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Thai for Beginners Paperback – 24 Mar 2001
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One thing to note - the book *does not* come with CDs. You have to buy the CDs separately (or at least I did). Amazon sells both (Thai for Beginners), but the CDs are twice the price of the book (the CD pack comes with 2 CDs, but doesn't come with the book - this is really confusing and Amazon really should bundle the CDsand book together). I have yet to listen to the CDs (still ripping to my ipod), but I think that they are vital. Thai is a tonal language, and if you don't get the tone write, you will struggle to be understood. I am lucky that I have Thai colleagues who can help me with tone. If you don't have anyone to help, then you will find it very difficult without the CDs.
Thai for Beginners is part of a series of 3 books. It is the best of the bunch by far. Thai for Intermediate learners is of lesser value and is only relevant for those that have learnt to read and write Thai, and Thai for Advanced learners is a total waste of time in my opinion. I've yet to get through it and doubt I ever will.
Personally I'd rate Thai for Beginners good for those wanting to learn to read and write Thai but of lesser value for those who simply want to learn to speak some Thai phrases. Learning to speak Thai is tough enough without having to learn Thai reading and writing which is considerably tougher. So, before buying this book really consider whether you want the pain of learning to read and write Thai. If you don't, you may find well over half this book is irrelevant to your needs, so best look elsewhere. Books like Speak Thai - Volume 1 (Book + DVD), which comes with DVD containing all the words and phrases so that you learn correct pronunciation (essential if you are to speak understandable Thai) and Teach Yourself Thai Book/CD Pack (Teach Yourself Language Complete Courses) might be better sources to learn to speak Thai for you.
So, what are the strength's and weaknesses of this book? The main strengths are as follows:
1) It teaches reading and writing Thai plus a good range of vocabulary and phrases in one book. It's about the only book out there that seriously attempts to teach speaking, reading and writing Thai in one course, and the fact it does this in one very modest book is a big plus.
2) It's well structured and that structure works well. Each chapter begins with a list of vocabulary, followed by conversation and sentences that incorporate some of those words, the latter being particular effective in showing how Thai sentences are composed using the words you have learnt. You are then given some word exercises to do, after-which you then get introduced to some aspect of writing Thai script, usually some consonants and vowel sounds, and then some basic reading exercises.
3) The idea of having sentences to teach you how to use some the words featured at the start of each chapter in vocabulary lists in phases is a good one, It is a surprisingly effective in teaching the way Thai sentences should be constructed and how to phrase things.
The main weaknesses are:
1) The narrative and explanation around the lesson content is minimal. If you like to have things fully introduced and explained you will find this is absent here.
2) The amount you are supposed to learn in a lesson at one time is ambitious to say the least. It is extremely challenging to have to learn and remember the long lists of vocabulary that start each chapter in one sitting. Personally, I'm not up to learning and remembering a list of 100+ words in one go and it really is not the most interesting way to learn Thai. The amount you are expected to learn in the reading and writing lessons later in each chapter is also extremely high. For instance, Chapter 1 expects you to learn and remember the Thai script and sounds of 7 unfamiliar vowels in one go, on top of all those 9 mid class consonants. It a big ask and quite frankly an unnecessarily challenging one. The introduction of these words in smaller segments would have made learning these words easier and less of an ordeal.
3) This book has no accompanying audio. If this is your first attempt to learn Thai you will not learn correct pronunciation without some audio. I would strongly advise you to buy the version of Thai for Beginners that comes with a CD so that you learn the correct pronunciation of words from the audio, as learning good pronunciation solely from the phonetic transliteration system used here is a challenge too far in my view. (Sorry, I can't find the product link for this). Note: I haven't bought this book with the CD so cannot vouch for how good the audio is. I've previously learnt using the Speak Thai - Volume 1 (Book + DVD) 'see, hear, speak' system (which I found very effective).
4) Very little grammar is taught and explained in this volume. You will need to buy Thai for Intermediate Learnersto learn more about Thai grammar, and the challenge with that volume is that you need to be able to read and write Thai at that stage to make purchasing the book worthwhile.
5) The biggest problem though is with this book for me is that I really don't like the phonetic transliteration system used at all. The phonetic transliteration system is how Thai words are written in Roman script so that learners can read and say those words. There are many accurate and easy to read intuitive based systems out there (how the word is spelt using our familiar Roman script is how you say it). Unfortunately Thai for Beginners uses a very scholarly script, and one that is overly complicated in my view, for instance:
o Where Roman characters are used you get vowel sounds that are spoken differently to how they are written, so for example, the vowel representation `ee' does not make the sound `ee' as in the word `meek' as you would intuitively suppose but the sound `a' as in the word `bay'. You also get crossed through `u' and `uu's that are pronounced differently from the non-crossed through `u' and `uu' counter-parts.
o Where Greek script characters are used (or whatever source script it is) you get letters looking like reversed number 3's, and reversed upside down e's and c's and you need to learn and remember the sounds associated with these symbols. The fact you have single letter and double letter vowel sounds using these characters means you have a lot of vowels written with unfamiliar letters whose associated sounds you need to learn.
So, the phonetic system used makes it all very confusing. There is a danger that you will spend half your time referring to the phonetic guide at the front trying to determine what sound these weird letters should produce in the words you are trying to learn, or worse still, guess, because you can't be bothered to check and so get learn the pronunciation wrong. Learning Thai is difficult enough without this unnecessary additional hurdle of dealing with a difficult and confusing phonetic system.
To conclude, this book is a bit of a mixed bag. I personally think that Thai for Beginners has a place as part of a range of other Thai language sources you are learning from rather than being the only source to learn from. I don't think it's the best first book to buy in your journey to learn Thai but is a good one to reinforce and supplement what you have learnt elsewhere and is a must if you want to learn reading and writing. Whatever you do, if you are just starting out learning Thai, make sure you buy a source with audio so that you learn the correct pronunciation from the beginning.
In my ex pat community EVERYONE agreed that this is the best book to learn from. Oh and one tip for your studies, learn to read Thai Script it will accelerate your learning and help in real world situations.
I hope you have as much fun with Thai and Thailand as I did. Good Luck!!