So you want to learn Thai? Learning Thai like any other language or skill, is a fairly long process. The first obstacle for most people to get over is deciding how to approach learning a language in the first place. There are so many different methods, classes and courses both on and off the internet. I’ve tried many of them over the years of learning many languages and I eventually settled on this approach for 2 primary reasons:
- Focusing nearly all of your energy in the beginning is on getting conversational (with decent pronunciation) quickly allows you to get to the fun part much quicker.
- I’ve used this approach with many hundreds of students during my early years tutoring online and we’ve helped thousands of people learn to speak Thai with this same methodology with my online program.
It originally took me about a year to reach a level where I was comfortable in many situations using the Thai language. After 3 years in Thailand, I felt that I had reached a reasonable level of fluency. I learned primarily by going out every day and trying to speak with people over and over again. I carried a small note pad and wrote notes which I then reviewed multiple times per day. Looking back, I realise this wasn’t the most efficient way to learn, but it still got me there. Over many years of teaching and learning other languages, I’ve developed a very solid method for becoming conversational in a language fairly quickly and setting yourself up to go further if you choose to get fluent in Thai (or any language).
3 Simple Steps for Learning to Speak Thai
Step 1: Learn the Thai script, sound system and tone rules. (Time: 2-3 Weeks)
- Can’t read yet? Check out my 50+ lesson Thai foundation course which covers everything you need to know about about the Thai script, sounds and tone rules. Read Thai in 2 Weeks
- It’s ok to learn a few words and/or sentences during this stage, but it’s worth spending most of your time on getting the sounds correct. This will pay off very big, very fast.
- Reading is more important than writing, and these days, so is typing. I wouldn’t bother practicing writing or typing single letters. I’d wait until you knew a few short common words and learn to write and spell them simultaneously. Eg; ผม กิน ดี ไป Once you are comfortable writing 20-25 words, If there is interest, I could put together a mini 10 day Thai typing primer course.
Step 2: Learn 50+ high-frequency basic sentence patterns while continuing to drill step 1 (Time: 2-3 Months)
- You are much better off spending time drilling very short, high frequency sentence patterns than just trying to memorize lists of words. This strategy will allow you to have partial conversations immediately which means you get to the fun stuff much faster.
- If you have access to Thai people, you’ll want to test out these sentences as you study them every day. If you aren’t in Thailand or don’t know any Thai people, you still have a few options. Is there a Thai restaurant where you live? Try and go eat there once or twice a week and chat with the staff when they aren’t busy. No Thai people within miles? Then look into Italki or similar sites. Read my review of Italki’s site here.
- You can start with the 100 sentence project mentioned below, or you can check out my course the Need to Know Sentence pack which is chock full of 50 every day sentence patterns that you need to know. Here are some free lessons from the course:
- Once you get in the range of 50-100 short sentences, you’ll probably already be able to fumble through a few short conversations. And if you really mastered the script + sound system, you will amaze and horrify people by your ability to pronounce things better than most other foreigners while still not having any clue what people are saying half the time. The reactions you’ll get will help make up for the embarrassed feelings that come when you don’t understand.
Step 3: Continue Drilling sentences, adding more and practicing them on real humans as often as possible
- Keep practicing those sentences and applying the tone rules each time. Don’t have any sentences? Check out one of my sentence based courses, or look at the free resources below.
- If you have already mastered 50 sentence patterns and you still aren’t speaking Thai with any native speakers, you really need to start doing this now. You aren’t going to get fluent in Thai with flashcards or talking to yourself in the mirror. You need real live conversation over and over for an extended period of time to find your footing in a language.
- If you haven’t already, you’ll also want to start stringing those sentences together into longer ones as well as using them in short dialogues. We start with basic every day Q&A that is relevant to your life and master this first. If you build a solid core being fluent with just 50 or 100 sentences, you can fake fluency very quickly. The more fluent you appear, the more people will warm up to you and speak to you like a normal person. This in turn means you get exposed to real language much more often. Of course you will miss lots and make loads of mistakes, but this is a process and failing over and over is how you get awesome at anything in life.
Learn Thai Vocabulary:
*Want more of these? Send me an email with requests.
Learn Thai Tones:
- Thai Tones – This page contains examples, explanation and drills regarding the 5 tones in Thai.
Learn Thai Sentences:
- 100 Sentence Project
- I was very keen on focusing on getting beginners to study entire sentences rather than single words as early as 2007-8. I spent quite a while trying to come up with a list of sentences that I would hear almost every day.
- I’ve had much of that document translated into a number of other languages. If you’d like to contribute another language, please let me know. This spreadsheet will always be a free resource.
Learn Thai Conversation:
- Fakingfluency.com/thai – *BETA: This course contains 50 dialogues created around carefully selected high frequency sentence patterns. As with the sentences above, you are meant to drill these dialogues by reading, listening and practicing them aloud over and over again.
Learning Thai Videos:
- How to Pronounce the TURTLE (ต เต่า) in Thai
- How to Pronounce the COMPLEX VOWELS in Thai: เอีย เอือ อัว
- How to Pronounce the Thai W sound (ว แหวน) at the end of words.
- How to Practice THAI TONES
- How to DOWNPLAY or SHOW INDIFFERENCE in Thai using เฉยๆ