If you are serious about learning any trade, craft, or hobby, you will find that each endeavor usually requires a standard set of must-have items; whether they be tools, equipment, books, DVDs, etc… every pursuit contains certain essential items that those who came before you feel you simply cannot live without.
As I have now spent a fairly good amount of time in the Thai language learning community, I feel that I’m now in a place where I can pass on my recommendations to those who are just starting out on this wondrous journey.
Here is a list of the products, materials, and resources I recommend that you have at your disposal for learning Thai.
First, allow me to say that I’m not being compensated by any author or company for these recommendations. Though I have affiliate agreements with some of vendors, I receive no special incentive for including these in my list. Lest you think I was being disingenuous and all that…
First and foremost, you absolutely must have a copy of Mary Haas’ Thai-English Student’s Dictionary. Widely considered to be the best on the market, this Thai to English dictionary is massively helpful in finding the not-so-common words. Though a bit expensive to own, in the long run it will be well worth the money you spend. Many times it was the only reference book of many I own that had the word I was looking for listed.
You can read more about the dictionary in my review.
The next choice for dictionaries really depends on whether or not you want a traditional book dictionary, or if you want one of the several software/app dictionaries in the marketplace. It would seem that the two main choices right now are Paiboon Publishing’s Thai-English dictionary (available in printed form, as well as computer and iPhone/iPad app versions), and the Thai2English software dictionary. Both are very good, but I have to give the edge to Paiboon’s dictionary. I just wrote a review of their iPhone app, which you can check out to help in your decision making. I give the edge to PP for two reasons, mostly. First, they have a few extra features that are very handy to me — namely the Explain Spelling and See Real-World Fonts options. They also update their software much more often. Granted, Thai2English is a one-man show, and for the lack of manpower it’s certainly a great piece of software.
My recommendation for would have to be David Smyth’s “Teach Yourself Thai.” (Review here.) Smyth’s book will give you an excellent overview and foundation for learning Thai. If I had to choose a second it would probably be PP’s Thai for Beginners, but I ended up getting much more out of Smyth’s.
I would also suggest you check out my Downloads page for the Manee books in PDF format. These are a series of 12 books used many years ago in Thai public schools. Great for reading exercises!
There are three absolute must-have Thai grammar books: Thai Reference Grammar by James Higbee and Snea Thinsan; Thai, An Essential Grammar by David Smyth; and A Reference Grammar of Thai by Shoichi Iwasaki and Preeya Ingkaphirom. You must have all three of these books. I will warn you, however, that these books are not “start and page one and read them all the way through” books. You’ll poke your eyes out trying to do that. These books — though they are absolutely mandatory for the serious student — are nothing more than reference books. You use them when you are trying to figure out how a word or phrase functions, or how sentences are constructed. They are definitely not conducive to learning vocabulary or how to write consonants, etc.
An SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) Program
Many people are huge fans of the program Anki. “Intelligent flashcards” is how they put it. Me? I’ve never used it. I prefer Byki’s Thai program because all of the work is done for me. I’m not suggesting that I’m lazy, but the time I spend creating lists to learn is time I should be studying. Byki has some great software to teach you basic Thai words and phrases. They also (finally) have an iPhone app available. I’m a little embarrassed, actually, that I haven’t done a formal review of their software on this blog, so I guess I should do that sooner rather than later. Anyway, the point is that an SRS program will drill you on key words and phrases you need to know, and put the emphasis (have you spend more time) on the ones you don’t know as well as the ones you do know.
Jay and Jo get their own special category. Learn Thai Podcast is a massive collection of video and audio lessons that you can download to your computer in podcast form. Seriously, there are close to 1,000 video lessons ranging from beginner to advanced, and you’ll get everything from vocabulary, grammar, conversation, and listening skills all packed into their course. It’s not expensive, and the sheer volume of material they make available is enough to keep you busy for many years.
Luckily you don’t have to pay for these, but there are a few websites that I highly recommend you keep bookmarked and check out often:
You can (and should, of course) check back on my blog as well. Hey, I never said anything about blatant promotion.
I hate to say it, but as you get older the eyes don’t quite work as well as they should, and Thai print isn’t exactly large. So, I would suggest you go out and get a magnifying glass, especially when you have to pour over dictionary entries. It will save you from stiff necks and tired eyes.
I also recommend that as you study you write down everything you do. What I mean by that is, if you’re translating a sentence from Thai into English, write the Thai sentence down! This will be very good practice.