I think y’all know by now that I’m a big fan of Paiboon Publishing, especially their transliteration system. I find theirs to be the best and most accurate system for romanization. Their dictionaries are great, their software dictionary is very nice, and they have a lot of products for all levels of Thai language learners. In a nutshell, it seems like just about everything Paiboon releases is of great value and high quality.

Their “Speak Like a Thai” series is something I have been keeping my eye on for a while but had not purchased until recently. I guess I figured that I already owned a ton of learning materials, so it was probably good to pace myself. But, curiosity always eventually gets the better of me and I broke down and purchased the first two audio CDs in the Speak Like a Thai series. The first volume – Contemporary Thai Expressions – is a collection of 500 miscellaneous (but common) phrases that you will hear when speaking with Thai people.

My normal Thai learning regimen doesn’t usually involve learning common phrases or typical conversational Thai, but there’s nothing that says it wouldn’t help to have some useful phrases handy, right? So this first volume was of much interest to me. Each CD in the group also comes with a booklet to accompany the audio. The beginning section of the book is an overview of the language – tones, vowels, consonants… all with audio examples. I won’t go so far as to say this is a “beginners” CD, but having the pronunciation tools is always a good thing.

The meat of the course is, obviously, the phrases. Here is where I’m a little torn on how to rate the product. On one hand, you get 500 very useful phrases that you can immediately use in everyday Thai conversation. Everything from “What are you doing?” to “What should I do?” to “You expect too much.” is included. The book has all of these phrases with the romanization and Thai script, so you can read along as you listen to the audio.

The audio itself is where I think I have some trouble. Each example in the book is numbered, and yet the audio doesn’t have numbers. If you were to stop the audio at any point and go back at a later date, you don’t really know where you are; with 500 phrases to deal with that can be somewhat of a pain in the butt to try and find your place again.

Second, the phrases are only spoken once, so you only get one shot at hearing how the phrase is pronounced. I wish they had taken each phrase and said it once all the way through, leaving space for us to try and say it, then separate each word and give us time to pronounce each one, and then say the complete phrase again and give us more space to practice. The phrases move by so quickly that you don’t really get any time to say them aloud before the next phrase is given. I find this to be a big detriment to the effectiveness of this product as a learning tool.

So, overall I think I’m a bit torn about this first volume in the series. On the one hand you get a ton of very helpful phrases to use, but the inability to practice them slowly and effectively (for my taste, at least) makes it difficult to learn and internalize them. I think you would have to listen to the audio tracks several dozen times before you would start to memorize them.

To date I think Learn Thai Podcast does the best job of breaking the sentences down for learning, and their approach should be the litmus for all new products moving forward.

Do I recommend Speak Like a Thai, Volume 1? Well, yes. You’re definitely getting a lot of helpful material. Just be aware of a potential steep learning curve due to lack of space and repetition.