Tone deaf? Don’t worry, your musical abilities won’t stop you from learning how to differentiate the five tones as you learn the Thai language. Symphony-prospects aside, Thai is spoken by 40 million people worldwide, and with 44 consonants and 15 vowel symbols, learning the Thai alphabet and script takes some time and dedication. We think you should love where you’re living while you’re taking Thai language lessons— whether you seek the chaotic nightlife of Bangkok, the rural adventures near Chiang Mai, or the beautiful blue water surrounding Phuket, you can be certain that you’re going to have the Thaime of your life at a Thai language school.
To learn the Thai language is no easy task, but rest assured that means selecting your Thai language classes abroad will be easier (because there’s no wrong choice!). Thailand is home to numerous wonderful cities, and while each city offers unique incentives and beauty, there are factors that may impact your decision. Pull out that pen and paper – it’s time to get down to it and figure out where to take Thai language lessons!
Find a Thai language school in Bangkok. The capital and largest city in Thailand hosts more visitors than any other city in the world and treats them to the famous Thai hospitality. The extravagant temples and palaces, floating markets, lively nightlife and red-light districts offer a unique cultural aspect to any intensive language program. Bangkok offers the perfect combination between modernity and traditional Buddhist history. There is no shortage of places to go, things to do, or food to try! Go to learn the language and stay to experience culture. The one caveat? Be careful not to fall into the trap of chatting in your native language in this tourist-friendly city!
Master your tones with Thai classes in Chiang Mai. The largest city in Northern Thailand and capital of the Chiang Mai Province is located in the lush and mountainous countryside. This laid-back city is home to ancient and modern art, vibrant markets, and well-known Buddhist temples. Elephant sanctuaries, lush jungle treks, waterfalls, and rural local villages are just a short trip away. Originally a walled city with a moat, the juxtaposition between the historic old city and the growth of the new city outside the crumbled walls is inspiring. This is the perfect place to learn Thai in a relaxed setting with historical, religious, and rustic adventures just around the corner.
Learn the Thai language beachside in Phuket Province. Located in southern Thailand, these mountainous islands known for their sandy beaches make up the second smallest province. This is a true paradise for sunbathers and water athletes. With diving, surfing, snorkeling, and sailing available at the major beaches, fun is always an option! Beach-goers are typically located in the south while the north, home to a national park, is a bit more low-key. With language programs available in the different districts, including Mueang Phuket and Kathu, there is endless potential for learning not only Thai, but also about the culture and the natural beauty of Thailand.
Other destinations for learning Thai include England, Laos, and Cambodia, though Thai language classes are fewer-and-further between in these countries.
Thai Language Programs
There are a variety of Thai language classes available to suit any learning style. Whether you prefer to learn one-on-one, in a group setting, or earn college credit along the way, you will find what you’re looking for. Private language courses offer a degree of flexibility and can be taken individually or in a group, immersion programs require a large time commitment but will truly allow you to experience the language and the culture, and finally university courses may be a bit more expensive, but they offer a wider variety of topics to learn about.
Private Language Schools. This type of program is great for learning any level of Thai in a flexible setting. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes available for as short as two weeks and up to as many weeks you want. These Thai classes are offered to individuals or small groups (typically 5-6 students) based on personal preference. These classes tend to be pretty cheap, which is good because they don’t accept university financial aid. Additionally, they don’t offer accommodation, university credits or arrange for students to travel in groups.
Immersion Programs. These programs are best suited for individuals with a lot of time on their hands and a strong desire to be fully immersed in the culture and language. Meant for students taking a gap year, graduate students, or individuals seeking a career or life change, immersion programs typically last for a year. Ideal for gaining fluency in speaking, reading, and writing in Thai, these programs set students up for the possibility of landing a job in Thailand. Similarly to private language schools, immersion programs don’t always offer accommodation or group activities. This, however, makes the price very reasonable.
University Courses. The language courses taught at a university are in a group setting and last anywhere between three weeks and six months. Some programs are intended for a quick summer intensive class lasting three to six weeks while others are semester long programs. More structured than other language programs, these university courses typically provide homestays, guest houses, or dorm rooms, and the opportunity to take various additional classes to learn about Thai culture, art, and history. These programs are certainly the most expensive option for learning Thai abroad, but many programs accept university financial aid and provide academic credits for transfer.
Tips to Learn the Thai Language
It can take a year to fully gain fluency in Thai, but don’t let that discourage you. In a matter of weeks you can gain a working vocabulary and basic understanding of the language that will get you by in many situations. Commit several months and you will certainly be able to reach an intermediate level and communicate proficiently with the natives! Immersing yourself in the culture and taking language courses are a great start to mastering Thai, but there are some tricks that will help you along the way.
One hack for learning Thai is to carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. Every time you learn a new word, whether it be from a stranger on the street, a peer, or a sign, write it down! Pro-tip: write it both phonetically and grammatically correct so that you not only remember what the word means, but you also remember how to pronounce it correctly. Resist the urge to forego writing down words you think you’ll never forget, you’ll regret it a few months after returning to your home country.
Another hack that will get you on your way to mastering Thai is to not sweat the small mistakes and just start talking! Often times it is so overwhelming to try to learn the grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary of a new language that you get your tongue tied when you try to speak. The best way to get a handle on a language is to talk, talk, talk!
Language mastery always benefits from living with a host family. This is a major step towards completely immersing yourself in the life, culture, and language learned in your Thai language lessons, and will certainly push you more quickly towards fluency. However, a homestay may not always be an option on your program so it is important to not let that prevent your progress. Speaking Thai with peers who are also learning the language — even native English speaking ones — is beneficial for both parties!
Benefits & Challenges
Explore a Unique Part of the World. Typically, when people conjure up an image of learning a new language abroad, they will picture Europe and think of Spanish, French, or Portuguese. Traveling half-way across the world to rock Thai language classes breaks the mold and offers a new adventure. Exploring this unique country and learning such an unfamiliar language will be sure to push you outside of your comfort zone and give you an unforgettable experience. Plus who doesn’t want to get up close and personal with an elephant?
Culture. Everything from the food, to the geography, to the climate, and the religion will be different from what you are used to. It will be a massive culture shock, make you miss your favorite comfort foods (macaroni and cheese anyone?), and will force you to live in a way you aren’t familiar with. While this can be intimidating and feeling homesick is very real, this challenge will likely make your trip better than you could have ever imagined. It takes strength and bravery to step outside your comfort zone and it is incredibly worth it.
Learning Thai abroad, no matter which language school you choose, will give you the unique opportunity to explore the other side of the world. This journey will take you through Buddhist temples, far reaching mountains, sandy beaches, and vibrant nightlife all while putting you on the path towards Thai fluency. So whether you have two weeks or one year, get out there and learn Thai abroad!