After a decade of regular visits to Thailand, we finally admitted that we’ll never just “pick it up”. With 5 tones versus Mandarin’s 4, and no standard means of transcription into our Latin alphabet, Thai – to our ears and eyes – is a harder start than Chinese.
We needed help – and some major hand-holding. Enter Learn Thai Podcast – an English-speaking and Thai-speaking duo – with comprehensive beginner Thai language lessons in mp3, PDF and video form.
Update! See our progress report with Learn Thai Podcast: Where we are with Thai after a year with their premium course
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Learn Thai Podcast’s free version
We started on Learn Thai Podcast’s free holiday course a few months ago, determined to have a small collection of Thai words and phrases for our next trip. The free version is basically a travel phrase book, with clear PDFs to accompany spoken mp3 lessons.
Basic greetings (how are you/good morning), numbers, colours and various restaurant terms (‘please make it not too spicy’). You learn each phrase more or less by rote memorisation, with it spoken in Thai, then translated to English, then explained word by word. Some of the content is a bit Pattaya (‘I love you’/’let’s get drunk’), but you can skip ahead.
Our study schedule
We downloaded all 11 free lessons on to a phone and listened to a few in the car every morning. Enthusiasm waxed and waned over the ensuing months but, like exercise, decent consistency helped us to a good beginner foundation. Downloading the accompanying PDFs is crucial if you’re a visual learner or need the memory aid.
Cut to arriving in Thailand. Our catalogue of stock phrases now includes:
Numbers: We can count from 1 to 999, so we recognised our flight being called in Thai before the English. A tiny but early success!
Colours: Just the basics, but imagine one of us jumping up and down as we specified we’d like ‘the white one’.
Basic phrases: A smattering of stock phrases to compliment and joke with staff at favourite restaurants.
We can’t pick out a single word in a conversation and know fewer than 5 nouns, but it’s progress. We’re glad we did it, and are happy to be able to ask ‘how are you’ and understand the answer. However… it’s clear there are no shortcuts. We’re going to need to start at the beginning.
Learn Thai Podcast’s premium course
As our New Year’s resolution, we’re moving on to the serious stuff. The paid version of Learn Thai Podcast starts at the very beginning.
Our goals with Learn Thai Podcast Premium
Our plan is to work through its modules in the same way – 10 minutes or so in the car a few mornings a week – in the hopes that, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to:
- Make appointments and reservations
- Order in restaurants
- Make general chat about the weather, activities, friends and family
- Provide driving directions and get home in a taxi
- Know all the colours – fuchsia, we’re looking at you…
- Have even the most minute clue about reading Thai
In addition to mp3s and PDFs, each lesson also has a video that works like a Powerpoint (the text appears along with the spoken component). Keen to work this study into our daily lives without much rearranging, the videos would suit 5 minutes/day on a lunch break, or even watched on an iPad as you brush your teeth.
Results so far?
The proof? People seem to understand what we’re trying to say!
We’re about 3 lessons into 800 and intend to follow Learn-Thai-Podcast’s suggested 1-year curriculum (*see our update, 12 months later). Our thoughts so far? While it will definitely take time, it’s an excellent resource and we’re in good hands. Lessons are easy to understand, a suitable length and well graduated in difficulty. The overwhelming advantage of Learn Thai Podcast is that you learn natural pronunciation, putting it so far ahead of a phrasebook. (The proof? People seem to understand what we’re trying to say!)
Learn Thai Podcast premium course is $197 for 5-year access to the full series (though its mp3s and PDFs are downloadable – so you could surely spend a lifetime with it). It’s an investment but, 10 years into getting nowhere and with the free version tucked in our back pocket, we think it’s fantastic value.