“Phasa Thai” (ภาษาไทย) or usually called “Thai Language” or only “Thai” is the official language in the Kingdom of Thailand. While listening to a Thai conversation for the first time, most foreigners would say that Phasa Thai is a kind of weird and difficult language. It is mainly because Thai is a tonal language. Different tone in saying a word produces different meaning. Phasa Thai has 44 consonants, approximately 9 vowels, and more alphabet combinations. We cannot simply convert Thai alphabets to English alphabets because the tone of a word is matter. Here I write some suggestions for you to learn “Phasa Thai”
1. Start from Thai alphabets
It seems hard to study and to memorize a new alphabet system (since we are not 1st grader of elementary school). Nevertheless, we need to realize that the fundamental part of a language is on how that language be read and written. It is not necessary to memorize all alphabets, but it is important to introduce the alphabet to your brain before knowing a Thai word. At least, you know some first letters in the alphabet and the differences with English alphabet. This is kind of a theoretical study before going further to practice. Sometimes, you need to memorize some basic vocabularies to help you in recognizing Thai alphabets. Practice pronouncing each alphabet will stimulate your mind in adapting with a new language.
This is a picture that you can use for learning Thai alphabet:
If you need to learn from video, I suggest this video for you. Thai Alphabet
2. Practice with greetings and some simple words
Thailand has only a greeting word for all situation and time (morning, afternoon, evening). It is Sawatdee which means Hello. You must say “Sawatdee-khrab (if you are male) and Sawatdee-kha (if you are female) with an appropriate gesture. Press your palms together and place them in front of your nose. The higher the hands are held in relation to the face and the lower the bow, the more respect or reverence the greeting giver is showing. If you find another greeting word like “Arunsawat” in some videos, it is commonly unused by Thais in real life as it is a very formal word.
- Hello/good morning/good afternoon/good evening/(meeting and leaving)/(start and end conversation in a call) = sawatdee (khrab)/sawatdee (kha)
- Thank you= khob khun (khrab)/khob khun (kha)
- Excuse me/I am sorry = Kho thod (khrab)/Kho thod (kha)
These are some videos about greetings that I have used in learning Phasa Thai:
Learn Thai – Lesson 1: How to Introduce Yourself in Thai and check the next lessons too.
3. Mimic Thai Accent
Follow their accent! You can’t use your accent of other languages to speak Thai. So, adapt your tone because Phasa Thai is a tonal language. Don’t speak too fast because we are not native Thai speakers. So, speak slowly and clearly because speaking fast in Thai doesn’t mean that you are fluent. It may confuse Thais because some Thai words should be pronunced longer than other words.
Start pronouncing basic words or greetings by using Thai accent. Record your voice then compare it with how the way they say. Evaluate and check whether your pronunciation and your accent are similar with Thais or not. Google translate can help you for this practice because it provides a phonetic facility for any word you translate into Thai.
4. Remember some frequently-used Thai words
Please use google translate to know how to pronounce all vocabularies below. If you pronounce the word differently from how it should be pronounced, you may produce different meaning. So, this is just to show you some important vocabularies and how it is written in English characters (not Thai characters). Be careful, don’t read them as you read English. Check your dictionary and google translate.
- 1=neung, 2=song, 3=saam, 4=si, 5=ha, 6 =hok, 7=jet/cet, 8=peet, 9=kao, 10=sip, 11=sip et, 12=sip song,…
- What = a’rai, who=krai, when = mea rai, how= yang rai / yang ngai, why= tham mai, where= thii nai, how much/how many=thao rai
- I=phom (male) / di-chan (female) /chan (both male and female can use)
- You = khun / ter (you as the 3rd person or not in front of you)/ and others…
- Yes/okay=khrab/kha, yes correct= chai, no=mai, not correct= mai chai
- Go= pai, come= ma, eat=kin, speak = phud, listen=fang, hear=yin, do=tham, ask=thaam, read=an, write=kiyan, need=tongkarn, want=yak, have=mi, borrow=yeum, buy=sue’, sell=khay, tell=bork, stay=you…
- Will=ja’, should/must=tong, verb+ing (doing now)= kamlang +verb, can= dai, cannot=mai dai
- This=nii, that=nan, at/on/in=thii, at/on/in if focus at a point= trong
- Front=khang na, beside= khang khaang, behind= khang lang, under=khang laang, above=khang bun
- But=te, if=thaa/thaagert, because=phro waa/ ko khe
- Difficult=yaark, beautiful=suwai, delicious=arooi, bitter=khom, salty=khem, sour=priyaw, sweet=waan, easy=ngaay, hurt=jeb, heavy=nak
5. Learn with a good Thai dictionary
If you have gadgets like iPad, iPhone, or android tablet, try to find a good dictionaries. I like using “Talking Thai” in my iPad as my Thai dictionary because it also provides pronunciation of every Thai word.
6. Structure, sentence and conversation
Actually I believe that a language cannot be translated into other language directly. The expression of a sentence should be understood before we translate it into another language. It is because every language is unique and has its own structure that incomparable each other. Some sentences can be translated word by word to other language, but some cannot. So, don’t try to translate a sentence in English into Thai using google translate, word by word is better. Phasa Thai has a unique structure but it is not complicated if you hear and use it frequently in conversations.
If you want to speak with Thais, try to make sentences and learn from some examples of conversation. Sometimes you need to listen to your friends on how they make sentences.
- I want to eat / I want to have a meal= Phom yak kin khaao –> I want eat rice
- Where will you go?= Khun ja’ pai nai?–>you will go where
- Where is the toilet? = Hong naam you thi nai? –> Toilet stay where
- Where did you go? =Khun pai nai ma? –>
You go where come
- He invites me to go to market but I am busy= Khao chuan chan pai talard te chan mai waang
7. Learning by Doing
You shouldn’t pay a lot of money for learning a language. Just make friends! then practice to speak Thai with them. Don’t be shy and speak louder. Say to your Thai friends that “please, correct me if I make a mistake in vocabulary, structure and the tone”.
If you don’t have a friend to do that, just try to practice with some easy conversations in youtube. Or this is an example of conversation video http://auathai.com/videos .
8. Learning from Thai Songs
A technique to familiarize our ears with Phasa Thai is by listening Thai songs.
I recommend a website that you can use to practice listening or singing (karaoke) with Thai songs. Check this out! http://deungdutjai.com/. It will be a good way to improve your sensitivity and also to improve your Thai tone. This is an exciting way to learn a language.
9. Learning from Thai Videos and Movies
Another effective method to learn Phasa Thai is by watching movies. Thailand has numerous interesting movies which you can watch in Youtube. Here I give some examples. Enjoy.