How to learn Thai? What is the best way?

learning thai

Once you’ve experienced travelling to Thailand, you would have a deeper appreciation of their traditions and culture. Aside from learning about their customs, another thing that you might be interested in is learning Thai, the official language of Thailand. While tourists and expats do not need to learn the language, it can be critical for those who want to immerse themselves in the Thai way of life. In this post, we’ve come up with the different things you should know about learning Thai. 

Is It Hard to Learn Thai?

The answer depends on what languages you are familiar with or currently using. Compared with English, the Thai language does not have tenses, articles, and other grammar concepts. Instead, they rely on helper words and context to communicate what they mean. The Thai language has words that are broken down into syllables, and each one of these syllables would have pronunciations with one of the five tones. The vowels in the Thai alphabet has a long and short version. Changing the length of the vowel or the tone would change the syllable entirely, such that when you would mispronounce a tone or a vowel, a Thai local would have a different interpretation of what you are trying to say. 

Unlike English, the Thai language is highly phonetic, meaning it reads as it sounds. Plus, it has an easy to learn grammar and an alphabet. While the Thai alphabet has more than the Roman alphabet (44 consonants and 32 vowels), its phonetic feature makes learning Thai a breeze. It features a logical tone system and a squiggle that would indicate which letter a speaker should drop. 

Another notable feature of the Thai language is its simple grammar. One can communicate without having to think of having a correct and complex grammar that English has. For example, when you want to say yesterday you went to a temple, you simply say, “yesterday I go temple.” To say that you are going to the temple tomorrow, you would say tomorrow I go temple.”

Related article: How to Learn Japanese

How Do Beginners Learn Thai?

The trick of learning Thai quickly is repetition. The more that you practice speaking Thai, the quicker it is for you to learn it. Another thing to remember is to focus on the most essential vocabulary needed by a beginner. Learning the common vocabulary would allow you to allocate your resources (time, money, and effort) well. Remember that while languages can have thousands of words, only a fraction of them would be used by native speakers. Applying the Pareto principle can help you achieve success in learning Thai. Once you know the language basics of Thai, you could be conversant in no time. 

Here are some of the basic Thai phrases you should know: 

Greeting Someone:

  • Hello – Sawatdii
  • How are you? – Sabaaidii mai?
  • I’m fine -Sabaaidii
  • I come from (country) – Pom/Chan maa jaak (country)
  • What country are you from? – Kun maa jaak bprateet arai?

Asking Questions:

  • Where? – Tiinai?
  • What? – Arai?
  • When? – Muarai?
  • How? – Yangngai?
  • Why? – Tum mai?

Getting Directions/Transportation:

  • Nearby – Glai glai
  • Go straight – Dtrong bpai
  • Go left – Leo saai
  • Go right – Leo kwaa
  • Stop – Yut
  • Go to the airport- Bpai sanam bin

Shopping Items:

  • How much? = Taorai
  • Very expensive = Paang mak
  • Can you reduce the price? = Lod noi dai mai
  • I want this one = Ao annii

Reporting an Emergency

  • Hurts = Jep
  • Where is the police station? = Sataanii dtamruat yoo tee nai
  • Where is the hospital? = Rongpayaabaan yoo tee nai
  • Call an ambulance = Dahm rot pa-ya-bahn
  • I’m lost = Long tahng
  • Can you help = Choo-ay dai mai

Where Can I Learn Thai?

There are tons of ways on how you can learn Thai. Some of them include books, face-to-face tutorials, and learning Thai online. It depends on how comfortable you are with the method. Most tourists and expats choose to learn Thai online by enrolling in different Thai language classes. Make sure, though, that they have the proper accreditation. 

Can I Live in Thailand Without Learning Thai?

Since the boom of tourism in Thailand, many locals have exerted extra effort to learn English so they can easily communicate with tourists. However, those who choose to live in Thailand may need to learn a few Thai phrases and vocabulary, especially if they are planning to live in less urban or areas less frequented by tourists. Expect that Thais living in rural areas may not have any strong English skills. However, learning Thai is not necessary if you want to live in Thailand. Again, learning basic Thai could significantly help. 

Do I Need an Interpreter while in Thailand?

It depends on your purpose. If you are going there as a tourist, your tourist guide can basically act as an interpreter for you. If, however, you plan to do business in Thailand, it would help to seek the help of an interpreter. Remember, any small modification of your tone or vowel can considerably change its meaning. And when you are making business deals, there is absolutely no room for mistakes. If you are planning to work in Thailand, expect that you would need to interact with locals daily. Given this scenario, learning Thai should be part of your priority. 

Related article: Is It Safe to Travel to Thailand

How Can I Read Thai Characters?

Learning how to read Thai characters is often a deal-breaker for those keen on learning the Thai language. Before you even start reading Thai, you should already have a working knowledge of the sound of each letter, its class, and whether it contains a different sound at the start vs at the end. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can now start familiarizing yourself with the letters and how they look like. One of the most effective methods is using flashcards. These flashcards are often available in bookstores, but you can also print them from online resources. 

Pro-Tip: Remember that the Thai language does not have an upper or lower case. They don’t have capitalizations, spaces, and have limited use of punctuation marks. 

Learning the Thai Alphabet

The Thai alphabet comes from Sanskrit Old Khmer script. The alphabet reads from left to right, and the consonants would have vowels sitting on top and below them. The Thai language is highly tonal, so you would have to learn five different tones – low, mid, high falling, and rising. Since the mid-tone does not have any tone mark, your job is to identify the four others. 

The tones represent vowels, and they are interpreted in the script through class combinations of the beginning consonant (high, mid, or low), length of the vowel (short or long), ending consonant (live or dead), and any of the four tone marks. 

Tips for Learning Thai

By this time, you are pretty sure that you want to learn the Thai language. Here re some tips to help you:

Invest in a Thai Language Course

While self-leaning Thai is possible, it is still far better to learn it with a native speaker and a structured program. Learning with a native speaker can help you dramatically improve your phonetics, which is crucial for Thai. From there, you can practice moving your mouth, tongue, and other facial muscles to help you improve your pronunciation and communication with locals. 

Practice Reading Thai

Learning to read Thai is critical for improving your Thai vocabulary. It can help you refine your recognition of tonal marks. For this to work, you can invest in a Thai-English dictionary. One particular textbook to get is Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s series. It is excellent in the sense that it gives you an introduction to the Thai language in the context of Romanized script first before gradually building on the Thai alphabet. 

Learn from a Local

If you are living in Thailand, the best way of learning Thai is to get it straight from the mouth of the locals. Once you hang out with locals, you would realize that they often differ from formal language. Spoken Thai often lacks tenses and conjugations and is entirely contextual. Learning from the locals would help you use the language more naturally, instead of sounding like a robot. While you are at it, you can choose a learning partner who can help you learn the intricacies of the language. 

Watch Thai Shows and Music Videos

Music videos are extensively useful for language learners because they can look at the lyrics of the songs as they are sung. From it, you can learn the proper usage of the tones while enjoying a drink or two with your Thai friends. 

Explore Rural Thailand

Perhaps this is an unconventional but worthwhile tip that you can apply. If you really, really, really want to learn to speak, read, write, and breathe Thai, go out of Bangkok and explore the rural areas of Thailand. Since most of the locals there do not have English knowledge, it would be harder for you to converse with them, and you would need to sharpen your Thai language skills. From there, you can refine your Thai skills. 

Take Every Opportunity 

Once you are in Thailand, you should take advantage of every opportunity of improving your knowledge of Thai. Every single time that you would speak with a local, consider it as a chance for you to practice your Thai speaking and understanding, no matter how mundane the conversation may be. 

Believe in Learning Thai

Often the challenge in learning a foreign language stems from the fact that we already have a negative connotation about a particular language. Learning any language is possible. You just have to give it a try. 

Now that you have a fair understanding of the Thai language, are you ready to dive in and focus on learning Thai? Let us know in the comments below!

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