Language in Thailand - how to communicate to a foreigner in Thailand

Language in Thailand - how to communicate to a foreigner in Thailand

If you have been to Thailand, you probably agree with the statement that the Thai script is complete gibberish. The words in Thai are not separated by spaces, which gives the impression of an unwieldy language. The writing itself is based on Sanskrit characters, which to the eye of a Westerner do not differ much from each other.

Phonetically, the language is so monotonous that it sounds more like a long meow than human speech. Nevertheless, all of this is only what it seems at first glance. In reality, the language spoken in Thailand is not very complicated, and its sound is extremely melodic.

Language diversity in Thailand

For us Europeans, the people of Thailand appear to be a homogeneous ethnic group. However, this is not the case. The territory was inhabited by people in the very distant past. For thousands of years there has been a mixture of nationalities, attempts at assimilation, and the movement of kingdom boundaries. These processes were especially active in the last 300 years. The result is that on the territory of modern Thailand there are numerous ethnic groups that, despite their outward similarity, speak similar but not identical languages.


For example, the population of northeast Thailand, on the border with Laos - about 16 million people - speaks a mixture of Laotian and Thai. By the way, Laotians and Thais understand each other very well. More than 6 million people living in the northern province of Kham Muang use North Thai, the "Yuan" language.

In the villages located in the mountains of Chiang Mai, the languages of the ethnic tribes that inhabit this region are common: Shan and Li. They are spoken by about 150,000 people.

Of Thailand's 70.5 million people, about 40% speak Central Thai. This is what is meant when they speak of the official Thai language. But even within it, there are dialects and dialects that make it heterogeneous.

What is the Thai language

At first glance, the Thai language is complicated for a European. From the writing of the letter symbols to the tonal variations that change the meaning of a word. However, if you study Thai even superficially, it becomes clear that this complexity, like everything in the East, is external. Grammatically, the language spoken in Thailand is simple, if not more "primitive.


The main features of the Thai language:

  1. The alphabet consists of 44 consonant letters, which encode 21 sounds. Twenty-eight vowel sounds are used to bind the consonants.
  2. Sounds are pronounced with different durations and tones, which is reflected by the corresponding signs in writing: the signs of the four tones; the sign of vowel contraction; the sign indicating a silent consonant.

The use of these signs (they are called diacritics) determines the meaning of words.

  • In Thai there is no grammatical gender, no inflections or conjugations. That is, words do not change in case, gender, or number.
  • The temporal system of the Thai verb is represented by 3 tenses - past, present and future. The grammatical tense of a verb is determined by a special auxiliary word which is placed before it. The verbs themselves do not change their form.
  • The gender identity of the speaker is manifested in syntax (sentence construction) and vocabulary (words used). The same sentence spoken by a man and a woman will sound different, just as the same sentence spoken to a man and a woman will look different.
  • The traditional casteism of Eastern society is reflected in Thai dialects. The same meaning is conveyed in different words, depending on the status of the person to whom the speaker is addressing.

For example, consider a simple word like "yes.

Variants of meanings and usage patterns Thai option
The most neutral option, expressing agreement "tea."
In the sense of confirmation or consent coming from the woman "kha."
In the sense of confirmation or consent coming from the man "khrap."
A polite "yes" said by a woman "kha thaan."
A polite "yes" said by a man "khrap phokhm"
A very polite "yes" said by a man "kho rap gra pkhohm"
If a woman responds to a person of higher status "yao kha."
Addressed to a person of inferior status, the "paternalistic" "Ja."
Addressed to Royalty "phaeh kha."
Used in communication by Thai monks "yah reern phon"
Meaning "really?", "really?" "ewww."
In the sense of "yes, yes, I understand ... yes" "snarf, snarf, snarf..."
In the sense of "exactly so," "exactly right," "na na C."

The table does not include all possible meanings and variants of the word "yes" in Thai. Nevertheless, even these 13 are enough to see the versatility and colorfulness of the Thai language.

How to communicate with a foreigner in Thailand

  1. The easiest way to communicate with Thais is through gestures. The people of Thailand, perhaps, excel in this as no one else in the world. Practice shows that by gesturing, you can solve most everyday problems such as "how to get there," "how much it costs," and the like.
  1. If you vacation in areas traditionally focused on tourism, such as Phuket, Pattaya, the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, in any major tourist center of Thailand, then a basic knowledge of English, there will be no problem in communicating not only in the hotel, but also in other public places and on the street. By analogy with the well-known dialect of "Half-in-Race, Half-American", the Thais have formed their own version of the mixture of English and Thai, which is conventionally called "Thai-english. If your knowledge of English is at least not below the level at which it belongs to the Thais, the language barrier will not be a big problem, at least in standard everyday situations.
  1. If English is about as far from you as Thai, and you don't speak any other language besides Russian, then go to Pattaya or Phuket. There are hotels, streets, and even a Russian village in Pattaya, where everything is in the usual language, and most vacationers come from countries that used to be part of the USSR.
  1. It is quite another matter if you go to rest in the not exactly tourist provinces of Thailand. For example, in Chiang Mai, where tourists are not uncommon, few people know English, and even Thai is not saved. It is not necessary to talk about Russian.

Sign language is appropriate here, but basic Thai words are better mastered. Here are the basics:

I (feminine) - "shchan"
I (male) - "pho:m"
How much does it cost? - "tchou paradise?"
Where is the ...? - "thi: nya:y ...?"
Store - "ran cham"
Toilet - "hong nam"
Pharmacy - Ran Khai Ya
The hospital is "rong phaeyaban"
Thank you - "khop khu:n"
I'm sorry - "kho tkhod."
No - "May."
Yes - "tea."
Okay - "di."


Keep in mind that in Thai pronunciation the "x" sound is conditional. It is not the muffled sound that we are used to in European languages. But rather an aspiration, a "half-sound," a hint of a sound. Because of this you can often find variations in the spelling of place names: for example, Surrathani and Surratani. Of other phonetic peculiarities, we should pay attention to the sound "p", which is also often reduced, deafened.

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