Why learn Thai?
Well, actually, you don’t need to learn Thai at all!
There are enough people who can speak or understand English – even (or especially) in business – that you can get by and live quite successfully in Thailand… for many years. Some expats have been here for 10 or 15 years and own or manage successful businesses, without speaking more than a smattering of Thai.
Besides, Thai is quite difficult and boring to learn – that is, if you go to a ‘traditional’ class or try to learn it the way it is conventionally taught.
The way the tones are explained is quite confusing (when in fact, we use the same tones in English), and the transliteration schemes are non-standard and inconsistent. And there are around 40 consonants, several for the same sound (4 for “s”, 4 for “t”, 3 for “k”, etc.) and about 20 vowels and a dozen extra symbols. Not to mention some letters that can be used in several different ways, depending on the context.
It’s not as if Thai is a world language, like Spanish or French or Chinese or even Hindi, or a useful one for business or travel. Nor has it a wealth of literature, making it worth learning so as to read great works in the original, like Russian or German or Japanese.
Thai is more of a ‘lifestyle’ language, like Italian or Swedish – great if you want to enjoy living here, but otherwise not especially useful for world travellers or business people.
So why bother?
Well, once you can read, everything begins to fall into place naturally. You start to absorb the Thai language from your surroundings, from the street signs and notices and menus - without any effort and without having to spend time studying. You are surrounded by a ‘living dictionary’…
It makes learning to speak and communicate in Thai so much easier too. You know how to say things right, so you begin to hear what people say more clearly. You can learn from Thai songs, stories and interesting self-help books or biographies (where the writing style is surprisingly colloquial). It's a lot more fun than sitting in a class learning grammar.
It is not at all important to learn to write Thai! Don't waste your time, don't attend "writing" classes. Use your computer to type instead. After all, Typing is Reading!
Becoming literate in Thai is the crucial first step for speaking Thai, and eventually becoming a fluent communicator... (by 'fluent' I mean not having to think about the language when speaking).
Being able to speak Thai opens up the world for you in Thailand. The girls (and guys) will flock to you in admiration. Many Thai people are shy, but they will be attracted to you if you can converse in Thai. Even if they know some English, they prefer to be able to fall back on Thai, especially if they want to hang out with their friends as well.
It's also good for business, even if you are in an English environment. You will have a better idea of what your staff and colleagues are thinking and be able to get your ideas across more directly - and accurately - than if you rely on bilingual go-betweens. If you work in a school or environment where it's all Thai then you won't be so isolated and will start to make friends amongst your colleagues and their friends more readily than before.
And you'll be surprised at how much more cheaply you can live in Thailand once you can read and communicate in Thai. You can rent an entire house for the same price as a small room in an 'expat' area. I won't tell you what I paid for my 6-room house in Bangkok and my country-house-with-garden in Chiang Mai, it's too embarrassing! You can swan around Bangkok on buses and vans (that get to where you want to go just as quickly as the taxis). You will easily save several times more than the cost of the course.
Utlimately, living in Thailand is so much more fun when you can speak and understand Thai. Instead of being cloistered in the safe-but-dull 'farang-friendly' zones, you can discover the hidden byways and clubs and organizations normally reserved only for Thais. You have the freedom to go where you want and with whom you like. And you can make friends with anybody if there is no awkward language barrier.