Don’t get intimidated by how difficult Thai might first appear. It’s not such a hard language to learn with good learning materials and resources at hand. Thai grammar is quite simple and intuitive. It won’t take you long at all before you can string sentences together. If I could learn to speak and read Thai, then so can you! But it really helps to be using good Thai learning materials. Often, I hear people speaking Thai with poor pronunciation, and it’s because they relied upon poorly designed learning materials that caused them to pick-up bad habits.
In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes many people make when they start learning Thai is thinking that they’ll just learn speaking only, without bothering to learn to read the Thai script. The problem with this is that the Thai language includes consonant and vowel sounds not found in English. By relying on transcriptions in the Roman alphabet, you leave yourself open to poor pronunciation due to failure to conceptualize the sounds in a new way. Learn to read Thai right from the start, and your speaking ability will progress much faster, I guarantee.
There’s an incredible number of resources available today for anybody who wants to learn Thai. You can learn from books, podcasts, videos, smartphone apps, private tutors, and more. With so much out there, though, it’s hard to know what’s good to use when you’re just starting out. I’m only going to list here those resources that I’ve personally used, read, or watched myself, or those that I can feel confident in recommending because I had a hand in their creation.
If you’re just starting out learning Thai, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The author does a great job of covering all the basics and encouraging readers to learn the Thai script. It’s really not that hard, and once you learn to read Thai it opens up so many doors to improvement of your speaking. Thai for Beginners switches back and forth between material with an emphasis on reading and writing and the one hand, and conversational speaking practice on the other. Once you make it through this book, you’ll have a great head start on a growing vocabulary, and you’ll be able to carry on some short conversations. One of the real strengths of Benjawan’s book is the logical transcription method that she employs. You may not be aware of this, but there isn’t one single, universally accepted system of transliteration or Romanization of Thai words. Far too many books use transcription methods that are inconsistent and easily misunderstood. But that is not the case here. My only real complaint with the book is that the sections on learning to read are introduced mixed in with the lessons that teach about word use and speaking. Although there is an appendix at the back of the book that summarizes the Thai writing system fairly well.
Thai for Intermediate Learners continues where Thai for Beginners leaves off. The student is now expected to be reading the Thai script as they progress through the exercises. You’ll be able to master several new grammatical structures and keep expanding that vocabulary. There is a lot of interesting cultural material included as well, such as common Thai names and places. You also learn lots of classifiers, which are a frequent component of Thai speech that needs to be mastered.
Once you’ve got a handle on the basics and feel comfortable reading the Thai script, you’ll want to get more reading practice. Thai for Advanced Readers is structured as a series of short essays along with an introduction of relevant vocabulary words to each lesson. For the reader’s benefit, each essay is written out in both Thai and English. This helps you to check your understanding while reading through more complex material.
Thai Reference Grammar is a really great book for anybody learning Thai who wants to expand their understanding of word usage and sentence structure. There are a few Thai reference grammar books out there, but I found this one to be the most complete and thorough. The author gives lots of examples using natural-sounding Thai sentences, which really adds to the usefulness of this book. All of the grammar points are clearly illustrated with these example sentences, and you can easily see where you could change certain words in a given sentence to change the meaning to fit your own particular situation. My only real beef with this book is the strange transcription method that the author developed. The good thing about his method of showing Thai using the Roman alphabet is that he doesn’t leave anything ambiguous. The thing I don’t like is his method for showing tones and vowel lengths is different from every other book. Rather than using tone marks written above the vowels as most authors do (à, á, â, ǎ), Higbie has his own system where a line drawn above the word signals high tone, one below the word signals low tone, and hooked lines are used to signify rising and falling tones. Actually, if it was the first transcription that I had met, I might think it’s very logical. But since I was more familiar with other types, his looks very odd. Regardless, every sentence is given in the Thai script as well, so if you’ve learned to read it you’ll have no problems. And the material in this reference grammar is so good that I still highly recommend it to any Thai learner.
Essential Thai is a very well thought out book for teaching all the basics of conversational Thai. James Higbie uses the same transcription method as in his Thai Reference Grammar, which is not the most comfortable for me to read, but that is just my preference. The good point is that his transcription method is consistent to itself and adequate for representing the sounds of spoken Thai. And he also includes the Thai script everywhere as well. I really like the thematic structure that he’s given this book. Words and expressions are grouped by category such as shopping, getting around, restaurant phrases, medical problems, etc. This makes the book very practical for first time Thai learners. And it’s also a great book to use for Thai teachers who want to have a textbook to structure conversational Thai lessons around.
I highly recommend the Reading Thai app for any iPhone user who really want to learn how to read the Thai script and know how to pronounce words correctly. Reading Thai was the first app that I developed myself. I was motivated to learn iOS programming specifically to create this app because all the other Thai alphabet apps available at the time completely sucked. And I mean that truthfully. There was not a single app that gave the user enough information to be able to read any actual Thai words. Some didn’t even include all the letters of the alphabet, or they only didn’t include any vowel sounds or tone marks.
To be able to read Thai, you need to learn the three consonant classes, the difference between long and short vowels, the tone marks, and the sounds that letters make when they occur at the final position of a syllable. My Reading Thai app was the first to cover all these aspects of learning to read Thai and in a structured logical manner. It’s got lots of colorful pictures to illustrate the consonants to boot!
Even if I didn’t earn any money off the sale of this app, I’d still recommend it to people because I designed it solely to be of benefit to anyone who is serious about learning how to read Thai. It covers all of the tone rules with hundreds of example words. I’ve also included information on the few special letter combinations that behave differently than you’d expect. With this app in hand, you should be able to sound-out any Thai word you come across in writing.
In the updated version of Reading Thai I’ve also incorporated a system of quizzes to track your learning progress through the material. Once you master the basics, there are extra lessons available in which you practice reading full sentences in Thai using carefully selected vocabulary to steadily build up your knowledge and ability from lesson to lesson.
Speak Thai Travel Phrasebook is a talking phrasebook app for the iPhone that I developed. I think it’s a very useful app for anyone traveling in Thailand or learning how to speak conversational Thai. There are phrases in a wide range of categories such as Greetings, Restaurant Phrases, Transportation, Health, Shopping, Numbers, Weather, Fun Phrases, etc. When designing Speak Thai Travel Phrasebook, I made sure to have the Thai script display in a large enough font to make it easy for people unused to this script to read. Many foreigners find small-sized Thai font very difficult to read due to the intricate shapes of many of the letters. I also made sure to indicate how a particular phrase should be said differently for male and female speakers, with many of these phrases being recorded in both a male and female voice as well. If you’re learning how to speak Thai, I definitely think this app would be helpful.
If you’re interested to learn a few colorful expressions that you won’t find in any tourist phrasebook, then Speak Thai Slang will be right up your alley. Most Thai teachers will put a heavy emphasis on teaching you how to speak politely because politeness is such a strong component of Thai culture. However, this often leaves you sounding like a walking textbook, and you’ll be unable to understand much of what is said on Thai TV, movies, and on the street. So I put together an a phrasebook app for the iPhone with a collection of slang expressions. Some will be very useful, while others will just be funny to know. I’m trusting the users have some common sense, so if you use any of the phrases to pick a fight or flirt up somebody’s girlfriend—I’m not responsible!
I think I’ve used the Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary more than any other app on my iPhone. It’s quite simply the best electronic Thai-English dictionary available. Whenever I’m reading something in Thai with lots of vocabulary words that I haven’t seen before or been able to memorize yet, this app will be open and ready. The price is a little steep at $24.99, but I think it was worth every penny, and I’ve sure you won’t regret spending a little extra for it. A great thing about this dictionary app is that it works off-line, so you can use it anywhere.
As good as the Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary is, sometimes I can’t find a particular word. So when I run into that situation I’ll try looking for it with Longdo Dict. This app gives you convenient access to the web-based Longdo multilingual dictionary. Longdo usually pulls up lots of related terms to the word that you’re looking for. and it also includes sample sentences for most definitions. It’s really quite a valuable resource to keep handy. Longdo Dict is also a free app, so you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it out.
I was one of the original co-hosts of the ThaiPod101.com podcast, and I’ve written the majority of the lesson materials for this program. So naturally, I’m going to recommend the ThaiPod101 podcast above any others. I was probably not the greatest of voice actors, but I’m confident that the material found in these audio lessons is very useful and practical. When you learn a new language, you can’t rely only on books alone. You have to have access to native speakers in order to hear the language and give you something to model your pronunciation on. This is an area where a podcast format can really help.
I was lucky to work with some great native Thai speakers on the various series, and we all worked very hard to put out a large number of useful lessons covering every level of Thai learner from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. When developing the material for each series, I always tried to put a lot of thought into the structure of the grammar topics so that the listeners would find the podcast valuable and be able to make rapid progress. Each lesson also has a cultural insight based on years of experience living in Thailand combined with the local knowledge of the native Thai hosts. So, while I’m naturally a little biased in favor of ThaiPod101, we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from listeners, and I honestly think it’s an excellent resource for Thai learners.
There are many Thai teachers that have video lessons posted on YouTube. Here are just a few of the YouTube channels you may find useful.
ThaiPod101 is not only a great Thai learning podcast, but the website ThaiPod101.com is filled with additional learning materials that will help you make great progress. For all of the audio lessons, you can download detailed lesson notes that explain the grammar point and expand upon cultural insights. The website also contains extra features such as line-by-line audio and vocabulary quizzes. They also make it very easy to track your progress. Another feature is a Premium Plus subscription package that gives you access to a native Thai teacher via email. This service allows you to receive answers to any Thai language learning questions that you have, and it also allows you to check your pronunciation at your own pace by sending audio clips back and forth. They have a very extensive series of video lessons available as well. A basic-level membership is free, so it’s definitely worth checking out
I mentioned Longdo above in the section about apps. The dictionary at Longdo.com is the Thai-English dictionary that I’m always going back to whenever I’m working on a desktop or notebook computer. As I stated earlier, the Longdo dictionary gives lots of related terms for any word you look-up and contains sample sentences for these entries. When you use Longdo, you’ll naturally learn many new expressions simply due to searching for related vocabulary items. I highly suggest bookmarking this site, you’ll use it often.
You don’t have to be a woman to benefit from reading Catherine Wentworth’s blog as you can see from the tagline, “A Woman Learning Thai… and some men too ;-)”. WomenLearnThai.com was voted one of the 25 best language learning blogs of 2013 by an online poll at bab.la. This is pretty impressive when you consider all the other languages like Chinese and Spanish that have a much larger number of learners. Her site is filled with links to more Thai learning resources, reviews of Thai learning products, interviews with successful Thai learners, and much much more. You should definitely check it out.