Thai Language & Thai Studies at UC Berkeley

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Wat Pongsanuk, Lampang, Thailand. Photo: Penny Edwards

OUR MISSION At UC Berkeley, we strive to generate knowledge of and appreciation for the Thai language and culture by enabling students to create meaningful connections with Thai institutions, individuals, and community. Thai is the official language of Thailand and is primarily used among the people of Central Thailand. Thais from the Northern, Southern, and Northeastern regions may also speak Thai, but with different local inflections, attesting to the richness and diversity of the language.

Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Kathleen Gutierrez

UC Berkeley is one of the first U.S. institutions to offer Thai language instruction. The Thai Studies program encompasses much more than the language alone. Courses in the literature and civilization of Southeast Asia celebrate the culture and history of Thailand examining its people, traditions, and beliefs.


Intermediate Thai class students celebrate Loy Kratong, A Thai Festival of Lights, with Lecturer Emeritus Supatra Chowchuvech

Thai Studies has a distinguished 70-year history at UC Berkeley. Assembling teaching materials, Professor Mary Haas launched the program in the 1940s. A trained linguistic anthropologist (who preferred the term anthropological linguistics), Haas learned and published extensively on Thai through extensive elicitation and collaboration with Thai speakers in the U.S. and Thailand, and published the first academic Thai-English dictionary. Co-founder of the Department of Linguistics, Haas continued teaching Thai from her appointment as Assistant Professor in Thai and Linguistics from 1947-1960. Her successors include our distinguished Lecturers Emeritus Dr. Susan Kepner and Ajaan Supatra Chowchuvech, who expanded the Thai curriculum to include Thai literature, culture, and Buddhism.

OUR PROGRAM Thai Studies is a dynamic program that attracts students across disciplines, from all over the world. UC Berkeley has awarded 46 Ph.D.s in Thai Studies since 1970. Undergraduate and graduate level courses offered by the Department of South and Southeast Asian studies include literature, cinema, religion, culture, and politics. Our teaching and research mission is supported by our extraordinary collections of Thai literature in the South and Southeast Asia Library and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

OUR STUDENTS While many students of Thai are of Thai and Southeast Asian heritage, our program serves all those inspired to study this fascinating culture and language. Our Education Abroad Program has a flourishing exchange with Thammasat University in Bangkok. Program alumni are empowered to pursue academic, diplomatic, governmental, and professional careers.

OUR COMMUNITY Thai Studies is an energetic presence on campus, organizing academic and cultural events open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and the public. Our Center for Southeast Asia often hosts scholarly events on Thailand. The Thai Student Association also actively promotes Thai culture, and our Thai Alumni Association is thriving both locally and in Thailand.

ALUMNI VOICES Cal's program went above and beyond just teaching me the basics of the language. I visited the local Thai temple, cooked authentic Thai food, and learned about Thai traditions and beliefs.

-Serena Hughes '19

[Studying Thai at Cal] has shaped me into who I am as a young scholar of Thai studies, and personally as a 1.5 generation Thai-American reconnecting with my cultural roots.

-Rose Schweis '21


THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! Thanks to the generous support of our local and global community of alumni and friends, Cal students can continue to benefit from exceptional instruction in the Thai language. Since the launch of the Thai Language Fund earlier this summer, we have raised over $12,000! These valuable funds have enabled the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies to appoint a lecturer in Thai for Fall Semester. This Fall, we are also offering a new course in Advanced Thai, designed and taught by a graduate student instructor. This is tremendous progress and we couldn't be more grateful for your participation. Thank you for supporting our students and faculty!

MEET NUCHINUN KLUAYTHONG, INCOMING LECTURER Nuchinun Kluaythong teaches Thai Language at Introductory and Intermediate level, and incorporates Thai Culture into her curriculum. Nuchinun was born and raised in Thailand, where she completed her bachelor’s degree. Her extensive experience of teaching Thai includes five years as a Thai teacher in Thailand and in Cambodia, and ten years teaching Thai as a second language in the U.S. Nuchinun holds a Masters in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from the University of San Francisco. Nuchinun is fluent in Thai, English, Khmer, Lao and Kuy.

STUDENT VOICES: JENKIN LEUNG, SE ASIAN STUDIES & LINGUISTICS Taking Thai class at Berkeley has been extremely rewarding. With the guidance of Ajaan Supatra and Ajaan Nuchinun, I am able to communicate with Thai residents in my city. Most importantly, learning Thai has allowed me to experience the Thai culture first-hand as our Ajaans invite classmates to festivals like ลอยกระทง (Loi Krathong) and สงกรานต์ (Songkran Festival). We also had so much fun singing along to Thai songs like บุษบา and created so many beautiful memories together. I am sincerely grateful that the Thai language program can continue, as my friends from Thai 1A/1B and I love Thai so very much and wish to continue learning it.

Learn more online: Thai instruction plays a critical role for all Cal students participating in the Thai Studies program. These students acquire a deeper understanding of the language, history and customs, develop the ability to connect across cultures, and complete their degrees with the skills and knowledge to better serve the community. To learn more about Thai language and Thai studies, please visit

ขอบคุณมากค่ะ/ ครับ - Thank you very much!

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