Language Learning

Learn to speak Thai, Thailand’s official language

If you’re moving to Thailand, learning the local language will help you settle in more easily. Discover resources and schools to learn Thai.

A teacher writing Thai words on a whiteboard in a classroom

By Naomi Nunn

Updated 15-3-2024

When you visit Thailand (ประเทศไทย) as a tourist, you can get by with English, but when you’re living there, learning the Thai language will help you understand the culture and meet locals more easily. Even picking up a few useful phrases can make everyday life easier.

Luckily, there are plenty of online resources to help you learn Thai and a wide choice of language schools (โรงเรียนสอนภาษา) in all the most popular cities where internationals live. So read on to find out all about learning Thai, including:

Why learn the Thai language?

There are many reasons to learn Thai. Although you’ll be able to get by in tourist destinations in English and a few basic phrases, learning the language will help you to settle into your home more quickly and build stronger relationships with your neighbors.

Friends sharing food at a market
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In addition, if you plan to apply for Thai citizenship (สัญชาติไทย), you’ll need to pass an informal language test. However, language skills are usually not required by internationals to get a job. Almost every workplace that employs foreigners has English (ภาษาอังกฤษ) as an official company language. Nevertheless, learning Thai will boost your relationships with your colleagues. Thai people are particularly appreciative of internationals who make the effort to learn their language.

image of insider

Local expert

Jane Evans

Insider tip

Learning Thai will really open doors, bring you big smiles, and it will open your eyes to Thai culture and ways of thinking.

About the language

The Thai language (ภาษาไทย – pasa Thai) is the official language of Thailand and is spoken by almost all of its 70 million citizens. However, in some parts of the country, local dialects are more widely used. These include Northern Thai (ภาษาไทยภาคเหนือ), Southern Thai (ภาษาไทยภาคใต้), and Northeastern Thai (ภาษาไทยอีสาน). Around 50 other indigenous languages are spoken, mostly in more remote areas, particularly along the northern borders.

Outside of Thailand, the language is not widely spoken, although there are small pockets of Thai expats around the world. Unfortunately, many foreigners in the country don’t learn much Thai and get by with a few basic words. This means they are missing out on many aspects of the culture.

Is it easy to learn Thai?

Some aspects of Thai are more challenging than others. For example, it is a tonal language (ภาษาวรรณยุกต์), so some people might find pronunciation complicated. On the plus side, many foreigners find Thai grammar (ไวยากรณ์) very straightforward.

This means that attaining a functional level of Thai is possible in a few months of study, but it can take years to become fluent, especially if you are aiming for native-level pronunciation. So, a realistic goal for many internationals is to have enough Thai to carry out daily activities and enjoy conversations with friends.

Learning Thai before moving to Thailand

Learning some Thai basics before you arrive can help make your introduction to the country go more smoothly. If you’re moving to a major expat center like Bangkok (กรุงเทพมหานคร) or Phuket (ภูเก็ต), most people will know some basic English. However, speaking a little Thai will help the locals warm up to you and may make finding an apartment easier.

Close-up of a hand sorting through flashcards with Thai letters on them
Photo: Irina Kulikova/Getty Images

Furthermore, if you’re moving to a less popular location for internationals, like Udon Thani (อุดรธานี) or Hat Yai (หาดใหญ่), you’ll find it a lot more useful to have some everyday phrases before you land.

International Thai language schools

As Thai is not globally spoken, there aren’t many places where you can learn it outside Thailand. However, depending on where you live, you may be able to find a school that offers courses. The following are a few options from some major cities around the world:

There are also many apps and websites available, like Pimsleur and Thaipod 101, which you can read all about below.

Learning Thai in Thailand

Most people choose to learn Thai after arriving in the country, and a considerable number of schools offer Thai courses in all the popular international locations. However, many people study Thai to get an education visa (วีซ่าการศึกษา) to stay in the country long-term. This means the quality of courses can vary a lot, as some schools focus more on visas than teaching.

Learning Thai in Thailand has many benefits, as you can practice what you learn immediately. You are exposed to the language daily, and it’s much easier to supplement your studies by watching Thai shows on streaming services and speaking with locals.

Language Schools

As previously mentioned, there are a huge number of Thai language schools to choose from, but unfortunately, many focus on visa-related topics. However, there are also plenty of well-respected courses, including several at major Thai universities (มหาวิทยาลัย). Some reputable places to study Thai include:

  • Center for Thai as a Foreign Language, Chulalongkorn University (จุฬาลงกรณ์มหาวิทยาลัย), Bangkok – As one of the top universities in the country, Chulalongkorn offers a range of courses for foreigners, including intensive, communicative, and reading and writing courses.
  • Chiang Mai University Language Institute (สถาบันภาษามหาวิทยาลัยเชียงใหม่) – Another top university, Chiang Mai University’s (มหาวิทยาลัยเชียงใหม่) Language Institute offers Thai courses at various levels and private one-to-one classes.
  • Duke Language School, Bangkok – Another language school often recommended by expats and offers a range of courses at different levels.
  • Patong Language School, Phuket – This school has been operating for 40 years and offers a range of Thai and other language courses.
  • Payap University (มหาวิทยาลัยพายัพ), Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่) – This university is well known for its intensive Thai courses.
  • Pro Language branches in Bangkok, Pattaya (พัทยา), and Chiang Mai – This language school offers a range of courses, including business-focused language classes and online learning.

Even in the more well-respected schools, the teaching style will vary and may use quite traditional language-learning models. While this works for some people, attending a free demo lesson (บทเรียนสาธิต) at the school you are considering is generally a good idea to make sure it suits your learning preferences.

How can I learn Thai for free?

There are a few free resources you can find for learning Thai. These include:

  • Thailand Foundation’s (มูลนิธิไทย) free online Thai lessons are available for speakers of various languages.
  • Foreign Service Institute’s (สถาบันบริการต่างประเทศ) Thai lessons from the 1970s are available online as they are copyright-free.

Cities with large foreign populations often host language meetups and exchanges (การพบปะและแลกเปลี่ยนภาษา) where you can learn Thai for free while teaching other people your native language. The best way to find these is via local Facebook or expat groups for your area.

Learn Thai online

Online Thai courses (หลักสูตรภาษาไทยออนไลน์) can be a great option for people with busy schedules and those who don’t live in a major city. These classes are usually available either as group or one-to-one sessions. Private lessons (บทเรียนส่วนตัว) will give you more flexibility but are usually more expensive.

A man being thoughtful and making notes while sat at a laptop
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Here are a few well-respected online Thai courses:

  • Banana Thai – This new online-only language school has a wide range of online courses and self-study resources. These cover all the language skills, and you can focus on a single skill per course. Their group classes cost about ฿9,000 for 24 hours of study. 
  • Berlitz – The Thailand branch of this international language chain school offers both group and private online courses. Prices start at around ฿13,000 for 30 group classes.
  • Center for Thai as a Foreign Language, Chulalongkorn University (ศูนย์ภาษาไทยในฐานะภาษาต่างประเทศ จุฬาลงกรณ์มหาวิทยาลัย) – As well as offering face-to-face classes, Chulalongkorn University allows you to take an online version of its intensive course. The 100-hour course costs approximately ฿23,000.
  • Duke Language School (โรงเรียนสอนภาษาดุ๊ค) – This private language school offers a 60-hour group class for just ฿8,000.
  • Phasorn Language School – Another private language school, Phasorn provides one-to-one classes for about ฿15,000 for 30 lessons.
  • Preply – This website will connect you to online Thai tutors who you can book online one-to-one classes with. Prices range from around ฿300 to ฿1,250 for a 50-minute lesson.

Other handy online Thai learning resources

As well as apps, there are quite a few solid online resources for learning Thai. Some of the best ones include:

  • L-Lingo – This website has some free Thai phrases that may be useful.
  • Learn Thai from a White Guy – These online self-study courses use an alternative method for learning Thai and have a strong focus on reading. This method works well for some people, and a free trial is available to test it for yourself.
  • Lexilogos Thai keyboard – An online Thai alphabet keyboard.
  • Peace Corps free online lessons – The Peace Corps Thai lessons are available online for free. They also have dictionaries for the regional dialects of Northern Thai, Southern Thai, and Isan.
  • Thai Reader Project – The University of Wisconsin has put its Thai reading books online for free for extra graded reading practice.
  • thai2english – This online Thai-to-English dictionary has the helpful feature of inserting spaces between words in Thai script to help you read them.
  • ThaiPod 101 – This website is somewhere between a course and a resource bank. They have a huge range of video lessons, flashcards, word lists, and other Thai language learning materials. A free account gives you access to some resources and classes, or you can pay to access everything.

Learn Thai with a computer or smartphone app

Learning languages via apps (แอพ) on your phone and computer is very convenient, as you can practice in your own time. Here are a few of the better Thai learning apps and software:

  • Pimsleur – The well-known Pimsleur method offers a single level of Thai to help you speak the language fast.
  • Ling – This app has bite-sized Thai lessons that focus on speaking and listening – they also use the Thai script if you want to practice reading. The first level is available for free.
  • Drops – This app uses very short ‘drops’ or mini lessons to introduce new language, with a focus on vocabulary building.
  • Instant Immersion – This software has some beginner-level Thai courses you can use on your computer.
  • Transparent Language – These online courses cover various aspects of beginner Thai, from reading to speaking and listening.
  • Mondly – Mondly uses elements of gamification in their app to make learning Thai fun. The app focuses on phrases rather than single words, which many people find helpful.
  • Keng Thai (เก่งไทย) – If you want to focus on reading and writing, this app, designed for Thai kids, is a fun way to learn. It teaches the Thai alphabet using games and interactive activities.

If you are going to be using software and apps, it helps to set a schedule for studying. It’s very easy to download the software or app and feel a sense of achievement. Remember, you need to use the app regularly to learn Thai successfully.

How can you become more fluent in Thai outside of the classroom?

As Thai differs from languages outside the region, taking classes or using an app can give you a good grounding. But your practice shouldn’t stop there. As an international living in Thailand, you will have plenty of opportunities to become more fluent outside the classroom. Here are some ideas for extra ways to practice speaking Thai:

  • Chat with locals – You can talk with your neighbors, local shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and parents at your children’s school.
  • Talk to kids – If your children go to a bilingual playgroup, why not host a playdate with some of their Thai classmates? You’ll probably find young children’s vocabulary much easier to understand.
  • Join a sports team or club – Take up a sport or join a local club away from the expat bubble.
  • Practice with your friends – When you make Thai friends, try to speak with them in their language at least part of the time. As you become more comfortable with each other, they will be happy to correct you.
  • Watch Thai TV, movies, or Netflix – Don’t forget to put the subtitles on at first. One good way to learn is to use English subtitles if you’re a beginner and Thai subtitles if you’re more advanced. Another tip is to read from the end of Thai subtitles to get the gist quicker.
  • Sing a Thai song – Go to a karaoke night with friends and see if you can learn a Thai pop song or two. Your friends will be very impressed when you start singing in Thai.

You’ll find that Thai people are generally very happy to hear a foreigner speaking their language and will usually be kind, patient, and helpful. You can always apologize for any mistakes and ask them to correct you as you speak.

image of insider

Local expert

Jane Evans

Insider tip

Most Thai people will be delighted to help you with your language, even busy shop assistants.

Thai language exchanges

Language exchanges are a great way to practice your budding Thai and make new friends. You can find these meetups all over the country – the following are some of the most popular:

Thai lessons for children in Thailand

If you want to support your child’s Thai, some language schools offer lessons for children (บทเรียนสำหรับเด็ก). Most expat children go to international schools (โรงเรียนนานาชาติ) as state schools (โรงเรียนของรัฐ) do not generally provide language support for non-Thai speakers.

Closeup of a child writing Thai characters in a notebook
Photo: ossyugioh/Getty Images

However, some international schools provide opportunities for learning Thai. Here are some places to find classes for children:

  • Dinolingo – This app is designed especially for children and will help them learn Thai in a fun, interactive way.
  • Lanna Language, Chiang Mai This school provides after-school lessons for children wanting to learn Thai.
  • Modulo, Bangkok – This school has classes specifically designed for children.
  • Nancy Language Club, Bangkok – This school runs a Thai club for children aged between 3 and 12.
  • Preply – This website will match you with online Thai tutors specializing in teaching kids.

Learning business-level Thai for professionals

Although it’s unlikely that your job in Thailand will require Thai language skills, learning to use it in a business setting might be useful. Most language schools offer business Thai courses (หลักสูตรภาษาไทยธุรกิจ). Here are a few options:

  • Modulo, Bangkok – This language school in the capital offers business Thai lessons for people who already have a basic understanding of Thai.
  • Pro Language, Bangkok – This language school offers classroom lessons, or one of their teachers can come to your place of work to give business language classes.
  • ThaiPod 101 – This website has some self-study lessons focusing on formal language for a business setting.

Are there any official language examinations (การสอบภาษา) and qualifications (คุณสมบัติ) in Thailand?

Although it’s very unlikely to be necessary, if you need an official Thai proficiency score for your study or work, there is one option. The Chulalongkorn University Thai Proficiency Test of Thai as a Foreign Language (แบบทดสอบวัดความรู้ภาษาไทยเป็นภาษาต่างประเทศ) (CU-TFL) is the best-recognized test in the country and is available to anyone who wants to take it.

You can either take the test at Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute (สถาบันภาษาไทยสิรินธร) in Bangkok or through universities in China, Taiwan, and Japan. It costs ฿4,500 to take all four skills tests (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) (การอ่าน การเขียน การพูด และการฟัง) in Bangkok.

Do I need to pass an exam in Thai for residency?

While a level of Thai proficiency is required for permanent residency (ถิ่นที่อยู่ถาวร), there isn’t an official test needed for this. From anecdotal evidence, you have a conversation with the immigration officers rather than taking a standardized test.

Useful resources