Sign up now to save your progress and more!
How Hard Is It To Learn Thai?

How Hard Is It To Learn Thai?

Thai Language
March 14, 2024 · 3 min read

Learning any new language is hard; you have to learn an entirely new system of grammar, thousands of new vocabulary words, and enough of the culture to understand native speakers. Some languages are more challenging than others. What about Thai? Is it easy or difficult to learn and what aspects of the language affect its difficulty?

How Difficult is Thai?

It can be difficult to quantify the difficulty of learning a new language. Luckily the Foreign Service Institute has a lot of experience in this area. They teach future American diplomats a wide variety of foreign languages. From this experience, they have broken down languages into four categories: from easiest to most difficult. Languages like French and Spanish are categorized as Category I (the easiest), while Chinese and Japanese are Category IV (the most difficult). Category I languages typically require 600-750 hours of classroom instruction, while Category IV languages can take up to 2,200 classroom hours.

Thai has been put into the Category III language group alongside Greek and Russian. This means that there are significant linguistic and cultural differences from English. These languages typically take around 1,100 classroom hours to reach fluency. This only counts classroom hours; FSI language students are expected to spend a significant amount of time studying outside the classroom as well.

What Makes Thai Difficult?

The Writing System

Thai uses its own unique script that is significantly different from the English writing system. It has 44 consonants and 15 vowels. While English uses an alphabetical writing system, where each sound is written using a character or group of characters written in the order the sound appears, Thai’s writing system uses an abugida. Abugidas combine consonants and vowels into single syllable units. Learning this new writing system adds additional time that isn’t spent learning grammar or vocabulary.


Thai is a tonal language: it uses different tones to differentiate different words. Thai has five different tones: mid, low, falling, high, and rising. This can take time for English speakers to get used to speaking and hearing the difference between tones. Getting the tone wrong can drastically change the meaning of the word. Look at the word “mai”:

  • มัย /mai/ (mid tone): horse
  • ใหม่ /mài/ (low tone): new; recent
  • ไม่ /mâi/ (falling tone): no; not
  • ไม้ /mái/ (high tone): wood; lumber
  • ไหม /măi/ (rising tone): question particle

Each word with a different tone isn’t related to the others. This makes it easy to misunderstand or say something incorrectly.


While a lot of recent words have come to Thai from English (computer, taxi, TV, etc…) there is very little crossover between the two languages. When learning a romance or germanic language, English speakers get a head start due to the amount of similar words. With Thai we have to start from the very beginning.


Thai has a number of sounds not present in the English language. It takes time to learn how to pronounce and hear these new sounds. Thai learners will have to practice and get familiar with the new ways to use their tongue and mouth.

What Makes Thai Easy?

While that may seem like a lot of reasons Thai is a difficult language, there are some advantages that Thai has that make it easier.


If you’ve ever tried learning another language, just hearing the word “grammar” might scare you. Don’t worry; Thai has relatively easy grammar. You won’t find yourself memorizing conjugation tables or case systems. You don’t even have to learn genders for new vocabulary. Thai’s sentence structure is very similar to English (SVO, subject verb object), so it is very easy to learn.

The Writing System

While the Thai writing system was a reason the language is difficult, it also has some benefits. Once you’ve learned the rules of the writing system, you know how to read pretty much everything. Thai has a phonetic writing system, so how it’s spelled is how it sounds (can you explain the difference between tough and though?). Unlike Chinese and Japanese, you don’t have to memorize thousands of different characters.


While Thai might be a difficult language to learn, it can be a very rewarding experience. It can open you up to many new experiences when visiting or living in Thailand. The best way to make learning any language seem easier is to immerse yourself in the language. At Simple Thai we make immersion simple by providing interesting stories written at your level by native Thai speakers.

Want more articles like this?

Sign up for our newsletter.

We care about your data. Read our privacy policy.