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BANGKOK 25 April 2019 03:18
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EthicsGradient

Intensive Thai At Chula (basic 1 - Advanced 2), Your Questions Answered Here!

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I studied Chula's intensive Thai program from May 2007 -April 2008. I've seen it get mentioned a lot here although it seems like not too many people have firsthand experience with it, so I thought I'd make myself available to answer any questions people might have about it. (I've got a week in Bangkok to kill before I go back home, and lots of free time to type this up) I was originally typing this as a reply in the pinned thread, but it seems a little long for that now.

The basics: class is five days weeks for four hours a day (10-3, with one hour for lunch). The teachers mentioned they were thinking about starting a 2-hour/day "non-intensive Thai" course as well, although it still hasn't materialized. It's broken in to 9 levels of five weeks each, Basic 1-3, Intermediate 1-3, and Advanced 1-3. Class size is limited to 10 people, although if they'll often have more than one room going at the lower levels. You can schedule a placement test for 500 baht, and you can also buy their textbooks. If you miss more than 5 days of a course, you're automatically failed unless you have a pretty good reason.

Visas are sponsored, although speaking from experience it's important to request the sponsor letter at least a week or two in advance of when you need it. You'll probably be given a 3 month visa which you'll need to get extended in three month incriments with more for 1400 baht a pop (immigration's fee). I was a got lucky, I asked them to try writing me a special letter since I was a degree-seeking university student, and immigration gave me a full year visa.

In case you're going to stop reading here, I'll summarize by saying Basic/Intermediate is the best language instruction I've ever had (I've had a lot, I've studied Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese before Thai), but the course is definitely not suitable for anyone not planning to use it professionally or academically.

Basic

The basic levels are pretty much just basic, spoken Thai. In Basic 2 the writing system is introduced in about 3 weeks, and you never see phonetics again. (Basic 1 uses the IPR system). They also begin to take English out of the classroom as early as possible, by the end of Basic 3 it's probably about 90% Thai. Basic 1 is generally vocab/grammar introduction and speaking exercises. In Basic 2 you spend 2 hours on the writing, and then 2 hours on conversation/vocab/grammar. You start doing a morning dictation (basically a spelling exercise) in Basic 2 and continue this every day through Advanced. It's not fun, but you need a lot of practice with all of the irregular spellings in Thai. Basic 3 was probably my favorite level, there were group discussions about a topic in the morning, along with lectures about subjects from the teacher, and the usual reading/vocab/grammar. In Basic you have homework every night, although it doesn't count towards your grade. (I would still recommend you do it) The final exam is 100% of your grade.

I would recommend the Basic levels to pretty much anyone, with the caveat that you can probably get instruction that's almost as good for a lot less somewhere else. Most of the students, especially the Japanese knew some Thai already when they started (some of them definitely should have been in Basic 2 or 3, but I think they wanted to avoid any possible face loss) so it's easy to feel really discouraged in Basic 1. If you already have a somewhat decent grasp of spoken Thai, it might be worth it to study the alphabet on your own and place in to Basic 3.

Intermediate

This is where casual learners, or people who only want to speak Thai ought to stop. In Intermediate the emphasis is on reading and writing. Aside from reading from the articles aloud, your only speaking during this level is a 5 minute speech each week. (In Int 1 it can be about anything, Int 2 it's either political/social/cultural/economic, and in Int 3 you're summarizing a newspaper article) The in-class readings are articles (usually about Thai history, culture, politics, a social issue, Buddhism, etc) picked out by the teacher, your homework is answering 5-6 questions about them. It's nice getting the double-benefit of cultural or historical knowledge along with your learning, instead of just learning stuff like "Somchai went to the store to buy apples" in a vaccuum. I would say that the difficulty of the course increases steadily from Basic 1 (which is pretty challenging if you've never had Thai before), and peaks with Intermediate 2. Starting from Intermediate 1 it's pretty much full-on immersion, although some teachers have a tendency to fall back on English more than others. I think that by the end of Intermediate 3 you already have a good enough background in Thai to use things like newspapers, books, radio, etc to learn on your own.

Advanced

This is where I think everyone should stop. The main professor is terrible, and you learn very little. (This professor even said she didn't think they should offer Advanced, but was overruled by the director) There are the usual articles, which are a slight step up in difficulty from the Intermediate material since they usually require some background cultural knowledge. You make a few forays into different types of language (descriptive language, academic Thai, etc) but the whole thing feels very incoherent and slapped together, especially compared to the earlier levels. In Advanced 3 you're required to complete a research paper in Thai of 5-8 pages on a topic of your choosing. When you complete Advanced 3 you get a certificate, but I didn't feel like it was worth another 25,000 baht and five weeks of dealing with the professor. Even within Chula, nobody really knows about Intensive Thai outside of the program itself, so I didn't see the point.

I think you would be far,far better off taking the 75,000 baht you'd spend on Advanced 1-3 and either getting a language school/tutor to design a course tailor-made to your specific needs and interests, or just taking a vacation and traveling around Thailand using Thai on a daily basis.

Difficulty

The class is probably one of the most challenging I've taken, language or otherwise. It requires substantial time outside of class (both homework and extra study) and a certain amount of motivation. If you don't have a clear objective for learning Thai, you will most likely find yourself dropping out in Basic 1 or 2. Honestly, had I not had a significant financial penalty waiting for me if I dropped out, I probably would have done so several times. There were at least three people I know of that failed (one of them was even Japanese), although neither of them was really giving it 100% from what I saw/heard. The course apparently used to have a higher fail rate, but they said they've changed their objective to teaching the student rather than having the student pass a test within the past couple years. If you're motivated and willing to try, I don't think many people would have a problem completing the whole course.

Skill level after the course

Since the emphasis was on reading/writing, all of us wound up being able to read and write more than we can speak. The teachers explained that it's more economical to just live in Thailand for another couple of years than to actually teach speaking. (I agree with their reasoning, although it doesn't look like I'll get the chance to do that :o ) I can pick up a newspaper and read it with no problem...there may be one word in ten or fifteen that I don't know or have forgotten, but it doesn't effect my overall comprehension of the article. I've read one book in Thai so far (มองตะวันตกจากสายตาคนตะวันออก, 220 pages about Western society from a Thai monk's point of view) and am halfway through ประวัติศาสตร์ไทย:ไทยสึกษา, which seems to be a university textbook. Reading fiction is more challenging due to the descriptive language... I had no problem reading "Charlotte's Web" in English when I was in primary school, but it gives me a much harder time than scholarly texts do in Thai. This is just a side-effect of the focus of Chula's program, if you're interested in Thai literature, Royal Thai, learning slang/swear words, or some subject area with a lot of technical terms, you will need to study on your own further.

I can hold a conversation in Thai for a couple hours without falling back on English. (When I went to Iisaan for a week by myself in May, I think I only spoke 3-4 senteces in English the whole time.) Although my vocabulary may come up short sometimes and my grammar may not always be correct, Thai people can pretty much always understand what I'm getting at the first time. Since Advanced, I haven't been in a situation where I both didn't know a word and couldn't explain it so someone would know what I meant, or had a Thai person unable to explain an unfamiliar word to me in Thai so I could understand them. I found some volunteer work outside of class as an interpreter during Advanced, and I credit that with helping my spoken Thai along a great deal. In general, I would say I can usually understand about 85% of Thai being spoken, plus or minus 10% or so given the context/subject matter. My classmates were all at about this level or close enough, though most seemed to do better at remembering vocab than I did.

Professors

When I was looking up Intensive Thai online, I found an old thread on this site where some other former students shared their experiences about how intensive the class was, and how terrible the teachers were. This is what I want to clear up most, that the teachers are (with one exeption) great. Some of them are PhD candidates or hold Masters' in linguistics, but they keep the course as non-technical as possible. They're all very professional, and accustomed to teaching Westerners. Most of them will try and joke around and make the class as fun as they can. I was "adopted" as a 'son' and 'little brother', and still see those two professors for lunch or dinner every once and a while. I think the professors' consensus on Western students is that they can find all the questions they get exasperating, but they tend to be more interesting/fun to teach, even if they are more demanding. There are usually 5-6 professors on rotation between the Basic and Intermediate levels. Advanced is handled by one or two different professors.

I did have a problem with one professor, who matches the description of the terrible professors I read before to a "t". She's the main professor for the Advanced level, as well as doing the grammar lessons one day a week during Intermediate. She's a PhD candidate in linguistics and knows the material well, but spends all the class time going on personal tangents (often racist, she doesn't like Chinese or Indian people and wants you to know it), trying to pass of her political opinions as fact, trying to show off her English, etc. I could read and analyze one of the two page articles in about 40 minutes, whereas it took her as much as 5 hours of class time to get through it. I am by no means the first student to have an issue with this professor, but by Advanced everyone else in the class is Japanese, so there's no honest feedback on the teacher evaluation sheets, as they just want to collect their Chula certificates and not rock the boat. Bad teachers have been fired from the Basic and Intermediate levels before, but apparently this one has been a problem for 8 years and can't be dislodged because of her seniority. I dropped out at the first opportunity I had (I was under a contract to study through Advanced 2), as the Advanced level was both very unpleasant and a complete waste of time and money. I realize this may sound opinionated and biased, but I seriously doubt that anyone who was capable of critical thinking and wasn't just in it for the certificate would complete the Advanced course.

Students

This will vary a lot from generation to generation. Mine started out with 20 people; 50% Western, 50% Japanese. By Intermediate there was only one other Westerner left besides myself, who had started in Basic 2. One of the levels below mine was 9 Japanese and a Korean. The lack of other Westerners actually does have an upside, when I was by myself in Intermediate I was forced to use Thai 100% of the time, while the Japanese would usually fall back on their own language when talking amongst themselves. It really showed by the end of Intermediate, as I had been one of the weakest students in Basic. Contrary to what I've seen posted before, the teachers do not favor the Asian students... if anything they prefer the Westerners, although with the exeption of the Advanced professor they're all very professional and you wouldn't know it. Age range varied, I was the youngest at 22, one of the Japanese guys was a dentist maybe in his 50's. The Japanese were mostly learning for work (although there were a few bored housewives), most of the Westerners didn't have a clear goal in mind for studying and dropped out early on.

Life at Chula

As a non-degree seeker you aren't really considered an actual Chula student. You do get a letter that lets you use the sports facilties, and if you ask you might be able to get a library card. (They're kind of reluctant to do this, since if a book gets lost Intensive Thai would be liable) You also get a little paper ID that says you're a student at Intensive Thai/Chula... it's not a real student ID, but coupled with a little friendly chit-chat and a smile it's gotten me the Thai price at the national parks/tourist attractions I've tried it at. You aren't eligible to live on campus, and you also don't "get" to wear the uniform, although since I was an exchange they said they could make an exception. (I did, by the way. I got a lot of double-takes on the street, but it did cut down on the number of people surprised that I could speak Thai) Aside from one conversation activity in Basic, there's really no interaction with the Thai students during the course, although I joined the photography club on my own time. The canteen is about a 5 minute walk from the building, you can also make it to MBK and back if you don't mind rushing a bit. There's a shuttle bus that runs from Siam Square to pretty much right in front of the Arts building, but by the time you wait for it you could have easily walked. The Arts building is about a ten minute walk from either Sam Yan MRT or Siam Square BTS station.

Is it worth it?

It all depends on the student, really. In my case I was studying on a full scholarship from my government, and when I go home I'll be working for them in a few years, most likely something using Thai, so it was worthwhile for me. On the other hand, I don't personally know any other Westerners in Thailand that I think would benefit from Chula's course versus any other less expensive one. If you're an academic looking to do research in Thai you would find this course invaluable. If for some reason you needed to use Thai for business (it seems there's not much demand for foreigners who can speak Thai though, since the cost of a bilingual Thai is much lower) or some other formal situations, it would also be good. If you want to be able to chat with the noodle lady on the corner of your soi, your significant others' family, etc... not so much. Especially at the upper levels, the course is definitely oriented towards professional and academic language, and it's pretty hard to justify the premium over other courses if you don't need those specific skills. For the total cost of tuition you could pretty much afford a private tutor for the equivalent number of hours. I think a lot of the price is simply the Chula name, and while that's great for impressing Thai people, the program really seems to be only tangentally connected to the university.

If anyone has more questions about the program, fire away.

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THank you very much, very useful indeed.

How much was the cost of a single class?

I speak basic thai and been here many years already despite being in my early 30's.

Anyway i was thinking to join one, but 20 hours a week sounds a bit too much for me.

are there any other shorter courses?

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Great post and very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to supply all that info...

mk

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Greetings,

I just wanted to file a reply to this to help those looking into Thai classes. I looked into the Chula course, but balked at the then 25,500 Baht price tag.

Instead, I opted to take the Speaking and Listening course offered by Thammasat University at the classic Tha Prachan campus.

Details:

5 weeks, 3 hours/class, 2 classes/week for the Speaking and Listening course. Writing and reading is offered on alternating days.

5,500 baht - can use the library. I got a letter from the university, but failed to get an ED visa from immigration (tried twice) because it was 'part-time.'

The ajarn was an excellent professor of Thai at TU who taught this class, and I learned an excellent base of Thai that got my speaking basic sentences with native Thais by the end of the class. About 8 students, from Viet Nam, Korea, Taiwan, France, Australia, USA (myself).

Not the same as Chula, but a hellavu lot cheaper and more than adequate getting you learning how to speak. My highest recommendation.

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Greetings,

I just wanted to file a reply to this to help those looking into Thai classes. I looked into the Chula course, but balked at the then 25,500 Baht price tag.

Instead, I opted to take the Speaking and Listening course offered by Thammasat University at the classic Tha Prachan campus.

Details:

5 weeks, 3 hours/class, 2 classes/week for the Speaking and Listening course. Writing and reading is offered on alternating days.

5,500 baht - can use the library. I got a letter from the university, but failed to get an ED visa from immigration (tried twice) because it was 'part-time.'

The ajarn was an excellent professor of Thai at TU who taught this class, and I learned an excellent base of Thai that got my speaking basic sentences with native Thais by the end of the class. About 8 students, from Viet Nam, Korea, Taiwan, France, Australia, USA (myself).

Not the same as Chula, but a hellavu lot cheaper and more than adequate getting you learning how to speak. My highest recommendation.

How often do these classes at Thammasat University run? Do you have any contact details for someone I can call - that speaks English of course?

Many Thanks

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Greetings,

I just wanted to file a reply to this to help those looking into Thai classes. I looked into the Chula course, but balked at the then 25,500 Baht price tag.

Instead, I opted to take the Speaking and Listening course offered by Thammasat University at the classic Tha Prachan campus.

Details:

5 weeks, 3 hours/class, 2 classes/week for the Speaking and Listening course. Writing and reading is offered on alternating days.

5,500 baht - can use the library. I got a letter from the university, but failed to get an ED visa from immigration (tried twice) because it was 'part-time.'

The ajarn was an excellent professor of Thai at TU who taught this class, and I learned an excellent base of Thai that got my speaking basic sentences with native Thais by the end of the class. About 8 students, from Viet Nam, Korea, Taiwan, France, Australia, USA (myself).

Not the same as Chula, but a hellavu lot cheaper and more than adequate getting you learning how to speak. My highest recommendation.

How often do these classes at Thammasat University run? Do you have any contact details for someone I can call - that speaks English of course?

Many Thanks

See this post for more info on the Thammasat courses.

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Thanks to the OP EthicsGradient for a very informative post.

Seconded :o

Did the OP study anywhere else?

RAZZ

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Thank you ! A very informative post, which comes just in time as I hope to start the intensive (level basic 1) at October 6th.

If I can add something to this post (which I doubt) I will let you know.

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You can schedule a placement test for 500 baht, and you can also buy their textbooks.

Not sure if the OP's still around, but anyway, here's a few questions:

Where can you buy their textbooks (I assume at Chula, but any tips where on the campus specifically)? How much do they cost? Are there textbooks available for all the levels? Can you buy them if you don't enroll?

Thanks

mk

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Sorry to be away, got back to my home country and things have been a bit busy.

Thanks to the OP EthicsGradient for a very informative post.

Seconded :o

Did the OP study anywhere else?

RAZZ

Nope, my only experience was at Chula. So unfortunately I can't really offer a first-hand comparison with other places.

]

Not sure if the OP's still around, but anyway, here's a few questions:

Where can you buy their textbooks (I assume at Chula, but any tips where on the campus specifically)? How much do they cost? Are there textbooks available for all the levels? Can you buy them if you don't enroll?

Thanks

mk

The Intensive Thai office is in the first floor of the Mahachula building (or maybe the other, identical building attatched to it, I get the names mixed up). It's the old Thai-style building across from the Faculty of Arts. They're somewhere between 100-300 baht each if you're buying them seperately. There are textbooks for Basic 1-3, there wasn't a textbook for the articles/etc of Intermediate, but there were books for the grammar. I'm pretty sure you can buy them if you don't enroll, but I think you would have difficulty using them as stand-alone study materials.

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The Intensive Thai office is in the first floor of the Mahachula building (or maybe the other, identical building attatched to it, I get the names mixed up). It's the old Thai-style building across from the Faculty of Arts. They're somewhere between 100-300 baht each if you're buying them seperately. There are textbooks for Basic 1-3, there wasn't a textbook for the articles/etc of Intermediate, but there were books for the grammar. I'm pretty sure you can buy them if you don't enroll, but I think you would have difficulty using them as stand-alone study materials.

Thanks for the info. Wanted them out of interest really and as supplementary materials. Will definitely either go down there and have a look or ask a girl I know who's just started at Chula to check them out...

mk

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Just a practical question EthicsGradient, where did you stay and can you recommend this place ?

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