Reading another of Ben’s excellent language tips has finally spurred me into posting tips of my own.
Learning and speaking Thai is one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in Thailand. At times it can be one of the biggest problems and frustrations as it the language barriers can affect some aspects of life here.
Sure, you can live without speaking Thai but you must rely on other people as you are effectively illiterate. Knowing even a little Thai gives independence which, in a country with comparatively few English speakers and limited English media sources, is well worth the initial effort.
Plus speaking to, and understanding, locals is incredibly rewarding, they are always surprised to hear a foreigner speaking Thai and will always compliment you.
So, without further ado, I present the first instalment of Johnny Foreigner's guide to basic Thai.
Strangely these are often not listed in guidebooks or well know to the public yet they are essential to even basic communication.
- Conversational Thai can be incredibly informal between people who know each other. Pronouns are rarely used in conversation – say no “I”, “you”, “they”, etc – so much so that people will use their own name when talking about themselves.
- Thai uses its own script so there are no official translations for words into English. Spellings are let to the individual authors of translations books, so don't worry if a word is spelt differently between books.
- Thai verbs are never conjugated, making them incredibly easy to use – no need to learning verb endings.
- There is no past tense (that I’m aware of). Time can be indicated by phrases “already”, “now” or “not yet” - more hassle saved.
- Thais often pronounced the letter ‘r’ as an ‘l’ (or disregard it altogether) which is confusing as ‘l’ exists in its own right. For example the word farang (foreigner) is pronounced “falang”. Other pronunciations deviate from the English but this is the most common.
- The future tense is formed by adding ja to the beginning of a verb – again, masses of problems with verb endings avoided.
- Thais use a polite article to end every sentence when speaking in formal conversations. The article differs depending on sex – male speakers say krub (phonetically pronounced “cup”) while females says ka (pronounced “car”). This is incredibly important for native speakers.
- Lastly, the Holy Grail for foreigners is the Thai tones. Thai words have different (often opposing) meanings depending on how they are spoke: with no tone, a high tone, a low tone, a rising tone or a falling tone. The best way to learn is listening to native speakers, but newbies need to worry as Thais will give foreigners the benefit of the doubt with tones.
To have – Mee
To want – Ow
To like – Chob
To go – Bpei [pronounced “by”]
To eat – Gin [pronounced with a ‘g’ like Graham not a ‘j’ like the spirit]
To know – Lieuw [pronounced “loo”]
To be – Pen [pronounced “ben”]
Food – Khaow [pronounced “cow” with a longer ‘o’]
Water – Naam [rhymes with “damn”]
Toilet – Hong naam [hong meaning room]
House – Baan [pronounced like “barn”]
Girlfriend/boyfriend – Faen [rhymes with baan]
Person – Khun [pronounced “koon”]
Beautiful – Suay [pronounced “Sue-eye”]
Big – Yai [rhymes with “eye”]
Very – Marg [pronounced with ‘g’ like “gun”]
Much – Jung-roi [rhymes with “Roy”]
Incredible/incredibly – Jing jing [pronounced with ‘j’ like “jingle”]
Delicious – Arroy [pronounced like the wheels]
Hungry – Hieuw [pronounced “hee-you”]
What – Array [pronounced “ally”]
The use of “no” - mei
Using Mei [pronounced “my” with a long vowel like “why”] is an easy way to make the most of your Thai, no matter how limited it may be.
Mei can be used to make a statement in question when it is used at the end. When using the polite article (krub or ka) mei changes to na.
Mei is used before a verb to form the opposite. For example Ow means like, Mei ow means don’t like.
Some examples of phrase making
English: Do you have a toilet?
Thai: Mee hong-naam, na krup?
Phonetic: “Mee hong-namn, nah cup/car?”
- - -
You are very beautiful/handsome.
Khun pen suay/lorr jing jing.
“Koon ben sue-why/law jing jing.”
- - -
What would you like to eat?
Ow gin array, krup/ka?
“Ow gin allay, cup/car?”
- - -
I'd like pad thai, please.
Ow Pad Thai, krup/ka.
“Ow Pad Thai, cup/car”
- - -
I am going to go home.
- - -
I don't know.
- - -
I already have a girlfriend/boyfriend.
Mee faen laew.
“Mee fan lay-o.”
- - -
The food is very nice.
Khao alloy marg.
“Cow alloy margh.”
- - -
I like Thailand.
- - -
I would like to go to The Hotel in Bangkok, please.
Bpei The Hotel ti Bangkok, krup/ka.
“By The Hotel tee Bangkok, cup/car.”
- - -
Enough for now but as you can see sentence making is not too difficult – sometimes only a verb and noun is needed.
Stayed tuned for the next instalment.
* Disclaimer for any Thai language purists out there, this is not perfect Thai but will allow you be understood.