Thai Language

You will always make a good impression if you try to use a few words of Thai. This page gives a simple introduction to the Thai Language. It is only intended to cover the basic concepts of the language and a few useful words and phrases.

For a more detailed introduction to the Thai language see our Thai Language Lessons pages.

If you want to study the Thai language seriously there are several language schools in Phuket. There are also some good resources on the internet. We have provided links at the bottom of this page.

Introduction

The Thai language does not have tenses or plurals and therefore does not have all the irregular forms that make English such a difficult language to learn. In Thai you learn a verb and that is it - you do not need to learn its various forms. Instead, Thai has add-on words that they use to define tense or plurals. In this way, Thai is an easy language to learn but there are other complications that make it difficult for westerners.

Tonal System

Thai is a tonal language - that is the tone used to pronounce a word can change its meaning. Thai has five tones -- low, middle, high, rising and falling. For example, the word 'mai' in a falling tone means 'not' but at the end of a sentence with a high tone it indicates a question. There is a sentence used to illustrate this - 'mai mai mai mai mai'. The word 'mai' repeated five times in the different tones of the Thai language. The sentence roughly translates as 'new wood doesn't burn, does it?' Okay - it is not a very sensible sentence but it does highlight the significance of tones.

Usually foreigners will get away with using the wrong tones as the context of the conversation will be enough to help Thais understand what you are trying to say. They will probably still laugh at your unintentional faux pas but it is all meant in good humour.

Thai Alphabet

Thai has its own alphabet or script. The Thai alphabet is quite logical. It does not have the ambiguity of the Roman alphabet. If you can read Thai then you can correctly pronounce most words even if you do not know the word. Unfortunately, there is no official transliteration system.

Transliteration means the system used to convert characters from one alphabet to another so that for example, westerners can read Thai words. Since there is no official system, you will often see Thai words transliterated in different ways. You may see 'sawatdee' written as 'sawadee' or even 'sawasdee'. As there is no official system there is no right or wrong (although 'sawasdee' is wrong), it is just a case of trying to write the Thai word in a way that gives a westerner a reasonable chance of pronouncing it correctly.

A common transliteration problem is 'k' being used instead of 'g'. You will often see the classic Thai dish Tom Kah Gai written as Tom Kah Kai. 'Gai' means chicken while 'kai' means egg - you may confuse the waiter if you ask for Tom Kah Kai. Similarly, Phuket should actually be pronounced poo-get. Note also that the 'ph' is pronounced as a hard 'p'. Similarly 'th' is a hard 't' as in Thailand (tai-land).

The vagaries of the Roman alphabet are such that it is actually very difficult to create a transliteration system that consistently represents the right sounds in English. As a result, although we have tried to use a consistent transliteration system (designed for people whose first language is English) we have occassionally felt happy to stray away from that system if we feel there is a better way to represent the required Thai sound.

Thai Regional Dialects

Thailand, like many countries, has strong regional dialects. The standard version of Thai understood throughout the country is central Thai as spoken in Bangkok and central Thailand. The other regions of Thailand understand central Thai but between themselves, they use their local dialect. People in Phuket speak the southern dialect of Thai which is spoken rapidly and a lot of words are abbreviated.

One other thing to be aware of is many Thais do not like pronouncing the letter 'r'. Most Thais can pronounce 'r' - they just think it is more effort than it is worth. They will therefore often drop the 'r' ('kap' instead or 'krap') or change it to an 'l' ('falang' instead of 'farang').

Krap and Ka

Before you start learning any other words the first thing to understand is the two polite particles 'krap' and 'ka'. These words do not have a specific meaning - they are added to the end of sentences to make them sound polite. The important thing to know is that men say 'krap' and women say 'ka'. So if you are a man you should say 'sawadee krap' and if you are a woman, you should say 'sawadee ka'.

Words & Phrases

English Thai Comment
Hello / Welcome / Bye sawadee krap/ka  
Thankyou korp koon krap/ka Spoken rapidly it sounds like cop-n-cup/cop-n-kah
Excuse me kor tort  
Nevermind / No problem mai pen rai  
Fun sanook  
Comfortable / Well sabai  
Are you well ? sabai dee mai ?  
I am well sabai dee as reply to above question
I am not well mai sabai also as reply to above question
Good Luck chok dee krap/ka This is also used as a drinking greeting in the same way as 'cheers'.
Tasty / Delicious arroy Often pronounced 'alloy' as the 'r' is changed to 'l'
Where are you going ? pai nai A common Thai conversation opener
What are you doing ? tam arai Another common conversation opener
Westerner farang Not in itself an insult despite what some claim. Of course it can be used in an insulting way.
Baht baht Thai currency
This nee  
That nun  
How much does this cost ? nee gee baht a hard 'g'
Can you reduce the price ? lot noy dai mai  
Want ow 'ow' rhymes with cow (as in 'ow that hurt')
Don't want mai ow  

Numbers

English Thai
One nerng
Two sorng
Three sahm
Four see
Five hah
Six hok
Seven jet
Eight pairt
Nine gow
Ten sip
Eleven sip et
Twelve sip sorng
Thirteen sip sahm
Twenty yee sip
Thirty sahm sip
Forty see sip
Hundred roy
Thousand pan
Ten Thousand mern
Hundred Thousand sairn
Million lahn

Food

English Thai Comment
Food ah-hahn  
Spicy pet  
Sour bree-oh  
Salty kem  
Sweet wahn  
Bitter kom  
Do not want spicy mai ow pet  
Only a little spicy mai ow pet mahk  
Want spicy ow pet  
Want very spicy ow pet pet  
Shallow fried pat  
Deep fried tort  
Boiled tom  
Grilled yang  
Baked op  
Steamed nerng  
     
Rice kao rhymes with 'cow', often transliterated as Khao
Boiled rice kao suay  
Fried rice kao pat  
Rice soup kao tom  
     
Egg kai  
Chicken gai  
Pork moo  
Beef neua 'Neua' is also the generic term for meat. To be more specific say 'neua wua' (meat cow).
Fish plah  
Prawn gung  
Squid plah merk  
Sea Food ah-hahn talay  
Vegetarian Food ah-hahn jay  
     
Noodle Soup groat tee-ow  
Thai Omelette kai jee-ow deep fried omelette
Fried Egg Noodles pat phai  
Spicy Papaya Salad somtam  
Sour Salad yam e.g. Yam Talay (seafood)
Spicy Sour Soup tom yam e.g. Tom Yam Goong, Tom Yam Talay
Coconut Chicken Soup tom kah gai  
Sweet Green Curry gaeng kee-ow waan  
Spicy Red Curry gaeng pet  
Masaman masaman A creamy curry with meat and potato
Sour Ground Pork lahp moo A ground meat dish with lime juice and mint
Chcken and Basil grapow gai Often served with a fried egg - 'kai dow'
Grilled Chicken gai yang  
Fish in Sweet Chilli plah raht prik  
Steamed Fish in Lemon plah nerng manao  
Fried Sun Dried Fish plah samlee  
Crab in Curry Sauce boo pat pong garee  

Drinks

English Thai Comment
Water naam  
Ice naam Kairng  
Orange Juice nam Som  
Coca Cola coke  
     
Coffee gahfair  
Iced Coffee gahfair Yen  
Tea chah  
Iced Tea chah yen  
     
Beer bee-a  
Spirits lao rhymes with 'cow', usually refers to whisky or rum
Whisky whit-gee  
Gin jin  
Wine wai 'Wine' will generally be understood
     
One bottle of beer bee-a nerng koart  
Two bottles of beer bee-a sorng koart  
Three bottles of beer bee-a sahm koart  

Further Thai Learning Resources

For a more detailed introduction to the Thai language see our Thai Language Lessons pages.

There are also several other good sites. Note some of these sites will require you to download Thai fonts if you do not already have them.

Learning Thai - one of the best starting points available on the internet. A large resource of Thai Learning tools including audio clips. Here you can learn to understand, speak and read Thai.

Thai Language - another good starting point with lots of Thai audio clips and an extensive dictionary.

The Fundamentals of Thai Language - this very good Thai language book first printed in 1957 is now available on-line. It is an excellent introduction to speaking and reading Thai.

Thai2English Dictionary - a two-way online dictionary. It is an excellent translation tool. It will translate English into Thai giving both the Thai spelling and a transliteration. If you have a Thai language keyboard, it will translate Thai alphabet words into English. It will also attempt to translate transliterated Thai words into English.

Thai Reader - a great site for those wanting to improve their reading and listening skills. This site contains stories and articles written in Thai with audio track. It starts with the Manee children's stories that Thais learn at school. It then moves on to a series of stories and articles written by Mary Hass who is one of the most respected authorities on Thai language.

E_Thai_Music - want to understand the lyrics to that catchy Thai song - this site is your best bet. Song titles and artists are listed in both Thai and English. You can select a song, listen to it and read a translation of the lyrics.

 

 




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