12th October 2005
Learn to Speak Thai in 1 Easy Lesson
...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 on holiday ), 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 straightforward:
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.
ฺ ์ This symbol means that the character above which it appears isn't pronounced.
ง ็ The symbol above the consonant here shortens the adjoining vowel as does the symbol. ะ
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 not pronounced).
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 pronounced "s".
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 explanation)
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?