For centuries, the wonders of Thailand have captivated and drawn travelers from around the world. Many have fallen in love with the culture and hoped to learn the language as a way of getting closer to the country and its people. If this sounds like you, taking the time to learn Thai in Thailand is a great way to enhance your immersion and appreciation for Thailand.
The best part about learning Thai in Thailand is that you have lots of options. Thai language instructors and schools are common in all major cities, as well as many smaller towns and communities. Though the language might seem overwhelmingly complex at first glance, many fellow travelers and expats have successfully learned while in Thailand. When you're ready to take the leap and learn Thai, there's no better place to do so than Thailand.
Thailand's popularity as a destination for tourists from Western European and North American countries has made it one of the most welcoming for students who hope to learn Thai while in the country. The three main ways to learn Thai are through accredited universities, private language schools, and private individual instruction (or tutors).
Accredited University Programs
Several of the largest universities in Thailand (with branches throughout the country) have at least one Thai language department that focuses on teaching both written and spoken Thai to students. Given that these programs are accredited and supported through tuition payments, you can expect they might be higher in cost than other options, but also provide a consistently high level of quality in the education you'll receive.
Private Language Schools
Private language schools are by far the most common way that students can learn Thai while in Thailand. In Bangkok alone, there are several dozen that vary in price, quality, and the instruction they provide.
Some schools are comprehensive, allowing you to take classes from beginner through advanced skills; others are focused on helping professionals living in Thailand improve existing knowledge. Some focus solely on the spoken Thai language; others use set textbooks to teach written and spoken Thai simultaneously.
Finally, some offer classes "in English" to help you learn Thai, whereas others will only be taught in languages like Chinese, Japanese, or Thai itself. Be sure to research any specific schools you are interested in to learn exactly what they offer and at what price/value.
Private Instruction / Tutoring
There are also institutions that focus on providing individual instruction or matching Thai students with tutors in their area. This option's advantage is that it allows you to be matched with an instructor based on your individual skill level, move at your own pace, and support local Thai teachers in whatever region you live. As with language schools, these can vary in quality and price, so try to find reviews of specific teachers if you go through a matching program or website.
If you're looking for options, it's best to plan to learn Thai in Thailand's biggest cities. There, you'll find the widest number of universities, language schools, and private instructors who can help you master the intricacies of the Thai language.
The capital and one of Thailand's biggest cities, Bangkok is a natural landing spot for students who hope to learn Thai. As mentioned, there are dozens of language schools, as well as some of the country's best university programs.
Increasingly popular among travelers, many people who visit Thailand love Chiang Mai and want to stay forever -- making the Thai language an important part of their life! If you feel the same, Chiang Mai is a good spot to take language classes, as there are many universities, language schools, and private instructors in this travel hotspot.
Another common destination for foreigners visiting or living in Thailand, Phuket also offers a wide variety of options depending on what type of instruction you'd prefer, as well as your current level of Thai knowledge.
Housing & Costs
In most cases, students learning Thai in Thailand will be expected to find their own housing, regardless of whether you're living in a big city or small village. The good thing is that the cost of living in Thailand is quite reasonable, with most people able to find housing in the range of $200-$400 and live comfortably on $600-$800 a month.
Studying Thai in Thailand will probably be your biggest expense while living there. Most classes cost several hundred dollars for a few months tuition, depending on the skills you're trying to learn as well as the type of school you enroll at.
For the most part, scholarships aren't offered at private language schools or with private instruction. If you're enrolled at an accredited university in Thailand (especially in a degree program), you may have more options to help with financial aid.
Visas are a tricky business in Thailand. Many travelers can visit Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa, depending on your home country. After that, you'll need to find a visa that fits your life circumstance and allows you to stay.
Some language schools and most universities are authorized by the government to allow visa applications for students learning Thai, though it seems to be a requirement that you be enrolled for 400 hours of instruction in each year to qualify for the student visa these schools offer.
The good news is that even if you're already in Thailand, you can usually apply for a visa without leaving the country (unless you're already at your 30-day limit).