Learn Thai with these resources
To learn Thai, you’re going need a way to learn correct pronunciation and the alphabet, a frequency dictionary to form your base vocabulary, and a good grammar book. You’ll also benefit from a thematic vocabulary book for specialized vocabulary and maybe a book or two, once you learn your first 1000 words. Make sure you read the Method sections of the website, then check out some of these recommended resources (pictures are links). I’m going to change the order of Thai around a bit compared to other languages, because the resources available are pretty different.
First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English. The video tutorials here should help.
Once you understand that, start working on Thai. It’s a tricky language for an English speaker. It’s tonal, it has some difficult to distinguish consonants (aspirated vs unaspirated t, p, k and tɕ), and it has long/short vowels. You’re going to need to be able to hear, spell and say all of these things first. Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s book seem to be the best option available designed specifically for pronunciation. It comes with a CD and covers all the main pronunciation topics.
Next stop: the alphabet. The A.U.A. language center in Thailand is sort of the center of Thai studies. The books coming out of that program and related programs (Cornell is closely associated with it) are the main college-level books available for Thai. If you’ve used Becker’s pronunciation book, then you should have a decent ability to hear the sounds and a not fully developed ability to read the alphabet. So get the AUA Reading book. It goes through the alphabet slowly and methodically, uses IPA and should get you on your feet with the alphabet. Even better, the AUA Center has recently released videos that go along with the book series. Get the book and watch the videos!
I’m jumping to a grammar book because it will give you your intro vocabulary anyways, and you can go back and fill in the gaps later. Everyday Thai for Beginners by Wiworn Kesavatana-Dohrs is supposed to be phenomenal – the only catch (and one of its biggest strengths) is that it uses the Thai alphabet exclusively – no transcription into English letters. Good thing you learned the alphabet already in step 2!
This book should be perfect after the AUA Reading book. Once you’re done with it, you might be interested in moving on to the AUA books by Marvin Brown. Here are the first two levels. You’ll probably be able to skip to level 2 at this point. If you just adored the AUA Reading book, you can use the rest of the AUA books instead of Everyday Thai for Beginners, but they’re expensive because the CDs need to be ordered from Cornell University directly (and you should probably have the CDs).
If you loved Becker’s pronunciation book, she has a whole series of books that are pretty well reviewed, but I think Kesavatana-Dohrs’ book will work better for most students if they start with pronunciation and the alphabet.
Here’s where you fill in any holes in your vocabulary. I’ve made a base vocabulary list of 400 words to start you off – you should know the terms for most of these words. After that, try one of these:
A reader suggested this wonderful Thai Frequency List. I have also found some online sources for smaller ~1000 word frequency lists. A 2000-3000 word list would be better, but it doesn’t seem to exist! So…the best option I’ve found is the wonderful user friendly list at thai-language.com. It comes with examples and English translations. The words are in alphabetical, rather than frequency order, but you should know all 1000 anyways, so it’s not a big deal whether you’re learning #357 or #493.
Sealang.net also has a bunch of vocabulary lists. The intro ones are based off of the AUA Reader, and introduce words chapter by chapter. They rank frequency on a 0-9 scale (0 is the most frequent) and they even have Thai translations of the English Academic Word List (which I discuss over in the vocabulary section), should you wish to learn academic Thai.
You can read anything that you enjoy. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading. The Thai translations are a bit hard to get a hold of, but right now there are some used copies of book #6, so get them while they’re hot.
There is a wonderful series of introductory 100% Thai videos at the AUA language center website. Watch these once you’ve studied a bit so you have some sense of what’s going on (or if you’re particularly masochistic, jump right in; you’ll probably get it after a while!)
Thai has a lot of online resources and blogs. Women Learning Thai is one of the best, and has a wonderful resource section. Rather than copy it out over here, just go there!
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