Chiang Mai Language Schools
No matter your age or aptitude, most people who come to Chiang Mai for awhile decide to learn some Thai in a structured setting. While some seem lucky and pick it up on the street, there are others who simply feel they will never master tones and it’s an impossible challenge. Fortunately, there are several different schools in town, some of them run by Thais and others run by westerners, each teaching with a different take on Thai language. Though mastery of a language certainly involves all four areas of communication – reading, writing, speaking and listening, most visitors and residents here are initially concerned with being able to communicate their immediate needs through conversation. Other common concerns of students are the price and intensity of the course, and whether or not it’s possible to obtain an educational visa (ED Visa) through the school, allowing for easy one-year residence in Thailand. There are a number of schools you can choose from, each offering several different approaches to Thai, so hopefully there will be one to match your needs and abilities.
The Two Big Names in Chiang Mai
Many people soon find out that there are two big language schools in town that everyone has heard of or tried – The AUA (American University Alumni), and the YMCA. Both of these places are time-tested and have had many, many students walk through their doors over the years. They are great places to start your lessons, given that these are the big ones with the largest classes and the most turnover. The AUA has the advantage of being in the heart of the old city, just a couple minutes’ walk from Thapae Gate. In addition, their large courtyard and library make for a nice area to meet other students and socialize when you are new to the city. The YMCA lies just north of the moat in an area called Santhitam, in the middle of a small Thai neighborhood. Both of these schools will give you a good chance to make new friends and be able to learn and commiserate with other beginners about the challenges of learning Thai.
There are some options to consider if you attend these schools. Because they are large, they will offer you a variety of classes. The usual introductory classes will start with a mixed approach of conversation and vocabulary building, while learning to read a phonetic transliteration of Thai. For some this is very helpful. For others, it is less desirable as they would rather simply learn to read the Thai alphabet right away. If you take courses focusing on just conversation, or specifically to learn actual Thai reading, it’s possible to avoid learning this extra phonetic language. Be sure to choose wisely to suit your desires.
As for visa concerns, unfortunately neither of these large language schools offers the education visa option. To be sure to obtain an educational visa for your studies, it’s necessary to look at other language schools who advertise this feature specifically, or to take an intensive university course.
Private Language Schools Offering ED Visas
There are three schools among the many in town that have made names for themselves while offering the opportunity to be granted an educational visa. Walen, Pro Language, and Study Thai Chiang Mai are frequently spoken of by locals in the know.
The main advantage of these three schools is that they will facilitate your visa process for you while you are studying Thai with them. The Walen School is a fairly new school that commands a top price for its high-standard schools. They have rapidly expanded from their beginnings in Bangkok just a few years ago thanks to their professionalism and efficiency working with their students. Pro Language is another school that has made a name for itself and expanded rather quickly in the last few years. The third school, Study Thai Chiang Mai, stands out for their dual programs for Thai language learning as well as a separate TEFL certification (under their SEE TEFL brand) for those looking to become English teachers. Study Thai Chiang Mai’s Thai language program is Thailand Ministry of Education approved, and attending classes with them makes you eligible for an Education Visa as with the other schools mentioned above.
Whichever way you seek your educational visa, do be aware that qualifying for it is serious business that will require a minimum number of committed classroom hours attended during the course. However, receiving an ED Visa through one of these schools is one of the better values for money spent in the many small language institutions in town. In fact, these schools offer an invaluable service by letting students receive both an education and proper documentation to ensure their long-term stay in the Land of Smiles.
University Thai Courses
For those already with some experience speaking Thai or intent on mastery, there are also university courses available. Chiang Mai University has a one year certificate program which will get you your education visa. Their classes are informative and moderately paced, and will take you through a wide range of learning experiences to make you feel comfortable from beginning to intermediate reading and writing of Thai. On the other hand, the Payap University language courses are intensive and considered maybe the best in town when it comes to proper Thai proficiency. Considering its reputation for seriousness, if you are looking to be at a professional level in Thai language for business or academia for instance, their graduated course system is probably for you. The drawbacks to these courses are that they can be so academic that the fast pace can sometimes cause students to fall behind if they don’t keep up with coursework, and the price for studies and visa are at a premium.
Private Thai Lessons at Your Own Pace
It should be noted that after some time here you are likely to acquire friends who have also tried private lessons. There are several online resources for recommending teachers in Chiang Mai, including thaivisa.com. The advantages of private lessons are many. As most beginning students find Thai language with its foreign script and tones quite difficult, it’s sometimes better to begin in a private, controlled environment where you can work at your own pace. The time spent working on individual goals can make learning Thai much less intimidating and allow for repetition of things that are most difficult for new students. The ability to tailor to individual needs is also great for advanced students who need to work on reading, grammar, and skills for speaking clearly. You can find a private teacher through most of the big schools already mentioned, or on your own. The best way is to find someone with a good reference from friends in the expat community. A good teacher should be able to make a course of study that suits you best, and move you along towards your goal. Perhaps the only disadvantage of private lessons is that without other students around, there is no peer pressure to keep you striving forward. It all depends on your own sense of pacing, so communicate this clearly with your new private teacher to plan a Thai course that will benefit you the most.
A.U.A. Language Center
Address: 73 Ratchadamnern Road
Tel: 053-278-407, 053-277-951
Chiang Mai University
Address: 239 Huay Kaew Road
Address: Chiang Mai-Lampang Highway, Foreign Language Center, Faculty of Arts, Benjaban Building, Room BB 205
Tel. 053-851-478 ext. 475
Address: 6/4-5 Nimmanhemin Road
Tel: 053-400-980 -1
Address: 12 Huay Kaew Rd
Tel: 053-405-393 -4
YMCA Language Center
Address: 11 Mengrairasmi, Sermsuk Road
Tel: 053-221-819, 053-221-820