Introducing: 2 Week “Learn Thai” Challenge … In Bangkok!

For two weeks this summer, I’m going to take on a language challenge with a difference!

I’ve teamed up with my friend Jan Van Der Aa to learn Thai, and we’re going head-to-head, using two very different methods…

  • I’ll be taking lessons in a local Thai language school for 2 hours every morning. Meanwhile…
  • Jan will be studying by himself … also for 2 hours a day

Then we’ll be heading out around Bangkok in the evening to put what we’ve learned into practice.

We’ll be documenting our learning experiences on Instagram and YouTube, comparing notes, and having fun!

Thai In 2 Weeks: The Gameplan

So, although this might sound like a bit like a competition, it’s not really.

Here’s the deal…

The background to this challenge is that both Jan and I had a few weeks free this summer, and we fancied going to Thailand – a country we both know well and enjoy visiting.

As relatively experienced language learners, we both have established methods that we’ve used before to learn many languages. But this time, we decided to put ourselves in the position of a first-time learner…

“If someone wants to travel abroad, and learn a language for just a couple of weeks… what are their options?”

Most people’s first choice is usually to sign up to a language school.

However, it’s been our experience that studying independently on location can yield better results.

So we decided to take one method each, and compare notes at the end!

  • Olly: Language school
  • Jan: Independent study

If you’ve ever considered travelling abroad for a short time to learn a language, hopefully this will provide some inspiration and ideas!

bangkok river

Credit: drflint

Are We Really Beginners In Thai?

I’m a complete beginner in Thai.

Although I’ve been to Thailand many times, and eaten more Thai food than I can remember, I have zero knowledge of the language.

This week, before flying to Bangkok, I’ve spent a few hours going through Pimsleur Thai in order to get my ear used to the language, which has been a useful introduction.

Other than that, though, these two weeks really will be a “Thai for beginners” experience!

Jan, on the other hand, already knows some Thai. In his own words…

Last year I studied Thai almost every day for about two months. I learned the tones, the alphabet, and I took about 10 to 15 classes at Italki. I also went through the first 1300 entries of the Glossika Thai course. I probably reached an A2 level when I was at my best.

Now I can still recognise some words and basic structures but I’m not able to make proper sentences.

As you can see, Jan has a considerable head-start over me.

(To read Jan’s blog post introducing this challenge, click here.)

Our Goals For Learning Thai

Goal-setting is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of language learning.

Especially if you’re learning a language for such a short period, like we are, you’ve got to have some clearly defined goals, or you’re bound to be disappointed at the end.

So here are ours…

  • Olly: Survival Thai. Learn the Thai language basics and be able to travel in Thailand without using English in most common touristy situations.
  • Jan: Simple conversations. To be able to hold simple conversations with native Thai speakers. (A strong A2 level)

Now, although we’re both starting at different levels, we’ve each got our respective goals.

And for both of us, it will be easy to fail.

To succeed, in only 2 week (10 days) we have to remember what we’re aiming for during the challenge.

For me, I’ll need to communicate this clearly to my teacher in the language school.

For Jan, he’ll need to plan and organise his time well, as he studies by himself.

bangkok at night

Credit: Wikimedia –

Our Thai Study Schedule & Method

When Jan visited me in Cairo, we made a video about my approach to language learning, which is very much based on independent, self-directed study.

To be honest, I’m kind of scared to give up control, and let a teacher tell me what to do!

However, it seems to make a lot of sense to do it this way right at the beginning of a new language, where there are lots of formulaic things to learn.

So, I’m up for it! And I’m looking forward to discussing the experience!

My plan-of-attack is simple, and is designed to be exactly what YOU would experience if you were to do something similar:

  • What: Tell the teacher my goals
  • How: Do what they say!
  • When: Monday-Friday, 10:30-12:30
  • After Hours: Evenings in Bangkok to practise speaking with locals!

As for Jan, here’s what he’s planning…

  • 08:00 – wake up and go for breakfast
  • 09:00 – work
  • 11:00 – one hour speaking session Thai (online)
  • 12:00 – lunch
  • 13:00 – one hour self study
  • 14:00 – work
  • 19:00 – workout
  • 20:30 – social activities and try to practice Thai.
  • 01:00 – bedtime

One other thing… both of us will also working while we’re there. So it won’t be anything like a full-immersion experience.

However, we are both strong believers in the need to speak to people when learning a language. So, one thing we will definitely be doing is sampling the local nightlife in Bangkok, and practising our Thai with the locals.

To be honest, this is something I don’t usually do when I’m a complete beginner. This is because communication is very hard when you don’t know much of a language (obviously!), slipping into English becomes all too easy, and I end up feeling self-conscious and not really enjoying myself.

However, Jan is better at this than me, so I’m going to try my best, and learn from his example!

Follow Along At Home

So, there you go!

We’re super excited about the project, and we’re going to be documenting what we’re up to every step of the way, so you can follow along at home.

You’ll get daily video updates of our experiences, pictures of cool things we see and do, and any other random things that happen! (It is Bangkok, after all!)

Here’s how to follow along at home – subscribe to each of the channels to get automatic updates!



So there you have it!

We’re excited to see what happens, and to show you the results!

Do you have any tips for us on learning Thai? Let us know in the comments below!

Do you know someone interested in learning a language abroad? Share this post with them to let them know!

Bonus Download!

150+ Essential Beginner Thai Words & Phrases for Effective Conversations (Includes mp3 Audio!)

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  • Ruslan Kokorin

    Looking forward to your videos, guys 🙂

  • ElfinW

    Can’t wait to see how it goes !

  • Nick Adams

    โชคดี (good luck) I used to live in Bangkok, and got to about a B1 level while I was living there. My protip: talk a lot to random taxi drivers while going from place to place – in my experience very few of them speak English, but are just so happy to help a foreigner learning Thai. It’s like instant language practice from literally anywhere in the city!

    • That’s very cool advice – thank you! I wonder how much I’ll really be able to communicate as a beginner. I’ll use Jan to help me and give it my best shot!

  • I wonder which one of you will use mnemonics to race ahead! 😉

    • I’m going to need all the help I can get

      • You can try a standardized Memory Palace model that nearly instantly populates a room with stations that I learned recently from Dean Vaughn. It’s not necessarily superior to tailor-made Memory Palaces and violates some core principles I like, but still very cool.

        Imagine that every room is uniformly square. On corner is station 1 and that corner is always station1 in other rooms relative to a door or entrance.

        The middle/centre of the wall is station 2, then the next corner station 3. If you do this in a clockwise way, by the time you reach the door, you’ll have 4 corner stations and 4 wall stations. You can add the center of the room and the ceiling as stations.

        (The cool thing here is that for every room you impose this structure in, you always know which station is station 7 in that room at a glance. Not necessarily useful for language learning, but still a nice feature.)

        Anyhow, you know the rest for memorizing words. With these crisp and clean journeys, you can do a lot more repetition in your head at greater speed. Then add phrases to each word (or do so in the first place).

        If you make the stations up on the ceiling corners instead of the floor, you can actually write the associative-imagery from ceiling to floor in a linear line. The gravity seems to add to the decoding process, making it easier as one image-element does something to the next.

        Anyhow, give it a try and I think you’ll crush it in combination with your other skills.

  • Surf Lohabanjert

    Hi Olly. I am Thai and really love your podcasts. If you have any questions about Thai, just feel free to ask me. Good luck with your learning.

    • Cool, thanks! Let me know if you’re in Bangkok and we can go for a beer!

  • I’m excited to see the results. What sort of evening social activities are part of the exercise?

    • Hey Richard. Basically, we’re just planning to do fairly normal things… what most tourists would do. If there are any language events we’ll definitely hit those up too!

  • acutia

    Guys, you should definitely check out the wonderful polyglot, learner and teacher Stu Jay Raj. He is sometimes based in Bangkok, but right now I don’t know where he is. See and He also has developed an online learning platform for Thai at

    Olly, you might be be interested to know he plays Jazz piano in his own band and sees several ways to connect music skills and language learning.

    • Thanks for the comment! We’re connected, actually, so I’ll definitely be asking for some tips 🙂

  • Wow, that is such a great idea 😀 talking with people from the beginning. As I saw on Youtube you are on your 10th day now. Good luck with these last days 🙂

    • Thanks Kasia, we just have to hang in there for the last few days!

  • Foreign Language

    Are you know who is the best foreign language course in delhi