Thai is a purely tonal language and, therefore, impossible to learn from a website or book unless it is supported by extensive audio. Even then, it’s highly unlikely that the active skill of speaking can be truly mastered. The only way to learn Thai is with a positive attitude and lots and lots of practice, preferably with a trained instructor.
In Tongue Thaied, we’ll give you a few key phrases, some tips and an anecdote or two, but the best advice we can give you is to find a Thai teacher who matches your goals, needs and learning style, and then dive in.
I know many expats who have lived in Thailand for over a decade but who can’t understand or say anything more than the most basic greeting, and they even pronounce that incorrectly.
Personally, whenever I plan to spend any amount of time in a country, I’m always motivated to learn the language out of both respect and paranoia.
I believe that if you are going to be in another country for an extended period, you should at least make the effort to learn the basics of the language and not expect the locals to speak English with you. I find not making the effort at the very least disrespectful, and at worst arrogant.
I know of many cases where farang veterans blithely expect all Thais to speak English with them. There are even English teachers who complain when beginner level students struggle in a language that they use for 3 hours a week, while the teachers have failed to master the basics of Thai despite being immersed in it for several years. These teachers seem to conveniently overlook their own shortcomings and forget that this is why the students came to a language school and that it is the teachers’ job to teach them.
Then there are the mixed couples. Almost all of them communicate in English and the farangs even have the nerve to complain when their Thai partner doesn’t speak perfect English. An English teacher once told me how the old cockney boyfriend of one of his students spoke to him and said, “I just want you to teach ‘er ‘ow to talk proper, innit? I asked ‘er for me dinner last night and she didn’t know what 2 fried eggs, chips and beans were.”
Rather than learn Thai, many farangs tend to use Pidgin English or over-enunciation to such an extent that it takes a patronizing tone. “Hellll-oooooooo. How are yoooooou? Where you go? I no see yooooou.” I despair when I see how many farangs behave in Thailand, and total lack of interest in assimilating Thai culture or language get right up my goat’s nose and on his wick. There is no excuse why anyone who plans to spend some time here shouldn’t at least make the effort.
My second reason for learning a language is paranoia. I always find myself thinking that I am being talked about, ripped off or mocked when I don’t know the language, and that is a great motivator. There’s nothing like hearing the word “farang” in the middle of a stream of alien dialogue to focus you attentions on the probably laughing conspirators as they plot your downfall.
There is even a third reason to learn a new language and that is the number of doors that will open up to you. But don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.