If you happen to be living in Thailand another option to learn the language is to go to school. Thailand is well aware of the expat population and many schools have sprung up over the years. Many of these schools are small with a handful of classes teaching foreigners in both group and private sessions. Often the bigger cities also have programs offered by local colleges or universities as well. These courses can be a bit more intense. The local schools aimed at foreigners I have found by experience are a bit more laid back.
Many schools also offer long term visa packages where you can learn Thai and also stay in the country for a year. With the possibility to keep on renewing the visa each year. This visa has been abused in the past since many foreigners used it to stay in the country but never actually went to school. Immigration will often do crackdowns and test foreigners at the 90 day check-ins or even been known to raid schools.
Schools in Thailand a Good Option?
Schools can be very useful but also have their flaws. For the beginner it is a great way to start learning the language. You can get some basic words and sentences together and are introduced to the different tones of the Thai Language. You also get to interact with other students unless you decide to go with the private session which is always a bit more costly.
How much you get out of the course will depends on a few factors
1. The Teacher – Having a teacher that loves what they are doing and has a good system of teaching foreigners is key. There are great teachers in Thailand and mediocre ones and you will have to figure that out for yourself. Often these classes will let you sit in for free for a couple sessions to see if the class is right for you. One thing I have noticed is many teachers get used to what I call Foreign Thai. They get used to hearing bad pronunciation and do not correct you. Then you go into the real world and regular Thai folk have no idea what you are talking about.
2. Classmates – I have been in group sessions where everyone is serious about learning the Thai Language which is great. I have also been in classes where most of the people do not really care about learning. No doubt they are probably going more for the visa than for the experience of actually becoming somewhat fluent.
Another big issue I have found in group sessions are your classmates might be at different skill levels. Some might be far behind your skill level while others could be far ahead. It can get frustrating waiting for the slow learners to catch up. However, it can also be frustrating when you can’t catch up to the people with more language experience than you. The higher end courses at universities might be better for solving this problem as you are often tested and placed in a course suited to your skill level.
Finally when it comes to classmates you might also be dealing with several different tones from each person in your class. Thai is a tonal language and it can be difficult for the foreigner to pick up. I still have issues from time to time where a Thai person does not understand me because I am using the wrong tone. Now put yourself in a room full of foreigners and you can get a wide range of tones and it can be difficult to know which one is correct.
3. The Course – I would suggest you sit in on a couple classes before you commit to the school. Most of the schools will use a method of phonetics in teaching the language at the start and move into reading Thai later down the road. However, each school might have a different method of teaching.
First school I went to they had us repeat Thai script after the teacher. I did not even know what I was saying at the beginning. Eventually you start figuring things out but that method was not for me. I preferred the phonetics method to start. There is no 100% correct method but go to a few schools and find the proper fit for you.
Summary Learn Thai by Going to School
I personally think that learning Thai in a classroom environment is an excellent place to start, especially for the beginner. As you advance you might have to upgrade your school or start private lessons. I have noticed that most of the schools go to a certain level in a structured environment such as text books and methods. When you surpass this level you might need to start looking at private lessons or more advanced courses like in universities.
I would strongly suggest you visit a few schools in your area if you can. Most schools will let you sit in and listen to one or two lessons. Focus on three things before you make your final decision.
- How You Feel About Your Teacher
- How You Feel About Your Classmates (If You Decide on Group Sessions)
- How You Feel On The Method Of Teaching
Good Luck with your quest to learn Thai.
Here is a small list of schools that I have personally attended. However, there are many more throughout Thailand. I do not benefit monetarily at all by listing these schools. Just wanted to show you some initial school websites so you can start the research on your own. Many of the schools will have different branches throughout Thailand.