I was recently contacted and offered an account at Learn-Thai-Podcast.com in exchange for writing a review of the course, as well as talking a bit about how I would personally approach using it. While it would be ideal if I completed the entire course before reviewing it, that would take a very long time , so I’m going to review it now, based on the impressions I have after perusing and listening to a variety of different lessons.
The Learn-Thai-Podcast site has a format very similar to lots of other language learning podcast sites. Each lesson is available as:
- a video, with text to go along with the audio;
- an MP3 file;
- and a PDF transcript.
There is one exception to this, however: the reading and writing lessons, due to their obvious visual nature, are not available as an MP3.
When you log in to your account, you’re presented with this menu:
Learn Thai Podcast course screenshot (click to enlarge)
The full list of each course “segment”:
- Phrase Lessons
- Beginner Lesson Cycles
- 300 Most Common Thai Words
- Grammar & Review Lessons
- Beginner Vocabulary Lessons
- Intermediate Lesson Cycles
- Advanced Lesson Cycles
- Advanced News Lesson Cycles
- Reading & Writing Lessons
- Alphabet Mnemonics
There are currently 300 vocabulary lessons, each consisting of around 10 words each. Each lesson is based on a theme: health, verbs, birds, and so on. There is also a Vocabulary Trainer, which is basically their implementation of flashcards. Every lesson in the lesson list has a “Open in Vocabulary Trainer”; this will open up the corresponding words from the lesson in the trainer, which I found to be pretty handy. The trainer includes the phrase / word in Thai script; transliteration; English translation; and the phrase / word spoken.
Thoughts on the course
The course has a lot going for it. The biggest thing to note is that there is a lot of good material here. The lessons remind me a great deal of Michel Thomas and Pimsleur, just that there’s a whole lot more here. Explanations are given in English, and sentences are broken down, bit by bit.
One thing in the transcripts that really popped out at me, and which I love, is that literal translations are provided for everything. While they’re certainly not what you want when you’re reading a foreign language book, they’re extremely handy for unraveling a language you’re learning. In a lot of newer courses, literal translations are nowhere to be seen. Here’s an example:
An example page from a Learn Thai Podcast transcript
Obviously, if you only had the literal translation, it wouldn’t be of great help, but seeing the “normalized” translation along with the literal? Golden. It lets you see how thoughts are pushed together in Thai, as opposed to how it would be rendered “prettily” in English.
A minor point, but worth mentioning: having listened to a number of lessons, I can honestly say both of the speakers’ voices are pleasant and not a chore to listen to. On occasion, a course will be good, but the speakers are, for whatever reason, rather annoying (MIchel Thomas’ weird mouth sounds drove me crazy). I didn’t have that problem here. Something to consider, if you’re going to listen to hours and hours of people talking.
One minor point…
There is one major thing I wish were different about the course: the organization / labeling of the lessons. There are a lot of lessons, around 800 at the time of my writing this review, and they’re not named in any way to really help you find what you’re looking for. Most follow a pattern, such as: “Beginner Grammar Lesson 1; Beginner Review Lesson 1; Beginner Grammar Lesson 2; Beginner Review Lesson 2″; and so on. No textual explanation is given for each lesson. Once you actually start the video (or MP3), a title is given, such as “Grammar and Word Usage Lesson 5: Question Words,” which is a lot more helpful. I’d really like to see these lesson titles incorporated into the lesson pages, so it would be easier to track down what you’re looking for. Perhaps in a later update?
Would I recommend it?
I would. While I’ve often been hesitant in regards to “paid podcast language courses,” there is a lot of quality material here – text, audio, video. The current price is $197. If my stacks upon stacks of books, CDs, and other language learning materials testify to anything, it’s that you could easily rack up $200 in other courses with less material (especially audio).
Perhaps most importantly for anyone interested, they offer a sizable chunk of their course for free. You can check out 118 of the lessons for free; just open up the course in iTunes. Here’s a link. If you like what you see in those, then you’ll certainly like the full course, as it’s all structured the same way. Of course, with the podcast lessons, you won’t have access to the transcripts or Vocabulary Trainer section, but there’s more than enough in the free stuff to form an opinion.
How I’d use the course
They actually provide a proposed 1 year plan, which can be found here. I would sort of follow that, with a quite a few tweaks of my own. In talking about the lessons, they use what they call “cycles” to group lessons together. For example, in the Beginner Lessons Cycle area, you’ll see this:
1. Basic Conversation Lesson 1
2. Basic Vocabulary Lesson 1
3. Basic Grammar Lesson 1
4. Basic Review Lesson 1
Then Basic Conversation Lesson 2, Basic Vocabulary Lesson 2, and so on. Essentially, then, each of these sets of 4 go together. The conversation part gives you the overall picture of the lesson; the vocabulary lesson goes into the individual words; grammar covers, obviously, the grammar; and the review, unsurprisingly, reviews the whole thing. Later modules have a different number of parts to a “cycle,” but the idea is the same.
When tackling a cycle, then, I’d recommend mastering it as well as you think you can in a reasonable amount of time, before moving on to the next. Obviously, if you reach a point where you’re truly banging your head against a wall with a lesson and feeling like you’re making no progress, forge ahead and return to it later (the course lets you mark lessons as not finished, “okay,” and completed, to help you keep track of such things). But considering how very different Thai is from English, I’d want to make sure your foundations are solid before you sprint ahead to stuff that’s simply too tough for you.
With that in mind, getting started, I would work through: Phrase Lessons, Beginner Lesson Cycles, and then the 300 Most Common Thai Words. I would be tempted to then move on to Module 2, but I think I would instead skip ahead to Module 5, and work through the Reading & Writing Lessons, along with the Alphabet Mnemonics. No small task, to be sure, but certainly worthwhile. It is noted in their study guide that you can go through the course sequentially, but I would much rather learn the writing system sooner rather than (much) later. I generally hate transliteration, and find it to be a major crutch. People would find it peculiar for a Greek person to learn English using Greek alphabet transliterations, and I find it similarly peculiar to strafe around one of the most central parts of a foreign language. Furthermore, as soon as you have a grasp of the writing system, the world is your oyster (at least the Thai part of it, anyway). Any native language materials can be used for further study. If you rely on transliteration, that just isn’t the case.
Once I felt I had a firm grasp on the alphabet and writing system, I would probably loop back and review those beginner lessons again, just to be able to see the various spellings of words I’ve (hopefully!) learned at this point. Then I’d feel a little more comfortable moving on to the more advanced lessons.
As I worked through the course, the standard “rules” (mine, anyway) would all apply:
- Review each lesson many times. Nothing will destroy progress in a language quicker than a weak foundation. If you can’t crawl, you definitely can’t run.
- Listen a lot. One of my most oft repeated language learning mistakes is relying too much on the written word. Listen to the lessons until you’re sick of them, then… go listen to something else in Thai.
- Speak, from the start. When you’re listening to the lessons, pause after the Thai is spoken, and say it yourself. Yeah, you’re going to get it wrong at first (really wrong, most likely), but practice makes perfect.
- Once you’ve learned the alphabet, copy out Thai words and, later, whole sentences, from the lessons. I would recommend the sciptorium method. It will get you to slow down and truly focus on the writing (and language itself), as opposed to writing it out as fast as you’re able.
- Consider the word list method as a supplement to the vocabulary trainer for rapidly learning vocabulary. The vocabulary lesson transcripts will give you the raw material you need for this exercise. Print your transcripts and get to it. In this particular age of language learning, it may seem overly “traditional,” but it works.
- If you’re not actually in Thailand, make some Thai friends / penpals / chat buddies online. Sharedtalk.com can help you do that (for Thai and just about any other language you might be learning). You’ll most likely feel stupid at first, stumbling along as you try to say or write anything, but don’t worry about it. See above regarding practice makes perfect. The easiest way to force yourself to use Thai is to have friends who speak Thai, and know you are learning. A real world need is a wonderful motivator.
- Expect it to be tough. It’s often stated that “no language is any harder than any other language.” I think this is nonsense. As an English speaker, if you compare Spanish and Thai, I imagine you’ll find yourself thinking that, wow, Spanish looks a lot easier than Thai. Why? Because Spanish shares a lot more in common with English than Thai does. Subjectively, at least, Spanish is a lot easier. So, cut yourself some slack and expect the road to be a long one. Progress is progress, even if it is slower than you’d like. Stick with it.
I hope this proves useful, and I wish you the best of luck in your Thai learning adventure! Cheers.
Full disclosure: This is a paid, sponsored review. Furthermore, I received a free account at Learn-Thai-Podcast.com for 1 year so as to be able to evaluate the course materials.