Study Thai at Duke Language School; My Experience and Review

I’ve lived in Thailand for years. But pre-COVID, I only spent maybe 2 or 3 months a year here. The rest of the year was spent trying to finish my goal of visiting every country in the world. And then COVID struck, and I’ve been stuck in Thailand since my last Socotra tour that I led in February and March. 8 months in 1 country. The longest I’ve done that since 2005. Wow. Anyway, I wanted to put my time to use. I often see immigrants like me, based in countries for years, speaking barely a word of the native tongue. In my opinion, it’s a little disrespectful. We should try to assimilate ourselves. And living in Thailand should be no different. Hence my desire to study Thai in Bangkok while I have the time. Rather than spend my time going through my Bangkok itinerary or my Bangkok staycation time and time again, I should be a little more proactive. 
So I did a lot of researched and finally committed to study Thai at Duke Language School. By all accounts the best Thai Language school in Bangkok. I’ve just completed 3 months of study, and it’s been amazing. I’m totally blown away by how much I’ve learned. I want to share my experience studying Thai in Bangkok at Duke with you guys. So check it out.
Studying Thai
Kru Thanya (red pants!) taught me for 2 months

Duke Language School; My Experience Studying Thai here

I found where the school was on google map and hopped on the BTS to Nana Station. From there it was about an 8-minute walk to the ‘Trendy Building’, up the escalators and I found the school. I walked in and told the reception at the school that I’d like to start to study Thai. I had been trying to get back to studying Thai for years but the old “I’m too busy”, “Can’t find the time” excuses came out. It was time to take the plunge. 

Now at this point, studying Thai in Bangkok again was still more of an idea than a commitment. But the staff offered the chance to instantly have a level-check, to see which of the 9 levels you should join. Right now?! I asked. Yup. I’m actually really shy with languages. So nervously I agreed. Speaking in Thai now, what’s your name, how are you, how long have you been in Thailand. The questions get progressively harder until you reach the level where you no longer understand. Me? Level 4/9. Kind of lower-intermediate. And that’s also the level that you begin the reading and writing. Eeeek.

Studying Thai in Bangkok
Test Time!

I explained in my last blog post about Duke Language School, just how it works in terms of levels, cost to study, education visas etc, so if you want that info, click here. For me, level 4 of 9 would start on the following Monday. 

I walked in and met my teacher Kru Tanya (Kru being the Thai word for Teacher). Level 4, 5 and 6 in Duke are called ‘Explore 1, Explore 2 and Explore 3’. It’s during these 3 modules that you learn the Thai alphabet, and ultimately, how to read and write Thai. A daunting prospect. 

My Efforts to Study Thai

Each module has its own textbook specifically designed by Duke Language. Explore 1 is all about becoming familiar with the letters. That means 44 Thai consonants and 32 vowels. Wow! Each Module or term lasts 4 weeks. Each week is 3 hours per day, 5 days per week. That means each term consists of 60 hours of face-to-face time with the teacher. And with 76 ‘letters’ to learn, memories, and write, it didn’t seem anywhere near enough time for me to be able to grasp it. 

I won’t bore you guys with how Thai grammar works too much. But know that there are 5 tones in Thai. So the same word, with a different tone, means 2 completely different things. ‘Maa’ for example can mean horse, enter, or dog depending on the tone. Also, within the Thai consonants, there are differing groups. Within which group the consonant lies, that can change the tone. So not only must you learn the letters, but you must also learn their group. And then when you add a certain tone mark, like an ‘ for example, that also can change the tone. BUT it changes the tone differently, depending on which group the consonant is. OH MY GOD. 

Study Thai
Thai consonants
Study Thai
Thai Vowels

I’ve never been a good student. But there’s something about this place that makes the environment so learner-friendly. The other students in the class, ranging from 25-55, are all fun, and outgoing. So that helps. But the teachers too. They’re young, energetic, kind, fun. And Kru Thanya stuck with us every step of the way. We went from not being able to even recognise a symbol, to instantly knowing all of them within 4 weeks. I went from merely seeing squiggles on road signs, to being able to ‘read’ most things. I should add though that my vocabulary is awful, so half the time I mightn’t know what it is I’m actually reading, but I can read it none-the-less!

Studying Thai in Bangkok

I studied 2 modules, back-to-back, with Duke Language. Explore 1 and Explore 2. So that was 3 hours a day for 2 months. And within that time, my reading ability went from this to this:

Living in Thailand, for years I saw TV ads, street signs, newspapers. I had no idea what was going on. Buy 1 get 1 free in 7/11? Clueless. God know what I’ve missed out on over the years! But within 2 modules of studying Thai, finally, I’ve made the breakthrough. Now I should add, I’m not exactly Shakespeare when it comes to literature. I read slowly, like a kid actually. And my vocabulary is a work in progress. But learning to read and write Thai has helped my speaking and comprehension so much. 

I understand the tones of the language so much better. I understand a lot of the mistakes I’ve been making for years because once you understand how the word is written, you understand how it should be pronounced. It’s such a huge help. 

I have one more module to study, Explore 3 before I fly home for Christmas. I’ll let you guys know how I get on with that. Although for that one, I think I’ll do a little video of me speaking Thai so you can see my progress. I feel like I’ve made big strides. Although as soon as you start studying something as complex as this the better you get, the more you realise there is to learn! Just gotta stick at it, and having finally found a school where I like the energy, it’s all become so much more manageable. 

Final thoughts on studying Thai in Bangkok at Duke Language

I would love to continue to study Thai in Bangkok to be perfectly honest. But I’ve signed up to row across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for men’s mental health. That means I have to focus on training. And fly back to Europe to start the row. So my study is paused until I (hopefully!) get back in a few months. So yeah, for sure if you live in Thailand, or spend any significant time in Thailand, I believe you should study Thai and make an effort. It’s also a great way to meet new friends. And it’s always good to exercise the brain! If you’re in Bangkok, I’m 100% confident that the guys at Duke Language school are the best. There are a lot of cowboys in the ‘study thai’ space. But these guys are legit. So good luck, and I may see you in class!

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