5 Practical ways to learn Thai without feeling overwhelmed

For most people, learning a foreign language like Thai is an exciting prospect. Who doesn’t want to travel to an exotic country and be able to chat freely with locals? Who wouldn’t want to discover a new culture and potentially share new experiences that would otherwise be impossible without learning a foreign language? If you ask them, most people like the idea of a acquiring a second language.

But the excitement, wonder, and novelty of the idea can wear off quickly for the few brave souls who actually decide to learn a new language. At first new language learners often feel like they make quick progress. They get a few new words and basic phrases under their belt and they’re floored that their speaking the language.

However after a week or two they start to run into some of the first real hurdles of language acquisition. If you’re learning Thai these are likely to be the language’s tonal system, foreign grammar, or the alphabet and script. Faced with these obstacles many start to see the immense challenge of learning a language and resign themselves from the adventure. In the end they simply feel overwhelmed and quit.

Others might not quit, but they think that the language is too difficult because they don’t have the right course or method. Unfortunately this isn’t usually the case. There are some great Thai learning courses out there. However, at the end of the day courses and methods can’t fully remove the difficulty of learning a language.

In this post we’ll look at five practical tips you can use when the Thai language feels overwhelming. Yes learning Thai is no walk in the park, but if you stick with it you might surprise yourself.

  1. Give yourself a daily but limited study time
  2. Far more important than how long you study, is how often you study. Cramming a week’s worth of study into a massive four hour session will never be as effective as simply spending 15-20 minutes studying each day. Make Thai a part of your daily routine, and don’t be afraid to limit your study time.

    I personally like to set a timer when I study (especially if I’m working on something particularly difficult). Once the timer goes off I stop what I’m doing, even if I’m in the middle of a lesson. This allows me to compartmentalize the difficult parts of the language. Even though I’m working through something extremely difficult I know that once the timer goes off I can drop it.

    This takes a lot of the pressure off. I don’t feel like I HAVE to spend hours grinding over a particular grammar point or pronunciation exercise. I can certainly spend more time in the language if I want, but the timer gives me the freedom to forget about whatever I’m working on until the next day.

  3. Focus on one part of the language at a time
  4. A foreign language will seem intimidating if you look at it all at once. The grammar, the vocabulary, the pronunciation, the skill and practice it takes to correctly use it all…it’s a lot to take hold of. Make the process more manageable by breaking the language down into small bite sized parts (ever heard the saying “how do you eat an elephant”?

    Focus on one grammar point, one group of vocabulary words, or one sentence pattern to practice. Once you’re comfortable with that specific part of Thai, move on to another one. It’s this sort of step by step approach that will keep you from getting too stressed out. It’s all about perspective really.

  5. Add some variety to your learning
  6. There are four aspects of learning Thai (or any language for that matter): reading, writing, speaking, and listening. While you may want to focus on studying a single part of the Thai language, you don’t have to limit yourself to doing so in one particular way. Use the four aspects of the language to bring balance and variety to your study routine.

    I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re learning a group of new vocabulary words. For the sake of this example we’ll say you’re learning the basics of how to talk about yourself (job, hobbies, where you live etc). You could spend some time working on your pronunciation with a site like Forvo using those new words. You could use your Thai course or book to practice your reading. Finally you can practice everything with a native Thai speaker, either in person or through a free online language exchange.

  7. Set small goals each week
  8. If your only goal is to be fluent in Thai you’re in for frustration. It certainly can be your ultimate goal, but you should work your way their via a series of smaller trackable steps. Set smaller goals for yourself that can be quickly achieved to build and maintain momentum in your studies. This works great if you’re breaking the language into smaller parts like we recommended in tip number two.

    Each week look at what you plan to study and make a small goal associated with it. Going back to our example from earlier, if you’re learning how to talk about yourself; you could set a goal of having a short conversation (5+ minutes) with a native speaker at the end of the week. This type of goal is challenging but it’s not so challenging that it’s overwhelming.

  9. Focus on speaking good Thai not perfect Thai
  10. If you’re a perfectionist you’re going to struggle with language learning. It’s simply not possible to speak a language perfectly without a lot of trial and error. You can’t just learn from a Thai course or grammar book. You will have to fumble your way through conversations with native speakers.

    When you practice your spoken Thai don’t beat yourself up about mistakes. Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. Success in speaking Thai depends both on your ability to correctly pronounce and string together the sounds in a way that a native speaker can easily understand as well as your ability to understand what people are saying to and around you. If you want to get fluent, you’ll really need to spend time mastering the sound system.

    Think of mistakes as the stepping stones to speaking fluently. They are definitely not obstacles.

Conclusion

With all this talk about how hard it can be to learn a language, it’s easy to forget how fun it can be. If you stick with it, learning Thai is nothing short of an awesome (and sometimes crazy) adventure. Following these tips will help you focus on the positive and enjoyable parts of language learning, while helping you overcome the more difficult ones. It takes a bit of work to get there, but if you spend a bit of time everyday doing the right kind of practice, you’ll get to the fun part in no time.