As an expat living in Thailand, you stand to benefit immensely by learning the language while you live and work here. You may think you can get by on English only and in some respects you are right. However, by not knowing any Thai, you miss out on some of the richest experiences this country has to offer. Plus, you will find situations such as ordering food and at the doctor where you will be glad you learned the vocabulary for these two areas. Here are some sources for learning Thai along with a typical curriculum you might be exposed to when learning the language.
Private Language Schools
There are scores of language schools located in every major section of Bangkok. These schools offer a set number of lessons for a fixed price and provide instruction by a native Thai teacher. You can opt for either group classes or one-on-one instruction with the latter being higher-priced. Typical instruction for foreigners will start with speaking and text will be romanized from Thai script. You should come out of a set of lessons with some basic speaking skills. As you become more advanced, you will be introduced to reading and writing Thai script.
Private Thai Tutors
There are many private Thai tutors who will meet you at a place of your choosing for instruction. Their hourly rates start at around 300 THB per hour and most prefer to give you a two-hour block per meeting day. The advantage of private instruction is that your teacher will tailor the course to meet your needs. Plus, you will learn more informal speech and colloquialisms. The Bangkok Craigslist website is a good place to locate a private instructor.
Learn to Read and Write First
You will hear opinions on both sides of this while in Thailand. Learning to read and write Thai script first has some advantages. First, it will help you pronounce words properly because romanization of Thai script does not capture the four tone levels of Thai syllables. Second, when you learn to read Thai, you will be able to order from any menu in any restaurant. You will also be able to read city signs, bus labels, warnings, and traffic signs.
Learn to Order Food
Learning to order food in Thai is a priority when building your vocabulary in this language. This is because Thai people love food and you can find it everywhere. Unless you want to stick to Western fast food restaurants, you will not be able to enjoy the delicacies Thailand has to offer unless you learn what it is called.
Why is this? It is simply because the best Thai foods are sold in back-woods outdoor restaurants and from street vendors where English is rarely spoken. Plus, by learning the foods, you can begin immersing yourself into the language and culture right away.
Learning Medical Terms
Most Thai language courses and tutors will introduce you to the human body parts in Thai language. Then, they should teach you how to tell someone else that a particular part of your body hurts. This is very important in cases where you might have to go to a pharmacy to get medication or to a hospital where English is not widely spoken.
Most good Thai teachers will have you write at least a weekly journal or diary in Thai. This gives your teacher feedback as to how you are doing and what you are having difficulty with. In other words, certain words in Thai will become almost automatic. Building sentences in Thai language is an entirely different story.
Once you are comfortable with reading and writing the Thai alphabet, your teacher will have you start reading short excerpts in Thai. The purpose is two-fold. One goal is to help you with your pronunciation because Thai is a tonal language. The other is to test your understanding by asking you questions in Thai of what you just read.
Building Listening Skills
Building listening skills is probably the most difficult. This is because when someone speaks Thai natively, they oftentimes speak it very fast. Plus, there are many expressions that formal language training does not teach. One way to build listening skills is to listen to Thai karaoke music because the lyrics are shown on the video along with the singing. It may not be your favorite music but it is a great way to learn.
Thai people love their soap operas and some expats watch them in order to build listening skills. The difficulty with soap operas is that the actors tend to get emotionally intense and it is not easy to follow. Watching English movies with Thai subtitles is another way to quickly see the translations.
While you are having instruction in the Thai language, it is important to get out there and use it. Use it at every possible opportunity you can. You will be surprised how Thai people like to help you and in exchange they get to practice their English a little. By doing this, you will have a rich experience here.