The extent to which you want to learn Thai depends on the type of lifestyle you want to enjoy in Thailand. Many professionals and other expatriates spend years in Thailand without learning the language. Since most Thai people in big cities and in the tourist areas speak English, you can survive with just English alone. However, you may encounter a language barrier if you travel outside these areas.
The good news is that Thai (despite the pronunciation) is not that difficult to learn. After you have gained initial knowledge and learned the patterns, learning the language will get easier and might even become fun.
Some of the things that make Thai easy to learn are the following:
- There are very few fixed rules in Thai grammar
- There is no conjugation of verbs depending on the person i.e. “I am”, “you are” etc. are all the same
- To express something in the present, past or future you will just have to add on one word
- There are no articles (a, the, those, etc.)
Be aware however, that the Thai language doesn't use spaces between words, but instead uses spaces between phrases. This could prove to be a problem, until you have grasped the concept and become accustomed to it.
It is recommended that you learn Thai in a language school. However, if you cannot schedule regular classes, opt for another alternative.
Online assistance for the Thai language
There are several online services that will help you gain some knowledge about the Thai language. You can also find a wide range of websites that offer translation services and online dictionaries e.g. Thai-language or Thai-Dictionary (which also has a handy audio pronunciation guide).
Multimedia products and books for learning Thai
If you are using textbooks to teach yourself Thai, make sure they are up to date and modern. Many older books will teach the old Thai language, which is not used in today's society.
You can also choose from a variety of computer software programmes (e.g. Rosetta Stone), which offer lessons from the most basic level to the most advanced. These programmes also offer pronunciation training.
Television and radio
There are many state and private TV programmes in Thailand, which broadcast shows in both Thai and English. However, if you want to learn Thai, you should stick to solely watching Thai television.
To subscribe to private Thai television providers, you will probably need to provide a copy of your passport and your House Registration Document (Tabian Baan).
Radio in Thailand
Native Thai people speak naturally and fast, and one of the best ways to learn is by immersing yourself into this. Thailand has many radio stations that government agencies own and control. Most of these stations broadcast solely in Thai (although there are a few stations that will broadcast certain shows in English too). You can also listen to most local stations on the internet.