is an appropriate response after a dinner like this. You've not only sent your
compliments to the chef, you've also shown your interest in the Thai language.
little pig went to market." At first, it might seem simple to just
remember that the Thai word for market looks like 3 (actually, 3-1/2)
pigs from the rear. Unfortunately, quite a few letters look similar.
yourself understood tells more about the structure of Thai language.
pen rai: a slogan and a philosophy
life and culture
On other sites:
We recommend Thai
for Gay Tourists, a combination of tape cassette and book, if you'd
like to learn more. It also contains good general advice for the gay
visitor to Thailand. Order from Paiboon
probably won’t learn the Thai language before traveling to Thailand.
But a simple understanding of how the language works, plus memorizing
three easy phrases, will pay real dividends in enriching your travel
The polite word
When speaking in Thai, it's good to end your sentence with a word
that doesn’t translate easily or neatly, but simply conveys politeness,
much as "sir" or "ma’am" would in English. In
Thailand, however, the word reflects the gender of the speaker rather
than of the listener. Men end a sentence with khrap;
women with kha. (In the
examples below, we’ve alternated between genders.)
Three easy pieces
Ask someone in Thailand, or even a flight attendant on the plane going
over, to help you get the pronunciation of the three basic expressions
below. Your pronunciation won't need to be perfect, however. These phrases are so common and expected that you can mangle the
pronunciation quite a bit and still be understood.
Sawadee khrap. (sometimes
spelled sawasdee; the second s
is faint). Hello. Also good evening, goodbye, and even good-night.
Kop Khun kha. Thank you. However,
in routine situations with someone who ranks lower in the social
hierarchy a cab driver, clerk, or doorman for example a smile
is more appropriate than a spoken thank you.
Possibly you'll want one additional phrase, for use in restaurants:
Mai Phet. Not
But don't be in too much of a rush to make this request. Most Thai
restaurants tone down their dishes for westerners, anyway.
Thai uses a script-like amalgamation of some 48 consonants and 32
vowels – more or less, depending on who’s counting. Different letters
may be used to represent largely the same sounds. Worse, entirely
too many Thai consonants resemble either snakes or squiggly-tailed
pigs as viewed from behind, so merely noticing that "this is
the letter that looks like a squiggly-tailed pig" will not help
you read Thai.
Wait ... It gets worse. When you speak Thai, a single syllable can be spoken with
any of five vocal pitches. Low, medium, high, rising, or falling pitches
each have different meanings. The sentence mai
mai mai mai, mai, often quoted in language books, means new
wood doesn’t burn, does it? Each mai
is spoken with a different intonation.
Since tone changes meaning, Thai speakers don’t raise their voice at
the end of a question, as English speakers do. When necessary, a
"question word" such as where, how much, or why, is
inserted at the appropriate point in the sentence.
There is no single, widely accepted formula for transliterating Thai into
a Roman alphabet. Nor is one likely to appear soon.
Part of the problem is that English and Thai sounds aren’t really
comparable. Take just one sound as an example: P. Hold a finger
in front of your mouth and say "Spain". Now say "pain".
You’ll probably notice more air coming out the second time. We use
the same letter "p" to represent both the more- and the
less-aspirated sounds; the Thais distinguish between them. This is
why the island in southern Thailand is variously spelled Phuket and
Puket. The "ph" (pronounced as an aspirated "p",
not as the "f" sound of "photograph") is sometimes
used to represent this sound.
The unaspirated P, on the other hand, sounds almost like our letter B,
and can be found transliterated as either B or P. Likewise, there’s a
sound that can be represented by K or G; another that is between a T and D.
Consequently, items like street maps and road signs can be quite
confusing for a Westerner visiting Thailand. If you’ve got two maps on which
names have been transliterated into English, they may use different
spellings. The same happens with proper names. The king's name is variously
spelled Bhumibol and Phumiphon.
Some points to watch:
- The letters S and T are often interchanged; so are T/D; L/R; J/CH;
- H is often dropped or added to show aspiration, not a total change
in sound. (Note the pronunciation of the word Thailand itself.)
The exception is "ch", which is pronounced like our "ch",
- The sounds of L and N at the end of a word may be interchangeable.
- A name that appears as two words on one source can merge into a
single word somewhere else.
If your maps use Thai
script, spellings will at least be consistent, but you’ll have to get on a
first-name basis with a lot of squiggly-tailed pigs.
And one other thing: Thai offers ten ways to say
"you", depending on whether you’re speaking to a friend or a
lover, a family member, someone higher or lower than you on the social
hierarchy, and so on.
So, is there any good news for someone wishing to learn Thai? Yes. The
grammar is a lot simpler than for most European languages. Thai has none of that
hard-to-remember masculine-feminine stuff for inanimate objects, no past or
future tenses of verbs, not even plurals. The tonality is the trickiest
part, and if you've got an aptitude for music, perhaps you'll master this
language. There are language schools in the U.S., of course, but you could
live in Thailand and learn it there faster, better, and for less money. Good luck!