Learn Thai from a White Guy's Blog

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.


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.

How to Eat Vegan in Thailand

People often wonder how I could possibly ever survive here in Thailand as a vegan. Considering I’ve been here well over 10 years and I still haven’t died, I think I’m doing fairly well. There is veggie food all around you, and I’m not just talking the salad shops that have sprung up in the last 2 years or. There are tons of veggie spots in town. On Suthep road alone, there are 3 lined up in a row each doing their own thing and there are 3 more down back roads within 5 minute walking distance from the first 3.

There are 2 main types of veggie eats in Thailand and while they both avoid meat entirely, there are a some important differences.

Jeh versus Mung

มังสวิรัติ [mung sa wi rut] comes from the Sanskrit mamsa, which means “meat” and virat which means “without.” So this is essentially an acceptable translation of “vegetarian.” As with in English, some people may or may not eat eggs and/or dairy.
เจ [jeh] comes from the Chinese word 齋 (jai1/jaai1) which is also the source for the equivalent words in Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

If you happen to be reading this in October, then you are in luck, my friend. This is when the Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ) happens. During that time almost everybody gets on the jeh train for a bit. Some people eat jeh for the entire month, the entire 10 day festival, and most franchise restaurants (Black Canyon, MK, etc) offer at least one jeh option, but some actually have a full jeh menu during the festival. The only downside is that a lot of regular jeh restaurants don’t really do anything special during this time except get a lot more crowded than usual and in some cases raise their prices. Yay for jeh.
As far as the food goes, the main difference between Jeh and Mung is that real Jeh forbids eating food with really strong flavours and/or smells as it is believed that each one does harm to different parts of the body. This includes stuff like chives, garlic, parsley, and onions.

So what does all this mean for you? Real Jeh food will always be vegan. But, you need to be careful as some jeh places will have 1 or 2 Mung options which may contain egg. And even though jeh avoids really strong flavours, it can still taste pretty awesome. They often make all kinds of fake vegan meats to help ease the suffering of all those poor meat eaters who torture themselves by abstaining from me for a meal, a day or the entire vegetarian festival.

What are my choices?

  • Jeh – Technically vegan, but watch out for those handful of places that will have one or 2 dishes with egg. Jeh spots will almost always have one or more yellow flags posted both inside and out. The flag will either say เจ, the Chinese character the word is based on or both. They often use a Chinese-y font so sometimes the word เจ looks a bit like the number “17”.
  • Mung(sawirat) – Vegetarian w/eggs. As far as things eaten with rice, dairy is pretty rare, but pastries and other sweets sold at Mung places may contain butter, cream and/or milk.

What do I do if I can’t find a jeh place?

Some regular restaurants may attempt to accommodate you or at least make you think they are doing so.

Avoiding Animal Products:

More than anything else, you’ll want to watch out for oyster sauce.  Vegetable dishes at regular restaurants will almost always be cooked with oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is dark, oily and gummy. And it comes from oysters! If you don’t want it in there, you gotta say so. You’ll know if it’s not in there, because they will probably only have used soy sauce and vegetable oil. So it may be bland, but vegan.
Solution: ไม่ ใส่ น้ำ-มัน-หอย (mai sai nam-man-hoi) – Don’t put in oyster sauce.

Fish sauce is another standard ingredient in a lot of (almost all!) Thai dishes.
Solution: ไม่ ใส่ น้ำ-ปลา (mai sai nam-plaa)
Soup broth – At non-jeh places, even if they say there isn’t any meat in it, it will still have meat stock so skip the soup.

Thai Dishes that usually Contain Egg:

  • ข้าวผัด – fried rice (khaao pad)
  • ผัดไทย – pad thai
  • ผัดซีอิ๊ว – pad see-yu

Notice the word ผัด (pad) appears in all 3 of the words above. ผัด = stir-fried/sauteed

How to say “Don’t put egg in”
ไม่ ใส่ ไข่ (mai sai kai) = don’t put in egg

Even if you ask for something jeh, they don’t always really know what that means so you are better off making it as clear as possible.

Full Sentence: เอา ข้าวผัด เจ ไม่ใส่ไข่ (ow kaaw pad jeh mai sai kai) – I’d like fried rice (jeh) without egg.

First thing you want to do is find out if they are willing to try to make you something jeh/mung. And just because they tell you they can, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to forget and give you something wish oyster sauce or fish sauce. Aside from being a tonal language, Thai also contains a whole lot more vowel sounds than English and when you say the vowels wrong, people probably won’t understand you. Be patient with them as you are the one who needs something from them and may not be able to
speak their language.

I remember this one time, a buddy of mine ordered a bottle of water and got a coconut, so watch out friends, watch out.

Look for the yellow flag!

Mike Learned to Speak Thai

Today’s guest post is from Mike of Portland, Oregon.

Update: Oct, 2016 – Mike has been in Thailand for about 2 years now.  Here’s a video of him speaking Thai.

I’ve been living in Bangkok for about 11 months now. I’ve seen lots of expats who spend way too much (sometimes all!) of their time inside the farang bubble. Anticipating this dilemma before I arrived in Thailand, I decided that I’d seek out a neighborhood with a more “local” flavor – I didn’t want to be just another dude whose Bangkok life was limited to a 2 block radius of the nearest BTS station. This decision has had a significant effect on my continuing progress with the Thai language. Everyday I’m forced to ask questions to the people who live on or near my soi – and these questions often lead into smaller conversations that challenge me and force me to seek out new vocabulary so I can keep up. This is how to learn Thai.

The day I moved into my apartment, I told myself that I needed to get right out there into my surroundings and start using my limited Thai skills. I would practice saying a phrase out loud many times before I went out to use it. One of the early ones being: “I don’t want milk in my coffee, please.”

The first time I got in line to get a coffee at the stand near my local 7-11, I kept saying the phrase over and over in my head. I was so sure I had it down perfect.
When it came time to place my order: “hot coffee please.” Then a slight pause as the smiling server grabbed a cup, at which point I added “and I don’t want milk in my coffee, please.” He glanced at me sideways with a slightly confused smile. I beamed back with confidence – he had understood me! Then, in utter disbelief, I watched him add not one, but two types of milk to my coffee. Too bewildered to utter another word, I handed him 20 baht and stared down at my cup filled with a liquid that made it the exact opposite of black coffee.

A couple weeks later, after many failed attempts to get a coffee with no milk, someone finally pointed out what I was doing wrong. I had been screwing up the vowel on the word for milk (นม) and saying it too much like an (อะ) so they thought I might be trying to say “water” (น้ำ). One simple vowel had derailed my quest for the perfect cup of joe. It may have been slightly defeating watching all those milky coffees being poured day after day, but in the end, it was an experience that solidified my efforts to be precise with this new language. It may seem like a small victory, but my mornings are now complete with endless cups of black coffee just the way I like it.

That first cup of coffee was just the beginning of my quest to improve my Thai.
Everyday I go out and speak Thai. If I make a mistake (and I’m aware of it), I try to find out what I did wrong and give it another try next time. Eventually, I know I’ll get it right and I move on to the next thing.

Whether it’s talking with 80 year old men who hang out near the coffee stand next to the 7-11, or fumbling my way through the open air market asking what every vegetable is called (over and over again because sometimes I forget), my use of Thai is constantly being nudged in the right direction with each brief encounter with the people in my ‘hood. Bangkok can either be a blockade or a boon to your Thai language skills – the choice is yours! If you want to improve though, you really gotta get out there and talk to people.

Mike learned to read Thai in less than 3 weeks* using my online course. You can hear him talk about it here: Mike’s Video

*Your own results on time of completion for the course may vary. If you spend at least 30 minutes a day on the lessons, you can reasonably expect to get through everything in about 2 weeks.

How to Make Friends and Get Free Language Practice

My friend Jeremy, who also happens to be my counterpart in Vietnam, is here to offer you some tips on how to get good at a language. He’s in the process of writing a book about his experiences which you should definitely check out. See if you can’t pick him out of the photo below. – Brett

I’m probably one of the worst language learning students ever. I never study. I’ve never bought a textbook. I hate flashcards. In highschool, I got caught cheating in French class and almost got kicked out of the class.

It’s not just that I’m cheap, it goes beyond that. I’m sure I could benefit a lot from using an online tool such as iTalki or something like that, but it’s just not my style.

See, I’ve never thought of myself as a language learner. Rather, I’ve always thought of myself as a culture chameleon, a traveler who makes friends with the locals and blends into the local culture as much as possible.

Despite my stubbornness when it comes to language learning, I’ve had some successes. Despite never being able to remember any conjugations, I can now sing in French. I can’t name a single Vietnamese grammar book, but I can perform stand up comedy in Vietnamese.

After living in Vietnam for ten months, I got “famous” after going on a few Vietnamese TV shows. But, I’m not here to talk about that, because I don’t care about being famous.

What I do care about is learning the local language, and I truly believe that it can make your experience living in a foreign country feel like home. Thailand and Vietnam are very similar countries, yet they do have some differences. Okay…I’ll say what you’re thinking, “Thailand and Vietnam are same same, but different.”

Anyways, here are my top tips on how to befriend locals and learn a language for free.

Always make the effort
This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways: you need to make a conscious effort day in and day out. You get out what you put in, that means you need to be putting in the work every day. This can be as simple as sparking up a conversation with a stranger or reviewing your new vocabulary words, but you’ve got to do it.

Write in a notebook
Hopefully you recognize the necessity of learning to read Thai. If not, well….good luck. I strongly recommend carrying around a notebook wherever you go. You can use your phone if you’d like, but a notebook is better.

Write down new words as they come, and when you interact with locals, ask them for help. Sometimes, that may mean asking them to write down the words for you. Other times, it may mean having them go back and correct your spelling mistakes before.

Having a notebook on you at all times sounds like a hassle, but it’s simple. Find a small one that fits in your pocket, or even fold it in between your wallet. If you have a purse, put it inside. That way, whenever you have a few minutes waiting in line, instead of checking Tinder, you can review some vocabulary from your notebook.

Live local
“I got so much better at Thai from hanging out at all the expat bars”, said no one ever.

If you want to improve your Thai, do as the Thai do. Go to a gym where nobody speaks English. Eat out on the street. This will not only improve your Thai, but it’ll give you an overall better experience. Plus, you’ll make more friends, understand the culture more, and you’re language skills will improve drastically.

Be brave
Practicing a language you are not confident it can be intimidating. But, once you get over the fear, you’ll see that it’s not so bad. Ask yourself about the worst case scenario. When you play it out, you’ll realize it’s not so bad. It’s probably just an awkward conversation where no one understands each other. That’s not a big deal at all.

Start off conversations in Thai, not English. Even if your Thai sucks, if you open up with English, then people will respond to you in English. If you start in Thai, they’ll be more likely to respond in Thai (which is what you want). Even if they respond in English, you can continue speaking in Thai. If they’re confused, just be polite and tell them, “Excuse me, I want to practice my Thai.” 9/10 people will be delighted and happy to help you.

If not, that’s okay, you just have too…
Find Your teachers and return frequently
Not every 7/11 worker is going to want to help you with your Thai. But, a few will, and those are the ones you need to remember. Once you find someone that’s willing to help you with your Thai and have conversations with you, keep going back to their store/restaurant. Not only will they continue to help you with your Thai, but you’ll build a relationship as well and become friends. It’s okay to make social visits and stop by to say hi and practice Thai. Think of them as a friend and after some time, you’ll feel like you’re apart of the community.

Use body language
The more you can use your hands and emotion, the better. If you don’t know the word for shower, play charades and pretend like you are taking a shower. This will make it a game, and once you communicate that you are going to take a shower, you’ll hear your conversation partner say the word for shower. This is a great way to learn new words and communicate words you don’t know. It’s also hilarious and a good skill to have.

Mimic Them (even if you don’t understand)
When you’re talking with locals, you need to listen and repeat as much as possible. Even if you’re not sure what they’re saying, just repeat after them. This will improve your accent and also improve your overall comprehension for the language. It’s also great to confirm what you just heard, and it improves your chances or remembering it.

You may not realize it, but as you do this, your subconscious picks up everything you say and hear. When you repeat after them, you’re also flexing the muscles in your mouth that allow you to have a good accent. Once you learn the word and it’s meaning, it will be easier to remember. It sounds weird at first, but think of a child mimicking its parents. It’s completely okay to say a word without knowing its meaning. Just be careful not to hang out with people who swear a lot!

Smile, Have Fun, and Flatter
Don’t approach people with the intention of learning five new words. Instead, have a goal of having fun. Once you do this, you’ll learn more than you could ever imagine. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If no one understands each other (trust me, this will happen), try not to get frustrated. Instead, just smile.

Don’t be afraid to flatter them with compliments. It’s a lot easier than asking questions, because you usually won’t be able to understand their responses anyway. Instead, just tell them they are beautiful. Tell them their food is delicious. Tell them you love Thailand, etc. They will love you for this. Being a foreigner in SE Asia is fun, don’t forget that by taking language learning too seriously.

Go In Order
If you’re just getting started, learn words and phrases in an order that makes sense. Don’t learn colors and then learn the days of the week. Start with the practical stuff. hello, how are you, thanks, see you again, etc. Seek out simple people and engage in simple conversation. It’s that simple!

Get Out There And Practice

Remember, language learning isn’t all or nothing. This may sound like a lot, but it’s up to you how often you practice and how intense your approach is. You don’t have to spend four hours a day talking to old ladies selling pad thai (though, those can make the best memories).

If you’re taking lessons or have a tutor already, then use these strategies on top of your weekly class. Do it on your own time. If you’re living in Thailand, opportunities are just outside your doorstep. Literally

Thailand is a beautiful country with beautiful people. But, if you can’t speak Thai, then you’re selling yourself short of an amazing experience. Learning Vietnamese changed my life, and I hope that you consider taking the time to learn Thai. Maybe it can change yours too.

About the Author:

Jeremy is a writer and an “entreperformer” and yet another white guy who can speak a Southeast Asian Language. After finding fame in Vietnam, he’s writing his first book, “F*ck Being Famous”. Sign up here for a FREE copy when it’s out. He also publishes weekly inspiring and funny videos on his YouTube channel.

Getting Around Chiang Mai

Getting Around Chiang Mai

    There are currently 3 main forms of public transportation in Chiang Mai:

  • สองแถว -song taew (red trucks)
  • ตุ๊กตุ๊ก – tuk-tuks (motorized 3 wheeled-monsters)
  • Uber – you may have heard of it

There are 2 other forms that deserve an honorable mention:

  • metered taxis – motto: “We no use meter!” They will never turn on the meter. You can find them at the airport, and parked outside some of the malls and supermarkets. They will always give you an inflated set rate. A song taew is always a better option.
  • motorbike taxis – only found in/around Arcade bus station.

Song Taews:

Riding in a song taew can be rather intimidating when you first get to Chiang Mai. Especially if you don’t speak any Thai. The way they operate here is also quite different from other provinces in Thailand. In the province of Chiang Mai, there are actually a few different color-coded song taews. Each color serves to bring people to/from another part of the province. This article focuses on the red song taews which tend to operate within the city limits, but they are also for hire to take you just about anywhere.

The first thing to be aware of is that many song taew drivers will overcharge you if they can. The key to avoiding this is to know how much it’s supposed to cost. The current fare is 20 baht. In town, there are sometimes set routes that operate for a set price, but the routes change all the time so if you do find yourself going to a major destination on a regular basis (CMU, for example), it may be worth asking around to find out if there is a better option for you.

Song taews aren’t usually as aggressive as tuk-tuk drivers in terms of yelling “taxi” at you although they may honk at you and will likely stop if you are standing on the side of the road looking lost or are with a big group of people who appear out of place.

    • Rule #1 – If it isn’t far away, don’t ask the driver “how much?” Asking means you don’t know that the price is 20 baht.

*Exceptions: Airport, bus station, train station or anywhere across the super highway.

The fact that the transportation hubs are not very far away doesn’t do anything to help us as a passenger here. The more visible power they have over a particular situation, the more they are going to be able to charge you. If it’s raining and/or you are carrying loads of luggage, you are more likely to get gouged. From anywhere in/around the moat, you should be able to get to the airport for 50-100 baht.

    • Rule #2 – Learn some Thai!

It’s worth it to learn the numbers and a few phrases even if you are going to be here for just a short time. It makes getting around and things like shopping a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

The 3 newest shopping malls are all along the super highway which has long been an invisible forcefield that song taew drivers are generally unwilling to cross without serious incentive. Getting out to those places will always be more expensive, and getting back will be worse. Any time you find yourself in a place with a queue of song taews in front of a mall or big store, you are probably going to have pay a bit to get out of there.

    • Rule #3 – Expect to get ripped off now and then.

It’s going to happen. Don’t let it stress you out too much. Try to learn from it and figure out what you could do better next time.

Useful Thai for Getting Around :

*It’s referring to the 2 benches in the back of the truck

*This name is a bit more old school, but you still hear it now and then.

Stuff to watch out for:
ไปกี่คน – how many people are going?
*This always means you are about to get ripped off.
Drivers who have their wives sitting next to them.

Useful Words:

Thai Movie Posters: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Good times indeed! This latest poster is from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, released in 1982.

Thai poster from the 1982 film, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" Phoebe Cates. That's all that needs to be said.

Thai poster from the 1982 film, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” Phoebe Cates. That’s all that needs to be said.

Top Right:

Fast Times at Ridgemont Hot

Bottom Left:
ฟีบี แคทส์
ฌอน เพนน์
เจนิเฟอร์ เจสัน ลีห์

Thai Movie Posters: Duel

Today’s latest Thai movie poster is from the 1971 film Duel, which was directed by Stephen Spielberg and pitted an electronics salesman being terrorized by an unseen driver of a tractor-trailer.

Thai Poster for Duel, a 1971 Spielberg film.

Top Center:
ระหว่างรถยักษ์ 10 ล้อ กับมนุษย์ 2 เท้า

Duel of Death

Bottom Center:
เดนนิส วิวเวอร์
แจ็คเกลีน สก็อตต์

Bottom Right:
สตีเว่น สปิลเบิร์ก

Italki Review: Learning to Speak a Language Anywhere


Italki: Find language teachers online.

What is italki?

Italki is an online language learning service which allows you to browse, meet and hire teachers from around the world. It also has a journal section so you can practice writing and get corrections from native speakers for free.

Before I ramble on about all the deals, here’s the bottom line:

The Good

  • It’s on the internet! – Technology is great!
  • Access to native speakers no matter where you are.
  • It’s easy to “speed-date” through teachers and this has multiple benefits.

The Less Good

  • It’s on the internet! – Not everyone has fast internet. Maybe you! Stuff will go wrong. The internet is slow in Thailand when it rains….
  • Access to native speakers. – Just because someone is a native speaker doesn’t mean they have any idea what they are doing in regards to teaching. Love ‘em and leave ‘em until you find a good one.
  • Talking on technology like Skype isn’t quite the same as meeting someone in person, but it’s a step or 2 up from talking to yourself.

How much time have I logged in italki?

In total, I’ve done 75 sessions over the past 2 years. Last year, there was a while where I was trying to be more active in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Alas, I have discovered that running a business does not necessarily mean you get to stop working and practice languages all day by the pool.

I did 28 sessions in August for Russian. Almost all of those were 45 minutes long.

How much does it cost?

The teacher sets the rate per time unit so the price can vary quite a bit depending on the language chosen.

The teacher chooses:

  • What lesson time lengths they are willing do: 30/45/60/90 minutes
  • The price per each lesson block (e.g. 50 ITC)
  • Whether or not they want offer a bulk discount. E.g. A block of 5 lessons for 10-20% off.

Italki uses their own “currency” which they call ITC or iTalki credits. 10 ITC = $1 USD so just move over one decimal place to convert ITC to USD.

For Russian, I have been paying on average, $8 (80 ITC) per 45 minute session.

Total Cost for August 2015: $225 USD for 28 sessions.

How do I choose the right tutors?

This is the tricky part. What follows is my own personal opinion and feel free to place value on or disregard anything I say. I’ve spent 13 years learning languages and

Italki has 2 categories tutors: Professional and Informal

I don’t know what the criteria is for someone to be a “professional” teacher on italki. I also don’t care. I only choose informal lessons. I generally find people who don’t have years of experience teaching in schools more malleable to my own particular methodology. Oh yea, and informal lessons are cheaper. If anybody finds an awesome “professional” tutor of Russian, please let me know and I’ll be happy to try them out for a couple lessons.

Free language exchanges are also an option with italki. If you are short on cash and are willing to trade your time, then this may be a good option for you.

And there’s a review system….

Do reviews even matter anymore? Did they ever? I may skim reviews when looking for new teachers to try out, but I’m always looking for a few specific things:

    • How many total sessions have they done?

I’d always pick a 3-4 star rating with 400 sessions over somebody with a 5 star rating with 30 sessions. *Note: It seems like everyone has a score of 4.9-5.0 anyways so this number shouldn’t really affect your decision.

    • Is the description good? Do they have an awesome or funny vid?

Not hugely important, but if somebody’s video or description makes me laugh, I’m more likely to give them a try. I want to feel comfortable in a lesson and it shows, they have put forth some effort.

How long should a study session be?

This will depend on a few factors, so if you don’t know what an ideal session length is, I’d recommend 45 minutes and I would never go over 90. My brain is a usually a wreck after 45 minutes and I need a rest to process any of the new information otherwise I’m just going to be wasting time, money and stressing myself out. Overworking yourself is a good way to fall off the wagon and give up.

How often should I study?

This will be influenced by your budget and free time, but I’d recommend doing at least 3 sessions a week or more. Time spent trying to talk to people is far more important than studying grammar or doing flashcards.

How much progress can I expect to make?

See previous question. That’s up to you. Nobody likes to hear it, but it ultimately comes down to you. It doesn’t matter how many years you studied a language. The only 2 things that matter in regards to actual studying, are how much time you put in every single day and how you spend that time. Can you stay motivated long enough to succeed? Of course you can, just stop looking at the end goal and look a few steps ahead. Know that you will probably want to give up sometimes and that sometimes it will be hard. Take a break, do something else and get back on the language learning bus.

Additional Italki Tips:

  • Avoid buying blocks until you’ve done 2-3 lessons with a teacher. There have been a number of times where the first session went exactly how I wanted and in the next session they started dumping complex grammar explanations on me or they froze up and started saying “Ok, what should we do now?”
  • Use multiple teachers:
    Find at least 2-3 teachers and use them all regularly.
    You should make an effort to practice things with multiple people.
    Learn a sentence pattern with one teacher, then go try and use it on another who doesn’t know you’ve learned it. Impressing your teachers brings compliments which makes us feel good, which makes us push past the tough times. Oh yea, and any sentence you say to 3 different speakers over 2-3 days will be probably stay in your head forever.*
    *Google has forced me to add disclaimers anywhere I make strong statements like “probably forever” even in cases such as this where I am reviewing a site and recommending a particular style of study. I obviously can’t guarantee that you will remember anything forever no matter what you do, but this is exactly what happens when I learn a language. I don’t make any of this stuff up and I strongly believe that this method will work for anyone.Try to steer the lessons towards practice of sentence pattern that you studied on your own beforehand, or learned with another teacher.
    Why don’t you just give it a try and see for yourself? It’ll take a bit to find the right teacher(s), but it’s worth it if you don’t have any other access to native speakers.

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How to Determine the Tone of a Thai Word

How to determine tone of a Thai word?

Each syllable gets its own tone and there are a few steps we need to take to find out the tone of a word in Thai.  If you aren’t yet familiar with what tones there are in Thai or how a tonal language works, start here.

First, we need to determine the CLASS of the syllable or word.  We do this by having memorized the Middle and High Class letters so we can identify them instantly.  If it’s not Middle Class or High Class, it must be Low Class.  If you haven’t already done so, start with the MIDDLE CLASS STORY which will help you tie together the 7 most important middle class consonants.

  • Step #1: The class of the first letter determines the the class of the word.  This rule applies even if the first letter of the word is silent.
  • Step #2: Check the word for any “modifiers.”  There are 2 types of modifiers: TONE MARKS and HARD ENDINGS.
  • Step #3: Apply rules for consonant CLASS + STATE.

There are 3 possible “states” for a Thai word or syllable.  Each “class” or group has a formula to follow once you know the state of the word.  Remember, CLASS = the group of letters of which there are 3 in Thai.  STATE refers to whether or not the word/syllable has any modifiers.  There are 2 types of modifiers: TONE MARKS and HARD ENDINGS.  If a word has no modifiers, it will always take the DEFAULT tone for its consonant CLASS.  If it has a modifier, you will need to apply the rule for that consonant CLASS + the corresponding rule.  Read this paragraph a couple of times.  It’s not as hard as it sounds, but you probably won’t get it on your first read through.

  1. Default
  2. Has Tone Mark
  3. Has Hard Ending

The tricky part is that each class has its own default starter tone and its own set of rules.  Middle and High class are very similar which is why we want to master them first.  Low class turns everything upside down and is considerably more difficult so it’s a good idea not to even get into it until you have completely mastered the middle and high class rules. If you want to do it the easy way, than at least have a look at my course which holds your hand and guides you though all of this.

Default tones for each class: =

  • Middle Class = Mid Tone
  • High Class = Rising Tone
  • Low Class = Mid Tone

Did you ever study trigonomotry?  I didn’t until I was at university here in Thailand and I was very surprised to see that Thai works in a similar way.  When you look at a word, you have to determine which of the 3 classes(groups of letters) that the word is a part of.  This is based on the first letter of the word (even if it is a silent letter).  Then, you go follow the formula for that CLASS.  So if we take a couple middle class words as  examples:

บ้าน = house

  1. What class is บ ? = Middle Class
  2. Does it have a tone mark? = Yes (middle class + 2nd tone mark = Falling Tone)

ไก่ = chicken

  1. What class is ? = Middle Class
  2. Does it have a tone mark? = Yes (middle class + 1st tone mark = Low Tone)

ตาย = to die

  1. What class is ต? = Middle Class
  2. Does it have a tone mark? = No
  3. Does it have a hard ending? = No
  4. Default tone = Mid Tone (We checked for 2 modifiers.  There were none so we apply the default tone for Middle Class)

จาก = from

  1. What class is จ? = Middle Class
  2. Does it have a tone mark? = No
  3. Does it have a hard ending? = Yes (Middle Class + Hard Ending = Low Tone)

Now practice it until your eyes bleed!  Mastering the process =  Mastering the tone rules

Still don’t get this stuff?  Consider joining thousands of other learners and taking my 50+ lesson Thai foundation course, Read Thai in 2 Weeks which covers everything you need to get started towards fluency in Thai.   Yes, you can learn the script and sound system in a couple of weeks with the right tools.

  • จาน
    mid tone
  • แจก
    low tone
  • จ้าง
    falling tone
  • จอด
    low tone
  • จ่าย
    low tone
  • จน
    mid tone
  • All Done!


Dune: the Litany against Fear

Dune is one of my favorite books.




“ข้าต้องไม่กลัว ความกลัวเป็นตัวพิมฆาตจิตใจ ความกลัวคือความตายกระจอกงอกง่อยซึ่งนำไปสู่การสูญสิ้น ข้าจักเผชญหน้ากับความกลัวปล่อยให้มันเคลื่อนผ่านตัวข้าไป จิตของข้าจักเพ่งพินิจวิถีทางแห่่งความกลัว แลตระหนักได้ว่าเมื่อมันผ่านไป….ก็หามีสิ่งใดหลงเหลืออยู่ไม่ นอกจากตัวเรา…”