Immersion is the best way to learn Thai
The best way learn how to speak Thai is through immersion. Just about every polyglot and expert agrees on this.
Immersion is when you use a foreign language on a regular basis as you go about your day (much like the way you use your native language).
When you're immersed in a language it's a lot like living in the language. Ideally the best place to immerse yourself in thai is...well...Thailand.
Contrary to popular belief Immersion in the Thai language won't make you fluent overnight, but if you approach it in the right way you will learn quicker through immersion than other methods.
There simply isn't any other way of acquiring a foreign language that is as effective and efficient as immersion.
Unfortunately not everyone can afford the time and money it takes to travel and live in Thailand just to learn the local language. Does that mean the rest of us thai learners are simply out of luck?
You can actually design your own thai immersion experience right in your own home, and in this post we'll help you do just that!
What you'll learn in this post:
Polyglot Benny Lewis shares his thoughts on immersion without traveling. You can check out more about his method for learning languages here.
There's more tools than ever to help native English speakers learn Thai no matter where they live!
We're going to share with you an array of different resources to help you learn the fascinating and beautiful Thai language. We'll also give you some recommendations based on your individual learning needs (after all not all learners are the same)
But before we get into all that...
We should probably talk a little about inputs and outputs.
Inputs & Outputs (why they matter)
There are four aspects of language learning: reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
Four Parts of Learning Thai
Of these four options two are inputs: reading and writing; and two are outputs: writing and speaking. You'll need to develop all four of these skills to become truly fluent in Thai.
But your level in the language will determine which skills you practice...
It's a bit difficult to speak thai if you don't actually know any of the language to begin with. For this reason inputs are crucial to the beginning student of thai.
That being said, writing and speaking still have their place at this stage. They're just not the main focus yet. For now you want to get comfortable with the basics of the language (think of it as building a foundation).
It's vitally important that you develop a working knowledge of thai grammar and vocabulary as a beginner.
Thai isn't quite as popular to learn as other asian languages like Mandarin, Japanese, or Korean; but there are still some notable options for beginners.
Here's some tools and courses that do an excellent job of helping you learn thai grammar and vocabulary:
Thai resources for beginners
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Thaipod101 is one of the most recommended thai courses on the web. This is because it doesn't have a huge price tag and it's super effective when you use it right.
The course is centered around audio lessons in a podcast format. It has flashcards, vocabulary, and word sheets. The podcast is a great way to learn grammar, vocabulary, and work on pronunciation (including tones).
Thaipod101 is a great way to develop listening and reading skills (podcast transcripts are available).
20+ minutes a day
Pimsleur courses are especially good at developing your speaking and comprehension skills in the language, while teaching vocabulary.
Their courses are nearly completely audio (there's not much help with reading and writing in thai). Each lesson in the course is centered around a covernsation with two thai native speakers.
The program uses a unique question/recall/response technique that is very effective for helping you internalize the basics of a new language. With Pimsleur you learn grammar by using it, not by memorizing rules or sheets.
At the intermediate level you will see your ability in the language improve. Now it's time to start increasing the amount of writing and speaking you practice.
Make sure you raise the difficulty level of what you read and listen to in Thai (you want to avoid plateaus).
While the level of outputs should be increased, it's the inputs that will still make up the bulk of your learning program.
You should definitely start practicing your spoken thai as this level. While your ability in the language probably won't let you jump into just any conversation or topic; you have a lot to gain by working with a tutor or teacher in Thai.
Tutors and teachers will have experience with thai learners and will know the usual pain points for foreigners. They'll be able to stretch your spoken abilities without throwing you in the deep end.
Tutors and teachers can be found online or in person.
Thai resources for intermediate learners
$6+ per hour (varies between teachers)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
An intro video from one of Italki's Thai teachers.
Italki is an online market place that connects language learners with language teachers for one-on-one language classes via video or audio chat.
You can connect with language speakers from around the world and practice your speaking skills. Italki is one of the few sites that offers one on one lessons with professional Thai teachers.
*with a purchase of $20 or more. After your first purchased lesson a credit of $10 will be added to your account
Write posts in Thai and post them to Lang-8 to get feedback from native speakers. It's one of the best ways to practice your writing, and it's free! This site is simple to use but very effective.
At the advance level inputs and outputs should be practiced equally.
You really don't need a hands on course or method once you reach a high level of proficiency in thai. The important thing is not to become complacent and keep yourself challenged.
Both talking with native speakers and professional teachers will be highly beneficial at this phase. The bulk on your practice should be with natives who aren't teachers. It's a good idea to dive into the language and talk about anything with anyone (in thai of course!).
An occasional lesson with a professional teacher help you get the through the more nuanced uses of the language like slang, idioms, and figures of speech.
Thai resources for advanced leaners
Speaky is a free online language exchange where you can meet and practice with language learners from over 180 countries. Practice with Thai speakers over video, audio, or text chat. Just remember to help them with their English too!
$6.50+ per hour (varies between teacher)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
Verbling is a site similar to Italkli. While it doesn't have the selection of Thai teachers Italki has, Verbling favors teachers with experience and certification, so their overall quality of teachers is a little higher.
There's no one way to learn Thai. Which method or tool is best for you depends on your level and individual needs.
Try out some of the resources in this post to jump start your learning and begin your own personal thai immersion experience!