Thailand’s a favourite destination for vacations and world travellers. So it’s little wonder that that language is proving popular too.
The jump in popularity of Thai as a foreign language has led to an explosion of fun games and exercise ideas on the web to help hone your Thai skills.
I’ve collected some of my favourites from around the internet, as well as one or two “unplugged” ideas that you can do with just a pen, paper, and a wee bit of imagination. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, and try some of the more advanced ideas even if you don’t think you’re “ready”!
1. Listen and Learn
If you’re just starting out in Thai, or need more listening practice with basic vocabulary, try this listening comprehension game, which covers all the basics, including greetings, colours, body parts, directions, and much more. There is no reading or writing Thai required to play.
To get started, click on the category you want to practise, such as “Hello and Thank You” or “Drinks in Thai”, to open the game for that category. Within each game is a set of images you can click to hear the Thai pronunciation for the object in that image.
Click each image to listen to the Thai pronunciation as many times as you like to absorb the new vocabulary. Then click “game” in the top right to test your knowledge.
2. Learn Thai Numbers, Fast!
Want to learn how to haggle in Thai? Then you’ll want to study up on your numbers. This very simple app does one thing, and does it well: it teaches you all the Thai numbers up to 9999 by presenting them in random order for you to test your knowledge.
There are two exercise modes: standard flashcards, and a listening exercise where you type each number as you hear it. Even if you’re already familiar with the numbers, this app will help you recognise and recall them quickly, so there will be no “ums” or “ahs” when it comes to real-life situations.
3. Speed Listening
This webpage has six Thai audio conversations recorded by a professional Thai teacher, with transcripts in English, Latin alphabet transliteration and Thai script, side-by-side.
The teacher has managed to pack a ton of incredibly useful Thai colloquialisms into each conversation, so you’ll have plenty of examples of natural, everyday spoken Thai. You can listen to each conversation at both slow and normal speed, to get accustomed to the way real Thai people talk.
4. Thai Directions Game
This game will not only help you practise directions like “left” and “right”, but also prepositions, landmarks and units of distance.
Take an old paper road map or log onto Google Maps, (or draw your own original map on paper if you’re feeling creative), and mark two points on it, point A and point B. Now describe, out loud, the best route from A to B.
Bonus points: Don’t just say “turn left on Street 1, turn right on Street 2”, etc. Get ambitious! Try to say more complex phrases like, “If you pass the supermarket, you’ve gone too far” or “Watch out for children playing near the school!”.
5. Thai Typing Tutor
No matter what your skill level is in Thai typing, including “nonexistent”, this typing game will help you improve it quickly.
If you’ve been focusing most of your time on speaking, listening and reading, and you’re ready to add typing to your list of Thai skills, this highly addictive game will familiarise you with the Thai keyboard, or sharpen your skills if you can already type. And you don’t even need the Thai keyboard enabled on your computer to play!
The game is simple: one letter at a time falls from the top of the screen, and you need to type the correct key before the letter hits the bottom. If you get it wrong twice, a hint will appear. The game automatically speeds up and slows down to adapt to your ability.
If you’re ready to take your Thai typing to the next level, try this similar but more difficult game, which has complete words instead of individual letters. You’ll need the Thai keyboard enabled on your computer to play this one,
6. Thai Vowel Hand Signs
If you’re still learning to read Thai script but you’re finding the rules confusing (“wait, some vowels go above the consonant? Some go below? And some go BEFORE or even AROUND? What the!”) then start with this exercise on pronouncing and remembering the main Thai vowels, which includes easy hand signs and some fun and, er, interesting mnemonics to help lodge them in your memory.
7. Photo Mnemonics
This is a simple but powerful exercise that helps you find things to talk about in conversations with native Thai speakers. It’s a variation on mnemonics.
The idea is to look at a photograph and try to describe it in Thai. Repeat your description over and over until you’re comfortable with it. If you’re a beginner, your Thai description might be as simple as single words: “person”, “football”, “red”. This is fine! If you’re more advanced, try to come up with complete sentences to describe the photo.
This would be a very dull exercise if that was all of it! So, make it interesting.
First, use a photo related to a subject that you’d be interested in talking about in your native language. Then you’ll already be motivated to speak about the topic, and the exercise won’t feel like a chore. Interested in sports? Use a photograph of your favourite sport in action. Music? A picture of some musicians doing their thing.
Next, make up a funny background story about the photo. I can’t emphasise enough what a huge help this will be for your memory. Now describe the photo, and tell the backstory, as well as you can in Thai.
Be sure to speak aloud as you go along, and look up vocabulary if needed. Get to know the photograph. Revisit it regularly and describe it to yourself in Thai until just looking at it reminds you of the words and phrases you learned, and you can say them aloud without hesitation.
Now you have a ready-made mnemonic in your mind that you can instantly visualise and refer to when talking about that subject. Next time you’re chatting with a language partner online or in person (you are speaking regularly with real Thai people, right?), you’ll have some vocabulary ready to say about a subject that you enjoy.
8. Tell the Time in Thai
Telling time in Thai is very different from English. It’s not easier or harder, but the differences require some practice to get familiar with.
This exercise tests your ability to tell the time by presenting you with a random clock face, which you need to correctly tell the time for by clicking on the Thai time words in the right order. If you can’t read the Thai alphabet, you can switch between Thai script and Latin alphabet transliteration whenever you like.
9. Multilingual Word Search
You don’t need to be an advanced Thai learner to have a lot of fun with this word search game.
Can’t read Thai yet? No problem! You can still look for the words in the word search even if you don’t know what they mean. It will get you used to those “squiggly” characters so you’ll have a head start when you do start learning to read.
The word searches are sorted by category, so you can study the the vocabulary that you’re most interested in learning. Even if you’re great at word searches in your native language, it’ll take a bit of practice to “get an eye” for it in Thai.
The best feature? After you finish each game, you can tap each word to listen to the pronunciation, and view the definition in a Thai-English dictionary. And a huge bonus with this app is that you can play word searches in over thirty languages! Urdu, Arabic, Mandarin, you name it. Believe me, even for languages you’ve never studied before and can’t read at all, this game is highly addictive. You have been warned.
10. Thai Classifiers Flashcards
If you’ve been studying Thai for even a short while, you’ll certainly be familiar with the concept of classifiers. And this flashcard tool is a big help with them.
While most Thai language learners might groan at the thought, are they ever handy! Mandarin has a similar concept with its measure words, and after the initial learning curve, I ended up embracing them during my Mandarin language mission.
Only about seventy classifiers are needed to cover virtually every noun you could hope to use in Thai, outside of specialist technical contexts. Learn these words, and your comprehension skills will instantly hit the next level. Why? Because now if you hear a new noun in conversation, or read it on a sign or in a book, if it’s accompanied by the classifier then you’ll immediately have a clue about what type of object it is. Then you may be able to guess the meaning of the noun from the context of the sentence, without wasting time looking it up in a dictionary.
Over to You
How do you learn Thai? What are your favourite exercises and games? Let me know in the comments.