I hate to break it to you, but learning Thai is not easy. At least not for me. And probably not for you either.
There are enough websites out there that will tell you that you should “buy this course and this book – and you will be fluent in Thai in less than three months”.
That’s not how it works, mate.
I’ve now spent six months learning the language here in Thailand. To be honest, a lot of my progress setbacks have come because I bought the wrong learning equipment. Once I went online and Googled “Best Books to Learn Thai for Beginners”, I thought I would find articles that were written by people who had actually studied Thai themselves.
Turns out that was a mistake. Most of these articles have been written by people who have no idea of the language – apart from “Sawadee krap”.
So I decided to change that. Because I have this blog, I can write a powerful blog post about the 8 best books that beginners should buy when they start to learn Thai.
Why am I the right to give advice about language learning books?
You might want to know a little bit more about my profile before you start to read about my recommendations. I feel that I have a lot to say about good language learning material due to a wide range of reasons:
- I speak five languages fluently (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, English, Chinese)
- I speak two languages at a quite decent level (German & Thai)
- A lot of my spare time goes towards learning new languages
- In regards to Thai learning books, I’ve probably spent about 200 $ trying to find the best books on the market. I doubt there’s any book left on Amazon I haven’t tried.
- Back in the days, I also used to teach English to Chinese students as a part of a “language exchange” program.
….and therefore, I’m the right person to point you in the right direction. 🙂
In a hurry? These three books have helped me the most in learning Thai
If you want to read more about each and every product, feel free to scroll down below.
1. “Thai Picture Dictionary: Learn 1,500 Thai Words” – Overall Best Thai Language Material
This book is the absolute best tool for learning Thai for beginners. “Thai Picture Dictionary” gives a great interactive experience with pictures, text, pronunciation description – as well as free online audio help.
- It gives you everything you need to kickstart your “learning Thai” career
- Learn 1500 words in a short period of time
- Brilliant book if you want to do self-study
I’ve tried to use this book both with and without a teacher. Both of them work very well.
But to be frank, I like to learn the language myself before I start to “bother” any Thai native speakers. And I know a lot of other people have that attitude towards language learning as well. Therefore, I would strongly suggest that you buy “Thai Picture Dictionary”.
Free online course
In addition to the physical book, you’re also given access to an online database where you can find pronunciation help for all the words. This was particularly helpful to me as I very often tend to struggle with the pronunciation of Asian languages.
Teaches you all the important words and phrases
Many thai learning books focus on some weird topics that are not necessarily relevant for everyday life. But “Thai Picture Dictionary” goes really into the core stuff that you would need for a trip to Bangkok:
- Taxi directions
- How to communicate with the hotel and airport staff (even though they can speak English…)
- Daily activities
- How to communicate with the local vegetable and fruit sellers
- And a lot more!
The fact that you can actually use what you learn from this book in normal everyday situations helped a lot with my motivation.
And that’s also why I think this is .
2. “Read Thai in 10 Days” – Perfect for learning the Thai alphabet
If you want to learn the written Thai alphabet as soon as possible, there’s no easier way to do that than to buy “Read Thai in 10 Days”.
- Many great reviews on Amazon
- Comes with sound files included
- Teaches you a lot about the important tones in the Thai language
The book sort of consists of a challenge. In the description of the book, you’re told that you should study the Thai alphabet a couple of hours per day for 10 days — and then you’ll master it.
I agree with that description.
After using this book to learn the Thai alphabet, I can now read Thai effortlessly. And I hate to brag, but it indeed took me a little less than 10 days… 😉
Good book for the organized people
If you are an organized language learner, you will love this book.
If everything you’re going after is to learn how to SPEAK Thai, this is not the book for you.
In my experience, it was absolutely super helpful to write down separate notes of everything I learned. Some of the pages go really deep into what type of tones you should use for the different words – and also WHY these tones are related to this specific word.
Total of 10 lessons
…and all the lessons can be easily followed by absolute beginners. There are no requirements of learning Thai before you , which I guess is why it’s so extremely popular.
3. “Master the Thai Alphabet, a Handwriting Practice Workbook” – Good for those who want to learn handwriting
If you want to WRITE in Thai so that local people can understand you — this book is for you.
- Low price
- Handwriting exercises
- Teaches you a lot about the rules of the Thai alphabet
This very thin and small book is something that you can get through in a week – if you have a talent for writing Thai.
I struggle with this one. The point is that I don’t have any motivation in learning how to actually write Thai letters with my bare hands. Every time I write Thai, I do it on my phone. And by using my phone, I’m able to quickly recognize the letters without having to struggle to write them with a pen or pencil.
Only for those particularly interested in writing the Thai alphabet
In other words: if you want to learn how to write Thai with pen and paper: .
If you’re not interested in that aspect of the Thai language: don’t do it. Move on to the next.
4. “Thai Phrasebook 1001” – Perfect for travelers to Thailand
If you’re a foreign tourist who will travel to “undiscovered parts” of Thailand without a tour guide: get this book.
It will help you a lot.
- Works both as a dictionary and a language learning book
- Gathering of 1001 very easy-to-remember phrases in Thai
- Helps you out in everyday situations
Again: “Thai Phrasebook 1001” teaches you many everyday phrases. I would not say that the structure of the book is as good as the one I put on #1.
However, the idea of the book is very similar. In this book, a lot of common Thai phrases will be simply thrown at you: and it’s up to you to remember them.
Works well in combination with flashcards
I will give you my best tip if you want to learn Thai with this book. Try to learn 3-4 phrases every day.
Write down the phrase in a flashcard – in both English and Thai. On the back of the flashcard, you write the actual meaning of the word. Try to use these flashcards every single evening before you go to bed.
Believe me: after a short period of time, you will start to remember all of them.
Too basic for advanced learners – and no tones
There are two things that I don’t like about this book.
If you have learned Thai for six months or more, you won’t find this book very helpful anymore. “” is something that you can start to use the very first week that you learn the language.
Secondly, all the pronunciation is written with Roman alphabet. In other words: there are no way to understand what type of tone you will use for the various phrases. Unless you have a teacher by your side, there is a big possibility that you start to pronounce the words with wrong tones…which is really terrible.
5. “Thai For Beginners” – Often used by teachers and language schools
“Thai for Beginners” is the learning book that most teachers in Thai language schools around the world use.
If you’re going to hire a tutor, the chances are high that she will recommend you guys to start with this book.
- Includes an audio CD
- Works best for people who have never learned Thai before
- Very good for teaching you about the Thai pronunciation
This is another book that sort of includes “everything you need”. It has an audio CD to learn how to pronounce the difficult but important Thai words. Also, “Thai for Beginners” contains no less than 10 lessons.
All lessons are connected to words and phrases that you will ACTUALLY use in your everyday life.
“Back to school feeling”
You know, these schoolbooks that taught you English back in the days?
This book is quite similar to those. It’s obviously a book that has been developed on the basis of being used in schools.
Many other books are more interactive and “fun” to work with. I would claim that “” is one of the most helpful books, but not at all the funniest book to work with. For instance, I would personally say that working with flashcards is 1000 times funnier than working with a dry textbook like this.
This book is a perfect fit for those of you who:
- Are completely new to Thai
- Want to use a teacher to get a good start to your learning curve
- Want to quickly learn how to pronounce the Thai words in the correct way
6. “Thai Flashcards: 44 Thai Consonants and 275 Thai Words” – Extremely helpful
If you previously haven’t used flashcards to learn a new language, you’re about to get a completely new experience.
And that experience will help you learn certain words in “no time”.
- Extremely efficient way of learning Thai
- Already pre-made flashcards with pictures and text
- Premium design on the cards
To be honest: I’m a big, big fan of creating my own flashcards when I learn Thai. But if you’re too lazy to do that: this fantastic product is something for you.
Even though it’s labelled a “Paperbook” on Amazon; it’s not really a book.
Super interactive and helpful flashcards
This is a collection of more than 300 flashcards that you can use for self practice. Most of the cards are equipped with all the important elements:
- Text in Thai
- Text in Roman alphabet on how it’s pronounced (including tones)
- Also a description of what it is….unless you can tell from the picture
“” is a very valuable product for those who want to learn Thai interactively.
7. “Teach Yourself Thai” – Good for people who don’t want to use a teacher
If you want to buy a complete set (CD + book) that will help you to learn Thai completely on your own, this product might very well be for you.
- CD can be bought on Amazon as well
- Perfect for self study
- Teaches you the absolute basics of the Thai language; in other words – this is for absolute beginners
One thing that I really like about “Teach Yourself Thai” is that the conversations are so extremely real. Many of the language learning courses use conversations that are overly simplified, which makes it hard to use the phrases and words in normal conversations.
Not only is “” a unique learning course in that way. The structure of the book and the CD are also very helpful to constantly repeat the conversations.
You might have tried the app Duolingo?
That app forces the user to constantly repeat words and phrases that he or she has previously learned 10 times. Unfortunately, that is the most efficient way to learn a new language. And that is the same strategy that “Teach Yourself Thai” has gone for.
Please note that as I am writing this, the book itself cost 14 dollars. That’s quite cheap.
However, the CD costs another 45 USD, which might be a bit steep for certain people. I would strongly recommend buying the audio CD if you buy the book….they sort of stick together.
Who should buy “Teach Yourself Thai”?
- Those who don’t have much experience in learning Thai
- Anyone who wants to self-study
- Students who want to progress slowly, but steadily through repetition
- Those who want to get a great foundation before they come to Thailand for study, holiday, or retirement
8. “Thai: An Essential Grammar” – The most boring way to study Thai
This book is the best on the market to learn the grammar of the Thai language. However, that doesn’t say that it’s not dead boring. On the flip side: it’s probably very useful and necessary.
- Boring, but necessary
- Works best if you pair it with other learning materials
- Should NOT be the only Thai learning book that you buy
- Works best for intermediate learners
I also want to say that I am the kind of language learner that couldn’t care less about talking Thai with a super broken grammar. As long as I know the words and have a decent pronunciation, I’m happy. That’s all I need.
But my Thai teacher was clear when she talked to me the first time I met her: “You need to learn better grammar”.
So, I bought this book. What I can say about “” is that it’s straight to the point. In addition to that, it covers all the most important materials you need to fix your Thai grammar.
Not for absolute beginners
If you just started to learn Thai, I would not recommend this book. It might not only confuse you, but it might suck out all the motivation you have for learning a new language.
Never start to learn grammar straight away.
That’s advice coming from someone that learned Mandarin Chinese fluently. I know that if I had started to learn about Chinese grammar during my first months, I would never have continued.
What should a good Thai learning book contain?
Nothing is worse than sitting at home learning Thai for six months just to understand that the conversations you’ve been learning would NEVER happen in real life.
That happened to me a lot.
When I went through many of the textbook conversations with my Thai teacher, she constantly said stuff like:
- “Well..normal Thai people don’t say it like that.”
- “In fact, we use a different phrase to describe that”.
And that is one element that will always kill your motivation. Find a good textbook that is NOT written by a 70-year-old academic person in Bangkok University.
No big focus on correct grammar
I’m gonna repeat myself now.
Learning grammar should NOT be your primary focus when you learn Thai. If your book or other learning material focuses a lot on learning the grammar, I would quickly replace it.
In the overview above, I’ve already recommended one grammar book. I would personally recommend you to pick this one up after learning Thai for about 6 to 8 months. Not before.
You’re not going to construct very complex sentences before that time anyway. No need to practice on something you’re not going to use during classes.
The more pictures and visual elements the language learning book contains, the easier it will be for your brain to remember what you learn.
Cambridge University has released a book on this topic — if you were particularly interested in WHY images can help you to learn a new language.
Find something your level
If you know “sawadee-krap” and “khaawp kun”, it might be very tempting to deem yourself an “intermediate learner” of Thai, right?
It’s one of the worst mistakes you could make. Do not try to buy a book for intermediate learners if you barely know any of the language yourself. Constantly reading phrases and words that you don’t know will only make you lose motivation really quickly.
I did this exact mistake when I learned Chinese….and I will not make it again.
Other relevant articles
If you already reached this point of the article, you probably enjoy what you’re reading.
First of all: thank you!
Secondly: I got some good news for you.
Because I have written a lot of relevant articles that might be suitable for you. Not only do I have some nice blog posts about language learning:
- How to find a good Mandarin Chinese teacher (Online & Offline)
- 10 Useful books for Learning Mandarin Chinese
- My Journey: How Did You Learn Mandarin?
…..I also got a very popular article about Thailand:
As a Thai learner for six months, I understand your frustration about finding the right material for learning the language in an efficient way.
But I seriously hope that this article has helped you to get closer to the Thai language book that will quickly take you to the next level. I am here to help you. So if you still have any questions about one or more of these books: feel free to drop a comment below.
In the end, I also want to let you know that mastering and learning a new language takes a lot of time.
In order to learn Thai, you need a mix of all of them. However, that doesn’t mean you need three separate books.
The very best book to learn Thai contains a mix of audio, grammar as well as pronunciation. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on different learning material – all you need to do is to choose the right one.
Oh yes. A lot.
As I wrote in the introduction of this article: I have spent nearly 200 $ on different books that promised to teach me Thai. Only eight of these books can be seen as “good” or “excellent”. And those are the 8 books that I’ve recommended in this article.
This is a question I get asked a lot. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to answer.
For me, it went quite fast to get to a decent level. Not only do I currently live in Thailand, but I also have experience in learning the most difficult language in the world (Mandarin Chinese).
I would say that you should get up to a quite decent vocal level within six months if you buy the right books and actively learn as much Thai as you can.