Learn Thai: Thai Phrases & Language History

Learn to speak Thai - start with simple Thai phrases

An effort on your part to learn and speak some Thai, however many mistakes you make, will be greatly appreciated by the Thais! For a list of phases, please scroll down (and see how easy it is to ask Who sells chicken eggs!)

History of the Thai language

Thai is the national language of Thailand, spoken by around eighty percent of the sixty million residents of the South-East Asian country. Linguists consider it an "uninflected, primarily monosyllabic, tonal language" in the "Ka-Tai group." The spoken language is believed to have originated in the area which is now the border between Vietnam and China, an idea which provides clues to the origin of the Thai people, an area of continued scholarly debate. Linguistically, the language is related to languages spoken in eastern Burma, northern Vietnam, Yunnan, and Laos.

The written Thai Language was introduced by the third Sukothai period king, Ramkamhaeng, in 1283. This writing system has undergone little change since its introduction, so inscriptions from the Sukothai era can be read by modern Thai readers. The writing was based on Pali, Sanskrit, and Indian concepts, and many Mon and Khmer words entered the language.

Regional variation in spoken Thai

Within Thailand, there are four major dialects, corresponding to the southern, northern ("Yuan"), north eastern (close to Lao language), and central regions of the country; the latter is called Central Thai or Bangkok Thai and is taught in all schools, is used for most television broadcasts, and is widely understood in all regions. Nowadays, English is also taught in all public schools. There are a few minor Thai dialects such as Phuan and Lue, spoken by small populations. Also within Thailand, small ethnic minority groups (including so-called "hill tribes") account for around sixty languages which are not considered related to Thai.

The four primary dialects of Thai should not be confused with four different "languages" used by Thais in different social circumstances. For example, certain words are used only by Thai royalty, creating a royal language. There are also languages used for religious figures, polite everyday interactions, and gruff or crude communications.

The Thai alphabet and Thai tones

The Thai alphabet uses forty-four consonants and fifteen basic vowel characters. These are horizontally placed, left to right, with no intervening space, to form syllables, words, and sentences. Vowels are written above, below, before, or after the consonant they modify, although the consonant always sounds first when the syllable is spoken. The vowel characters (and a few consonants) can be combined in various ways to produce numerous compound vowels (dipthongs and tripthongs).

Unlike the Chinese language, the system is alphabetic, so pronunciation of a word is independent of its meaning (English is also an alphabetic language). On the other hand, Thai is tonal, like Chinese and unlike English. This means that each word has a certain pitch characteristic with which it must be spoken to be properly understood. The Thai language uses five tones, called mid, low, high, rising, and falling.

Each syllable, consisting of one or more consonants and a simple or compound vowel (possibly inherent or implied, and thus not written) has a "default" tone determined by several factors, including the type of consonant(s) present (consonants are divided into three classes for this purpose). The syllable's tone can be modified by one of four tone markers. Some people incorrectly assume that the tone marks identify all necessary tones, or perhaps force certain tones, but neither of these is correct. Actually the final tone of a syllable is determined by the tone mark in conjunction with the type of syllable, as determined by the vowel and consonant characters present.

The grammar of the Thai language is considerably simpler than grammar in Western languages, and for many students, this makes up for the additional difficulty of tones. Most significantly, words are not modified or conjugated for tenses, plurals, genders, or subject- verb agreement. Articles such as a, an, or the are also not used. Tenses, levels of politeness, verb-to-noun conversion, and other language concepts are accomplished with the simple addition of various modifying words (called "particles") to the basic subject- verb-object format.

Written Thai: Joined Up Thinking

The major sock to most westerners approaching the Thai language is their first sight of a text in the native script. As an example, take a look at a Thai newspaper or magazine. Instead of words clearly separated from each other by spaces, you will find a block of text, in a script that seems undecipherable, with no spaces visibly separating individual words. Rather like a word jumble puzzle, where you are challenged to find words in a page full of evenly distributed letters, the novice needs to adapt quickly to read Thai without spaces - those seemingly innocuous, and yet so important, little white gaps so crucial to western texts.

General Thai phrases

Hello (male speaker) sawatdee krap
Hello (female speaker) sawatdee kaa
How are you? sabai dee reu
Fine thanks sabai dee
Thank you korp koon
Never mind mai pen rai
I can't speak Thai phoot Thai mai dai
I don't understand mai kao chai
Do you understand? kao chai mai
May I take a photograph? tai ruup dai mai
Where is the rest room? hong nam yoo tee nai
How much does this cost? nee tao-rai
What is this ? nee arai
Very expensive paeng maag
Good-bye la gon
See you again laew phob gan mai
Good luck kor hai chok dee
Sorry/excuse me kor thoad
Who sells chicken eggs? Krai kai kai kai
I, me pom for male, dichan for female
You koon polite , tan very respectful
Please (Kindly) speak more slowly garoona poot chah chah
What is you name? Koon cheu arai
My name is ... cheu ...
I want ... ow
I do not want ... my ow

Thai phrases for emergencies

Help! chooay dooay
I need a doctor tonggahn maw rahksaa
Where is a hospital? Rong payabahn yoo tee ny
Police station satahnee tahmroout
Dangerous antarai

Asking directions in Thai

Stop, Stop here yoot tee nee
Slow, Slowly, chah, chah-chah
Turn left, Turn Right leeow sy, leeow kwah
Straight ahead trohng bai
Be Careful rawang

Places
Station, as in Police Station satahnee 
Bus Station satahnee rohtmeh
Train Station satahnee roht fy
Airport sanahm bin
Embassy satahn toot
Hotel rohng raam
Post Office prysanee
Toilet hawng nam
Telephone toh-ra-sap

Thai phrases for use in restaurants

Where is a restaurant? rahn ahan yoo tee-ny 
I'm hungry heeoo
I'm thirsty heeoo nam
Bottle of drinking water nam deum koo-ut
Ice nam-kaang
Plate jahn
Spoon chawn
Fork sawm
Knife meed
Lemonade/Limeade nam ma-now
Steamed rice kow
Fried/Deep fried tawt
Stir fried pat
Fried rice kao pat
Fried egg ky dow
May I have the bill? check bin 

Numbers in Thai

How much is this/what is the price nee taory krahp/ka
That's very expensive paang mahk
Can you reduce the price? lot rakah dy my
Do you have a cheaper one than this? mee took gwah nee my
0 soon
1 neung
2 sowng
3 saam
4 see
5 haa
6 hoke
7 jet
8 paed
9 kao
10 sip
11 sip-et
12 sip-song
13 sip-saam
14 sip-see
15 sip-haa
16 sip-hoke
17 sip-jet
18 sip-paet
19 sip-kao
20 yeesip
30 saamsip
40 seesip
50 haasip
60 hokesip
70 jetsip
80 paetsip
90 kaosip
100 roy
1,000 pan
10,000 muern
100,000 sen
1,000,000 lan