yes, you can learn Thai

Hi everyone! I’ve been studying the Thai language intensively for almost five months now and I’d like to share my learning experience with you. We’ve all heard horror stories of farangs trying to learn Thai, different study methods that work or don’t, and the teachers from hell that think you’re stupid. It’s probably true that not every method or technique suits every learner, but I want to let you know what worked for me.

As I was planning to move to Thailand in 2010, I’d tried to learn back home in Australia beforehand using some Thai Language CD’s I’d picked up on a trip to Bangkok. The first problem was the lack of interraction due to not having a teacher or someone to converse with. How could I know if I was getting it right or not? Through some friends I met up with some Thai residents in my home town and set about practising my new skills on them. They were horrified! My pronounciation was totally wrong and my grammar was awful. To make matters worse, I couldn’t understand anything they said as their accents were so different from my ‘CD teacher’. Enough of that idea.

I searched the internet for a language school in Phuket and came across Patong Language School. They’ve been around for a while now since they first opened their doors in 1983, and that was enough assurance for me that they know what they’re doing. They offer a number of different Thai group classes depending on what you’re looking for. They have a two week beginner’s course, an easy-going conversational course, and the intensive course.

I got stuck in to the beginner’s course (Foundation Course) the week after I landed here. What an eye-opener! In just 15 lessons I’d mastered more than I thought possible. A whole new world had opened up from just being able to string a few sentences together. Our teacher (Khun Tin) used a mixture of materials other than the included study book to keep the class interesting. Flashcards helped with sentence construction, and the interraction with other students was tremendous.

Having taken a break for a couple of weeks after the course to let it all ‘sink-in’, I decided I was ready to learn to read Thai. Yes, I had decided to take the plunge! I signed up for the Intensive course for a period of 3 months (they even helped me get an ED visa at no extra charge). Our class time at the outset was split evenly between learning the alphabet/word construction and more conversational skills using phonetics. Gradually the phonetics gave way completely to us using only Thai script in class. The more we saw it and used it the easier it got! Our teacher had a few simple games to help us memorise and the flashcards (once again) were a godsend.

By the Friday of week two we were ready for our first field trip! Off we went with the school’s driver to the local supermarket. Each of us was tasked with asking for different items of meat, veg and fruit in the fresh section. It was very satisfying when the shop assistant didn’t ask me to repeat myself. The day was completed by a Thai meal in the food court.

We’ve all progressed very fast since then and moved on to reading magazines and newspapers, listening to Thai songs and TV programmes, and even more field trips. The last one was to a nearby bank where we all had a chance to open an account, change some money and fill in a bunch of forms in Thai.
If you’ve tried learning Thai without success, then I really recommend getting some classes at a good school. If you live in Phuket, I don’t think you’ll find one better than Patong Language School.

Mark Haverson

Patong Beach, October 2010