The Thai language is unique, so any language skills learnt in the European or American classroom will be of little use in Thailand
There are people who are very good at picking up languages and some are just plain useless, lazy or lack the will to learn.
All types live here in Thailand, and it is clear that those who make that extra effort to learn the lingo are at a distinct advantage.
For the 2 or 3 week holiday maker, there isn't really the need to learn the language, since most involved in the tourist business speak reasonably good English, and some speak German or French as well.
This skill comes from mixing with European and American visitors on a daily basis.
Bar workers often have as good English abilities as someone with a university education simply because they are around foreigners every day.
It also helps in the job when you can say a little more than "Where you from?"
But what of the long term resident, retiree or employed person in Thailand?. There is no doubt that they should have a go at learning, and to some extent, it is expected.
I can get by in a taxi giving directions to the driver, but it is very basic stuff.
The problem with any language is that it's fine to learn how to say something and quite something else to understand the answer.
When I speak the little Thai, I know, the person I am speaking to assumes I am more capable and returns with a flurry of speech way beyond my comprehension.
As far as I am aware, the language has many different tone levels, apart from the actual words.
So, it is very easy to say something in one tone and then say the same sentence in another to give a completely different meaning.
My friend rehearsed a sentence for his future mother in law, but only succeeded in saying he thought she was a cow - which didn't go down too well.
So, what is the best method of learning?. There are CD courses, Thai tuition centres, and for the very lazy, an online internet site (www.thai-language.com).
On this last method, an English word can be typed into the computer and the dictionary will find the Thai version.
In some cases you can have the word spoken through the audio system so you can hear it being said, which is very useful. The dictionary is fairly comprehensive, but you have to have a Thai computer which can reproduce the script on screen.
Amazon sell a range of language CD's and books if that is the best learning method for you. The "Learn Thai Fast" book and CD set (20 Audio CD's) is the one used by the American diplomatic service to get staff up and running quickly.
Another well reviewed book is "Thai for Beginners" by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. Again this has audio CD's to listen to the sounds, which are so important in Thai language. This book assumes you know nothing, which is often the best way to start.
One very funny book, written by an English teacher and journalist is called : "What's Your Name - I'm Fine Thank You" and this offers up a number of hilarious language situations encountered by the author, Roger Beaumont. It is not a language book, but one which highlights the potential pitfalls of not knowing the language - in either direction.
The best way is to have a Thai friend who can talk to you in her or his language on a regular daily basis. If they live with you then speak Thai rather than English. This is one of the real problems I encounter.
Young Thai people are so keen to practice their English, they don't want to talk in their own language. Great for them, but not so good for the foreigner, keen to do the opposite.
For many, learning new language is fun and there is no questioning the response from locals is very positive when they hear the "farang" speaking Thai. As with any language, confidence in what you are saying is important, and often visitors are so unsure, that what comes out is a mumble.
The good thing is that in Thailand your inabilities will be met with humour and warmth - maybe a bit of leg pulling as well. I can think of some places where your unsatisfactory language skills are met with rudeness and disdain.
Not so Thailand - have fun and try not to call your future Mother in Law a cow!
Learn useful Thai phrases for travelling around Bangkok