A True Story from Brett (Learn Thai From A White Guy) - “How did I learn Thai?”

December 8, 2020

Are you struggling with learning Thai? Have you tried to learn Thai for years but still can't speak it with local people? Don't worry! A lot of people have the same problems as you do. Brett Whiteside, the Founder of the website Learn Thai From A White Guy, started to learn some Thai phrases to prepare for his trip to Thailand, then ended up speaking Thai fluently and sharing his learning tips to Thai learners in Thailand.

Today, Ling Team had a chance to talk with Brett about his journey in learning Thai. We are very happy to share the true story with you with the hope that it can inspire you in learning the language.

Question 1: Could you please introduce a bit about yourself?

Brett: 

I’m originally from New Jersey.  I came to Thailand in early 2003 quite randomly.    The short version is I was traveling around aimlessly and while in Ireland, a person standing nearby who heard me talking about where to go next suggested I check out Thailand.  

Around 2005 or 2006, I started helping a friend learn Thai.  It seemed to be working very well so I started blogging about it in case it might help someone else avoid the frustrations that I went through.  Word spread and more and more people started coming to me and over time I fine-tuned the process enough that I was able to package it into an ebook.  As soon as I had something to sell, my small audience of blog readers started buying which quickly allowed me to develop the book into one then a series of online courses that replicated what I was covering when I was teaching one on one.

Question 2: When and why did you start learning Thai?

Brett: 

I bought 2 phrase books a couple hours before I got on the plane to fly to Thailand in early 2003. I didn’t even know where Thailand was let alone anything about the language.   By the time I landed, I thought I knew how to say hello, thank you and the numbers though I’m sure my pronunciation was a disaster.  After I arrived, I just went around with a phrasebook and tried to talk  to people every day. 

I wasn’t expecting to be in Thailand very long, but I felt helpless not being able to communicate so I just kept at it a bit every day.   It wasn’t too long before I realized that a large percentage of the words and phrases in that book were completely wrong so I got rid of that book.   

Question 3: What aspects of Thai language do you think are the most challenging for westerners who want to learn Thai?  

Brett: 

I think people tend to focus on the things that sound scary to them and the script can certainly seem intimidating at first.  “There are so many letters” or “ It has tones!”   Yes, like any language, you have to get used to the sound system it uses in order to make any real progress.  Thai has a lot of sounds, many of which are going to be new.  If you don’t learn to produce these sounds, you are going to have a very hard time hearing them when other people use them which is very frustrating.    

Question 4: What did you do to overcome the challenges and become fluent in Thai? 

Brett: 

The short answer is that I didn’t give up even during times when I was extremely frustrated. There were certainly periods where I wasn’t trying very hard.  

The real answer is that after some months of being lazy about the script, I finally sat down and spent about 4 weeks really mastering the script, sounds and tone rules.   I then just drilled the tone rules 2-3 times a day for maybe 5 minutes until it all became automatic.  Once I had conquered that, it was as if the door to the language had swung open.  Once you stop mixing up sounds, learning new words becomes much easier.  .  

A less obvious obstacle is that Thai people will start telling you how great you are at the language almost as soon as you open your mouth.  While this can be encouraging when you are just getting started,  it can eventually start to  inflate your ego to the point where you start believing it when you actually still have a long way to go.  

Question 5: What will be your advice for westerners who are struggling with Thai language?

Brett: 

Do you want to really be able to speak Thai?  If yes, then you have to learn the script.  It’s the fastest and easiest way to get the sound system into your brain.  Avoid transliteration at all costs.  The Thai script serves as a map of the sounds for your brain and as long as you are using transliteration, you are going to be mixing up sounds and remembering them wrong.    


It certainly will require a bit more time and effort than learning a language that doesn’t have tones and uses a script you are familiar with, but if you stick it out, the extra 10 or 20 hours of work at the start  will quickly pay off and allow you to do anything you want in the language.  It’s a very small hill to climb.

Learning to speak Thai to a reasonably functional level will absolutely change your life in Thailand and you’ll feel silly for not having done it sooner. 

Question 6: We know that you also share your own experience to help people learn Thai in your Thai courses. Can you give us more details about the courses? 

Brett: 

My program follows the  methodology I use for learning languages which I have broken down into 3 stages. 

Stage 1:  First, get comfortable with the sounds.  For Thai, that also means learning the script and tone rules.  The first course in my online program has about 50 lessons and teaches you everything you need to know about the Thai script and sound system. 

Stage 2:  Here I recommend that you move immediately into short high frequency sentence patterns that you can use immediately.   It’s vital to spend some time drilling those everyday phrases.  This will help reinforce what you’ve learned with the sounds and script.  It will also help you dip your toes into very basic conversations which you’ll be able to handle in part because you’ve drilled so many of those key phrases that you will be using all the time. 
Stage 3: Dialogues and Beyond - Here you start getting exposed to more complex exchanges with longer sentences.  The sounds shouldn’t be as much of a problem for you now so you can focus more on learning new sentence patterns, more variations of the things you can already say, and building up your confidence when talking to people.  If you are feeling ambitious, you could start reading short texts at this stage. 

Thank Brett for sharing with us an interesting story about how you started learning Thai and some tips to learn this beautiful language! We hope you get inspired in the language and don't give up learning it. You can also check out the courses at Learn Thai From A White Guy website to learn with Brett's instructions.

The key tip for learning any languages is to practice it everyday. When you are at a certain level, you can improve your language skills much faster! Use Ling App for your daily practice along with the classes at Learn Thai From A White Guy.

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