Why bother learning Thai when it's such an obscure and difficult language with tones we can't pronounce or understand and in a country where everyone speaks English anyway!?
Actually, you can certainly get by in Thailand without speaking more than a smattering of Thai.
But you'll be missing out on so much. It's a bit like sex or music. You can do without these in your life. You can still have a decent, fulfilling life, right? But would you really want to?
Unfortunately, because of the way Thai is taught in Thailand, if you go to a conventional language school or get a regular Thai language course then you will find that Thai is quite difficult and boring to learn.
This is because the way the tones are explained is quite confusing (when in fact, we use the same tones in English), and the transliteration schemes are non-standard and inconsistent. Not to mention, there are around 40 consonants, several for the same sound (4 for “s”, 4 for “t”, 3 for “k”, etc.) and about 20 vowels and a dozen extra symbols.
Besides, it’s not as if Thai is a world language, like Spanish or French or Chinese. So will it really be useful in your life anywhere outside Thailand?
That's what most people think and these are the main reasons why so few foreigners manage to learn Thai.
I struggled to learn Thai when I first arrived and I nearly gave up. But then I decided to tackle the problem from a completely different angle.
First I had to learn to read. I threw away the traditional way of learning the alphabet (which doesn't make sense anyway) and learnt simply to recognise the shapes of the letters using bizarre or shocking but memorable images. Then I simplified all the reading rules, throwing away whatever was unnecessary or obscure. When it came to the tones, I looked for sounds that we make naturally in English (and most European languages), like the "intonation" we use when asking a question.
It turns out that Thai is a very simple, logical and consistent language. It's probably one of the easiest languages in the world. If you follow the Rapid Method of learning then it doesn't take long at all to learn to read.
And, once you can read, everything begins to fall into place naturally. You start to absorb the Thai language directly from your surroundings, from the street signs and notices and menus - without any effort and without having to spend time studying. You are surrounded by a ‘living dictionary’… Even if you only intend to stay a short time in Thailand (and most people stay longer than originally planned or come back again and again), it's fun to be able to recognise what the signs means and understand the menus.
It makes learning to speak and communicate in Thai so much easier too. You know how to say things right, so you begin to hear what people say more clearly. You can learn from Thai songs, stories and interesting self-help books or biographies (where the writing style is surprisingly colloquial). As you get a bit more advanced, you can start to follow stand-up shows and TV series, where the language is very colloquial. It's a lot more fun than sitting in a class learning grammar and "educational" texts.
(By the way, don't waste your time practising to write Thai. Just use your computer to type instead. After all, Typing is Reading!)
Utlimately, living in Thailand is so much more fun when you can speak and understand Thai. Instead of being cloistered in the safe-but-dull 'farang-friendly' zones, you can discover the hidden byways and clubs and organizations normally reserved only for Thais. You have the freedom to go where you want and with whom you like. And you can make friends with anybody because there is no awkward language barrier.
Try it yourself. Sign up for the free trial version of the course where you can access the first ten lessons. You'll learn the top 30 letters and be able to recognise and pronounce hundreds of simple Thai words... within about two hours' study altogether!