Thai Learning: One-Year Update

Walter Freiberg
7 min readOct 31, 2023

It’s been more than a year since I (re)started learning Thai in October 2022. Last April, I finished my 6-Month Update with this text:

I intend to continue working with the 25 Real-life Conversations by Thai with Grace. After that, I will continue with her short stories. I commit to the daily study schedule until June 10th or so. In the second week of June, I will participate in the Polyglot Gathering, that will take place in Poland (looking forward to learning a lot and meeting other language lovers!). The rest of June I will visit other countries in Europe. For that reason, I might pause or reduce my Thai studies for a few weeks in June (or not!). Let’s see how it unfolds 😊.

What happened between May and October, then? Did I actually follow through as intended? Yes… and no 😄. Here’s the rundown of my Thai activities in the past few months:

Daily Netflix Content

May was the month I decided to learn and practice with Netflix content, on a daily basis. I knew from the beginning that I would eventually go this way. I started using Language Reactor (LG) as a daily tool to engage with native content and make it more comprehensible. At some point, I also tried using ChatGPT to work on Buddhist content (Dhamma talks), but I was unsure about the quality of the translations. I needed to paste the Thai script into ChatGPT, and it was hard to tell whether the translations were accurate or not, and how to make a good learning use of that. That’s why I decided to go back to the Netflix and YouTube way. I watched the “OMG! Oh My Girl” on Netflix, recommended by a Thai language exchange I had known back then. On top of that, I considered adding daily easy content from the Comprehensible Thai (the A0 playlist) YouTube channel, but didn’t last for long. On May, I also started the Refold online course, which was a big turning point for me this year. I described that experience in this article.

The One-Month Break

June started off strong, adding a Top 1000 words Anki deck into my study routine. I continued to engage with content through Language Reactor and even added a new Netflix series, “Thai Cave Rescue,” to the mix. However, in the middle of June, I traveled to Europe and stayed there for 3 weeks. Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this article?

The rest of June I will visit other countries in Europe. For that reason, I might pause or reduce my Thai studies for a few weeks in June (or not!).

I had already anticipated I would pause the studies, and that’s effectively what happened. Looking back, I think it would have been better to reduce the amount of time (or the activities) instead of putting everything on hold for many weeks. I could have continued doing just Anki reps. Or a manageable number of reps. When I got back to Uruguay in early July, I took another two weeks to resume my Thai studies. I would’ve continued learning right away, in the first week of the month. But it was hard to go back. It was a learning experience, anyhow.

In July, I continued watching “Thai Cave Rescue”, which was both engaging and inspiring. So many lessons in there. I ended up recording a podcast episode based on the entire series, in connection with learning and skill-building.

Some More Netflix

After re-building the daily learning habit, I was again in a nice groove. Actually, between August and October, I skipped only four days. And the rest I learned on a daily basis for around 90 minutes a day (30 minutes of Anki reps and 1 hour of Netflix). In August, I watched “The Trapped 13: How We Survived The Thai Cave”, a documentary on the same topic and experiences of “Thai Cave Rescue”. This one included interviews and conversations with the real protagonists of the story (the boys and the coach). Then I continued with “Sleepless Society: Insomnia.”, with Aokbab, one of my favorite Thai actresses (the main character in “Hunger”). The first couple episodes were not that great, in my opinion, but then it quickly became really intriguing.

The next one was “Delete”. I found that one searching other movies or series with Aokbab, but she ended up playing a tiny role there 😄. Anyway, I liked that one as well. Quite violent at times, but it was very interesting right from the first 5 minutes.

Dhamma Content

At the end of September, I did a week-long meditation retreat at home. During such retreats, I stay away from Netflix content. As I wanted to continue spending time with the Thai language in some video form, I practiced with Dhamma videos. It was challenging to find easy and engaging content. The regular Dhamma content has many challenging words I’m not used to. I have found this earlier this year, during my first retreat at home. Back then I had used Jataka stories, and they seemed quite challenging. Even the pronouns and other common words tend to change, in a Buddhist or spiritual setting. It would be nice to find or create a more reliable practice source or material for future retreats. I still need to figure this out. The week of the retreat, I practiced daily, but I don’t think I have learned that much out of that (even though I created some Anki cards).

Making it Easy Again

In October, I decided to take it easy but keep it effective. In addition to my Netflix practice, I started watching easy videos without subtitles from the “Comprehensible Thai” YouTube channel. This was something I had been meaning to do since June, when I learned about this method in the Refold course. My current practice regime consists of 30 minutes of Anki (that’s what it usually takes to complete all my due reps for the day), 40 minutes of Netflix (intensive watching), and 30 minutes of relaxed, free flow watching (easy content). This month I watched the movie “You & Me & Me” (very sweet), and started watching the series “Bangkok Buddies”.

The time stats between May and October (although I started tracking the time more consistently just in July).

Netflix: 116 hours / Anki: 57 hours / YouTube: 15 hours

Toggle-Summary-May-October-2023

Anki Practice

I currently have 15 new Anki cards a day. 5 of them are from the Top 1000 deck (yes, the one I started in June!). The other 10 are media, immersion cards mined from Netflix content. These months I alternated between practicing on the computer and on my phone. I guess, most of the time I practiced on the computer, while it tends to be faster and more comfortable (especially if I need to do some minor editing on the cards).

Here are my stats for the Thai decks:

https://www.walterfreiberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/anki-stats-2023-10.pdf

Reading Comprehension

My reading comprehension is getting better surprisingly fast. This is what I’m most proud about for this first year of study. After one year, I can read the Thai script of a film or a series and I can understand a good deal of that. I still cannot read the subtitles fast enough to do it in real time as I watch the content and make sense of it. But if I can pause and go at my own pace, I tend to understand most of it.

I’m getting a better sense of the never-ending number of particles in the Thai language, and all the pronouns you can use in a wide range of scenarios and life situations. This is one of the most fun and interesting experiences. Getting to learn when they use this or that pronoun and trying to make sense of that just on being exposed to many video scenes.

Listening Comprehension

My listening comprehension is quite good when working with short chunks of familiar audio, even if they’re speaking at a fast pace or using lots of slang, and changing the R letters for L’s. I’m getting better at understanding the English borrow words and learning some common Thai names. That helps a lot! Not knowing if what you hear is a proper name, an English word, or a Thai word (or a city, a place, etc.) can be really discouraging. But with time and practice, there’s hope 😊.

Conclusion

As I look back on a year of learning Thai, it’s clear that the journey has had a lot of variety. During the first six months I focused on online courses, and during the last six I started using more authentic media, such as Netflix series and films. There was a constant throughout the last two months, and that was the usage of Anki to learn and practice different elements of the language.

The year has brought significant improvements in both reading and listening comprehension, especially when working with video contents and subtitles. In the last months of 2023 and all of 2024 I intend to enlarge my vocab, start reading short books, and build further my comprehension in general. I enjoyed the mix of this past month of easy and challenging (easy to build confidence and integrate what I learn, challenging to push myself and learn new things).

Now, I know that even if I pause my studies for a few weeks, I can go back to my good, old learning habits. As soon as I use interesting materials and I know where I’m headed, it usually turns out fine. Here’s to another year of Thai language skill-building and growth!

Originally published at https://www.walterfreiberg.com.

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Walter Freiberg

Language coach - I learn things and I help others how to learn better — walterfreiberg.com