An Update On Learning The Thai Language

Pro Language Thai Language School Pattaya

Learning the Thai Language

It’s been almost 6 months since I started Thai Language classes at Pro Language in Pattaya. Monday I had to go to Immigration for the first 3 month check in on my Education Visa which meant confirming all my documents and having an Immigration officer test me on my Thai. The documentation portion of my visit was quick and easy and then I was handed off to a female officer to check on my Thai language skills. I’m not sure why but I was very anxious about this, probably because I’m one to freeze on tests.

As soon as I sat down the Immigration officer asked me something in Thai but she was looking away and what she said was barely audible, before I knew it I blurted out ” Khort toat cup, chuay puut ik ti dai mai cup?” in English,” Excuse me, Could you say that again?” The officer smiled and signed my passport. Not exactly what I was expecting. For some reason I was sure I would be asked about time, where I lived and other scary topics I remembered in Thai.

Thai consonant Ho-HipWhile I’m sure I have made leaps and bounds in learning to speak the Thai language, I have to admit the reading and writing have me cross, so much so that I have started a private class 4 hours a week dedicated to reading Thai. It’s usually the special rules that trip me up, some I have come to understand well such as the use of the consonant Ho-Hip when it is in the middle of a word. It would normally be an H sound but when in the middle of a word it becomes silent denoting that the next consonant will be spoken with a high tone.

Thai consonant Ro-RueaAnd then we have the consonant Ro-Ruea which is more of a chameleon of sorts. If it starts out at the beginning of the word it is a “roo” sound but when it’s the second consonant in it has a “soo” sound and if it is at the end of the word that has at least 2 consonants before it then it will have an “oon” sound. Add all that together with cluster consonants and the fact that Thai sentences written out look like one long run on word, it can get confusing at times.

If you think about it English is just as confusing but most of us learned to read and write English when we were children in the first and second grade with continuing study about grammar and more complex words throughout our school careers. So, as daunting as learning to read and write Thai is for me at the moment I know it will take time just as learning English did and eventually I will get it all down.

Although the school has been excellent in giving me a leg up in the Thai language there have been other resources that have been instrumental in backing up that classroom learning. Early on I started using flashcards with all the new words and phrases I had been learning. The front of the flashcard would have the Thai word written phonetically and on the back the word in English. As I learned more on reading and writing Thai I added the proper Thai under the phonetic Thai so I could practice remembering the Thai language in a few different ways.

It has also been a huge help That I have made a lot of Thai friends that aren’t shy when it comes to correcting me, I will surely never forget that it’s proper Thai to say Doot Suay instead of saying Suay Doot :) Yeah, some of you will get that.

Thai Language Resources

Another invaluable resource has been online Thai courses such as Learn Thai Podcast and a program that Cat, over at Women Learning Thai, turned me on to called Byki Deluxe to aid in learning the Thai language.

Lean Thai Podcast

Learn Thai Podcast is an excellent resource for learning the Thai language through video and podcasts where every lesson covers one topic. From Grammar to word usage spoken by native Thai speakers this system lets you move along at your own pace with the added luxury of being able to go back and repeat lessons until you are satisfied you have it down. Something that isn’t easy to do in a classroom situation where time is limited.

Each lesson is available as a video, audio or pdf file so it’s very convenient to how you want to learn and you can download to your computer or directly to your iPhone or Ipod which is great for learning on the go. I’m not being paid to say this, I really think they have a great system in place and it’s something anyone interested in learning the Thai language should check out. They have a free 6 day course and Thai language study guide you can download so click on the their logo and check them out.

Women Learning Thai Talking Thai Dictionary Review


Another excellent resource that has really helped me out also cam from the wonderful resource of Women Learning Thai…and some men too. The Thai-English English-Thai software dictionary for your computer, iPhone or iPod by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. I have had Benjawan’s paperback Thai-English English-Thai dictionary for years and found it extremely helpful but this piece of software goes well beyond the paperback in helping with the Thai language.

You can look up words several different ways including typing in a Thai word phonetically. The words not only give you definition but you can click on them to here them spoken in a native Thai voice. Click on the logo for a much better review by Cat. But in my humble estimation if you are learning the Thai language then this is one resource you absolutely must have.

Byki Deluxe

Byki Deluxe has also been a great help. There is a free version that has limited Thai available but the paid version has a lot more and you have the ability to download other modules that other Thai students and teachers have made. The real beauty of this software is the you can use it to test yourself and see your progress. You can listen to the words and phrases in Thai and then identify them by writing them in English or you can see flashcards in the Thai language that you then respond to. It not only helps by using native speakers but you also see the written Thai and start to associate it with the spoken words.

There are some minor glitches like writing words exactly including capitols or the system will mark the answer wrong but there are a few simple work arounds built in that help. All in all it has been a great help testing me on what I know and what I think I know. Click on the logo above to be taken to their free download page.

Women Learning Thai...and Some Men Too

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Women Learning Thai… and Some Men Too. Catherine Wentworth has gone way above and beyond putting together this incredible Thai language resource for everyone to use and it’s absolutely free. From interviews with Thai speakers to book and software reviews as well as cultural and news pieces, Catherine has really outdone any other Thai resource site on the internet. No doubt you’ve already heard of her site if you are learning Thai but if you are just beginning to learn the Thai language do yourself a favor and click on the logo above and bookmark Women Learning Thai…And Some Men Too. You’ll be happy you did.

So, that’s where I am at the moment learning the Thai Language, it may be a little frustrating at times but I am definitely improving.

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23 Comment(s)

  1. I completely agree on your recommendation of Thai English Thai dictionary for iPhone. Been using it for few days now. The makers have thought of everything. I can’t imagine doing without it. $25 may seem stiff but it’s worth more. And I’m not being paid to say this either.

    Would not have seen the app without Cat’s Thai language web pages. Easily the best.

    Siam Rick | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  2. Talen, great to hear your making headway with your studies. The subject of Visa extensions runs riot in our class sometimes. One student received a 9 month extension in one visit… a whoopsie, I think. Each have had different experiences, but all favourable. My turn next month!

    I’m sure I’ll be stressed out and about thinking about all the wrong words when it comes to the crunch. Do you think its OK if I as the immigration officer what time he’s having lunch and where? ;)

    Snap | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  3. Darn!!!! take one ‘about’ out and add a ‘k’ to the ‘as’ in my comment and it’ll make perfect sense, I’m sure :(

    Snap | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  4. Was wondering how hard thai language is and learned some from your post. Thanks

    Maskot | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  5. Well done Tim, it is good to see you put so much effort in and I’ll bet you’ll soon get to grips with reading. Great tips about the apps. Catherine recommended Byki deluxe to me as well, and that was a great choice. I’ve also got the Thai-English English-Thai software dictionary on my new iPad and it is fantastic.

    Paul Garrigan | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  6. Thanks Paul. The reading is coming along albeit slowly. Byki really is a great choice as well as the English-Thai-Thai-English dictionary software.

    Talen | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  7. Maskot, It’s really not too bad once you get into it but it seems to be harder when you aren’t immersed in the language and the country.

    Talen | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  8. Snap, no problem I understood you all along.

    Talen | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  9. Snap, we have had some of those same discussions. Most of my Visa class aren’t there for the visa but 3 of us are on the visa system and one of my classmates from Nigeria actually got a 1 year visa…They are all one year visa’s or 15 months if you count the first visa run to Laos. My visa was extended for just 3 months with a piece of paper stapled inside saying I have to check in and give my address at 3 month intervals.

    Snap…If you as the Immigration officer to lunch in Thai I’m sure it will be fine :P

    Talen | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  10. Rick, the Thai-English English-Thai app is awesome and has come in quite handy on more than a few occasions. And like you I wouldn’t have known much about it without Cat giving us all the heads up.

    Talen | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  11. Talen you passed the immigration class with flying colours, well done.

    I do wish I had bought an iPhone instead of my Samsung. Next time I will. The Thai apps sound great and have got to be a big help in learning Thai ‘on the run’.

    Doot Suay…..I’ve said that to some class ass in my time.

    Martyn | Feb 17, 2011 | Reply

  12. Excellent post Talen. I’ll bet you are totally chuffed at your progress! Even with your health snafus from arrival on, you are getting on fabulously with your Thai studies.

    Thank you for the kind mention :-)

    Catherine | Feb 17, 2011 | Reply

  13. Martyn, I don’t have an iPhone just an iPod. Ipod touch is cheaper, can hold all your important music and can use all the same apps.

    Talen | Feb 17, 2011 | Reply

  14. Cat, if knew Thai as well as I did getting sick and injured I would be teaching it by now!

    Talen | Feb 17, 2011 | Reply

  15. Oh dear, ho hiib still needs some work…

    It doesn’t matter where it is in a word, if it’s used to prefix a low-class consonant (which will always be a nasal, liquid or semivowel, because all the low-class stops have high-class equivalents) the following consonant becomes high-class. So it takes a rising tone, not high. (Or, if it has a tone mark, low (mark 1) or falling (mark 2)). The one tone a high-class consonant can never take by the rules is high! (Nor can a low-class consonant ever take the low tone.)

    (For the pedantic: yes, there are some irregular words that actually have a high tone where you’d expect falling ;-( )

    And ro reua only sounds like s when it follows tho thahaan. After jo jaan and so seua it’s generally silent. If it’s doubled it becomes -a- or -an. Finally it’s always n however many consonants precede it.
    And once you’re outside Bangkok it vanishes altogether and becomes l or h or n depending where you are.

    The classic text which explains all this, and IMHO still the best, is Mary R Haas’
    The Thai System of Writing

    Richard | Feb 17, 2011 | Reply

  16. Richard, That’s exactly why I am taking additional classes on Reading and writing Thai…

    Talen | Feb 17, 2011 | Reply

  17. If I lived in Thailand, I would not mind providing Thai language lessons for foreigners for free. Though my teaching method would be tough. Satisfaction is almost guaranteed.

    Oneditorial | Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

  18. ah reading and writing. . .the bane of my existence. okay slight exaggeration. i’m enjoying learning although it has come to a standstill at the moment.

    i think the best part is realizing how things are really pronounced. that has been insightful – and well, it’s just plain fun to practice when i’m around town.

    congrats on passing immigration ;)

    Lani | Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

  19. If you immerse yourself in the culture it comes much more quickly. Took me about 7 years to master Indonesian, but then again we are lucky to have latin script!

    tempo dulu | Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

  20. Tempo, that is very true, my Thai has improved greatly just by mere fact of living in the country.

    Talen | Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

  21. Lani, “Bane of my existence” describes it pretty well for me too :)

    But learning the corrected pronunciation through reading has been great and it is a lot of fun to practice.

    Talen | Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

  22. Hi Talen, good post on learning Thai ka. You right the best way to learn is to use in the country…same for me with English. Now my husband learn Thai but now he is in Australia so he not use so much….but when he in Thailand he read all the car number plates to practice speed of saying numbers!! work really well ka…Angella

    Thai Girlfriend Advisor | Mar 6, 2011 | Reply

  23. Thai, it really is much easier when immersed in the language…I often practice with Thai license plates and signs myself.

    Talen | Mar 7, 2011 | Reply

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