After I finished Pimsleur, I knew I wanted a program that could help me with listening, reading, vocabulary development, and sentence variety. My textbooks just have audio of word lists and sample sentences and/or choppy, overly formal dialogues. Those serve their purpose in the learning process, but I need more, so I decided that I would subscribe to either Learn Thai Podcast or ThaiPod101 as those seemed to get the highest reviews. Both programs have trial materials available. As far as I can tell, Learn Thai Podcast only has beginning-level samples available for free whereas ThaiPod101 has a 7-day trial of their premium membership so you can check out all levels of their materials. Here’s the rundown of why I chose Learn Thai Podcast:
Learn Thai Podcast requires a hefty initial investment of $197, which is why I put off signing up for so long. Yes, it’s a five-year subscription, so it ends up being about $3.30/month, but it takes a bit of a leap of faith to invest that up front when all you can check out for free is the beginning materials. Luckily for me, I managed to get my subscription for just $97 because of a sale they had for the King’s birthday. Now that I have it, though, I can see it is well worth the $197 they ask — it’s actually probably worth much more. As an aside, there’s no reason to fear that the price will increase anytime soon — the $197 “special offer” has existed about as long as the site.
ThaiPod101 not only costs more, but it has pretty abrasive advertising techniques like this one:
You have to scroll through pages of this before you get to the tiny “no thanks” link at the bottom so you can actually enter the site.
Once inside, you can see the different prices for memberships. The cheapest one is about 70 cents more per month than Learn Thai Podcast, assuming there are enough materials on ThaiPod101 to keep you busy for five years (it doesn’t look like it to me).
Upon clicking the “upgrade” button on ThaiPod101, I found the prices are misleading. A premium membership is only $10 a month if you pay $240 at once and a Basic membership is only $4 a month if you pay $96 at once. If you want to pay month by month, memberships are $25 and $8 per month, respectively.
Unfortunately, the best features of ThaiPod101 are only available to Premium members, and I don’t think there are enough materials at this pount to justify a two-year membership (more on that below).
In this section, I’m only talking about audio clarity. On this front, ThaiPod101 has more consistently clear audio. All of their audio appears to have been recorded in a studio and has no background noise (other than intentional sound effects) at all. Learn Thai Podcast, however, takes their authentic conversation audio and video (the aspect I am most interested in) from various sources, including handheld cameras on a windy day. It’s a bit rough on the untrained ear. After each conversation the Thai voice of the podcast (Jo?) speaks the phrases again with studio-quality sound. Their grammar and vocabulary lessons are perfectly clear.
Interest Level of Materials
Thai Pod 101 has a 7-day premium trial where you have access to all their materials, so I was able to listen to beginning, intermediate, and advanced recordings. The English introductions and discussions after were so dry and dull I couldn’t handle it. Based on my husband’s wincing during the Thai portions, my guess is the same is true for the Thai sections. My goal for learning Thai isn’t to sound like a monotone textbook, and the lack of phrasing by the American speaking Thai (in all authentic Thai I’ve heard, there are longer spaces before/after certain words to separate phrases and clauses — these recordings seemed to put an equal space between each word) was distressing. The native Thai speaker spoke well, but it seemed like the non-native actually got more speaking time on most dialogues. Also, for dialogues among three or more people, the two speakers tried to disguise their voices. The male (American) speaker, when being a third person, sounded like Frank Oz trying to be somewhere in between Yoda and Fozzie Bear. The result was painful to listen to. On the plus side, the material, particularly at the more advanced levels, talked about important parts of Thai culture. That would have kept my interest despite the monotony if the information weren’t presented in the form of a second grade book report.
Learn Thai Podcast, on the other hand, has conversations and monologues that are husband-approved in their authenticity. In fact, Learn Thai Podcast is the only learning resource I have that hasn’t made my husband double over in laughter. When I showed him some of the intermediate and advanced dialogues and grammar lessons, he was pretty impressed.
Range of Materials
This is where Learn Thai Podcast completely blows ThaiPod out of the water. Look at this:
That’s seventy-three intermediate lesson cycles alone! Not to mention the six advanced cycles, five advanced news cycles (note each cycle is four lessons), sixty beginner grammar, review, and bonus lessons, 317 beginner vocabulary lessons (each with about ten words). I had heard Learn Thai Podcast had a lot of lessons, but I didn’t expect it might actually keep me busy for the next five years.
ThaiPod101 has a good amount, too, especially in the advanced audio blog section (there are about 50 lessons there), but it simply doesn’t even approach the number of lessons Learn Thai Podcast has.
Quality of Materials
The fact is, I’m not going to study with something that bores me, and ThaiPod101 is painfully boring. My toaster has more emotion than those speakers, and the banter is some of the worst I have ever heard. It has frills — opening music, sound effects — but I don’t need frills, I need speech that sounds like human beings. I couldn’t even pay attention to the explanation of the phrases in the dialogues. Bad, bad, bad.
Learn Thai Podcast has no frills at all. It’s low-budget and straight to the point, just the way I like. Plus, the explanations of the dialogues and the number of repetitions are perfect. I look forward to studying with Learn Thai Podcast, even if it’s just the deadly themed vocabulary lists (something ThaiPod101 has managed to make even more boring than usual). Most importantly, I’m learning. I understand so much more of what my in-laws say than before, and I’m getting a better grasp of how to string words together.
Both Learn Thai Podcast and ThaiPod101 have transcripts of all their audio materials in both Thai script and romanization, and both have flashcard features for words and phrases. Both provide Thai script to read along with as you listen. For Learn Thai Podcast, the transliteration is far enough below the Thai that it can easily be covered up or ignored if you’re like me and think transliteration is a tool of the devil. They also have pdf files of the transcriptions. ThaiPod101 has dialogue transcriptions on the screen below the audio player as well as pdf files in English, Thai, and transliterated Thai. I would say both programs are equal here.
As far as learning how to read Thai script, Learn Thai Podcast has a section for that that I haven’t yet explored since I can already decode. ThaiPod101 has an alphabet page, but I couldn’t find anything on actually learning how to read.
Visual Appeal and Ease of Use
I think both are equally easy to navigate and both are equally visually appealing.
The Final Decision
Because of ThaiPod101’s aggressive and misleading marketing practices and their use of non-native speakers who speak like robots, I found Learn Thai Podcast to be more valuable for me. If ThaiPod101 were to be more upfront about pricing and/or charge $5 a month for Premium, I would consider a two-year membership because the advanced blogs, though dull, are pretty decent listening practice and it’s hard to find extended texts with audio. As it is, though, they’ve made a bad impression on me as a company.
UPDATE: Customer Service
Since writing this post, I’ve e-mailed both Learn Thai Podcast and ThaiPod101 with questions about their features. Both companies responded to me within 24-hours with very helpful responses. I had read elsewhere that ThaiPod101 customer service isn’t great, but I have to strongly disagree — they were excellent! It actually makes me feel a little more forgiving about their marketing techniques and the stodgy acting on the beginner-level podcasts. They reset my 7-day trial, so I think I’ll do a review later his week on the specific features of each program so people can make informed choices. Basically, I’m trying to write the reviews I wish had been available when I was trying to choose between the two.