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Speak Thai while Visiting Thailand

Speak Thai
Speaking Thai

Speak Thai when you visit Thailand to help with simple needs.  Although Thailand is a country of many languages. The Thai language is the official language of Thailand, however, there are also many regional languages that are commonly spoken. Where regional languages exist, Thai is used as a second language. The Northeastern part of Thailand is referred to as Issan, and the primary language is Issan which is the name for the various dialects of the Lao language. Children in Issan initially learn to speak Issan from their family, however, when they go to school, they are taught to speak Thai. Issan is spoken by about one third of the Thailand population. There are about 58 different dialects and languages spoken around Thailand. These various dialects are similar enough to allow the people to converse with each other. However, some languages, such as Issan, are not interchangeable with the exception of numbers.  The Thai and Issan words for numbers are mostly the same.

The closer you get to neighboring countries, the more the dialect or language resembles that of the other country. When I travel around Northeastern Thailand, I can never tell when the people are speaking Thai, Lao, or Issan. But, don’t worry too much about your ability to speak or not speak Thai.  In the more populated parts of Thailand, you will find many Thais who can speak enough English to help you with what you need.  However, English is rarely found in the rural parts of Thailand.  I’m going to give you a brief introduction how to speak Thai with some frequently used words and phrases.  However, I encourage you to pick up one or more of the books offered below to enhance your ability to speak Thai.

Polite Particles

When you speak Thai, you can add short words called particles to the end of a sentence to change its meaning. Some of the most common are: khrap – used by male speakers at the end of every sentence to be polite.  This is pronounced with a soft “R” sound. Khaa – used by female speakers at the end of every sentence or question to be polite. For instance, the Thai word for “Hello” is “Sawatdee”.  A male speaker would say “Sawatdee khrap” and a female speaker would say “Sawatdee khaa” Another example is “how are you?” which is “sabai dee mai” in Thai.  A male speaker would say “sabai dee mai khrap” and a female speaker would say “sabai dee mai khaa”.

Dual Use Words

Some words have different meaning depending on where in the sentence they are used. One example is the Thai word “mai”. When the word “mai” is placed at the end of a phrase, it makes the phrase a question.  If the same word “mai” is placed in the middle of a phrase, it turns the phrase negative. For instance, “sa-nook”  means “fun”; “sa-nook mai” means “Is it fun?”; and “mai sa-nook” means “not fun”.  Some additional examples: “sabai dee” – I’m fine “sabai dee mai” – How are you?

Pronunciation Hints

The letter “R” is usually pronounced with a rolling R sound, or is silent, depending on the word.  When hear an Issan person speak Thai, you will hear them replace the “R” with a “L” sound.  So the Thai region a person comes from effects their pronunciation when they speak Thai.  You hardly ever hear the “R” sound spoken in Thai.  Some examples: “aroy” – Delicious – is pronounced “aloy” “reuu” – Really? – is pronounced “leuu” The Thai word for “I” is different for males and females: male speakers refer to themselves  as “pom” and female speakers refer to themselves as “chan”.  For example, “I do not understand” for a male speaker is “Pom mai kow jai” and a female speaker would say “Chan mai kow jai”.

Tonal Usage

Thai is referred to as a tonal language using 5 different tones: Low, Medium, High, Rising, or Falling.  For instance, “mai” pronounced with a rising tone makes it a question, however, pronounced with a medium tone, turns the phrase negative. Another interesting point is that when speaking Thai, you usually drop the word “I”, or “we”, etc.  For instance, you can say “sabai dee” (I’m fine) which is dropping the word “I”.  To include the word “I”, the phrase whould be “Pom sabai dee”.  To say you are having fun, you only need to say “sa-nook”, you do not need to say the complete sentence “I am having fun”. Be careful about your tonal usage since you may be saying something that could get you into trouble.  For instance, the word “kow” has several meanings depending on how you say it.  You might end up ordering a dog instead of rice.  I recommend that you purchase the CD package below so you can listen to the various pronunciations.

Frequently used Phrases

English Phrase Male Speaking Thai Female Speaking Thai
Hello Sawatdee khrap Sawatdee khaa
How are you? Sabai dee mai khrap Sabai dee mai khaa
I am fine Sabai dee khrap Sabai dee khaa
What is your name? Khun Cheu a-rai Khun cheu a-rai
My name is …. Pom cheu …. Chan cheu ….
Thank you Korp khun khrap Korp khun khaa
Your welcome Yin dee Yin dee
Please Kor Kor
Yes Khrap or Chai Khaa or Chai
No Mai Mai
Everything is OK Mai ben rai Mai ben rai
Excuse me / Sorry Kor toht Kor toht
I do not understand Pom mai kow jai Chan mai kow jai
I undersand Pom kow jai or kow jai Chan kow jai or kow jai
Do you understand? Kuhn kow jai mai Kuhn kow jai mai
Do you speak English Kuhn poot pah-sah angrit dai mai Kuhn poot pah-sah angrit dai mai
I do not speak Thai Pom poot mai dai Chan poot mai dai
I speak a little Thai Pom poot dai nit-noy Chan poot dai nit-noy
I Pom Chan
You Kuhn Kuhn
He, she, they Kow Kow
We Rao Rao
What A-rai A-rai
Where Te-nai Te-nai
Who K-rai K-rai
When Meu a-rai Meu a-rai
Fun Sa-nook Sa-nook
Relax Sabai Sabai
Little bit Nit-noy Nit-noy
Rice Kow Kow
I love you Pom rak khun Chan rak khun
My Love Te-rak Te-rak
You are beautiful Khun suay maak
Very much Maak maak Maak maak

Here are some excellent additional resources to help you learn more about speaking Thai:

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