How To Learn To Speak Thai By Yourself (From Beginner To Advanced)

Thai is the language of about 65 million people. Most of them live in Thailand, but there are Thai expatriates all over the world.

The Thai language opens the doors to a fascinating world with a rich culture, history, cuisine and above all: People. There are many good reasons to learn Thai, and once you master the language, you’ll make discoveries and get experiences that you would’ve never imagined before.

But how to learn Thai? Can you even learn the language without going to Thailand and settling down in complete immersion environment for years?

I believe so. It is very possible to Learn to speak Thai from the comfort of your home. It’s not even that difficult to learn. But you need to be dedicated, put in the time, be consistent with your studies, and above all: Have patience enough for a couple of years’ worth of study!

In the following, I’ll get into how I’d recommend that you go about self-studying the Thai language.

Is the Thai language difficult to learn?

Whether a language is difficult or not is always a subjective matter. If you speak Khmer, Vietnamese or Chinese, Thai won’t be a huge problem for you.

As an English speaker, however, you’ll have to get used to a language that’s totally different from your native tongue in so many ways.

English and Thai are totally unrelated. If you were to learn French, German or even Russian, you’d have certain advantages. Those language have quite a bit of vocabulary, sounds and even grammatical structures in common. Despite being very different.

Thai has none of that.

With Thai, you’ll have to learn a lot of new words that resemble very little of anything you might know already.

The grammar, although not very complicated, is completely different from that of the European languages.

You’ll have to learn a new alphabet! (Or at least I recommend that you do.)

And the Thai language has five Tones that you absolutely need to master in order to be understood.

Yet, despite all of these things that really sets Thai apart from the languages that are related to English, Thai still has a lot of features that makes it easy.

The grammar, for example, is delightfully simple in Thai.

The nouns don’t have genders like they do in a lot of languages. And you won’t have to conjugate verbs like in Spanish, where the verb changes depending who the subject is.

Tenses are marked by words instead of changing the verb. A little like in English when we mark the future with “will” or “am going to”.

Although the vocabulary is quite exotic compared to European languages, most words are short and logic. A word rarely surpasses two syllables.

More complicated words are usually broken down to compound words. Thai people would rather explain something with more words instead of inventing a completely new word for each concept. This makes Thai words so much more easy to learn.

And then there’s the fact that Thai people are extremely friendly and outgoing. You will never fail finding someone to speak to, and people tend to be helpful and patient when speaking to foreigners who are learning their language.

How long does it take to learn Thai?

Learning Thai is not something that you do in a few months.

Some people have experimented with how far they could get in a matter of weeks. And with a strict and dedicated daily study program, you can actually learn a lot every day. The problem, however, is with consolidating the new knowledge.

If you spend several hours each day learning new vocabulary, you won’t have much time to let it sink in.

Concentrated and intensive language studies are beneficial. There’s no doubt about it. But a lot of time is wasted when working intensely. You can’t benefit from your brain passively digesting the new words when you’re relaxing.

I my opinion, studying Thai for one hour a day, for 200 days is much better (very much!) than studying 10 hours a day for 20 days.

This is why you should take extreme anecdotes with a grain of salt. People who say that you can get fluent in Thai in three months or conversational in two weeks are aiming for something that’s unrealistic for most people.

What they do is impressive, for sure! But they’re not necessarily representing how most people should go about learning Thai.

How long do linguists say it takes to learn to speak Thai?

The Foreign Service Institute is an American institution in charge of teaching foreign languages to US diplomats and officials. They are often cited for their difficulty rating of different languages for English speakers.

There are four categories: The first one consists of languages which are closely related to English, like Scandinavian languages. These, according to FSI, take around 600 class room hours to learn.

The second one, only counting the German language is estimated to take 750 hours.

The third one needs around 900 class room hours to learn. It includes languages like Indonesian and Swahili.

And the fourth category, which takes 1100 hours includes languages like Bengali, Russian and Thai.

Then there are the languages of the fourth category demanding more than 2200 hours! These are Arabic, Chinese and a couple of other languages.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about this ranking system.

It’s hugely dependent on the study method, the background of the student and past experience with languages.

But FSI’s categories can be used as a guideline.

For an English speaker, learning Thai takes roughly twice as long as learning French and half as long as Learning Arabic.

I spent some 3-4 years self-studying French before I reached a high proficiency… So will Thai take 8 years?

Well..

I think it can be done much faster than that. I think that you can be conversational within a year, and speak Thai at a high level after two or three years.

You’ll have to study an hour a day and do several short study sessions a day. And be structured about it!

In the following, I’ll try laying out a guideline for learning Thai from the beginning to the advanced stage!

Understanding the basics of Thai pronunciation

When you learn Thai, learning how to properly pronounce words will demand a lot of attention. There are 59 letters in the Thai script, and some make unique sounds when combined.

This means that there are a lot of different sounds that make up the spoken language.

Among the letters, there are 10 consonants and 8 vowels to which we don’t have any equivalents in English.

And then a lot of the letters sound fairly similar, but with very slight differences.

So what the Thai language lacks in grammar-difficulty, it makes up for in pronunciation!

This is why I recommend an extra focus on pronunciation from the very beginning of your Thai studies.

Use Pimsleur in the beginning to get comfortable with Thai Pronunciation.

Something that I can recommend at this point is Pimsleur. Pimsleur is an audio-course that focuses on pronunciation, sentence formation and a little vocabulary.

It’s not a course that will make you fluent in Thai in a matter of months.

Actually, you’ve better only use Pimsleur in the beginning, when it makes sense. It’s very thorough, but once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll find it’s simply moving forward too slowly.

It is, however, a great way to become comfortable with Thai pronunciation.

You can listen to Pimsleur’s audio lessons while driving your car, doing the dishes or whatever you want. Just make sure to repeat out loud.

Pimsleur is expensive when you buy the course in its entirety. I recommend instead that you either pick up or download a few of the first lessons through audible or Amazon. You can even download the first few episodes for free if you’re a new audible user.

Study with Pimsleur several times a day for a couple of weeks while also studying the Thai alphabet. (Keep reading for my suggestions on learning the alphabet)

And if you’d like to read more about fitting your Thai studies into a tight schedule, check out my article on that topic.

The elephant in the room: Thai tones

You can’t speak about Thai pronunciation without also covering the Tones.

Tones are common in many Asian languages likes Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and also Thai.

Tones are different stresses or pitches applied to the same syllables.

In English, the pitch is often changed when you’re making a statement into a question. “Your phone is in the fridge” is pronounced neutrally, whereas the response “My phone is in the fridge?” is pronounced with a rising tone at the end.

In Thai, there are 5 different tones that can be applied to word syllables.

How to learn tones in the Thai language?
The five tones in the Thai language illustrated in a diagram

The rules aren’t as straight-forward as in English, though. A rising tone in Thai wouldn’t always just make the sentence into a question. It can give a word a completely different meaning.

Example: “Kaaw” can mean stinky, news, rice or white depending on which pitch you’re pronouncing it with. To see some good examples, have a look at the video below.

A really useful video demonstrating the five tones in Thai, and why it’s important to use them correctly.

So how to correctly learn tones?

When learning Thai, your biggest enemy will be worrying about getting things right.

It’s true, that tones are crucial, not only to become fluent in Thai, but simply to be understood. It’s not always possible to guess what you’re trying to say when the tones are not right, so you need to work on them.

Still, you shouldn’t worry too much about tones.

As long as you keep listening, trying to notice the use of Tones, and keep trying to mimic them, you’ll be sure to eventually get there.

The problem with this approach, obviously, is that you won’t be able to speak from day one. You need to master tones before you can converse in Thai even a little bit.

So you need patience! Keep at it, keep trying.

But know that your efforts are not in vain. Your brain will gradually adapt. The more you hear the tones used in the Thai language, the better you will notice the difference and eventually they’ll become natural.

You can’t force this, and if you try, you run the risk of becoming very frustrated and losing your motivation.

I’ve written an article about motivation in language learning that you might find interesting.

And to learn more about how you can gradually get used to the Thai tones, keep reading! Especially the part about Glossika a little further down on this page.

Should you learn the Thai alphabet?

I’ve put the title as a question because a lot of people actually advice you to focus on spoken Thai or writing Thai with the Latin script.

You might want to put off learning the alphabet for later. Personally, however, I’d much rather learn to read and write in Thai from the beginning.

This allows you to study Thai in the script that it’s supposed to be written in. You can rely on the letters designed for Thai instead of using approximate equivalents from the Latin alphabet.

And in any case – you’re going to have to face the Thai alphabet at some point, so why not do it now?

How to learn the Thai alphabet

As I mentioned earlier, the Thai script has 59 letters. That’s a lot more than the 26 letters we use in English.

But don’t be scared.

Learning a new alphabet is one of the easiest tasks when studying languages. Even Thai.

Your job is to match 59 symbols to 59 sounds.

59 might seem like a big number, but think of the amount of words you need to learn when learning a new language.

You’re going to need some 3-10.000 words to be fluent in most foreign languages.

That’s 10.000 instances of letter-combinations that you need to match with pronunciation and meaning.

If you’re able to do that, you’re surely able to learn 59 symbols by heart!

You could even do it in a week or two!

Do daily handwriting exercises in Thai

Here’s how: Watch the video below. The person in the video is writing out each Thai consonant while pronouncing it out loud.

I want you to do the same. Spread it out over a few days. On day one, you do 5 letters, day two, 10, day three 15, and so on.

Pronounce the letter out loud, write it neatly by hand on a piece of paper. And repeat. Do it three times for each letter.

When you’ve worked your way through the video after a little more than a week, keep revising by writing letters each day. But do so without relying on the video. (And do the same thing for the vowels – there’s a separate video about those)

A great video instructing you how to write and pronounce Thai consonants.

After a couple of weeks of doing this for 15 minutes a day, you’ll know the Thai alphabet! It’s really that simple!

As you progress with your further studies in Thai, try coming back to writing by hand now and again. Handwriting can be a great exercise to help you remember words, and it’s an important skill to have under your belt!

Getting a good beginner’s course

When you’ve finished the first few lessons of Pimsleur Thai and you’ve got the basics of the Thai alphabet down, it’s time to start studying Thai through a beginner’s textbook.

One that I can recommend is Teach Yourself Thai (link to Amazon).

Teach Yourself is a language learning series that’s been around for a while. It’s known for providing a solid base in the languages it teaches and this edition is no exception.

Many language courses try to “dumb down” their content to make it easier for the learner. While the idea is obvious – you’ll need it to be easy in the beginning – making the content too simple won’t help you much. Many beginner’s courses will skip the Thai script entirely and present the text in the Latin (English) alphabet.

Teach Yourself doesn’t do this.

Although you’ve already worked with the alphabet and got the bases down, I encourage you to start from scratch with Teach Yourself Thai.

The book will gradually introduce the letters as they’re needed for each lesson. Each lesson also comes with handy diagrams showing you how to draw the letters by hand.

Do these exercises. It’ll help locking in the information you’ve learned already about the alphabet. And it’ll be easier now, because you’ll be relying on things you already have a basic idea about.

How to study Thai with Teach Yourself

Teach Yourself is divided into lessons, each with their phrases, vocabulary, and explanations. I suggest that you work through one lesson per day. Find a time slot during your day when it’s convenient. I like studying languages in the morning before everyone else gets up.

Read through the whole lesson once, trying to understand what it is about and what’s going on. Focus on the English translations and notes, so you’ll know exactly what you should be looking for in the Thai sentences.

Then play the audio for the lesson, while following along the Thai script.

After doing this, repeat the audio, but pause between sentences. Try repeating out loud, mimicking the speed, tone and rhythm of the Thai speaker.

Repeat this last step a couple of times until you feel that you’ve got it. (more or less). Don’t forget to give extra attention to the tones!

Then read through the notes and the translation again to see if it makes sense what you’ve just studied.

For each study session, I recommend that you go through the previous 5-10 lessons that you’ve already completed.

Listen to the audio, read through the text in Thai, and peek to the notes and translations if there’s something you can’t remember. (And there will be).

The importance of working on Thai from multiple fronts at the same time

When I study languages, I always try to vary my approach and do multiple things at once.

The reason for this is that it makes your learning multi-dimensional and you’ll get the opportunity to recognize patters you’ve briefly studied in another context.

Why is this important?

When you study Thai through a textbook, you’ll be bombarded with new words, new letters, grammar points and so on. This is a lot of information to make sense of.

When you’re in this situation, your brain will treat each new word as neutral piece of information without value. The brain judges that it’s just a word among other words and it demands no special attention.

When you do your daily repetitions it helps a little. But what you really need to do, is to force your brain to put another label on the word than just “Thai word for x”.

You need the brain to show a little love to this word.

In order to do this, you need to make the word interesting. Rather than being a gray, unlabeled, neutral word in the dusty corner of you brain’s archive, you need it to shine with colorful associations, memories and descriptions.

You need to make the word unforgettable.

There are many ways of doing this. You could work with each word. Write it down in a notebook, invent a sentence in which you use it, make a mental image of it, notice if it rhymes with something in English. And so on. All of this will make the word less neutral and much easier to remember.

In the beginning stages of learning Thai, however, you’ll be faced with tons upon tons of unknown words. Sitting down and working with each individual word wouldn’t be effective.

So instead I recommend that you work with recognition.

If you see a word that you’ve recently studied (bur almost already forgotten) in another context, you’ll recognize it. You’ll get the feeling of “oh, I know that word!” and the meaning of the word will come back to you with double force.

When you see a word that you weakly remember from another context, you get the feeling of recognition. This is a positive emotion. And it’s a label for your brain to put on that word. Suddenly it’s not just “Thai word for x” but “That Thai word for X that I already knew because I’m a hugely successful Thai-learner!” (or something like that).

So I warmly recommend studying more than one thing at once. While you do your Teach Yourself Thai lessons in the morning, you should do another similar course in the evening.

Here’s an article I wrote about the importance of studying languages from multiple fronts.

Getting a second beginner’s course for Thai

For your second beginner’s course, I’d like to suggest Assimil. The Assimil series is my favorite series for the beginning stages in language learning.

Their Thai edition will gradually introduce you to the language through dialogues that grow gradually more and more complex. It works great in combination with their audio recordings and the approach is very enjoyable and intuitive.

The Assimil courses also have the advantage of being less focused on grammar and more on dialogue. I like this, because I believe that grammar is best learned from context and habituation, and not from dissecting the language.

There’s only one problem: Assimil has only published its Thai edition in French

So if you don’t speak French, you’re going to have to settle for the next best thing! If you do, check out Assimil Le Thaï on Amazon.

So for you who haven’t (yet) mastered the French language:

The next best thing is actually also pretty decent.

The Foreign Service Institute or FSI (that I mentioned earlier) has made a Thai course that they have used to teach Thai to US diplomats in the 70’s. The course is in the public domain today, which mean that you can download it for free.

Through this link you can get the textbooks in PDF form along with all the audio of the course in MP3’s.

The material might seem a little dated. And it is. It was made for teaching diplomats languages in the 70’s! But the material is solid and the quality is very high.

Study with FSI Thai in the evening in the same way as you use your Teach Yourself course, and you’re set for success!

You can also go have a look at these Thai dialogues with audio that I had translated and recorded for you to use for free!

Fitting your Thai studies into your daily routine

Many people dream of studying a foreign language like Thai, but keep putting it off because they don’t have the time.

Everyone is busy. I study languages while working a full time job, writing this blog and spending time with my family.

Fitting language learning into this mix demands a little time-management gymnastics.

But it’s definitely not impossible!

I like to get up a little earlier in the morning than the rest of my household. I like the silence and tranquility in the morning. This is where I do most of my writing as well as my language learning.

You could do that too – get up just 30 minutes earlier per day. That’s basically all you need to learn Thai.

It’s better though, if you can fit a little more language learning into your day.

The key here is to think about dead time. What are you doing during your daily commute? While doing the dishes? Mowing the lawn?

All of these activities are more or less passive. You’ve got to do them, but your brain isn’t really needed (much). So you might as well use it for something else.

Plug in some earbuds and listen to your Thai dialogues. Review your Pimsleur lessons, or listen to a podcast. If you’re riding the bus or something similar, you might even be able to do an in-depth study session with your textbook.

These short study sessions can, in fact, be extremely valuable. If you can fill your daily routine with short bursts of Thai, you’ll keep your brain soaked in the language. You simply won’t get away from the language for long enough to start forgetting.

Several short study sessions are much more effective than a few chunky ones. Some language students only study languages once a week, but for several hours at a time. They’ll work extremely hard for a long time until they get tired and they start seeing double. And it feels like the enormous effort must be helpful.

But when coming back after a week, they’d have forgotten most of what they studied, and they wouldn’t feel much like continuing because it was such a tiring experience the last time.

So I strongly recommend that you study Thai in several short sessions during the day. The more the better. 10 minutes here and there is perfect. 45 minutes or an hour once in a while if fine, but if you go longer than that, make sure to keep it enjoyable!

Here’s an article that I wrote about fitting your language learning into a busy schedule. In this article I discuss several ways that you can fit short study sessions into your daily routine.

Work on your pronunciation, grammar and listening with Glossika

When you’ve worked with your beginner’s courses for a couple of weeks, it’s time to start adding another spice to the mix.

I am a huge fan of the language program Glossika. (If you’re looking for the link, scroll down to when I’ve finished speaking about it!)

Glossika is a mostly audio-based course that teaches you Thai by repeating sentences.

It’s a an approach that can help you immensely with pronunciation, tones, listening comprehension and intuitive grammar understanding. Among other things!

The idea is that you study simple sentences that grow more and more complex. And you do a LOT of repetitions.

Glossika is a great language learning program to use when you just have 10 minutes here and there. It’s perfect for just doing a few sentences in your coffee break or while waiting for the bus. And as I’ve already mentioned, I recommend doing several of these short 10 minute sessions per day.

So how does it work?

How to study Thai with Glossika

When beginning to use Glossika for learning Thai, you’re first asked to make a placement test.

Unless you’re already way beyond beginner’s material, I suggest that you skip the test and start from zero. It doesn’t matter if the sentences are a little too easy in the beginning.

In fact, it can be helpful in getting used to the method before progressing on to more difficult stuff.

You start by studying some new sentences. With Glossika, you’re introduced to new sentences in batches of 5.

This is what the study screen looks like:

How to learn Thai with Glossika
What the Glossika Thai study interface looks like

On the study screen, you’ll be faced with the sentence in English followed by the sentence in Thai (in the Thai script as well as an approximation in the Latin script and the phonetic writing.)

Click play, and you’ll hear the English sentence spoken out loud followed by a pause, then the sentence in Thai two times.

When first hearing the sentence in English, try reading out loud the Thai sentence. Do it from the Thai alphabet! It’ll remain difficult to read in Thai for a while, but if you don’t force yourself, you won’t get there!

Then the correct pronunciation will be spoken out two times. After this, repeat.

When you repeat, you need to try and mimic the exact pronunciation, speed, melody, rhythm and above all, tones, of the native Thai speaker. This is very important!

You’ll notice that you don’t have a lot of time to do this! You’ve got the option of slowing down the recordings. You can also click pause. But I don’t recommend that you do this. Try your best to repeat as correctly as you can, matching the correct speed. You might as well get used to it!

At first you will stumble, mumble, and make tons of mistakes.

Don’t worry!

You will see the same sentence (and related sentences) many many times in the future – there will be plenty of opportunities for getting it right later. So if only you do your best at each repetition, you’ll eventually get there.

How the Glossika method resembles how children learn Thai (And how it’s better)

With Glossika there are no grammar explanations, no quizzes, no drills and no exercises. It’s only listening and repeating.

The approach is based on research and experience and it carries great results. Yet it’s contrary to how most people think they should go about learning Thai.

So what’s the deal with studying Thai without studying grammar?

Glossika’s approach actually resembles the way children learn languages. Children don’t sit around and study conjugation tables and memorizing tenses in their native language.

They listen to what is going on around them. For a long time!

Then they start speaking.

Badly.

They’re corrected and they gradually improve. When they reach adulthood, they’ll just know what grammatical tense to use.

Think about it: When someone makes an error in your native language – doesn’t it feel like nails on a blackboard?

Learning grammar through habituation is a much better approach to language learning than dissecting and analyzing grammar like we did in school.

But children take years to master a language in this way!

There are several reasons for this. One is that the children’s brains are developing. They’re not exactly super-computers.

And then there’s the fact that everything a child hears when growing up is completely random.

Most of the native language input a child hears in everyday life is adults speaking about things that the child doesn’t understand. Difficult sentences about incomprehensible topics. Sometimes, even the adults don’t know what they’re talking about.

With Glossika the input is organized and structured. You start with 5 easy sentences, which you get to review tons of times.

Then you gradually advance to other sentences that are closely related in terms of vocabulary and grammar. They’re not random in all.

Glossika teaches you Thai utilizing the way humans (and not just children) organically learn languages. And then it improves upon it!

The importance of doing reps with Glossika

When you study new sentences with Glossika, you do batches of 5 at a time. It seems quite easy at first. But I advise you to not do more than 20 sentences in one sitting.

The reason is that you’ll have to review each new sentence you learn several times. Adding a ton a new sentences in the beginning will accumulate a mountain of sentences to review in a very short time!

So do your first 5-20 sentences and put Glossika aside for 12-24 hours.

When you come back, you’ll notice that all of the sentences you just studied are up for review. Make sure to run through these before adding more sentences.

Reviews, (or repetitions, “reps”) is the cornerstone in Glossika.

The key to internalizing the patterns in a sentence is to get used to it by repeating it many times.

Glossika automatically schedules all the new sentences you do for review.

In the beginning, they’ll be scheduled for just one day, but each time you do your reviews, the sentence will be rescheduled further and further into the future.

The Glossika rescheduling-algorithm is based off a linguistic theory about the “forgetting curve“. The algorithm tries to predict when you’re about to forget the sentence. It then schedules the sentence for review just a little bit before that!

This system is not infallible of course! But you can help it on the way by letting Glossika know which sentences you find easy and which ones are difficult. You tag them in the study screen. Easy sentences are scheduled a little later and hard sentences a little sooner.

Glossika is all about doing reps.

In fact, they base their student milestones off how many reps the student has done. The milestones are high, 25.000, 50.000 and 75.000. But once you have reached this amount of reps, you’ll be sure to have come far with your Thai!

If you want to read more about Glossika, you can read my Glossika review.

Or you can go directly to the Glossika Thai website. (There, the link I promised!)

Start reading in Thai

When you’ve just about finished with the Teach Yourself Thai and FSI books and you’re a few thousand reps into using Glossika, it’s time to start focusing more on reading!

Reading has always been one of the most effective activities in language learning. Yet it’s not the easiest task to approach.

You need to first master the alphabet, you need an idea of the pronunciation, you’ve got to know some base vocabulary. Reading is not ideal for the beginner. And it remains difficult for the intermediate learner.

So you need a way to make reading in Thai more practical.

Many people jump straight into reading texts in Thai with a dictionary. I don’t recommend that you do this.

At this point, you’re unlikely to be able to guess a lot from context.

So if you have to look every unknown word up, you need to constantly break the flow of reading to open the dictionary, searching for the word, finding the right fit, and applying it to the context of the text.

This is extremely frustrating and difficult! As soon as you open the dictionary, you’ll forget what you were just reading. And as soon as you put down the dictionary and refocus your attention on the text in Thai? You forget the word you just looked up.

Reading with a dictionary is not a good way to study Thai. It is ineffective, frustrating and demotivating.

Here’s an article I wrote about staying motivated when learning languages.

So how to go about reading texts in Thai then?

Use a pop-up dictionary

There’s a way that you can quickly look up words in texts that you’re reading online. I like to use a browser extension for Chrome called “Google Dictionary” (this is a link to the chrome app – but you can find similar extensions to other browsers too).

How to learn Thai with Google Dictionary
An article that I found about elephant training

With Google Dictionary, you can click any word anywhere on the internet and get an instant translation. This is much more practical than looking up words in a dictionary (even an online dictionary). You get an instant translation and you aren’t interrupted in your reading flow. (Only a little anyway).

This obviously only works for reading articles online. But there are tons of interesting content to choose from. If you’re not sure how to find good articles to read, try writing a search-term into Google Translate and search for the translation in Thai.

Search for anything that you’d enjoy reading in your native language. The internet is full of recipes, articles about fishing, woodworking, gardening, etc. Pick whatever you like!

But do keep it light! Philosophy and old Thai poetry and religious texts might not be an enjoyable read before you’re advanced in Thai.

Parallel reading

If you’re not much for reading texts off your computer screen, I’ve got a solution for you!

Try reading a Thai language book side by side with the English version.

First you read a sentence, paragraph or chapter in English. Do this to get the gist of what’s going on, as well as understand what is implied, written between the lines and hidden in metaphor.

Then read the equivalent in Thai.

This approach can be extremely effective in making Thai language text accessible for someone who’s still at the intermediate level. It lets you read fluently in Thai without understanding everything.

It won’t magically make you know all words in a text, but it allows you to skip past things you don’t understand without missing out and loosing track of the plot. It’s a great way to keep Thai reading enjoyable.

An obstacle to this method could be availability. I’ve shuffled through Amazon’s Thai-language books and haven’t found a lot. Moby Dick, Frankenstein, and The Murder on the Links (by Agatha Christie) were the only three interesting books I could find.

They’re all readily available in English of course, and they’re great books. But you’ll want to read more than three novels, so you’ve got to keep looking yourself.

If you ever go to Thailand, try going to a local bookstore. You’ll be sure to find a lot of interesting books there. But be sure to pick something that you know you’ll be able to find in English back home as well!

There are several other approaches to learning Thai through reading, and you can go read my article on the subject if you want to know more here: Reading strategies in language learning.

Start to speak and write in Thai

With the beginner’s courses behind you, several thousand Glossika reps done and a daily habit of Thai reading, it’s time to take speaking and writing more seriously.

I recommend starting to schedule conversations with a tutor.

On Italki (and many other sites online) you can find a list of tutors who offer their services for a fee. Go through the list and see if you can find someone that you think will be a good match for you.

Make contact and speak about how you want your tutoring sessions to proceed.

Many language tutors have a lot of experience teaching. Most have their own approaches, favorite textbooks and so on.

I recommend that you take charge of your learning with the tutor from the beginning. Make clear how you want things to proceed.

I suggest that you keep your tutoring sessions conversational. Schedule 2-3 conversations per week of 30-45 minutes. You should agree on a topic of discussion before beginning.

And do keep it about conversation! Grammar explanations, questions in English and corrections must be kept at an absolute minimum! You’re going to be paying for this, so don’t hesitate to go looking for another tutor if yours insist on another approach.

You can ask your tutor to write you a report after each conversation with some important points to focus on – this is much better than interrupting the flow of conversation.

You should also hear your own voice at least as much as your tutor’s. You need to keep speaking, and do so in Thai. If you struggle, your teacher can help. But he or she needs to do so in Thai!

Write short texts in Thai and have them corrected

After the end of each tutoring session, sit down and write about the subject you’ve just discussed. In the beginning you can make it 100-300 words, but as you progress, make it longer!

Send it to your tutor and have him or her correct it. When the corrected text is returned to you, make sure to read all the corrections and try to make sense of them.

But don’t worry if you keep making the same mistakes. These things take time!

You might want to write some of these texts out by hand. Most people who learn a new script from scratch have difficulty with writing it by hand. So you might as well get the exercise!

Writing out text by hand is also a great way of internalizing new concepts. You remember things that you write much better than things you’ve only heard orally. Even if you never look at your notes again.

If you don’t have a scanner at hand for sending your tutor your written text, or if it’s too much of a problem, write the text on your computer.

You can get these stickers (link to amazon) to put on your keyboard. Then you need to install a Thai keyboard in your keyboard settings, and you’ll be able to easily switch to the Thai keyboard and write in Thai.

Depending on your computer and your operation system, there are multiple ways to do this, so rather than writing a guide here, I encourage you to look up how to install another keyboard on Google yourself.

It is, however, much easier to just add a Thai keyboard to your Ipad, tablet or smartphone, so this might be an option for your too!

Language exchange

Tutoring costs money. It can even be the single most expensive part of studying Thai (apart from going to Thailand).

That’s why many people opt for free alternatives. One such is language exchange.

Language exchange is when you and a another person act as each other’s tutor. In your case, you might have to look for a Thai person who wants to learn English. (Here’s a Reddit forum where you can have a look)

The way you choose to study English and Thai together is up to you. I recommend that you do something similar to the method that I just described with a paid tutor.

While language exchange is free, it has its disadvantages.

You need to find a language exchange partner who is a great tutor, who share’s your ambition and dedication and who stays motivated in helping you with your Thai.

While all of this is very possible with a paid tutor, it’s a little more complicated with someone who’s doing it for free.

You won’t be paying your tutor, so his or her motivation needs to come from somewhere else. You’ll either need to be an excellent English tutor yourself, or you might simply develop a friendship.

Making friends with Thai people is a great way to get to speak more Thai, but it might end up moving the focus from language studies to your common interest and relationship.

And you might offer your great skills as an English tutor. But that demands a lot of time and energy.

Most people are hard pressed to finding the time to study a language like Thai. You need to do that, as well as spend as much time speaking English with your language buddy?

Even though there are many disadvantages, language exchange is still a good and popular way of improving your spoken Thai. Many people have had success with it, so there’s no reason that you won’t get a lot out of it yourself.

End of the line: Fluency in Thai!

Whether you choose to make friends with Thai people, count on exchanging languages or hiring a tutor, you’ll be well on your way to archiving an advanced level of Thai.

Keep working with Glossika until it doesn’t seem necessary anymore.

Do read in Thai every day. When you don’t need your popup dictionary or your English translations anymore, start reading the news in Thai. Or look up Thai language books that don’t even exist in translation.

Make a habit out of watching Thai language TV and movies.

And use the language every day.

Enjoy being fluent in Thai!

4 thoughts on “How To Learn To Speak Thai By Yourself (From Beginner To Advanced)”

  1. Very good articles, I agree 100% . Exactly the way I took years ago. Would add a part about watching Thai movies (or English movies dubbed in Thai?) with subtiles (English? Thai subtitles? )

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Michel!
      Movies can be a great way to learn languages too, but I personally have problems concentrating with them. I either filter out the foreign language and watch the movie only relying on the English, or I try to focus on the foreign words and understand very little. An approach I’ve had success with is to study the transcription of the movie beforehand. But I need to watch the movie immediately afterwards. Watching movies becomes real study-time and it’s not quite as enjoyable that way. But it does work!

      Reply
  2. Assimil Thaï was completely rebuilt from ground in 2017. Same methodology but more than double lessons and much more modern language.

    Reply
    • I didn’t know that they did an update of the textbook. It sounds like it’s worth checking out for sure. A language like Thai does need some extra attention, so more lessons in an Assimil course definitely can’t hurt!

      Reply

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