In recent years (before the global pandemic that shut down all travel of course), Thailand became one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. With its rich culture and laid back vibe, there are not many places more suitable for vacations than Thailand. However, tourists and backpackers often struggle to get around in Thailand due to language barriers. The people of Thailand, although friendly, are not always fluent in the English language. If you want to avoid feeling utterly lost the next time you go to Thailand, it is a good idea to learn some basic Thai before you set out on your travels. As someone who spent four years studying in Thailand, let me tell you about 5 resources that can help a beginner learn Thai!
1) YouTube Channel: Learn Thai Podcast (learningthai)
In this day and age, YouTube has almost become an essential part of the modern person’s life. On top of funny and entertaining videos, YouTube provides a wide array of useful educational resources as well; one of them being the Learn Thai Podcast YouTube channel. On the podcast, you can find multiple playlists of videos teaching Thai. Depending on your level, you can pick slightly more advanced topics like, grammar, sentence pattern, and conversation. If you are just a beginner with no previous knowledge, do not fret! Learn Thai Podcast has you covered. The channel provides videos with phrases and vocabulary for beginners as well.
The most useful feature of this podcast is their 20+ videos catered specifically for holiday usage. If you only plan to go to Thailand for a week-long vacation, Learn Thai Podcast has many videos that teach you important words and phrases you will definitely use during your travels. The biggest upside of the Learn Thai Podcast is that it is completely free, and most of the videos are relatively short (all under 20 minutes). So if you plan to visit Thailand once international travel opens up, why not check out the Learn Thai Podcast channel! You don’t even have to sit still at a desk like you would have to in a classroom. You can always kill two birds with one stone and play the videos while you’re cleaning your house, doing the laundry or working out! Here is an example of the videos provided on the Learn Thai Podcast YouTube channel:
Loecsen is a free online language learning platform where you can quickly learn some basic Thai. On this platform you can choose from up to 17 categories depending on what types of vocabulary you want to learn. Some examples include essentials (like how to say hello, goodbye, etc.), conversation, transportation, hotel, numbers, etc.
On Loecsen you can listen to recordings of native speakers at customizable speeds, all while you read the new vocabulary on flashcards with graphics depicting the situation. In doing so, you are exposed to multiple aspects of the language learning process. You hear how words are pronounced with your ears, you read the words in Thai and also the phonetics spelled out in Latin letters. On the same flashcard you can also read the translation in a language of your choice. On top of that, the graphics assist in the memorization process. If you want to take it one step further, you can repeat the phrases out loud and practice your speaking!
In the Thai language, sentences end differently depending on the gender of the speaker. Males say krap (ครับ) and females say kha (ค่ะ). On Loecsen, each sentence is read twice, once by a male and once by a female. Now you can hear the difference and also hear the main phrase again to reinforce your memory.
After you’ve learned the vocabulary, Loescen provides quizzes where you see a phrase written in Thai, and hear it read to you. Then you choose a translation and see whether you remember the meaning of the phrase or not.
Loecsen provides useful vocabulary and easy ways for you to learn and practice the Thai language. Most importantly, the quiz feature can offer immediate feedback, so you know what words and phrases you need extra work on in order to speak Thai on your next vacation to Thailand.
Glossika is an online learning platform similar to Loecsen. Glossika knows that in order to learn the best pronunciation, a language learner must hear native speakers speak the language. And that is exactly what the platform provides.
On Glossika, there are two main modes users can choose from to practice Thai: Listening, and Full Practice. In the listening mode, users can listen to audio recordings of native speakers saying sentences and also hear the translation. This mode is best for people with busy schedules that only have short periods of spare time. In this mode, the user can listen and learn on his/her drive to work, or during a lunch break.
Of course, simply listening is not enough to master a language. With the full practice mode on Glossika, users will listen to the translation of a new sentence, then hear it in Thai. Afterwards, they can practice writing Thai by spelling out the new sentence either with the Thai alphabet or through romanization. Users are also asked to record themselves repeating the sentence. Thai is difficult to read in the beginning, so Glossika provides easy-to-read romanizations, and more detailed phonics to help you pronounce better.
Glossika makes it easy for users to evaluate the effectiveness of their language learning. The “Memory” feature lets you go back and review the sentences you've learned, and compare your pronunciation in recordings with those of native speakers. By listening to both recordings side by side, users can pinpoint the specific areas they need to improve, especially with tones.
If you are a beginner, the recording of the native speaker may be too fast for you. But Glossika allows you to alter the speed in settings. And if there are sentences that you seem to struggle with, or you find very useful, add it to your favorites! This way, you can easily find it when you need it again, and spend more time practicing those sentences. If you’ve been learning Thai for a period of time, you can also mark sentences that you already know well as “easy.” This way, Glossika can give you new sentences to learn based on your preferences!
Sign up on Glossika to give it a try right now!
4) Movies, TV Series, and Commercials
If you prefer to learn as you play, this will be a great method for you. Who doesn’t love to sit back, relax, and watch a movie after a long day at work? Once again, I am giving you a way to kill two birds with one stone! One thing you should keep in mind though. This method of learning Thai would works best after you’ve learned the basics of Thai, and you can already start to understand simple conversations. If you don’t know a lick of Thai, this method might not be for you. I suggest you use some of the resources mentioned above, and learn some basics before moving on to movies.
The biggest advantage of learning Thai from movies is that the language used in movies are usually pretty easy and conversational. By listening to the dialogue between characters, you get to hear the language used in the context of a conversation. If you pay close attention, you will be able to pick up some nuances that are unique to conversation. Also, movie dialogues can teach you some words only native speakers use in everyday conversation, such as slang. These are words you most likely will not learn from the other resources mentioned in this article.
If you have trouble deciding what to watch first, here are some suggestions:
a) Bad Genius
Bad Genius is an award winning Thai film released in 2017. The heist-thriller tells the story of Lynn, a straight A student, who devises ways to cheat on tests and exams. The movie turns a mundane and boring subject into an exciting thriller that takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster.
From a Thai learning perspective, because the main characters are all high school students, the learners can familiarize themselves with the way that high school students speak in Thailand. Learners also get a glimpse of Thailand’s culture when they get to compare the difference in speech style when someone in high school speaks to elders compared to their peers.
b) Panyachon Kon Krua
This Thai lakorn (TV series), aired in 2012. It tells the story of a university student from an affluent background who decides to work as a maid in a rich household for a personal project. The romantic comedy is perfect for unwinding after a hard day, and at the same time learning some Thai!
If you are more hard pressed on time, why not give Thai commercials a try. In recent years, Thai commercials have become more and more famous internationally due to their touching, hilarious, and extremely creative storyline.
5) Find Someone to Talk to
When it comes to language learning, the last step is actually speaking the language, to a real person. Nothing beats talking to a real person face to face. If you have a Thai friend, hit them up! I’m sure they’d be glad to help you learn their language. (If not, you might want to reevaluate your friendship.)
Of course, having a Thai friend to talk to is a luxury that few have. One suggestion is to find some local stores owned by Thai people and strike up a conversation with the owner! Thai cuisine has risen in popularity in recent years, especially in Asian countries. With the power of the internet, you can search for local Thai restaurants that have Thai owners or workers. Once you’ve found that restaurant, go and find someone to practice your Thai with! On top of all that, it’s simply great to enjoy some amazing Thai food!
As you plan for your next vacation destination, give Thailand a thought. And before you embark on your journey, try some of these resources, and learn some Thai. I guarantee you, it will make your vacation experience in Thailand much more enjoyable!