-Many people who visit or work in Thailand learn to speak Thai.
This is partly from necessity, as few Thais speak English, but also
because of some positive aspects of Thai culture. In Thailand it’s
customary to talk to strangers. People will start talking to you anywhere
you go, and will always be happy if you try to speak Thai with them.
The Thai language itself isn't difficult and you can start having
simple conversations after learning only a few phrases.
-Thai belongs to the Tai language family, a group of related languages
spoken in Thailand, Laos, Burma (by the Shan ethnic group), and northern
Vietnam and southern China (by minority ethnic groups). The dialect
spoken in Bangkok and surrounding areas is called Central Thai.
-There are three other main Tai languages spoken in Thailand: Southern
Thai, Northern Thai, and Laotian, called Northeastern Thai or Ee-san
in Thailand. There are also local varieties of these languages and
other related Tai languages spoken by minorities such as the Thai
Dam. These Tai dialects differ from each other mainly by vocabulary
and are not mutually intelligible. It would take a person from Bangkok
some time to be able to speak and understand Northern Thai or another
member of the Tai language family. (The terms "language",
"dialect", and "variety of a language" are not
easily differentiated and are used interchangably here.)
-Central Thai is the language of government, media, and education
and is spoken throughout the country. People outside of central Thailand
usually use their local language at home but switch to Central Thai
when they’re in school or doing business. The many other ethnic
groups who live in Thailand also learn to speak and read Central Thai
-Thai, like Lao, Vietnamese and Chinese is a tonal language. Learning
to say the tones isn’t easy and you need a good memory to remember
both the phonetic pronunciation and tone of every word. People learning
Thai often cut corners and ignore the tones. This isn’t a problem
at first because Thais won’t expect perfect pronunciation from
a beginner and will usually be able to figure out what you’re
trying to say. However, if you want to speak Thai well you should
learn the tones, and some words definitely need their tones to be
understood, such as “five” (ha) which has a falling tone
and “pork” (moo) which needs a rising tone.
-Thai words usually have only one syllable. The multi-syllable words
in Thai usually concern government, academic subjects, or religion
and came to the language through Sanskrit, the classical Indian language
or Pali, the language of Buddhism. When a new word is needed in Thai,
such as a word for “fax”, it’s taken from Sanskrit.
You may notice a similarity between some high level Thai words and
equivalent English words. This arose through a historical connection
between Greek and Latin and the ancient languages of central Asia
and India (an example is "statistics" being "sa-thee-tee"
in Thai). Many modern words are borrowed from English (an example
is Thais saying "man" to refer to a masculine male).
-The written form of Thai was also taken from Sanskrit. It’s
read phonetically from left to right like English but has more letters
than English, for example, there are four different letters for “s”.
Unlike English the spelling of a word in Thai usually reflects its
exact pronunciation, so learning to read can help you with your pronunciation.
Thai words may have extra letters at the end that are not pronounced.
This happens on high level (religious, academic) words taken from
Sanskrit or Pali, with the extra letters reflecting the spelling in
-Thai is a very concise language with words for basic meanings combined
with prefixes or into phrases to form more complex meanings. The sentence
structure is also simple, following the meaning of the sentence word
by word. Thai does have grammar but it’s a grammar of word order,
not of changes in word form for tense or position.
-Thai like all languages has variations in degree of correctness
and formality. “R”, for example, is almost always pronounced
“l” informally but on TV, in Thai language classes, and
polite situations people will try to pronounce “r” correctly.
Vocabulary can also change and there are formal and informal variations
for “eat”, “drink”, and many other words.
There are also many pronouns that show different degrees of politeness
-One aspect of Thai culture evident from the language is the emphasis
on politeness. Using polite forms of language in Thai shouldn’t
be thought of as demeaning to the speaker. In its best form the politeness
in Thai reflects mutual respect, not a hierarchical social structure.
Conversations in Thailand tend to be pleasant and fun. Controversial
subjects aren’t brought up and people usually don’t speak
sarcastically or abusively. In fact, talking loudly or rudely is taken
seriously in Thailand and should be avoided.
-Thais enjoy wordplay and anyone who spends time with Thai people
will learn to make the easy jokes with words that they like.