my first ooops in Thailand :-)

    Tod, your mention of the pauses got me thinking. Except for finding the rhythm of a language, I don’t recall it either so I’ll check around. Do you remember if it’s mentioned in Benjawan’s pronunciation CD? I’ll crack it tomorrow. And hey, it’d be a useful idea to introduce to the Thai schools you go to for sure.

    Your orientation talk sounds like a hoot! What about… EDIT (moved to email…)
    Catherine recently posted..FREE Online Resources at Everyday Thai Language SchoolMy Profile

  23. Catherine,

    I tried saying ปตท slowly to my Skype teacher ครูมด, who looked at me for a moment and said, “The oil company?” and then reeled off “ปตท” at regular speed. But then again, she is a teacher and used to deciphering what students are trying to say.

    And แกว has an unusual pronunciation to begin with. Probably my biggest oops (so far) was mixing up เสียใจ with เสียตัว when talking about a funeral I attended.

  24. Keith, I agree, Thais used to westerners have developed an ear. You’d think taxi drivers would too but some have wooden ears.

    “mixing up เสียใจ with เสียตัว when talking about a funeral” lol… That’s pretty bad :-)

    Tod, when I was talking about pauses in Thai with a friend I remembered a teacher who does teach pauses. Khun Narisa (Skype Thai teacher). The reason I forgot is because she adds them to my written Thai homework as she’s checking for mistakes (my studies focus on reading and writing). It’s the stuff I share in posts but you can’t see the spaces because WordPress ignores extra spaces in sentences. I can add spaces via code so I might do that in the future.

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