Learning to Speak Thai
Learning the language and culture is not a “must do” but it is a good idea.
Jen, Retire In Thailand’s teacher, earned her degree in Education from Rajabhat University, Chiang Rai in 1988. Jen’s passion in life is teaching the Thai language and culture to westerners. Jen has a unique style of teaching which quickly advances people to being able to hold a basic conversation.
All of Jen’s teaching is one-on-one, unless you are a couple, because she knows it will take you much longer to learn in a group class. In a group class, you learn at the teacher’s pace, with Jen, you learn at your pace. Jen’s classes cost 400 Baht per hour. You may choose to learn basic conversation, advanced conversation, reading and writing or all. The time to learn basic conversation varies from person to person but typically it takes 30-50 hours.
If you already speak some Thai and just want to expand your vocabulary in specific areas Jen will work with you only on what you need. In other words, you tell Jen what you want to learn and she will teach just that.
Learning to speak the Thai language may be the single most important task an expat can undertake for his/her life in Thailand. Actually, it’s not simply a matter of whether or not you should learn the language, rather, it is how well you learn to communicate with the Thais. Learning Thai gives an expat who makes that effort distinct advantages such as:
- More respect
- Life gets much easier
- You will save money
- Learn about things, places & opportunities that non-Thai speaking foreigners will not
- Gain a deeper understanding of your new home
- and many more
My advice to Thai language learners
Learn to speak first
As a child the natural progression is that one first learns to talk. Then they go to school where they learn to read and write. It makes no sense to learn to read and write first because you will have no idea of what the meanings are of the words you are seeing.
Learn “Bangkok” Thai (the national language) first
Even if you will be living in a region where dialectic Thai is what the locals usually speak. Thais watch TV and most TV is “Bangkok” Thai, thus they will understand you.
Don’t Speak “Market Thai”
Would you recommend that new immigrants to the west go down to the docks in New Jersey or Liverpool to learn English? Market Thai won’t get you better prices, but it will make you sound a bit foolish when you are speaking to middle-class Thais.
Strive for Clarity in Your Spoken Thai
Speaking clearly is important. A foreigner mumbling his Thai, sounds a bit like nails on chalkboard. If you don’t have Thais saying, “Phut chat,” to you — you aren’t there yet.
Use Appropriate Context
When Speaking Thai If you walk up to an English speaker in the west and say, “bear,” you will usually get a blank look. Are you warning them about a “bear” .. or asking them to “bear” with you — and since your word is spoken instead of written, are you stating that your cupboard is “bare”. Communicating in the Thai language is no different. Thai’s communicate in phrases rather than distinct words.
Learn to Speak Thai in Phrases
“I (pause) want (pause) to (pause) go (pause) to (pause) Chiang (pause) Mai.” Sound a bit robotic? How do you think that would sound to a Thai? When you’re learning Thai, concoct an entire sentence or phrase in your head before blurting out a staccato burst of syllables.
Speak Thai Quietly At First
For some reason, westerners who are in the beginning stages of learning Thai tend to speak it too loudly. Maybe they are proud of their ability and want to brag a bit. Maybe they think that speaking loudly makes them easier to understand. Perhaps some anxiety about using this strange language pumps a bit more adrenalin to their vocal chords. Just remember that if you are in the beginning stages of learning to speak Thai, your command of the language is probably terrible. Do you really want everyone within earshot to know that?