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Thai Language School Review: UTL Unity Thai Language School

Thai Language School Review: UTL Unity Thai Language School

UTL Unity Thai Language School…

School: UTL Unity Thai Language School
Website: utl-school.com
Address: 18th floor Times Square Building, 246 Sukhumvit Rd, Khlongtoey, Khlongtoey, Bangkok Thailand 10110
Telephone Number: 02-653-1538
Email: info@utl-school.com

Location: UTL Unity is in the Times Square Building. The school is easy to get to by either the MRT (Sukhumvit Road Station), or the BTS (Asok Station). From the MRT, go up to the sky walk to the Sky Train and follow it around until you walk directly into Times Square, and then up to the 18th floor. Note: if you’re coming from the MRT, you can’t get thru Asok Station without paying, so use the sky-walk for Terminal 21 because it jumps Asok stations turnstiles and connects to the skywalk.

Basic Info: UTL Unity is another Union Thai Method school. The method was designed to teach foreign missionaries who washed up on Thai shores. UTL Unity’s website says the school itself has been around for over 10 years, which I totally believe. I’ve lived behind the Times Square building for the last 7 years and they were already there when I arrived. UTL also mentions that the material was designed over 40 years ago. And given some of the out-of-date phrases in their books, I believe that too.

Materials: UTL Unity concentrates on teaching spoken Thai first. The books use phonetics (karaoke Thai). You’re unlikely to find it in any other Thai course books, except for other Union Clone schools. It’s not as wacky as other phonetic systems but it’s squirrelly enough that you first need to learn the system before you can get anywhere.

UTL Unity has two ‘modules’ (a fancy way of saying ‘books’) for conversational Thai. The books ONLY have karaoke Thai and English translations. There is NO Thai script at all.

Before you are exposed to Thai script (starting at module three) you work thru modules one and two to develop proficiency in speaking Thai.

Surprisingly, the books are quite intensive. By the time you get thru with the second book you’ve got a really good ‘getting by in Thai’ grasp of the language.

To me, the methodology could be improved by including the Thai script in the beginner books. This is so that students can at least begin to see what real Thai looks like.

From module three on students are exposed to the Thai writing system. Module three also concentrates on conversation as well. Note: You have to do both module three AND four to learn all the Thai consonants and vowels.

Beginning at module four you are given homework for writing the most commonly used Thai words, short answers to questions, etc.

Module five is where you really learn to read and write Thai via short stories, essays, etc. It’s also where your homework starts to dial in your writing ability.

Module six is conversation based. It teaches slang, idiomatic expressions, and focuses on increasing the speed of a persons reading ability, as well as writing longer essays.

UTL Unity has a LOT of topics for advanced learners (more than I care to list, that’s for sure). Some are the same beat-to-death stuff you see at every Thai language school in Bangkok: Thai culture, Buddhism, social customs, etc. Some are pretty good though. The subjects touch on proverbs, newspapers, and current events.

UTL also offers a program which starts in the fall (I believe) and prepares students for the government Thai Proficiency Exam given in December.

Method: In the group class I sat (6 years ago), the classes were conversation based. They started out with the standard fare of meeting greeting, asking your name, etc. The teacher said the vocab words, we repeated (as a group), and then the teacher went around one by one, having us repeat back to her. She covered the dialog drill and we repeated in a group, then broke into pairs to practice the drills. It is a dialog substitution type format, where the words that can be switched out are marked and other vocabulary is used.

Teachers: I must admit that I have experience with only one teacher at UTL Unity. She taught the beginners’ class. In fact, she ONLY taught that class (and from her ease of teaching it, for a good long while). She was very well versed with the material and incredibly supportive of students abysmal attempts at toning and vowel length, and not too heavy handed in errant pronunciation corrections. She made extreme facial expressions, and much to the amusement of the students, used mime very effectively in class to get points across.

Classes: UTL Unity is like several other Union Clones which offer Intensive Thai classes. Intensive Thai runs in the morning for four hours a day M-F, and is three weeks long. The afternoon class is the same only its three hours a day. For your run-of-the-mill-foreigner lookin’ to learn conversational Thai, it’s really intense!!

The intensive Thai class moves along at a good clip; there’s not a whole lotta time spent on the “whyz-in-thai (why is Thai like this but English is like that). In fact, if I remember correctly, most of those type of questions were answered with, “That’s just how Thai is…” (FWIW: I hate that answer because everything they do in Thai has rules whether they know it or not.)

Now don’t get me wrong, perhaps had my motivation been different way back when, I’da gotten a LOT outta it. However, my class, not surprisingly enough, was composed entirely of foreign missionaries (people I have less in common with than I do Thais). Needless to say, it was not fun to go to, or sit thru. It was not a class I looked forward doing, at all.

ED Visa: As UTL Unity is registered with the Ministry of Education it provides ED visa support for students. UTL has a deal where if you buy so many modules they give you the documentation needed to secure your ED visa at a neighboring country’s Thai Embassy. UTL Unity provides in-country extension documentation too. They DON’T have a ED visa program where you can study Thai a mere 4 hours a week to live here. This is a school that makes NO bones about the fact that you’re gonna learn Thai come hell or high water.

Bang-4-The-Baht: As I said, this is not the school for someone looking to live in Thailand on the ED visa. For the serious learner of Thai, I’d give this school a very high “bang-4-the baht” rating. But I’m telling you, you’re gonna hafta be diligent to retain anything out of those intensive courses. You’ve gotta practice the dialog outside of class with someone. You miss a single day and you miss the material covered. And if you’re fresh off the boat, you’re gonna be overwhelmed early on.

I personally know several people who went thru to module six and they came away reading, writing and speaking super clear, well structured and enunciated Thai.

I hafta be completely honest, (well no, actually I don’t, but I will…) This is the first school review where I couldn’t personally go in to write this review. I had to send in a plant (a foreigner dressed as a small shrub actually).

When I first moved to Thailand I went to UTL Unity for their intensive Thai program. As I said, I was less than impressed with the entire endeavor. Perhaps, looking back (if I can even remember back 6+ years ago), my motivation for learning Thai wasn’t what it is today.

Of course, being typical American, I had a meeting with the principal where I made my dissatisfaction only too well known. Evidently I made such an impression on the entire staff that when I went into the school six months ago to check on their Thai Proficiency Training course, the girls at the front desk STILL remembered me!! Suffice to say, they were less than cordial (especially for Thais) in answering my questions, and made it clear my business was not wanted or needed.

Still, this review is accurate insofar as the information I’m relating. I hope you found it of marginal value.

Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com
Reviewing Thai Language Schools in Bangkok
(BTW: Tod is NOT affiliated with any Thai language school)

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Tod’s specialty is reviewing Thai language schools in Bangkok. And in his years studying Thai he’s also collected a few language learning tips to share with you.

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15 Comments

  1. In my opinion, the modules are great as they are. There are instances where some beginners might get anxious upon seeing Thai script right at the starter module.

  2. Tod and Catherine – Any business that’s been running for ten years or so must have its nuts and bolts screwed down in the right places. However, you do need to replace the rusty ones. Your report reads like UTL Unity has good solid language learning methods but its material needs to be brought up to date. And most of its students too. It all reads like it’s a bit too much of a serious language school for someone like me.

  3. Martyn, many Thai schools are using outdated materials. I find it odd when we are in a country filled with Thais who could easily update the courses. But the Unity Method does seem to do a good job of teaching Thai.

  4. Catherine – Perhaps it’s a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  5. Martyn, you know when you say a Thai phrase that you’ve been assured you’ve learned 100% and you get a weird response? That’s sometimes because it’s a phrase no Thai would say. In Pattaya some locals are said to speak in faranged Thai but it doesn’t work in the real world.

    Early on when asking for advice I’d be given poetic phases, faranged phrases, and old-fashioned phrases in place of real Thai (I still do actually). Not only was it embarrassing to get caught out but I found it totally frustrating to then have to put in extra effort to relearn this but not that.

    So I do believe updates are needed. And seriously, it can’t be that difficult… getting everyone to agree on what’s common or polite or not would be a totally different matter.

  6. I have found even with the off-toned heavily American accented Thai I speak, the Thais will understand me WAY better IF I use common Thai grammar structure in other words, “say it the way Thais are used to hearing it”. The Thais I interact with can “fill in the gaps” tone wise and make the leaps in logic to work out what I’m on about IF I “say it their way”.

    That’s one reason I signed up for one of those 60 hour conversational course modules (not at UTL). I want to polish my structure in my speaking.

    Face it foreigners are ALWAYS gonna sound like non-native speakers (no matter what line of sh*t the over complimentary Thais feed you about how well you speak Thai). As a foreigner, you many speak Thai with perfect intonation, perfect vowel length, but still you’re gonna use “non thai structure” simply because you’re a non-native speaker. I mean it is what it is.

    I had an interesting conversation with Thai teachers from 3 or 4 schools the other nite and they said what tips them off to someone being a non-native speaker are;
    *Pausing at the wrong time when speaking
    *Improper use of ending particles
    *The use of ให้ & ได้ in sentence constructs
    &Improper use or total lack of the words ก็ & ว่า when speaking

    I still say the material from this school is definitely “broke” out-dated, and antiquated to the n-th degree. Still as one of the very first Union Clone schools, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
    Glad you liked the review.

  7. Todd,

    *Pausing at the wrong time when speaking
    *Improper use of ending particles
    *The use of ให้ & ได้ in sentence constructs
    &Improper use or total lack of the words ก็ & ว่า when speaking

    That’d make an interesting post…

    Glad you liked the review.

    Union does seem to have tough but workable Thai program (I wouldn’t know it without your reviews – ta :-)

  8. UTL textbooks are indeed quite stale. I think the only update was from about six months ago when they moved from the 15th to the 18th floor. “15th Fl” on the cover was changed to “18th Fl” – with a pen. That’s all. I kid you not.

  9. “15th Fl” on the cover was changed to “18th Fl” – with a pen.

    Hilarious. But I have been told by others (not just by Todd) that some Unity schools are putting a fair amount of work into their revisions. And honestly, as the method has been proven to produce decent Thai speakers, I’d love to see what they are coming up with.

  10. Hi Tod,

    Good review.

    You said:

    That’s one reason I signed up for one of those 60 hour conversational course modules (not at UTL). I want to polish my structure in my speaking.”

    Out of interest where did you sign up for the 60 hour course and have you done a review on that place?

    thanks,

    Rog.

  11. Hi. I studied at UTL through some of their advanced modules, and I think this review is pretty fair.

    I also took sample courses (not the full term) at Jentana and Language express and looked at a bunch of other schools before deciding on UTL.

    Having gotten to know UTL pretty well now, there are a few things people might want to consider, that I’ll try to condense into a few bullets here.

    1. As the article states, UTL is really designed for intensive language learning. A lot of students repeat courses or get discouraged when they can’t grasp a concept or structure. So I would be sure you are going in with that mindset. But it should be a given that with any language school, you need to practice outside of class to retain the knowledge anyways.

    2. The student composition is maybe(?) changing since this article was written. I only had two missionaries in my classes in the first few months until I started private lessons.

    3. If you stick around beyond the first few modules, the teachers are a lot more flexible with the book and curriculum, making sure you know what is out of date, and letting you explore/ask questions about grammar and vocabulary.

    4. The night classes are really worth it in my opinion. Two hours is often plenty of time to study two stories and have at least half an hour of pure conversation. You get more attention from the teacher and it’s a lot cheaper by the hour than many other private lesson schools.

    5. I have several friends who studied the intensive Thai at Chula, and a few who do the tutorial style at language express/berlitz style schools. At a similar number of hours of study, my friends have/had nowhere near the proficiency I have.. Which might be atteibuted to diligence.. but I dont think I’m as sharp as some of these guys.

    UTL also claims a 100% success rate on the government exam for scoring atIeast ป. 6, or sixth grade level. But they don’t allow you to take the prep course unless they think you can pass. And I think this is a self selecting group as UTL seems to yield best results for those who really want an intense curriculum.

    Hope it helps some. I really recommend the school for those don’t get overwhelmed by intensive vocabulary learning and can be sure they won’t miss more than one or two days per month.

  12. Thank you Joe. It’s extremely helpful to read about the experience of someone who’s attended the courses all the way through.

  13. Really thanx Joe for weighing in with what you experienced..
    As far as your pointz;

    1. – you’re 100% correct, you’re either in for a penny in for a pound with Union Clone intensive module based schools or you wash out.. I’ve met more people who washed out than who have went all the way thru BUT the ones who come out the other side are good proficient speakers of thai.

    2. – My experience was a LONG TIME AGO and I wasn’t the “kinder, gentler Tod Daniels” I am today ;P Recently making the rounds in Union Clone schools I saw that the overall make up in the classes was 60% asian 40% foreigners (err white people)..

    3. – I have heard from many students that the higher you go in the levels the more flexible the system and the teachers become..

    4. – Excellent point which few people seem to be taking advantage of. Many of the schools I re-visited don’t offer nite classes because of the low enrollment rate..

    5. – DON’T get me started on the illusionary err illustrious Chula thai program.

    In talking to schools that offer that “thai proficiency prep class” you’re right on the mark. If they think you can’t pass it, you can’t even take the class. However in the same breath I’ll say the old ป.๖ course was head and shoulders better than this new “thai proficiency exam”. Interestingly enough I believe the MOE still gives the old ป.๖ exam to japanese people because of a reciprocal agreement of giving thaiz in japan a test similar for japanese language skills..

    Thanx again for reading my stuff. It means a great deal… Good Luck

  14. I don’t want to disclose too much information. I’m Thai but was born in an English speaking country so I’m fluent in both English and Thai. Well almost, the problem is that I never bothered to learn how to write and read Thai. I decided to learn it since it would help me with my work and decided to enroll into UTL since I also work with Japanese people so being in an environment with Japanese students would help me.

    There are 6 modules (plus special modules) at the school and learning the alphabet starts at module 3 and 4. I passed module 3 and 4 without any problems and my teachers said I would most likely be able to choose any module above 4 since I am fluent in speaking Thai so I’m familiar with as many vocabs as a local.

    I asked to study in the special modules since they’re usually related to certain subjects such as medicine, idioms so I am able to learn writing, reading and also learn new topics. Module 5 and 6 is just normal everyday conversations which I’m not interested in. The staff said my Thai “isn’t good enough” so I was forced to module 6. Okay, no problem, I took their advice and decided to take module 6 first since I was a bit curious how difficult it would be considering I skipped module 5.

    It was way too easy for me. I didn’t get 100% on my writing tests but it was about 95% which I believe is more than enough to be able to advance to the next module next course.

    So after module 6 was finished, I asked to study the special courses. They said I was too good. I insisted I still wanted to study. They went to the teacher teaching the special course and asked her opinion and the teacher said I was too low!

    Something sounds wrong. I insisted I have a level check. The manager interviewed me and told the head teacher I’m more than qualified to study the special courses. The head teacher chases the manager out of the room and decided to talk to me one to one.

    This is where the problem starts. She asked me if I was at their school to study or cause problems. She said people were gossiping about me behind my back that I was some sort of psycho simply because I enjoy making funny/strange sentences. I didn’t think this was a problem because the point in making a sentence is to understand if the pattern is correct, not exactly the meaning. I would make silly sentences like:

    “I own an island and a rocket because I’m the richest person on this planet.”

    Basically one part of their teaching process was that they will write an incomplete sentence on the board and you have to fill in the blanks with your own ideas or words. Since I’m fluent in Thai vocab, I just spice it up a bit to make it entertaining. The module 6 teacher wasn’t pleased with it but the students were enjoying the class and said they’re absolutely fine with my sentences since they learn new words. I then found out the module 6 teacher told the head teacher that the students didn’t like me when in fact the teacher wasn’t happy with me.

    Basically they told me indirectly that I’m a pest and students have ganged up on me and that the school must side with the students because if I’m not gone, they’ll all leave which would make the school lose profit. I know for a fact that the students have no problems with me because even though I’ve quit the school for now, we all still talk.

    Basically I wanted to study there for 6 months to get a certification from them but now I’m stuck at 3 months. They said they allow me to continue studying there but I’m forced to study at lower level classes which obviously is a waste of money for me.

    Basically the last thing I clearly remember from them saying is, “You know too much and we’re not pleased with it.”

    Something tells me UTL doesn’t want advanced Thai learned at their school. When I mean advanced, I mean advanced enough to have any type of conversation with them. Maybe they want to keep students in the shadows, I don’t know.

  15. Oh sorry, I just noticed a small typo. “advanced Thai learned” to “advanced Thai learners”.

    Sorry!

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