If we’re being honest, I had no intention of learning Thai. Before moving to Thailand I had come here for a 10 day vacation and managed to eat, navigate, and have a great time speaking only in English.
Then I woke up in Khon Kaen after the week long orientation in Bangkok. I mean that quite literally. I took a 6.5 hour bus ride with my new boss and when the van stopped and I opened my eyes, we were in Khon Kaen. Which is in the North Western Isan region of Thailand. You have never heard of it because it is not a tourist destination. It is the real Thailand deal.
My first Khon Kaen morning I decided to walk around the new neighborhood, grab some coffee, buy some apartment supplies, and then get some food. Each errand played out the same way: no english signage, no English speaking workers or customers, and confusion and frustration on both sides that would eventually lead to one side giving up (usually me, leaving me hungry and without what I needed).
So, do you NEED to learn Thai to teach in Thailand? Technically no, but I am going to share the benefits that come with you making the effort and where to begin with learning the language.
Step one is to use your resources and don't be afraid to ask for help. You will come across people who have some English skills and they will be the people you go to for everything that needs explaining in your new culture! I asked a Thai university intern at our school if he had any friends who would be interested in being my conversation partner, with the idea that maybe I could help them with their English while they helped me learn some Thai basics. Sank did me one better and found a woman who was willing to trade Thai language instruction with a weekly English tutoring session for her son.
I have only been here 3 months but am now able to successfully order food, communicate with store employees, and direct taxis/buses/songthaews etc. Is my Thai perfect? Absolutely not, it's an impossible tonal language and I get laughed at daily. But, I see the rewards of my efforts daily. I am less intimidating to people when I enter their business and they are more willing to attempt to communicate and help me with what I need. I get more respect from people in my community because my learning Thai is showing them I respect their language, culture, and country. I get way better prices now that I know numbers in Thai and can haggle, no more tourist upcharge! I am forming deeper real relationships with Thai people, especially my students, as we find the common ground of messy mistake filled communication and share in the difficulty of learning a new language. But the best perk, though, is that I get to eat and eat well!
You’re here to learn and grow. Be willing to humble yourself and be laughed at. Put in the effort and learn the language, I guarantee you will see the rewards and be glad you did! Sawasdee, juh gone tee Thailand kha!