Start working on those tones!
Published: 30th July, 2017
Learning some basic Thai will make your time in Thailand considerably easier and more enjoyable, especially if you plan to explore beyond the big-name tourist destinations. Not surprisingly, Bangkok boasts the largest selection of Thai language schools and private teachers in the kingdom.
Thai is a challenging language for most native English speakers. Many vowel sounds don’t exist in English, and the meaning of a word changes drastically depending on the tone. On the other hand, the alphabet is relatively easy to learn when compared to, say, Chinese or Japanese characters, and a lack of tenses means that you won’t have to learn eight different ways to conjugate verbs. Most people can pick up the basics—numbers, common phrases and directional words—after a week or two.
The first thing to consider is whether to go with an official language school or a private instructor in a more casual setting. A school is probably best if you’re looking to devote serious time and resources to gaining a solid foundation with the language. One-year education visas are also available through most proper schools, making these good options for staying in Thailand long-term.
But if you’re just seeking a week’s worth of lessons to dip your toes into the language, a private teacher may be best. Many teachers can also be reached on Skype, making it possible to continue your lessons and clear up questions as you practice your budding Thai skills on the road.
One option that falls in between is Learn Thai with Shaun the Deer, an informal but consistent set of small-group classes taught by an Australian expat who is fluent in spoken and written Thai. For 250 baht per person, Shaun offers weekly classes for beginners and intermediates on an upper floor of the Queen Bee, a pub off Sukhumvit. We could read many Thai signs within a few weeks of attending his “Read Thai Fast” course.
Another course that we’ve heard good things about and is not affiliated with an official school is taught by Kru Jan, a Thai teacher with a linguistics degree from Chiang Mai University. Intensive classes held in the Thong Lor area start at the beginning of each month and include 30 hours of reading and writing instruction. Though pricier than Shaun the Deer, it appears to be a great way to learn a lot in a short period of time. Kru Jan also offers private sessions.
Many other private Thai language teachers offer their services in Bangkok and most charge around 500 baht per hour for one-on-one classes. To find one you could browse the Facebook groups, Bangkok Expats and Farang Can Learn Thai. A post on either should yield a bunch of recommendations, and the latter compiled its own list of recommended teachers in Bangkok.
Of the proper Thai language schools accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education, Baan Aksorn on Sukhumvit Soi 33 is one that was highly recommended to us. It wins an ambiance award thanks to a heritage house setting that resembles a museum full of Thai antiques and dark-wood floors rather than the usual white tiles and fluorescent lights. Travellers looking to pick up basic skills could enroll in the 10-hour “Survivor Thai” course for 6,500 baht.
Another spot that receives a lot of favourable reports is Duke Language School on Sukhumvit Soi 13. Rather than the usual beginner, intermediate and advanced categories, it offers well thought-out courses such as “The basics of communicative Thai” and “Read Thai in cultural context” that aim to ground students in a functional understanding of the language. They even tell you exactly how many unique words you’ll learn in each course.
We once took a one-year course at Pro Language, a large outfit that also runs schools in Chiang Mai and Pattaya—we liked the low prices but the teaching was a bit inconsistent from one instructor to the next. Other schools that could be worth a look include AUA, Unity, Thai Language Hut and Walen. Fees at most schools range from around 15,000 to 50,000 baht for 30 to 60 hours of class time, not including education visa fees. In some cases you can squeeze the class time into a short period, but most students stretch them out over several months with an education visa.
You should really check out as many schools as possible before committing to a long-term course. Some teach by way of a phonetic system based on Roman script, while others dive right in by teaching the Thai alphabet before students have learned the meanings of words they’re trying to read. Other factors to consider include class size, available class hours and whether you may want to transfer your Thai studies into college credit down the road.
AUA Language Center: Chumchuri Square, 315-319 Phaya Thai Rd; T: (02) 657 6414 ext. 1301; http://auathai.com
Baan Aksorn Thai Language School: 40 Sukhumvit Soi 33; T: (02) 258 5617;(02) 662 3090; http://baanaksorn.com
Duke Language School: Trendy Building, 10/63 Sukhumvit Soi 13; T: (02) 168 7274;(082) 444 1595; http://dukelanguage.com
Learn Thai with Shaun the Deer: Queen Bee, 25/9 Sukhumvit Soi 26; T: (081) 921 2760; https://www.meetup.com/Learn-Thai-with-Shaun/; https://www.facebook.com/LearnThaiwithShaun/
Pro Language: Times Square Building, 246 Sukhumvit Rd; T: (02) 250 0072; https://www.prolanguage.co.th
Study Thai with Kru Jan: https://studythai.org; https://www.facebook.com/studythaiwithkrujan/
Thai Language Hut: 9/1 Sukhumvit Soi 43; T: (02) 262 0618;(085) 997 7653; http://www.thailanguagehut.com
Unity Thai Language School: Times Square Building, 246 Sukhumvit Rd; T: (02) 653 1538; http://www.utl-school.com
Walen Language School: Times Square Building, 246 Sukhumvit Rd; T: (02) 253 9371-2; http://www.thaiwalen.com
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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