You can get by without speaking Thai, but a phrase book and some of our @ phrase cards will help you a lot.
Thai is a tonal language. It has five tones - medium, high, low, rising and falling. The problem is that most westerners can't hear the tones. For example, the word for massage and mustache sound the same to most visitors. That probably won't create a problem.
But how about this? The words for "far" and "near" sound exactly the same as well, to foreign ears at least.
Other things about spoken Thai are difficult for holiday makers as well. For example, the Thai language has classifier nouns not used in English.
Thus, Thais don't say, "I want three beers." They say, "I want beer three bottles." Or, "I want paper five pieces".
Learning to speak a little bit of Thai does have rewards though. You get a small amount of instant respect from Thais because you are trying to learn their language.
Thailand has a long tradition of rote learning. While the Ministry of Education is trying to change this, it must be pointed out that it is still a problem with nearly all forms of education throughout the country.
What this means in practice is that you will be given sheets to memorize or copy, not just for homework, but also during your lesson. Most westerners don't care for this approach and, to be frank, it is not the best facilitator of learning.
With that caution in mind, lets get to some details.
First, Thai language lessons are usually in the neighborhood of 250 baht an hour at language schools, but it is dependent on the type of program.
AUA (America University Alumni) Program has been popular for years, but their reputation has slipped a bit of late. They do have branches throughout the country, including ones in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Udorn Thani, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani and Phuket.
Union Language School on Surawong Road in Bangkok (phone: 02 223 4482) is regarded by many as the finest course in Thailand. It is also said to be difficult. Many foreign missionaries, who take learning Thai seriously, take the program here.
If you want something more heavy duty, Chulalongkorn University (The Harvard of Thailand) offers a nine-step program - three at the beginner level, three at the intermediate level and three at the advanced level. Each level consists of 100 hours. Telephone 02 218 4888.
Nisa Language School also has a good reputation. It has two Bangkok locations. They can be contacted at 02 671 3359.
Until you learn Thai, keep your phrase book handy, don't be afraid to make mistakes, don't be intimidated when you aren't understood or even laughed at, and keep our @ free phrase cards handy.