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Thailand forum

How to learn Thai to communicate with locals, even small talks

Posted by jatintheexplorer on 5/1/2021 at 09:13

Hi group, I have been to Thailand three times from 2019 to 2020, and in my last trip I really felt that its very hard to communicate in English, especially if you are a business traveller. So after searching some videos on YouTube, buying some books on "How to learn Thai", I am convinced that all these things are scams, as you can't learn Thai Language in 3 months from any App, videos or especially not from a book. Some of my friends have suggested me to use Dulingo, but even this app is not what I expected to be. So, if anyone can share some useful tips on how to learn Thai, like just give small small guidance like how to start, that would be amazing.

#1 jatintheexplorer has been a member since 5/1/2021. Posts: 4

Posted by amnicoll on 8/2/2021 at 11:34

I have tried but never succeeded myself I can not get my head round the tones. However I have learnt some of the very basics

how much and numbers
thank you
answers to the question where are you going
where is (even if I can not understand the answer)
Can you speak thai answer a little
some of the foods
bus station train station

With these you would be amazed at just how much these break the ice and I would start here because you will be learning things that you will be using every day. from little acorns........

#2 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 976

Posted by exacto on 10/2/2021 at 02:54

I agree with amnicoll about starting small with basic everyday phrases then building from there. Learning any foreign language is difficult, and to get to a conversational level takes years of effort and either living in the country or having constant contact with native speakers.

The up side about Thai is that the grammar is simple and straightforward. The writing system is actually straightforward too in that it is an alphabet.

The difficult side is that (as amnicoll says) Thai has tones, which tends to be difficult for native English speakers to master. 

Also, in English, we tend to emphasize getting the consonant right but can tolerate variations with vowels. In my experience, Thai is the opposite, where the vowel needs to be exactly correct for a native Thai speaker to understand, but the consonant can vary. It doesn't help that Thai has long and short vowels on top of the tones, which can completely chance the meaning of a word, or that Thai has several vowel sounds that we just don't have in English.

Thais are usually appreciative when you at least try to speak their language, very complimentary, and quite forgiving when I have butchered their language too.

Some of my best learning experiences have been chatting up bar staff or massage people or taxi drivers, where I have a bit of a chance to practice and try new words and phrases, then get feedback.

I don't know that any of that helps, but I hope it encourages. Speaking Thai with the locals can be a lot of fun and it will definitely open up a side of Thailand you wouldn't get to see otherwise. Cheers.

#3 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,816

Posted by amnicoll on 10/2/2021 at 10:25

To add

obviously things like numbers and hello are important but if you are going to go away from the tourist areas then understanding the question where are you going (sounds like Pai Nai or Bai Nai) )and to be able to give a basic range of answers (hotel/to eat/ beach/train station and so on) and then you will be on the receiving end of a lovely big smile and the question asking you if you speak thai and you answering no or a little (Nid Noi - sounds like) this is going to open all sorts of doors as you see the real side of the friendly Thais.

For Thais asking you where you are going when you are wandering around is more of a conversation starter and not nosiness or that they think you are lost

#4 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 976

Posted by Hardgrafter on 10/2/2021 at 14:40

I'm what I would consider intermediate level. I have a knack for languages. I have been living in Thailand for 2 1/2 years. I studied 6 hours per week at Thai language school for the best part of 1 year.

As previously mentioned, the challenge of the 5 tones more than make up for the lack of complex grammar. 

For a complete beginner by far the most efficient way to learn is face to face with a teacher. They can correct mistakes & get you on the track to learning. In my personal experience learning to read was also hugely beneficial but for a complete beginner is probably too intimidating.

#5 Hardgrafter has been a member since 14/11/2018. Posts: 1

Posted by amnicoll on 11/2/2021 at 10:23

I agree that that is the best way if you want to move on from the basic. Of course living in Thailand also helps as you can practice daily

I have always been amazed at just how easy some westerners can pick up languages like Thai but they are in the minority

may I just say how nice it is to see the forum alive still

#6 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 976

Posted by cybervlad on 22/4/2021 at 15:48

Hi everyone,
Sorry for late reply.
I'd like to suggest online course in Thai language school. I know that the school where I have been studying Thai in 2013 now offer online courses (maybe other school also). They begin do it when pandemic begins, but even when school re-opened for normal classes, they kept online for people who are not in Thailand now.

As for conversation...
I have been studying Thai in 2012-2013 during 11 months in Bangkok (Mon-Fri, 6 hours at school and almost 7-8 hours homework). I selected accommodation in area where no foreigners, so from the very 1st day I must use Thai in everyday life. By now, I am already 9 years in Thailand and speak quite well.
In most cases Thais understand me well. But sometimes... It is not about my pronunciation. It is just about some "internal block". If someone tell himself "I will never understand this foreigner", you can speak as native, but they will not understand you. Sometimes I speak to Thai person, but he/she does not understand me. And then just another Thai people simply repeat after me (word-by-word), and only after that initial person understand :)

#7 cybervlad has been a member since 6/6/2007. Location: Thailand. Posts: 184

Posted by exacto on 22/4/2021 at 16:50


Did I miss the name of the school you mention with the online Thai lessons? Is there a link so I can check it out? Thanks.

#8 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,816

Posted by cybervlad on 26/4/2021 at 04:06


You did not miss, because I didn't mentioned name :)
I studied at Rak Thai Language School.
Not sure is it allowed to place link to school web-site here (it considered as commercial?), so URL is masked: replace (dot) with real dot.

I like the teaching method in this school. They do not use English or any intermediate language. From the very first lesson they use only Thai. Teacher uses gestures, pictures etc to explain things. Teacher sometimes jokes: if you use English in class, must pay 20 THB for each word :)
But actually, teacher uses some English words sometimes. Book also contain explanations and dictionaries in English. Despite English is not my native language, for me this is not a problem at all. But students from some countries (mostly Japan, Korea and Russia) with "very beginnig" level of English rely only on teacher's explanation or must use dictionary English-TheirLanguage.
In addition to books, they also have audio files, where native Thai speakers are reading texts from the books. It very helpful to listen few times after classes.

#9 cybervlad has been a member since 6/6/2007. Location: Thailand. Posts: 184

Posted by amnicoll on 26/4/2021 at 08:42

I see no reason why in the context of this discussion you can not mention the name of the school there is a big difference between advertising and personal  recommendation and for me this is clearly on the side of recommendation

Sounds a good way of teaching by only speaking Thai in the school and as long as the teacher is skilled and knowledgeable then probably the best way to get people speaking and understanding although of course there may well be the need for the teacher to explain some things

#10 amnicoll has been a member since 10/1/2005. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 976

Posted by exacto on 29/5/2021 at 02:44

I have been thinking about this more and asking my friends what they do to better communicate with locals, and I think something like Google translate may be the way to go. I just ran several common phrases from English to Thai on things you might say like "I need a taxi". The translations were accurate and provided in both Thai and phonetically. I don't know that the phonetic script would be that helpful for most of us, but the Thais would be able to read the Thai script easily enough and even help you with pronunciation. It could be a way to focus exactly on those phrases you want and to build a foundation of basic day-to-day sayings.

#11 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,816

Posted by robinruss on 24/8/2021 at 16:47

I have been teaching myself Thai for about 4 years.   The best way to start is to get the Audio course of Pimsleur Thai.  There are 30 30 minute lessons that build on each other.  All the words and phrases you learn will be useful immediately. If you purchase the set it's a bit expensive, but you can probably get it from your local library.
The good thing about these audio files is that you get the tone and tempo correct (with practice), also, can replay them again and again and again, which I have done, it does sink in after time.

There are some good online YouTube channels:  one very helpful I found is Stuart J Raj, Thai Bites and Cracking Thai Fundamentals. He is a linguist and will break down the important things to know about the language, but in a very accessible way.
In addition, you'll find some good teachers like Learn Thai with Mod, and others.  

Eventually it will be necessary to learn the Thai script because it's the one and only way to crack the tone mystery.  It's also fun.  Learn Thai from a White Guy is a good place to start.  Efficient and easy to recall.  Lastly, need to go to school, have a native speaker of Thai talking in Thai at a comprehensible level, after 20 days and 60 hours you will have a good start.

Have to keep in mind that learning a language is a time commitment. Need more than 5 minutes a day.  To master even basic level is a 60-120 hour endeavour.  But it pays off, and fun

#12 robinruss has been a member since 4/1/2010. Posts: 1

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