Skip to content

Is it really all that difficult to learn Thai?

Moving to live permanently in Thailand is a rich and rewarding experience. You will meet some incredible people, see some wonderful sights, and get to do amazing things you probably wouldn’t have done at home. The culture is very different to anywhere else, and Thais have a unique way of looking at life which is enlightening when not bewildering.

The greatest single problem that many people encounter however, is the language barrier. Quite simply, not understanding or speaking Thai will limit your enjoyment and the great pleasure that can be had living amongst the Thai people. The language barrier can be maddeningly difficult, as most Thais are uncomfortable when using English and will usually avoid talking to a foreigner in case they make a mistake. Tuk-tuk drivers will take you to the wrong place, shop-assistants will hide when you start looking for help, and your waitress probably won’t make any effort to understand what you want.

So what should you do? Easy, learn to speak some Thai! The responsibility is yours – you have chosen to live here, so you certainly enjoy being with Thai people. Now is the time to learn to at least speak Thai so that you can engage them more readily. At Patong Language School we have heard many people say ‘I’m no good at languages.’ or ‘I’ve heard it’s a very hard language.’ Whilst we won’t claim learning Thai is easy, we can tell you it is certainly not as difficult as you’d think. And like anything else, a little effort goes a long way, and the more progress you make, the more you will be encouraged to go further. As soon as you can speak even a little, opportunities to talk with locals and experience Thailand in new ways will appear every day.

You can see from the signs all around you that Thai is very different to English. One of the most important aspects is that Thai is a tonal language, so your pronunciation needs to be pretty good. Don’t worry though, as this comes with practice and the instruction of a good teacher to keep you right.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your Thai language studies:

Book some classes with an experienced Thai teacher

Patong Language School has Thai classes to suit everybody. Regardless of where you are or how busy you are. You can choose from a beginner’s Foundation Course, which takes just two weeks and is not too intensive as classes are held every other day. Once you complete the Foundation, you can go on to a an Easy Going group course which meets just twice per week for two hours per lesson, or join the intensive course of 4 lessons per day every day! Of course there are private lessons to suit your own schedule, and even online classes using Skype and an interactive classroom.

Buy a book

Buy just one book. There is no consensus on how to write Thai words using phonetics, so you will only get confused if you use more than one. Find one good book or a series of books and stick with it. Patong Language School produces a series of books, which have been developed over more than 20 years of Thai language instruction with foreign students.

Keep to a routine

Plan on doing a little study every day, even if it’s just 20 minutes with your study book. Doing too much each day is not a good idea as our brains get overloaded quite quickly. Little but often is the way to go and reward yourself with a day off at the weekend. Most important is to find what works best for you as we all learn differently.

Be daring

If you are too shy to try out your new language skills, then you aren’t going to get very far. Thai people love it when a foreigner tries to use their language. You will almost certainly be praised on how great your Thai is just by uttering a couple of words! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – this is the only way you can learn what is right. Try to speak with every Thai person you meet – taxi drivers, your waitress, even the person next to you in a restaurant. Some will be wary, but most are likely to give you a welcoming response.

Build and use your new vocabulary

When you learn a new word use it as much as you can. Put it into as many sentences as you possibly can and you will remember it more readily. If you’ve learned a lot of new words, write them out in a list and carry it with you to refer to. Cross out words from the list as you remember them.

Listen to Thai speakers

Listen for the words you already know and guess the meaning of those you don’t by context. You’ll be very surprised how easily you can learn new words this way.

Listen to yourself speaking

As we already said, pronunciation is very important. Find a way to listen to yourself by using a tape recorder or a computer. If you don’t have the equipment, just compare yourself to a Thai speaker saying the same words.

Reward yourself

Learning Thai is hard work and a skill that very few people are willing to put an effort into. If you are succeeding, reward yourself by being proud of what you have achieved. There is always more to learn, but acknowledging your success is motivating.

Knowing even a little Thai will make your life in Thailand a great deal more fun, interesting and rewarding. You’ll meet wonderful people that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to speak to, you will get to go places that others can’t, and you’ll learn for yourself that language learning is only a matter of discipline.

Most important of all, have fun!