I am looking for someone to help me with suggestions to confidently / safely get into the intermediate Thai level and push into the expert level (which I am one year away from).

I studied Thai for 9 months, and on and off as a hobby for some years, and recently moved back to Thailand where I have been doing self-study casually for the last few months. I know the alphabet and can read fairly well and write out anything in Thai. I know lots of vocab and a number of verbs, but I feel my language skill lacks depth here. I can barely understand most written literature - e.g. a basic book for teenagers. Even these ones for young children I struggle with. But then there are times when I feel quite fluent and have definitely surpassed the beginner and elementary levels.

I think I just need to become really confident with another 100 (less common) verbs, and another 100 nouns - including some which are 'royal' or 'official' or 'business-related', etc. I know most of the common sentence structures a probably am nearing a vocab of 500.

I struggle with reading the news, etc. because often there are names of people that I find difficult to 'pick out' (because there are no capital letters - and spaces are only used between not-so-directly-related phrases, and not between words). Thai also uses lots of abbreviations/acronyms for months and all sorts which I find difficult to make out.

My goal is to be able to watch a film or something on TV and have a 80-90 % understanding. And to be able to make simple comments about it as well.


3 Answers 3


I find it is often easier to read familiar texts or watch familiar videos translated into your target language. If you can read Harry Potter or watch the Simpsons in Thai, for instance, you will find the language more comprehensible than what you find in original Thai works.

  • Thanks for your reply (Sorry I thought I had replied already!). I printed off the first few pages of Harry Potter - Doesn't quite have the same ring to it - but still good stuff. Thanks
    – Chris
    Nov 11, 2019 at 9:53

500 is a very low number when comparing with the CEFR scheme. That puts you in the A1 category (out of 6: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). It may be that you know more vocabulary, but if you do not then it should be difficult to read most books.

That said, I think reading is the key to increasing vocabulary. With Thai, there is formal and informal language, unfortunately, which complicates matters as reading/writing can tend to be formal (outside of Line chats) and listening/speaking is generally more informal with different words).

There are some bilingual children's books that would be a good place to start. My 2 and 4 year old sons read these (along with Thai-only and English-only books) and it helps provide some reference points. Go into a SE-ED store and you will find a ton of children's books, all quite cheap.

I agree with @k-man that it might be helpful to read something already familiar.

  • What you've said is absolutely right (I mean, I see what you're getting at). Just a couple things I would mention: I think in my '500' approximation I wasn't including any English-derived words - these can be abundant in certain dialogues. My other excuse would be that I was dumming down my scale a bit just because relative to other languages like French or Spanish the number of 'Western' learners of Thai to any reasonable level is (at a guess) much much lower! But of course you are right, and it is helpful to take a step back and see things on more of an 'objective' scale
    – Chris
    Nov 11, 2019 at 9:50
  • Yes I have some of those books - and actually the bilingual ones are really cheap - there are quite a few in the children's section ('The Stupid Donkey' , etc) - the English translations can be a bit dodgy but it is nice to know there is a source there. But sure, the 'formal' Thai words can be quite intimidating because they include loads of crazy non-common letters of the alphabet and the pronunciation can be difficult to workout and a dictionary might be required.
    – Chris
    Nov 11, 2019 at 9:52
  • But to address one more thing you mentioned: You're are right, it can feel quite fluid when using a limited vocabulary (albeit swiftly/fluently) in certain circumstances, but as soon as you move out of your comfort zone it can be quite tricky. (I'd like to point out also that the 21 days since I asked this question I have made some gradual improvement).
    – Chris
    Nov 11, 2019 at 9:56
  • Not sure if you are a Thai learner yourself - but something you might find interesting: I bought an agricultural-type magazine some time ago - I just thought it was really interesting how all 'vocab' is so different there (as you would expect from buying, say, a Physics magazine in English), and it was really nice to be learning something new - i.e. different plants and all sorts. I have only been BACK in Thailand 4 months so far but feel that the more I immerse myself the more language will get ingrained in my head.. as that's the stuff that really matters IMO :)
    – Chris
    Nov 11, 2019 at 10:00
  • Check out Krashen's work on second language learning. It makes a clear distinction between acquisition and learning. See: sk.com.br/sk-krash-english.html and sdkrashen.com Nov 14, 2019 at 4:53

I lived in Thailand for 2 years and taught it for another year and a half. Focusing on tones is going to be most helpful. You need to be able to pronounce and use each tone on its on as well as combined with other tones. Improving this skill will increase your ability to be understood by native Khonthai and also pick up more thai daily.

One activity to practice this skill is shadow reading, following right behind a native speaker as they speak a phrase. Use recordings that you can rewind and listen to. Maybe even ask some native speakers if you can record them saying common phrases then parrot, parrot, parrot those phrases.

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