|12th October 2005
Learn to Speak Thai in 1
...and then ten years of summer school
By Eneukman on Pattaya Pages
OK, you've visited LOS a few times and feel that the time
is right to be able to communicate better with your bar fine for the
night in her own language. So in a drunken stupour one night after a
really good shag you promise her that you are going to make the effort
to learn to speak, read and write the language. Being a woman, she holds
you to that promise.
Learning the language can't be that hard, - or can it?
Well, as you all know (or if you don't know you shouldn't be coming here
), Thai is a tonal language with 5 different tones - mid, low, high,
falling and rising. Get the tone wrong and instead of saying "I want to
fuck your brains out" - you could actually be saying something like "I
want to eat your buffalo's arse"
You get the picture.
The first thing you need to do is to learn the Thai alphabet - piece of
cake really - there are 40 odd consonants, many of which have exactly
the same sound, plus 30 or so vowels. Vowels are split into 2 quite
distinct categories - long and short. A number of the 30 or so vowels
are simply the short version of a long vowel so that should help make
life a little easier, shouldn't it?
You've now learned the Thai alphabet, but now you need to learn which consonant class each consonant belongs
to. There are three such classes, low, mid and high. It is vital that
you can recognise which consonant class a particular consonant belongs
to as it has an effect on the tone.
Low class consonants: ค
ฆ ง ช ซ ฌ ญ ณ ฑ ฒ ท ธ น พ ฟ ม ย ร ล ว ภ ฬ ฮ
Middle class consonants:
ก จ ด ฎ ฏ ด ต บ ป อ
High class consonants:
ข ฉ ฐ ถ ผ ฝ ศ ษ ส ห
However, before we can look at how the tone is decided, it is also
necessary to look at syllable endings. Syllables in spoken Thai can only
end in a limited number of sounds. Written Thai can end in just about
any character so a number of consonants change their sound when they
appear at the end of a syllable.
The word for food is, as many of you will know is pronounced aahaan -
but look at the written script - อๅหๅร and you see the "r" sound
appearing. Whenever the character
ร appears at the
end of a syllable it is pronounced "N".
Syllable endings can be either "live" or "dead" and again, it is
important to distinguish between the two as they determine the correct
tone. A syllable that ends with a long vowel or a sonorant final
consonant is called a live syllable. A syllable that ends with a short
vowel or a stop final consonant is called a dead syllable.
Turning now to tones, the rules are really quite
- Low class consonant + short vowel ending - high tone
- Low class consonant + long vowel ending - mid tone
- Low class consonant + live syllable ending - mid tone
- Low class consonant + short vowel + dead syllable ending - high tone
- Low class consonant + long vowel + dead syllable ending - falling tone
- Mid class consonant + short vowel ending - low tone
- Mid class consonant + live syllable ending - mid tone
- Mid class consonant + long vowel ending - mid tone
- Mid class consonant + dead syllable ending - low tone
- High class consonant + short vowel ending - low tone
- High class consonant + long vowel ending - rising tone
- High class consonant + live syllable ending - rising tone
- High class consonant + dead syllable ending - low tone
Next, there are 4 tone marks:
- ่ This changes
syllables starting with a low class consonant to a falling tone and
those starting with a mid or high class consonant to a low tone.
้ This changes
the tone to high or falling respectively per the above tone.
- ๊ This changes the tone in
all cases to a high tone
- ็ This changes
the tone in all cases to a rising tone.
Some words begin with the letter
ห which isn't
pronounced. However, it is important for the purposes of tone and it
changes a low or mid class consonant to a high class one.
means that the character above which it appears isn't pronounced.
ง็ The symbol
above the consonant here shortens the adjoining vowel as does the
Got all that? Good!
Now, many Thai words appear to be written as though they have three
successive consonants, which is not possible. There are a very small
number of "double consonants" permitted in Thai and it is vital that
these are learned. So, how come a word can have 3 successive consonants?
Easy - the written script in Thai frequently omits the short vowels "a"
and "o". Generally speaking (though as always there are exceptions) in a one syllable word the missing letter will be "o". In 2 syllable
words, the first will be "a" and the second "o"
Vowels! This is yet another area where the Thai script is determined to
confuse all but those with an IQ that qualifies for membership for Mensa.
Vowel symbols can come before, after, above, below, on 2 sides, or even
on 3 sides on the preceding consonant. As if that wasn't bad enough many
of the symbols used are the same as for other individual consonants. Then just when you think you've mastered the
vowels successfully, you discover that in certain circumstances the top part of the vowel
symbol is dropped.
. Not only that but for one vowel, the symbol
อ is added (but
The symbol ร
also behaves in a number of different ways and as well as being
pronounced "r", or "n" can also be pronounced "a" or "an". And not to
forget - สร is
I'm not going to attempt to go into how the tone is determined in words
of 2 or 3 syllables as I haven't a bloody clue. other than to say Thai logic defies all comprehension. One thing I do know here is that the same character can be pronounced
twice - say once as a "t" and the second time as "s". (See above for an
Finally, just to really confuse you, Thai script does not leave spaces
between words so how the hell do you know where one word ends and
another ends when you don't know what any of the words mean?