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.

Working in a Coffee Shop

Like these?  Let me know what you’d like to read about and I’ll do my best to accommodate.

*If the font is too small for you, try resizing your screen hitting ctrl+ or cmd+ a few times.


เราทำงานเป็นคนชงกาแฟที่อยู่ร้านกาแฟร้านนึงแถวนิมมานต์ จะบอกว่าตัวเองเป็นบาริสต้าอย่างใครเขาก็เขินๆยังไงไม่รู้ เพราะความจริงเราไม่ได้ฝึกฝนจนมีความชำนาญมากพอที่จะเรียกตัวเองว่าบาริสต้า เราเลยขอเรียกตัวเองว่าคนชงกาแฟก็แล้วกัน ชีวิตประจำวันเราก็เหมือนมนุษย์เงินเดือนทั่วไป ตื่นเช้าปุ๊ป ก็ล้างหน้า แปรงฟัน อาบน้ำ แต่งตัว แล้วก็ขับรถไปทำงาน เดี๋ยวนี้เชียงใหม่รถติดมากถ้าเทียบกับสิบปีที่แล้ว เข้าใกล้ความเป็นกรุงเทพเข้าไปทุกที กว่าจะถึงที่ทำงานบางทีก็ครึ่งชั่วโมง บางทีก็ห้าสิบนาที พอมาถึงร้าน อย่างแรกที่เราต้องทำคือพุ่งตัวไปเปิดเครื่องทำกาแฟ เพราะต้องใช้เวลาประมาณ 15-20 นาทีกว่าเครื่องจะพร้อมทำกาแฟได้ จากนั้นเราจัดการเอาน้ำเชื่อมและความผสมต่างๆที่ใช้ในการทำเครื่องดื่ม เช่น นมข้นหวาน ซอสคาราเมล ออกมาจากตู้เย็น แล้วเราถึงจะไปเช็ดโต๊ะกับเก้าอี้ในร้าน หลังจากนั้นก็กวาดฝุ่นและใบไม้หน้าร้านให้เรียบร้อย แล้วก็เช็ดกระจก ทั้งหมดทั้งมวลนี้คือหน้าที่หลักที่เราต้องทำในแต่ละวัน

จำไม่ได้แน่นอนเหมือนกันว่าวัฒนธรรมการดื่มกาแฟเข้ามาบูมในเชียงใหม่ตั้งแต่เมื่อไหร่ เราว่าน่าจะสักสี่ห้าปีที่ผ่านมาละมั้ง ตั้งแต่ตอนนั้นจนถึงตอนนี้ร้านกาแฟก็พากันผุดขึ้นอย่างกับดอกเห็ด บางทีก็รู้สึกว่ามีหลายร้านเกินจนเลือกไม่ถูกว่าจะไปนั่งชิวจิบกาแฟที่ไหนดี ตอนเด็กเราคิดว่ากาแฟไม่ดีเลย กินแล้วต้องติดแน่ๆ เลยไม่กล้ากิน แต่พอมาเรียนมหาลัยก็ค้นพบว่าเราคงอยู่ปั่นงานดึกๆ หรือถ่อไปเรียนตั้งแต่ไก่โห่ไม่ได้ถ้าขาดความช่วยเหลือจากเจ้าคาเฟอีน จากนั้นชีวิตก็คลุกคลีอยู่กับการดื่มกาแฟมาเรื่อยๆ จนได้มาทำงานเป็นคนชงกาแฟอยู่จนทุกวันนี้ มีสุภาษิตตุรกีอยู่อันนึงเกี่ยวกับกาแฟที่เราจำได้ขึ้นใจเลย เขาบอกว่า กาแฟควรดำมืดราวนรก เข้มขมดังความตาย และหวานละมุนเช่นความรัก จะให้บอกว่ากาแฟที่ดีเป็นยังไงก็คงตอบยาก เพราะคนแต่ละคนมีความชื่นชอบที่แตกต่างกัน ก็เลยมีกาแฟหลายๆแบบให้เลือกดื่ม ไม่ว่าจะเป็น เอสเปรสโซ่ ลาเต้ อเมริกาโน่ คาปูชิโน่ มอคค่า คาราเมลมัคคิอาโต้ และอีกเยอะแยะเลย เราว่าเวลาได้ลองดื่มกาแฟหลายๆแบบก็สนุกดี แล้วยิ่งเวลาทำเป็นก็ยิ่งสนุกมากขึ้นอีก เพราะการจะทำกาแฟหนึ่งแก้วให้มีรสชาติดีได้ต้องอาศัยทักษะหลายๆอย่าง ซึ่งต้องใช้เวลาเรียนรู้และฝึกฝน เวลาผ่านไป บางวันก็เร็ว บางวันก็เชื่องช้า เราเสริฟลาเต้ร้อนแก้วสุดท้าย และเตรียมตัวกลับบ้าน

Prayuth’s First Day

ประยุทธ์-ประวิตร-อุดมเดช-วิษณุ-สุวพันธุ์ เข้าปฏิบัติงานวันแรก ด้านนายกฯ ยิ้ม เดินเข้าทำเนียบ
วันที่ 15 ก.ย. ผู้สื่อข่าวรายงานว่า พล.อ.ประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา นายกรัฐมนตรี และหัวหน้าคณะรักษาความสงบแห่งชาติ คสช. เดินทางเข้าปฏิบัติภารกิจที่ทำเนียบรัฐบาลอย่างเป็นทางการ ท่ามกลางการต้อนรับจากข้าราชการในทำเนียบรัฐบาล
ขณะที่ในช่วงบ่ายมีรายงานว่า นายกรัฐมนตรีมีภารกิจเป็นประธานพิธีปิดการศึกษาหลักสูตรหลักประจำโรงเรียนเสนาธิการทหารบก ชุดที่ 92 ที่ห้องมัฆวานรังสรรค์ สโมสรทหารบก ถนนวิภาวดี โดยก่อนหน้านี้ พล.อ.ประยุทธ์ ได้เดินทางเข้าปฏิบัติภารกิจที่กองบัญชาการกองทัพบก บก.ทบ. ก่อนเดินทางเข้าทำเนียบรัฐบาล
นอกจากนี้ ผู้สื่อข่าวรายงานเพิ่มเติมว่า รัฐมนตรีคนอื่นๆ เช่น พล.อ.ประวิตร วงษ์สุวรรณ รองนายกรัฐมนตรีและรัฐมนตรีว่าการกระทรวงกลาโหม พล.อ.อุดมเดช สีตบุตร รองผู้บัญชาการทหารบก และรัฐมนตรีช่วยว่าการกระทรวงกลาโหม นายวิษณุ เครืองาม รองนายกรัฐมนตรี และนายสุวพันธุ์ ตันยุวรรธนะ รัฐมนตรีประจำสำนักนายกรัฐมนตรี ทยอยเข้าทำเนียบตั้งแต่ช่วงเช้าที่ผ่านมา



Bitcoin Explained in Thai

I was just explaining bitcoin to somebody and I realized that I hadn’t really read to much about it in Thai.  Here’s a breakdown of the wiki for bitcoin.  It helps if you know some of the various words for money in Thai.  There’s also a few words in here that may come up when you visit the bank.


Bitcoin Wiki (Text)

Here’s the audio for the passage.

How to Practice Tones

I’ve been making lots of new videos lately.  If you haven’t subscribed to my youtube channel or liked my facebook page then consider doing so.  It’ll take me a while to post everything I’ve filmed in the past few weeks, but much of it is already up there.  I won’t ever post anything spam-y so when I put something up, I assume it will be useful to you, or particularly funny (in a Thai way).

Here’s an explanation of how I have my beginner students practice tones:

The Proposal

It’s been a while, but I assure you I’ve been hard at work.  I’ve gone through all my old videos again and I’m adding transcripts to all of them.  Here’s the first.  Boo talking about the movie “The Proposal.”

Google has added a new feature to Gdocs.  You can now right click on a selected word in a document and it will search for the definition and/or examples.   Check it out in the transcript below.

The Proposal
The Proposal (Transcript) 

Thai Mobile App Update

I’ve added in the vowels.  The numbers are next.  The app presents the consonants in the same order as my web course.


Iphone app for learning Thai

iphone app for learning Thai


Iphone app for learning Thai


Note that this app was designed to help you out for when you forget the class or pronunciation of a particular consonant.  It is not intended as a full course, nor will it magically teach you Thai.  Learning a language involves a lot of work and there are no secret hacks to getting good.  It takes a lot of time and a lot of work.  I’ve been doing this stuff with a bunch of languages for a long time and my goal with this blog and any products I release is to save you time, stress and hopefully make the process go a little bit smoother.  

Think the app needs more?  Tell me what and why it’d help and we’ll talk.  




Penetrating Thai Menus

I’m sure we’ve all seen busted English now and then, but it’s pretty hard to beat this one with such classics as “Penetrate the roasting chicken,” “Penetrate whole porker heck,” and “Penetrate pig gunwales.” Wow.  I still say you should learn to read Thai, but you can enjoy this menu even without it.

The word ตำ, which you probably know from ส้มตำ (the “tam” in som tam for you non-readers) in the case of papaya salad is more like “to pound.” But it can also mean something sharp stabbing, poking or piercing.
Thai Definition: อาการที่มีสิ่งลักษณะแหลมๆ เช่น หนาม ทิ่มเข้าไป


Silly Thai Menu

Terrible Thai Translations


The “mix” here is coming from ยำ which is the word used for those spicy salad-y Thai dishes and I’ve always assumed (but don’t actually know for sure) that it came from ขยำ and likely has roots in Khmer.   I’ve encountered the word ขยำ a handful of time, but in 10 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anyone using ยำ as a verb meaning to mix despite what a dictionary may tell you. ขยำ has a feeling that is very similar to the way we say “toss” as in “a tossed salad.”   That action of mixing up stuff in a grabby kind of way. An entry-level mnemonic for ยำ is that they are the yummy Thai salads.  I wouldn’t waste time or energy trying to learn the ขยำ word unless you encounter it again elsewhere and as far as I’m concerned, ยำ does not mean “to mix” in any useful sense.

thai menu

Terrible Thai Translations


You Aren’t Too Old

Maybe it’s time you became a Thai speaking farang. Learning a language involves time and effort, but my web course can help you get there faster.

Brett is nervous

Learning Thai is possible