As expats in Thailand, Chris and I understand the long-term benefits and practicality of learning the Thai language. We have plans to enroll in a Thai language program in Chiang Mai in the coming months. Meanwhile, I’ve been self-teaching myself how to speak and read beginner Thai using several different methods. If you’re thinking about staying in Thailand for awhile and want to teach yourself Thai, check out my recommendations.
Teach Yourself to Speak Thai
Pimsleur Thai Phase 1: Learn to Speak and Understand Thai
The best way to teach yourself conversational Thai is to do what babies do (but with Pimsleur’s Thai): listen and repeat, again and again. The audiobook (CD or downloadable audio files with booklet) provides roughly fifteen hours of conversation from which you can teach yourself Thai by listening to and repeating the dialogue.
Why I Like Pimsleur Thai
I like that Pimsleur Thai introduces new words or phrases one at a time, most of which I learned through context. This method helped me retain the new vocabulary better than traditional word drills. I also like that the conversation length and complexity gradually increase during each topic. During every conversation, small sections were repeated several times, which gave me time to absorb everything. After listening to Pimsleur’s Thai, I was more comfortable with sentence structure, repeating the proper tones, and understanding common topics, such as ordering food from a restaurant, asking how much something costs, and telling time in Thai.
Get your copy of Pimsleur’s Thai (audio recording + booklet)
Teach Yourself to Read and Write Thai
Complete Thai by David Smyth
If you want to take it a step further and teach yourself Thai characters in order to read and write, Complete Thai is a wonderful book-CD combo to use. Within each chapter, new vocabulary and short conversations are provided. This helps you reaffirm the Thai alphabet and strengthen your reading skills. The optional CDs also provide extra listening material.
Why I Like Complete Thai
This book is different from many beginner Thai books because it breaks down the Thai letters into small, easily digestible clusters within each chapter while gradually introducing the infamous five tone rules of the Thai language. This is better than being handed a long list of consonants (44!) and vowels (32!) with their respective sounds. Complete Thai also showed me the proper pen strokes needed to create each character. Because Thai is a very phonetic language, I was quickly on my way to reading basic Thai after learning the characters and tone rules.
Get your copy of Complete Thai (book + CD)
Teach Yourself Thai Grammar
Thai: An Essential Grammar by David Smyth
I’ll be honest. Thai: An Essential Grammar is a dry read, but the breadth of grammar topics covered within this book is quite extensive and provides an excellent foundation for the Thai language.
Why I Like Thai: An Essential Grammar
I think this book is a one-stop-shop for grammar rules. It does an excellent job of breaking down Thai grammar, which quickly diverges from English grammar beyond simple sentences. Direct translation only goes so far! I also like that it provides tons of vocabulary and small phrases among the grammar rule examples. If anything, this is a great book to use as a reference or supplement while you teach yourself Thai.
Get your copy of Thai: An Essential Grammar (book)
Yes, You Can Teach Yourself Thai
It takes dedication and determination to learn Thai outside of a traditional classroom setting, but it can be done. If you’re passionate about learning beginner Thai and want to teach yourself, I recommend any of the above books. I’ve been extremely happy with my progress using them. It’s exciting when you begin to understand and take part in basic Thai conversations.
Have you tried learning Thai yet? Would you rather stick to a class or is it worth it to try to teach yourself? Do you think it’s best to learn conversation or is it worth it to learn to read and write, too?