The magic of learning Thai via Skype…

Having a series about learning Thai via Skype wouldn’t be complete unless I jumped in as well. Especially after hearing that a whole lot of you are chicken when it comes to technology. So, here we are…

How did I first learn about Skype? Well, when Luca Lampariello explained the beauty of learning languages via Skype in his two part series, An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages, the idea grabbed my attention.

I was speaking with Americans who asked me “Luca, how can you speak English like that if you’ve never been to the US before?” For those who praise the mp3 as an incredible learning resource, think one better: Skype is the real deal. Audio-material (although a tapes’ sound quality was much worse) has been around for over 40 years, but Skype has been around for much less.

Skype is tailor-made for language learning, and with this wonderful software application you’ll have no more excuses for not getting proficient in languages. Because conversation with a native is an invaluable asset.


Months later, when I was asked to recommend a Skype teacher, I dug into my google results and passed over the shortlist of Thai teachers I’d collected during Luca’s series. The reminder started me thinking about the pros and cons of learning Thai via Skype, and by the end of the morning, I was sold on the idea (but for myself).

At the top of my Skype resources was a discussion about Skype teacher Khun Narisa Naropakorn. Khun Narisa’s many glowing recommendations from students gave me the confidence to contact her about a trial lesson asap.

During our email discussion, Khun Narisa offered two options:

  1. Continue with my present study materials, going to Khun Narisa for clarifications.
  2. Or hand over the controls to Khun Narisa.

After reading even more kudos from her students, I decided to let Khun Narisa take the lead. I then sent the payment for a lesson and she sent two MS Word docs back.

Technical Check:

  • Skype
  • Voice recorder: Callburner (PC) Call Recorder (Mac)
  • Headset: Logitech Premium Notebook
  • Skype name: 😉
  • Computer advice: Virus, firewall, etc.

Student Learning Assessment:

  • Background: Education, location, etc.
  • Desired aims: Serious – fun.
  • Class schedule: Preferred times.
  • Projected study time: Months ++
  • Present Thai level: Beginner – Advanced.
  • Operating system: Mac, PC, Linux.

I was also instructed to come to class with the 50 Thai words and ten sentences I say most often. And as you might already know, I had a jump on that one for two sentences at least.

During my first class I was totally nervous. I was also freezing because in order to prepare a cool and quiet room, I had the ac on high two hours before my scheduled class. And I’m not depending 100% on my memory about the cold or the nerves, because Call Recorder automatically saves an mp3 of each lesson to my HD. Yeah. A recording of every mistake I make. And every shiver as well. How sweet is that?

But what really helped set me at ease was Khun Narisa’s belief that video slows down the online process. A relief, because I work on my computer flat back on the sofa. Eeew. She’d be looking right up my nose.

During the first minutes of the lesson Khun Narisa felt around to discover my Thai level. To, you know, make sure that what I stated on her form (total cacca) matched my existing skills. Suffering through it all I hemmed, I hawed, and with Mr. Bunt and Duvet being locked in their room, I blushed all on my lonesome.

I was so nervous, most of my Thai leaked away before I could sputter out anything of value. But Khun Narisa’s fun personality had me laughing, and soon we were enjoying a slow back and forth.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve managed to save a lot of the wrong Thai in my blond head. And at one point, Khun Narisa smiled (yes, you can hear a smile through Skype phones) and said that my Thai translation was kindred to Shakespeare. Quaint.

With the trial lesson over, and convinced I’d found a useful addition to my learning Thai arsenal, I signed up for the long haul. Khun Narisa then sent over a bill for the tuition fee and I paid via Paypal.

Following soon after came a professionally written employment contract where I agreed to her simple terms: Any cancellations to be made 24 hours in advance. Easy.

And along with the employment contract was a request to take a personality test and get back to her with the results. I didn’t like the results so I went around the Internet taking as many personality tests as I could find for free. But I kept coming out as a ISTJ or similar – bossy, opinionated, anal, stuff like that – which meant that I’d make a good accountant. Boring, and soooo not me. The accountant part anyways.

When I sent her a fluffy email, she came back with a link that blew me away: ISTJ. Ok. That is soooo me. But I don’t have a serious bone in my body. Nope. Nadda. And what about this one – decides logically what should be done and works toward it steadily, regardless of distraction – hmmmm?

Now that Khun Narisa had my learning style sorted, she put me to work. The aim was to find where I’m lacking as well as clean up any bad Thai I’ve taken on board. To do this, each week I’m to come up with the Thai phrases in my life, as well as any Thai I’m iffy about.

During each lesson Khun Narisa types away, giving me grammar tips with a variety of sentence patterns (patterns are my new Thai love). And at the end of the lesson she reads the sentences again. She kindly does it this way so I don’t have to work through the entire recording to cut out the sound bites to practice later.

And it’s not that I don’t like listening to an hour of Khun Narisa all over again. It’s me that is the problem. I’ve yet to meet anyone who likes their own voice and I’m no different. In fact, I disliked hearing my voice so much the first lesson, that I whispered through my entire second lesson.

The Skype window is quite useful because I can watch in real time while Khun Narisa corrects my Thai, adds notes, and creates new patterns. Then, after we’ve signed off (and she always leaves me a flower) I copy the work from the window into a MS Word doc, extract the vocabulary, add any needed translations, and tidy up the files for viewing ease. The following day I create sentences of my own using her patterns, and drill myself on any new vocabulary.

The first half of the next lesson usually starts out with Khun Narisa checking over my newly created sentences while explaining any grammar snafus. The second half is devoted to new grammar, vocabulary, and more sentence patterns.

And here we are, at the bottom of my post. I’ve been given strict instructions from Khun Narisa to avoid sharing any gushy, glowing reports in her direction. And I have been careful so far. Agreed? But I’m going to take the chance that I bored her waaaay up there somewhere, so here’s a few:

Khun Narisa is first of all, a patient teacher. And I mean really, really patient. Along with her patience, Khun Narisa is also incredibly positive, upbeat, and seriously funny. Also, I find her ability to create lessons on the fly out of my sentences, complete with detailed grammar tips, truly outstanding. It’s like having a talking dictionary, Thai course, and grammar guide at the other end of my Skype connection.

I’ve discovered that learning languages via Skype is powerful. And having a teacher as skilled as Khun Narisa makes it what it should be.

So, do you think she’s still reading?

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