Learning a new language can be a daunting process. Here’s our advice on how to master the basics when it comes to communicating in Thai. If you’re heading on holiday, learning a few phrases of the local lingo will be useful and sure to be appreciated by locals.
If you’re a repeat visitor to Thailand, learning the basics of the Thai language will help you when it comes to exploring destinations off the beaten track
If you’re heading on holiday, learning a few phrases of the local lingo will be useful and sure to be appreciated by locals. In addition to aiding communication, it can also help you to get off the beaten track when it comes to sightseeing. If you’re out and about in Thailand, a basic knowledge of the language can help you speak to street food vendors for circumstances when you’d like to personalise your dish, and you’ll even be able to ask for directions if you get lost.
If you’re keen to discover a side of Thailand rarely glimpsed by other visitors, then learning the language is a no brainer. However, if your native tongue and any other languages you know has a German or Latin foundation, then learning something totally different like Thai can seem daunting. However, if you’re staying in the country for a few weeks or if you’re a repeat visitor, then the hard work will be worth it. In this article, we lay out our top tips on how to get to grips with the Thai language.
Get to grips with the basics
The Thai alphabet contains 44 consonants, 28 vowel forms and four tone markers
When it comes to learning Thai, the first main thing to get your head around is how different the phonetics are from English. So, unless you spend some time with a native speaker who can help teach you the individual sounds that form the language, there is only so much you will absorb organically. That’s why our first top tip is to book onto a course that places a strong emphasis on learning the Thai phonemes. You’ll be moving your mouth and tongue in completely different ways to what you’re accustomed to doing, so having a quality Thai teacher to help you through this process will pay dividends in the long run.
Learning the individual phonemes at an early stage will mean that later on, you have a better Thai accent and will be more easily understood by locals. Plus, a strong grasp of each sound means your listening skills will advance at a faster rate too. Taking the time to lay the foundations at this early stage of the language-learning process will essentially guarantee you a smoother road ahead.
Read, read, read
Reading Thai can make a huge difference in your ability to speak the language
If you’re used to using the Western, Roman alphabet, then mastering the Thai alphabet could seem quite challenging at first. The Thai alphabet comprises 44 consonants, 28 vowel forms and four different intonations. However, learning to read Thai script can make a phenomenal difference in your ability to speak and understand Thai.
For example, when you’re learning new vocabulary, copying down the Romanised pronunciation of each word will only get you so far. If you learn the Thai alphabet and you’re familiar with the individual phoneme sounds, reading your notes back in Thai script is going to be much more helpful when it comes to pronunciation.
There are many textbooks available that will help you with the basics of learning to read Thai;.many textbooks come with accompanying CDs to assist your self-study sessions. Reading Thai will also come in handy if you visit any attraction or restaurant and the signage is not provided in English. The best part is, it’s a golden opportunity to expand your mind by learning a brand new skill.
Socialising with Thai people on a regular basis will help you pick up a more informal version of the language
If you’ve ever learnt a language (other than your native tongue), then you’ll be well familiar with the concept that what you pick up from the textbook is likely to be a world apart from the language that’s used in everyday life. So don’t be afraid to make yourself some Thai friends and practice your newfound language skills! In real life situations, it’s common for a more colloquial form of Thai to be spoken, as opposed to the formal, grammatically-perfect version you pick up from the textbooks. For example, unusual verb conjugations and different phrasing can mean the difference between a simple statement and a question – something you’re not going to get from a book. Hanging out with a group of Thai pals will help you pick up a more natural way of speaking, and you’re bound to learn a lot of new vocabulary this way too.
Find a language partner
Setting up a regular meeting with a Thai language partner ensures you’ll get plenty of chances to practice your skills
Whatever new language you’re learning, it always helps to have a reliable language partner with whom you can practice on a regular basis. If you’re practicing with a Thai person, you’ll be able to help each other out by spending one hour speaking Thai, so you can practice your new skills, and then switching to your native tongue so they can practice, too. Students often make great language partners, so why not head down to the local university campuses to begin your quest for a new language partner?
The difference between a casual get together with Thai friends and serious language partner, is that in the latter situation you’d be meeting specifically to better your language skills. You can make notes while you’re there, and if there is anything that you’re really having trouble grasping, your language partner will be able to help explain why it works that way. Practicing regularly in this way will also help you to retain the new words and skills that you pick up.
Watching Thai television, movies and music videos will help you immerse yourself in the language
If you can’t get enough of learning Thai, then you can further immerse yourself in the language by watching Thai television, movies and music videos. Even if you just have the television on in the background, the sounds of the spoken language will soon become a lot more familiar, and you’ll be able to absorb things a lot more quickly. The best part about Thai music videos in particular, is that they often have the lyrics displayed in Thai at the bottom of the screen, karaoke style. This could be particularly beneficial for when you’re learning how to read Thai script.
If you’re learning Thai, check out these excellent apps that will help you develop your language skills:
- Walen Thai covers the essentials of Thai by focusing closely on the Thai alphabet and numerical system. This app is an enormous help when it comes to memorising the alphabet and all of the new characters.
- Learn Thai is an excellent app for visitors in Thailand, thanks to all of the useful pronunciation tools it includes. Native Thai speakers have been recorded on the app, so you’ll be able to hear all the proper pronunciation when you are trying to master the accent.
- The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s language app is particularly useful for visitors on holiday in the Kingdom. It includes a portable translator for over 2,500 words, in addition to useful phrases and tips on pronunciation.