The Thai language is considered to be a tonal language. Meaning that it is a language in which different words, with different tonal inflections will convey different meanings. Now that already sounds hard enough, and we haven’t even touched the pronunciation or grammar of the Thai language. But learning Thai will unlock many career opportunities, and will give you better travel experiences if you’re looking to travel, work or live in Thailand.
Although the Thai language isn’t considered to be one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Many aspects make Thai a difficult language to learn, but if you are dedicated and you practice daily, it can also be really easy.
Aspects of Thai Language
- Reading and writing: The script is quite daunting, with many vowels and consonants to learn, and if you’re not used to Abugida alphabets it can take a while to get used to.
- Dialects: There’s bound to be different dialects of the Thai language in such a big country. This can make it a bit harder to learn Thai. However, the Central Thai variety is considered the most widely spoken.
- Pronunciation: Thai has 5 tones, and many sounds not found in English. Each tone can change the meaning of a word too. This can make it quite difficult to learn for beginners.
- Thai Grammar: The grammar is subject-verb-object, same as English. The tenses and sentence structure is easy to grasp and learn.
- Vocabulary: The Thai language has a lot of loan words, and the compounding nature of its vocabulary, makes it easy to learn new words.
Why Is Thai Hard to Learn?
From different tones and dialects, to the tricky script it uses, the Thai language can be quite difficult to learn and master. But with dedication, patience and daily practice you can master this difficult language, and maybe even become fluent in it. There are many online language courses to help make your Thai language learning journey a bit easier.
Reading and Writing
Thai uses its own script, which can cause quite a few problems for learners. Like the Chinese, Korean and Japanese scripts, it’s best to learn the Thai script from the start, to help you get used to reading and writing it.
Thai script is believed to have come from the Khmer script, used in the Khmer language of Cambodia. The Thai script is very closely linked to the Lao script, used in the Lao language of Laos.
The alphabet is made up of 44 consonants, 18 vowels and 6 diphthongs:
The red symbols are vowels, the blue symbols are consonants and the green symbols are tone markers.
Now check if you can spot these in the example words & phrases below:
- Mother | แม่ | Mæ̀
- Father | พ่อ | Ph̀x
- Good Morning | สวัสดีตอนเช้า | S̄wạs̄dī txn chêā
- How are you? | คุณเป็นอย่างไรบ้าง | Khuṇ pĕn xỳāngrị b̂āng
Key Features of Thai Reading/Writing:
- The script is formed with a main consonant shape, around which tones and vowels are formed.
- There are no spaces between words. Spaces occur at the end of sentences instead.
- The scrip is written from left to right.
As with any other spoken language in the world, Thai has been influenced by other regions and neighboring countries. This has lead to different dialects in the different regions of Thailand. Thai dialects are categorised according to the different parts of Thailand, these are: North, North-East, South, and Central Tai.
Learning the subtle, yet noticeable differences in the different Thai dialects, can be quite a difficult task, especially if you’re just beginning to learn Thai. But the Central Thai dialect is considered to be the most common dialect, and is thus the one many people learn. So that means you don’t have to spend your time learning all the different dialects, although it could come in handy to learn a few phrases from each.
Below we’ll use the sentence “The food is very delicious” to outline the differences in the Thai dialects:
- Central Thai/Standard Thai (ภาษากลาง): The food is very delicious | อาหารอร่อยมาก | aa hăan à-ra auy mâak
- Northern Thai (ภาษาเหนือ): The food is very delicious | อาหารลำขนาด | aa hăan lam khà-nàat
- North-Eastern Thai (ภาษาอีสาน): The food is very delicious | อาหารแซบหลาย | aa hăan sàaeb lăai
- Southern Thai (ภาษาปักษ์ใต้): The food is very delicious | หรอยจังหู้ | ràauy jang hûu
Below is a video extending more in depth on the different dialects briefly discussed above:
Because Thai is a tonal language, it means that each tone of different words can give it a different meaning. This is extremely tricky to get the hang of, since the English language and many other languages don’t have different tones on the same word, giving it a different meaning. We are familiar with homophones which, when compared to the five tones of Thai, isn’t that difficult to get the hang of.
Despite the difficulty of the tones, it is recommended to listen to it being pronounced with your eyes closed. When closing your eyes, you will not see the words as all being the same with a different tone marker, but rather you’ll be hearing the subtle differences in pronunciation of each tone. If you can differentiate between the five tones in Thai your pronunciation will be flawless.
Here’s the five tones you’ll have to get used to with an example word, as well as pronunciation audio:
- Middle Tone: ไม | māi – with this tone you start with a middle pitch, and continue until the end
- Low Tone: ใหม่ | mài – with this tone start at a low pitch, and drop to a lower pitch
- Falling Tone: ไม่ | mâi – with this tone start with a high pitch, go up slightly, then drop down
High Tone: ไม้ | mái – with this pitch start with a high pitch, and raise it higher slightly as you continue
Rising Tone: ไหม | măi – with this pitch start at low/middle pitch, then raise the pitch
Below are two videos that explain the tones and their pronunciation in greater detail:
Why Is Thai Easy to Learn?
Source:PolyglotGeek & ThaiPod101
Thai might take a while to get used to and learn, but it’s not the most difficult language in world. The most difficult part is the five tones to learn, get used to and train yourself to distinguish between them. The grammar is very simple to understand, and the vocabulary has many loan words from English so that’s easy! All you have to do is practice daily, and stay dedicated to learning the language.
In many other languages, grammar is the most difficult aspect to learn and master. But fortunately for you, Thai is known for it’s relatively easy grammar rules and sentence structures.
The grammar of any language is supported by various grammar rules, that must be followed to be able to master the language. On top of that there are exceptions to some rules, this can make some people nervous about learning the grammar of another language. Lucky for you, Thai has very few fixed grammar rules, and the ones they do have are very easy to understand.
Here are main grammar elements you must understand:
- Sentence Structure – Thai also uses the Subject-Verb-Object structure in their sentences
I drink coffee – Subject-Verb-Object
Sometimes when Thai people want to focus on the object they will change this structure to: Object-Verb-Subject, the passive form.
Coffee drink I – Object-Verb-Subject
- Verb Conjugation – There’s no conjugation in Thai grammar. They don’t even have tenses! So all you have to do is, use the verb as is and add other words to add context.
- Pronouns – There are many more pronouns than there are in English. The options range from male/female, formal/informal and even for the age of the person you are talking to. There are also special pronouns to use when speaking to a monk.
- Nouns – Nouns don’t change for gender, or whether they are singular or plural.
- Adjectives – The adjective comes after the noun it describes in Thai.
As with any other language, you need to build your vocabulary to be able to speak the language. With each new word you learn, you open new avenues of thought, that allows you to pursue different conversational topics. Learning new words also enable you to more accurately express your thoughts and feelings.
Thai vocabulary is mostly monosyllabic, meaning that the majority of words in Thai consist of only one syllable. Words are formed by repeating the same word, or compounding smaller, existing words into larger words.
- Purse | กระเป๋าตังค์ | krapao-tang – bag + money
- Honey | น้ำผึ้ง | nam-phueng – water + bee
The Thai language also has many loan words from, Chinese, French, Spanish, English and many more languages. This makes their vocabulary a bit easier, since many words are similar to those found in English and other languages. Here’s a list of some English loan words found in Thai:
- Captain | กัปตัน | kap-tan
- Dinosaur | ไดโนเสาร์ | dai-no-sao
- Plastic | พลาสติก | phlat-tik
- Visa | วีซ่า | wi-sa
Reasons to Learn Thai
Thailand is home to many amazing and breathtaking places to explore. The language is beautiful and expressive, and the culture in Thailand is ancient and inspiring. If this doesn’t convince you to learn Thai then below we have a list of reasons that are sure to convince you to learn Thai:
- Make Traveling More Enjoyable – Enchanting landscapes, fascinating culture, astonishingly beautiful beaches, and delicious food. This makes Thailand a worthy candidate when thinking about your next vacation. Being able to speak and understand the language will undoubtedly make your trip more enjoyable.
- Work in Thailand – Thailand offers many jobs, in various fields. But to be able to work there you have to be able to speak and understand the language. If you plan to live and work in Thailand for a long time, it’s definitely advisable to learn Thai.
- It is Not Too Hard to Learn – Thai might take some time to learn, but it’s not as difficult as Eastern Asian languages. It might be intimidating at first to learn the script, tones, as well as new words and sounds. But as soon as you get used to the script, the sound each character makes and the tones, Thai is pretty straightforward
- Learn How to Bargain – Sometimes shopkeepers will scam foreigners. Since they believe that foreigners aren’t aware of the fair/actual price, it’s easy to sell things at higher prices. But if you speak to them in Thai, and make them feel like you are a pro-bargainer. This will save you a lot of money.
- Connect With People All Over The World – Nearly 70 million people speak Thai as a native, or second language. Majority of the people in Thailand, especially outside the big cities don’t speak or understand English. This will leave you feeling quite isolated if you don’t know the language. So learning Thai will connect you to so many people to talk to and befriend.
How to Start Learning Thai?
Grammar rules, vocabulary, tones and even a new script?! All these aspects can seem quite daunting, and might make you wonder “where do I start?” Lucky for you we have written about the best way to learn a new language. And below we will give you some great tips on how to start learning Thai.
- Speak With a Native Speaker – When learning Thai it is important to learn how to speak the language. Speaking a new language can be scary, especially if you’re not sure on how to pronounce everything. By speaking with a native speaker, you will not only learn new words, but you’ll sharpen your pronunciation skills too. There are many ways to find a native speaker to talk to, you can join a language exchange program, find a language-buddy or even use apps and websites that allow you to interact with native speakers, like Busuu.
- Watch Thai TV Shows and Movies – One of the best ways to learn Thai is to immerse yourself in the language. An easy way to do this, is by watching Thai movies or TV shows. This will improve your pronunciation, expand your vocabulary and teach you new ways to express yourself in Thai.
3. Learn the Thai Script and Vocabulary – When learning Thai, the script and vocabulary might seem intimidating. But it is recommended to learn the Thai script and vocabulary from day 1. This way you’ll get the hang of it sooner, and the language will be easy. There are many websites and videos that can help you get started on your Thai language journey. Check out ThaiPod101 on YouTube, they offer courses on all aspects of the Thai language.
4. Listen to Thai Podcasts Everyday – Podcasts are very useful when learning a language. Since they focus on a specific topic, you can search and find the perfect Thai podcasts for you. By listening to podcasts you can expand your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation of Thai words too. There are several platforms where you can find the perfect podcasts, like Spotify and Audible.
5. Find a Thai Tutor – Another great way to learn Thai faster, is by finding a Thai tutor. Getting a tutor is sure to help you master the script, vocabulary, grammar and even the tones of Thai in no time. You can schedule a session with your tutor whenever you have time. Scheduling a lesson at least once a week will also force you to keep working on your Thai language skills. A tutor can also give you feedback on how you’re progressing and help you stay focused and motivated. AmazingTalker offers tutors in many languages, including Thai.
Learning Thai Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Every new language you aim to learn will be difficult. That’s because it’s a language you don’t know and didn’t grow up learning. Thai is no exception, sure the tones and script can be scary, but if you’re dedicated and you practice daily, you’ll master Thai in no time.
This article has highlighted and explained the aspects that make Thai difficult, as well as the aspects that make it easy to learn. It also highlighted the reasons for learning Thai, as well as how to get started on your Thai learning journey. Here’s a list of affordable, native Thai tutors, to help you master Thai.
If you’re interested in learning any other languages, but you’re not sure what language to learn or you’re looking to learn a specific language check out AmazingTalker now. And if you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our article where we answer is Spanish hard to learn?