How long does it really take to learn Thai?

How long does it really take to learn Thai?

Published: Mar 10, 2023 | By: Treesukondh Thaleikis

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The standard amount of time it takes to learn Thai is around 1,100 hours of study (44 weeks) to be proficient in general conversation.

But you need to note that the speed of how long it takes to learn Thai is different for each person and depends on many factors that I'll describe below, including how close Thai is to your native language, the age you start learning it, as well as your learning environment, time investment, motivation, and learning style.

You also need to keep in mind your goals. Do you need the Thai alphabet? Do you only need some basic Thai? Do you want to understand Thai songs and watch Thai TV shows? Every learner's goal will be different and affect how long it will take you to reach it.

If you want to watch Thai soap operas, you'll most likely need to be fluent in Thai to do it. But if you just want to speak a little Thai while traveling in Thailand or speak with a Thai friend or partner to make them feel more comfortable, you should be able to reach that goal fairly quickly.

In fact, the Thai course I created for the Weaver School is only 5 lessons and we cover all the Thai you need to know to travel in Thailand. And we never even touch the Thai alphabet (luckily for you 😉).

How much Thai do you actually need to speak?

Learning to speak Thai is an exciting journey, but it takes a significant amount of time and effort until you can actually speak Thai in a way that allows you to enjoy the benefits of it in your daily life.

The Thai language has its own distinct characteristics with quite a number of letters, vowels, and special intonations, causing many people to find Thai a difficult language to learn. 

People choose to learn Thai for different reasons such as wanting to get a job in Thailand, wanting to communicate with their Thai friends better, or wanting to learn more about Thai society and culture.

No matter your reason, at some point, one question will come to mind: How long does it take to learn Thai to be able to use it in daily life and beyond?

To have an idea of how long it might take to speak Thai at a basic level, as well as become proficient in Thai, let's explore the relevant factors affecting the difficulty of Thai and some time estimates for how long it all might take you to reach each level.

how long does it take to learn the Thai language

Levels of the Thai language

Travel Thai for tourists

If you want to speak Thai so you can survive and get around better while traveling in Thailand, this is certainly possible in about a month of serious, but not necessarily "intensive" study.

You can learn how to do things like:

  • Say hello and goodbye

  • Tell people where you're from

  • Ask people if they speak English

  • Tell someone you can speak Thai a little

  • Ask where the toilet is

  • Order food and drinks

  • Thank people and ask for their help

This may not sound like a lot, but it will go a long way toward improving your experience while traveling in Thailand.

The key to this level is making sure you have good Thai pronunciation. It won't matter how many Thai words you know if you can't pronounce them properly because then no Thai person will understand you anyway.

You don't have to learn too much Thai grammar at this point, but you will have to learn the basic word order in sentences.

Further, while you won't have to worry about learning all of the Thai tones for travel Thai, you'll need to pay attention to them and make sure you're pronouncing words with the proper tone, or else you could end up in some big trouble.

Thai tone disasters

Let's say you're a guy and you want to tell a girl she's pretty. You might laugh, but this is one of the first things locals have taught me in every country I've been to.

The Thai word for "pretty" is: สวย which is pronounced like "su-ie" with a rising intonation on the "ie."

However, the Thai word for "unlucky" is ซวย which is pronounced like" su-ai" with a falling intonation. If you know anything about Thai people already, you'll know that they can be very superstitious. Just ask your Thai friends.

So you can imagine that if you approach a Thai girl you don't know very well and tell her you think she's unlucky, it will probably not go very well for you!

So don't stress over the tones, but pay attention to them.

outdoor food stall at a market in Thailand

How long does it take to speak Thai at a tourist level?

Anywhere between 10-20 hours of practice should be enough for you to say the things I mentioned above, more or less depending upon all the factors that I'll explain down below.

As it always is with learning languages, you get what you put in. So if you're serious about getting a bit of conversational Thai to help you survive in Thailand, start with a few words, move to some basic phrases, then learn the Thai sentence structure and put it all together.

Start with the key phrases for the situations I outlined above and once you're in Thailand you'll be thanking yourself without a doubt.

Beginner level

At the beginner level, learners will have to start by learning the Thai alphabet. The Thai script is Romanized as "Akson Thai", and it includes 44 letters in total: 23 consonants and 21 vowels.

You will also have to learn the five tones and the basic vocabulary and grammar. This may sound like a lot, but there are also a few easy things about the Thai language:

  • there are no articles and tenses

  • nouns have no genders

Also, once you know the alphabet and tones, your Thai pronunciation will come easily because all the words are spelled as they sound. This makes it easier to start learning new Thai vocabulary words right away.

(As for the overall difficulty, you can check out our other post here if you’re interested in knowing how hard Thai is to learn.)

The 100 most used words when speaking Thai

One of the most effective ways of learning a new language is by starting with the 100 most frequently used vocabulary words. If you start with the most common words first, then you’ll be able to connect those words with other words you hear them commonly used with. This will help you build your vocabulary faster via a neural language network.

The goal for beginners in traditional Thai courses is usually to read and write Thai at the basic level. Additionally, students try to learn to be able to write short sentences about their daily life situations. Examples of topics you may learn as a beginner include:

  • greeting in various situations

  • introducing yourself

  • telling time

  • talking about the weather

  • using numbers

  • asking for directions

Reaching basic conversational proficiency in Thai can take up to 500 hours in total.

time required to learn Thai

Intermediate level

In the intermediate level of Thai, learners can understand sentences that are more complicated than the beginning level and can communicate more properly. They can read and understand Thai texts in general topics such as Thai newspapers or magazines. 

Apart from that, you should now be able to give your opinion and start to use Thai in your workplace as well. You can now express your ideas using more complex Thai grammatical structures and talk and write about more complex topics. Examples of topics you may learn at an intermediate level include prepositions in Thai, making reservations in Thai, conjunctions in Thai, verb phrases in Thai, etc.  

Reaching intermediate conversational proficiency in Thai can take up to 1,100 hours of study (or 44 weeks).

Advanced level

At the advanced level, learners can understand more complicated sentences than at the intermediate level. You should be able to read and listen to more complicated content on topics such as economics and politics in newspapers, magazines, television, or radio channels. 

Learners can develop their skills through discussions about Thai culture by making reports or presentations. At their workplace, learners at this level can use Thai confidently and use it in daily life without any problems. Examples of topics you may learn at an advanced level include more complicated verb phrases in Thai, more complicated adverbs in Thai, more formal and informal verbs in Thai, etc.

Reaching advanced conversational proficiency can take up to 2,500 hours in total.

Fluency level

At the fluency level learners can understand both academic and non-academic texts on various kinds of topics. They can also use Thai idioms, proverbs, and vocabulary that are not used often in daily life. They can understand native Thai speakers speak at normal speed and communicate fluently with them. 

Thai learners at this level can use all Thai vocabulary and grammar correctly, including slang and idioms at almost the same level as native speakers. 

Reaching advanced conversational proficiency in Thai can take more than 2,500 hours.

does Thai take a long time to learn

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Time estimates for learning Thai

According to the FSI ranking or Foreign Service Institute ranking, the Thai language is categorized in Category III as a “hard language” for English speakers to learn and requires approximately 1,100 class hours in total to reach the B2 level of CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). This can be divided into 44 weeks or around a year if learners spend around 25 hours per week studying Thai.

At intermediate or B2 in CEFR level, you are able to use Thai in each skill as follows:



You can understand short stories on topics you are interested in or specialized in even though they contain long and complicated sentences. You can understand the main idea of a story and also understand the context of a story well.


You should have the learning skill to understand stories with a clear and normal speed in Thai speaking. However, you may still be unable to understand complicated sentences. Thai music should be relatively easy for you to understand, and Thai movies shouldn't be overwhelming.


For writing, you should be able to write essays with logic and be able to develop good ideas in them. You should know how to use Thai conjunctions properly in essays, and you should be able to describe a text and give a summary in writing even if there are still some mistakes in word choices or spelling.


Thai learners at the intermediate level can speak in both formal and informal sentences with native Thai and can share their opinions on the topic they are familiar or specialized in.

To be fluent as much as native speakers or at C1-C2 levels, learners may require 2,500 hours or more. Learners at these levels are able to use Thai in each skill as follows:

Advanced (C1)

Reading thai

At the advanced level, you can read Thai at the level where you can understand long and complex stories on topics more than just what you are interested or specialized in, including both academic and non-academic texts. Learners at this stage also learn more about Thai idioms, slang, and proverbs as well.


You can understand stories in both academic and non-academic content. You can understand native speakers when they speak at normal speed without problems. This should be a bit more advanced than just listening to your Thai friends when they speak slowly for you. It should be fast-paced as if they were speaking with a native speaker.


Not only do you have full command of the Thai writing system, but you also have the ability to write essays on many kinds of topics. Your essays can be more creative writing, and you can explain and show your opinions better. You are better at spelling and word choices, both formal and informal when writing, and your content has more structure as well.

how long will it take me to learn Thai

What determines how long it takes you to learn Thai?

Similarity to your native language

The first factor is the similarity between the Thai language compared with your native language.

For Example, people from the northeast part of Thailand can understand Laotian easily as it is very similar to their local language in terms of vocabulary or grammatical structures. With the geography and the similarity of these two languages, someone who speaks Laotian can find studying the Central Thai language very easy for them.

Chinese speakers may also find it easier to learn Thai, and vice versa, as both languages have similar kinds of intonations. As we've detailed, Thai is a tonal language, and English speakers by comparison may struggle with spoken Thai more at the beginning due to not knowing these tones. As a result, English speakers will most likely need more hours of practice to gain more understanding of how intonations play a part in the Thai language. 

Age when you start learning

We cannot deny that age is also one of the affected factors in learning a new language since younger learners usually have an easier time picking up sounds and structures of new languages than older learners. The critical period for language acquisition not only applies to native languages but extends its effects to second language acquisition as well. 

A study was conducted of 46 native Chinese and Korean speakers who moved to the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 39 years old. The research clearly showed that the subjects who moved to the U.S. before the age of 26 had a clear and strong advantage over the subjects who moved after the age of 26. 

Moreover, younger learners may also be more familiar with a structured learning environment as they are either still studying in grade school or university or may have just graduated, while older learners may need to take more time and effort to get back into the flow of being comfortable in a structured learning environment. As a result, older learners may have to study additional hours after work and put in more effort to make it work in their schedules.

We cover this a bit in our post about effective online English courses for adults. Even though it’s about online English courses, the content about the science of adult language learning is still relevant for this topic if you’re interested in learning more.

Thai lady on a boat selling food

Time Spent practicing Thai

Time spent practicing absolutely affects the speed at which you learn Thai. The more hours you spend on it, the more vocabulary, slang, and idioms you will get to know. This will all ultimately affect how fluent you can get and start using Thai in your daily life.

In terms of time investment, regular practice and more frequent sessions are more effective than longer and infrequent ones. This is because with more regular practice you will have more chances to continue building up your foundation from your previous classes. Instead of waiting long periods in between which can end up resulting in forgetting what you learned before. 

According to research from the Language Research Centre at the University of Calgary, it’s better for language learners to learn in an intensive language course for significantly more hours than students who take a weekly language class if the goal is to be fluent in a new language. 

With this being the case, you are better off getting multiple small sessions of learning in a week rather than infrequent ones for long hours at once. This way you can concentrate more while learning and not lose your motivation too easily with an overload of information all at once.  

Learning environment

Your learning environment can also affect the speed of your learning. Immersion in a Thai-speaking environment will obviously accelerate the process of learning the Thai language.

Obviously, when you are in Thailand, you will have more chances to practice the language in daily life with native speakers. Start with your neighbors, employees in restaurants, or your colleagues at the workplace.

If you’re traveling, you can practice with people at your accommodation or try and find casual Thai language exchange meetups at local cafes. 

You can ask them directly about the meaning of new vocabulary words and remember the context when they use it better. There are so many slang words that Thai people use in daily life that you may not find in textbooks. Another advantage is that you can get familiar with the accent and speed of the native speakers’ speech you will experience almost every day.

However, learners outside of Thailand can still create an immersive environment by getting to know native Thai people around them to get a chance to practice speaking Thai more. You can try and visit your local Thai restaurant or see if there are any Thai meetups in your area. Studying Thai online with professional tutors so that you can study anytime and anywhere is also an option. Making language learning a part of your life even if you are not yet in Thailand is an important factor.

Before you can come to the point where you can start to communicate in basic conversations with native Thai speakers, it is important to learn about the basics of the language from professionals as a strong base first. After you get the foundation you need, you can start to add more ability by yourself quicker and better by continuing to practice it.

does Thai take a long time to learn?


To successfully learn Thai, you have to find your own motivation first. Start by asking yourself why you want to speak Thai. Your answer can be to travel around Thailand and get to know more of the locals and culture better, to find a job in Thailand, or maybe to communicate with your partner and his/her family members. 

When you clearly know your goal, you will simply have more motivation to learn. Every time you feel like you are tired, just take a break and remind yourself of your goal. In the end, it is you who will take yourself to the destination in this long journey of learning to speak Thai.

Having a good Thai teacher who can give you the support you need and teach you in a fun and effective way will also drive you towards your goal quicker.  

Learning style

Learning Style is also very important. Some people can learn a new language by themselves. Some people can just learn the language from their daily lives, while other people need to start by learning the proper grammar of the language first before they can really start to communicate with confidence. Everybody’s different!

Understanding which learning methods and teaching styles work best for you will help speed up your time needed learning Thai because you can start immediately with what works best for you rather than figuring it out as you go along.

how much time it takes to learn Thai

Learning your learning style to speed up the process

Each learner also has different preferences on how to learn a language. Finding your tune where it works best for you is also something you can find out only by yourself. The most important thing when you learn any language is to try to apply what you have learned from your lessons in daily life as much as you can. Only then can you really apply the theory to practice.

Learning to speak Thai is not easy but is a very rewarding experience. Thai people admire foreigners who can speak Thai even a bit as they know their language is not easy. It’s good motivation for you to keep learning, especially when you are surrounded by Thai people, work in a Thai work environment, or live in Thailand.

Language can connect learners more to locals, their culture, and their society. It may need time and a lot of effort to learn Thai, but once you get there, it will absolutely be worth it.

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Treesukondh Thaleikis from the Weaver School

Treesukondh (Tree) Thaleikis is a professional Thai teacher for foreigners, translator, and content writer from Bangkok, Thailand. She graduated from Mae Fah Luang University with with first-class honors. Tree loves traveling and is passionate about language learning, especially English. You can contact her on LinkedIn, or you can read more from her on her personal blog here.

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