-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 in school.

-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 those languages.

-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 and respect.

-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.