Learning a language can be tricky. And if the language you want to master is unique and intricate — like Thai — you might need a guideline to help you learn effectively. Because if you don’t, you could get lost from the very start. So, how should you approach your Thai language learning journey?
The best way to learn Thai is to focus on the basics and build a strong foundation. Start with learning the Thai alphabet, grammar, and pronunciation before speaking. Working with a tutor, taking a course, using a language app, and conversing with a Thai friend are all excellent methods to master the Thai language.
Nevertheless, it also depends on how much effort you put into learning Thai. But if you don’t want all your effort to go to waste, read on and discover better ways to learn Thai.
The 3 best methods for learning Thai
1. Learn to read first
A common question among aspiring Thai speakers is, should I learn to read or speak Thai first?
If you are serious about learning Thai thoroughly, reading is where you should start. This is because reading is the most effective method to build up your vocabulary and understand word formation.
Firstly, you must understand that Thai script uses an alphabet system like English. That means you might breeze through learning Thai, unlike Mandarin or Japanese. (These languages use a Character system)
There are 90 Thai letters you have to remember. 44 are consonants, 32 are vowels, 4 are tonal indicators, and 10 are numbers. It might look like a lot compared to English’s 26 alphabet. But with focus, you won’t take long to remember them.
And once you remember all of the alphabet and can spell words, Thai sounds will start making sense to you. And this is where you can step up your game by moving on to listening and speaking.
Many might argue that you should start with listening since it helps with speaking directly. And that is true. But only on an intermediate level and above. Listening can be a big help with accents. But if you don’t even know what words are being spoken, then you will learn nothing.
Besides, listening forces you to go at the speaker’s pace. And it can be too fast or too slow. With reading, on the other hand, you can go at your own pace. Choose the speed that fits you, and gradually make progress.
Finally, reading also opens up your choice of learning material. If you can read Thai, you can even learn from Thai fiction. After all, learning from real examples is better than anything.
2. Never neglect grammar
As you know, grammar dictates the order of words in a sentence. So, you must understand it to speak fluently and write correctly. Why? Because the wrong order can cause your sentences to be ambiguous — worst case, turn them into gibberish.
However, many Thai learners tend to be lax with grammar. And that is understandable. After all, Thai grammar can be considered “less strict” than English.
The Thai language doesn’t have tense. That means you don’t need to conjugate the verb with time. One verb form works for the present, past, and future. And you can also ignore manners of action such as simple, continuous, and perfect. You can almost say that it is convenient.
However, the lack of tense can confuse you too. Sometimes, you might have to guess the time from the context or look for the temporal adverbs for help. And that might be harder for you in real-life conversations where nothing is written for you to reread.
Excellent grammar leads to effective communication. So, be attentive when learning it. Even though it’s more relaxed than English, it can still be tricky to apply.
3. Regularly develop your ear
This step is crucial for listening and speaking. Why? Because Thai is a tonal language, and you won’t go anywhere if you can’t distinguish the tones.
Thai has 5 tones. The meaning of a word is determined by these tones. And these meanings can be totally different from one another. For example…
- “Cow” in the 0th tone (locals call it “สามัญ” or “Saman” tone) means “smell of meat, blood, or fish.” It could also describe the main course of a meal in different contexts.
- “Cow” in the 1st tone (locals call it “เอก” or “Ake” tone) means “news.”
- “Cow” in the 2nd tone (locals call it “โท” or “Toe” tone) means “rice.”
- “Cow” in the 3rd tone (locals call it “ตรี” or “Tree” tone) doesn’t mean anything.
- “Cow” in the 4th tone (locals call it “จัตวา” or “Chattawa” tone) means “white.”
You would be totally lost if you mistook the first tone for the second in a real conversation. As you can see… “News” and “Rice” have nothing to do with each other (unless it’s news about rice — which is rarely discussed in daily life).
Besides, if you’re tone deft (in a language sense), you cannot simulate the right sound. So train your ears before it’s too late.
What is the most effective way to learn Thai?
Of course, there is no definite answer to the question, “What is the most effective way to learn Thai?” In the end, it depends on personal needs and study style.
However, here are the recommended ways to make your Thai learning more systematic.
The best way to learn Thai for free
If you’re a free learner, finding a Thai friend would be your best option. Having a native supervisor can help you acquire the language much faster, especially in terms of practical use.
Of course, your Thai friends don’t have to be teachers. Even with zero teaching experience, it will not be too difficult for them to share some vocabulary and check your pronunciation. They are native speakers. They understand the language by default.
You will get all of these benefits for free by making a Thai friend. After all, friendship is “priceless.”
However, there’s also a limit to what your Thai friend can do. So you have to put in the effort as well. Here are some other ways to learn Thai faster.
The best way to learn Thai at a cost
If you’re willing to pay, taking a course will be the best option. Depending on your preference, it could be both in-class or online.
The best approach to choosing the right course is to know what you want first.
If your goal is to communicate in a business setting or work environment, go for a long course that covers listening, reading, speaking, and writing.
But if your goal is to converse with friends, a speaking course focusing on listening and pronunciation would do.
Choosing the right course can save you both time and money. So, make sure you have a clear goal before you start. And if you need a guideline of which class you should take, here is a list of the best ways to learn Thai online (recommended courses and apps).
Master Thai from the basics
When you learn a language, you better start slowly to build up a strong foundation. The Thai language is not easy. Nail all the basics to progress to the advanced level — you can do it.
Just practice your reading, master your grammar, and develop your ear. When all three are set, the rest is a matter of time.
Like always, if you want to discover more about Thailand, stay guided with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.
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