Category: Speak Thai

Happy New Year!

สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559

สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559

Please follow me down the rabbit hole because at the other side you’ll be able to use (and hear and understand) this expression for wishing your Thai friends a Happy New Year or any other happy festive day.

sweaty girl

Think of doing something physically enjoyable that makes you SWEATY like a pig (don’t tell me what it is, I don’t want to know)! You feel really good, right?

สวัสดิ์ (“s-wud”, rhymes with “hut”) is a Sanskrit word that means well-being, or “there is goodness” (“su” is good, “vasti” is “there is”). ดี (“dee”) means good (vitamin D is good for you). It’s what you say when you greet or leave someone, exactly like “shalom” in Hebrew: “peace be with you”.

So you tell someone to feel real good ‘n SWEATY whenever you meet and depart.

As for the New Year, we say it like the French: “year new” (“car red”, “girl pretty”, etc.). It takes a year to roll a PEA from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with your nose, just be careful not to SPEED. ปี (pea) is “year” in Thai.

muddyAnd like a happy pig-in-shit, you won’t have a happier experience than wallowing in a slippery mire of sweaty pea soup. Oh MY… that’s something of a new experience for you, right? (So sad…) ใหม่ (my), said with a low sad tone, means “new”.

After getting all sweaty, wallowing in a messy PEA MIRE is something you should do every year on New Year’s day. It’s a great antidote for a hang-over!

attention! Important: Pronounce “p” the same way as the “p” in “speed” – the air is kept inside your mouth, not expelled as a puff.

Also, it’s important to drop your voice and feel sad (as in “uh oh…“) when you say ใหม่ (MY). Then it means “new”, not “burnt” or “wood” or “silk”, etc.

In colloquial speech, it doesn’t really matter about the other tones.

So to wish your friends a Happy New Year, say:

สวัสดีปีใหม่ นะ

(s-wud-dee pee my, na!?)

– na!? (said with a quizzical, uncertain intonation) at the end is just to be light-hearted and polite

More notes about the รร (“run”) vowel.

On its own รร is pronounced like the English word “run”.

But it will never appear on its own.

1. Normally it will be surrounded by two consonants, in which case it simply becomes the “puppy” vowel, as in ธรรม,pronounced ธัม (dharma) or กรรม, pronounced กัม (karma).

2. Occasionally there will just be a consonant on the left and none on the right, in which case, the final “rolling ladyboy” becomes a kind of “n” at the “end”, as in บรร-ทุก (บัรทุก= truck)

3. Conceivably, there could be a consonant on the right only and none on the left, in which case it would become ระ-, but I haven’t come across any words spelled this way.

This spelling is used in a few very common words, so unfortunately, one can’t just discard it as being too obscure:

รถ บรรทุก truck
สุวรรณภูมิ Suvarnabhumi (pronounced “su-wan-a-phoom” in Thai)
ธรรมดา ordinary
ธรรมชาติ nature/natural (the final “igloo” vowel isn’t pronounced)
กิจกรรม activity
บรรจุภัณฑ์ package
วัฒนธรรม culture
พฤติกรรม behavior

How to pronounce องุ่น

There are several words that start with อ fused together with another consonant letter. So how do you pronounce a silent letter with another consonant letter?

Well, it’s the same as any two ‘unpronouncable’ fused letters. You must open your mouth wide to jump from the first sound to the second, i.e. by making an ะ sound.

So องุ่น is pronounced อะ-งุน, just like is สบาย pronounced สะ-บาย or ขนม is pronounced ขะ-นม.

Obviously, there are a few two-letter words that start with อ and have no vowel (in which case it’s the invisible or default ‘o’ vowel), like อก (chest/breast), อม (to suck), อบ (bake), อด (refrain from) and องค์ (organ/bodypart).

And don’t forget the four words where อ changes the ladyboy (ย) back into a boy for tone purposes:


Note: For tone purposes, it’s the first consonant that determines the sex of the word (or compound syllable in this case). But also note that this only applies if the second consonant is a ladyboy (which it is, most of the time, anyway)…

So องุ่น is a dead boy (sad).

ขนม is a singing girl (question)

But in สบาย, the second consonant in the fused pair is a boy – so we don’t give precedence to ส and so the sex for the whole thing is a boy: บ (i.e. singing boy = no tone).

Spacer Vowels

“Spacer” vowels

Basically, for two-letter words with no vowel, the vowel is understood or implied to be the short “o” vowel. (It’s not the “o” as in “on” and it’s not the “o” as in “no”. It’s the short version of the vowel in “short”. There is no equivalent in English, but if you say “o”in “or” and cut it really short then that will be the sound you want.

So here are some examples that you can probably already recognize:

– ผม – I (for a male)

– หก – six

– สด – fresh

– ตด – fart

– หมด – used up; completely (note that ห is just used to change the sex of ม, it makes no sound of its own)

The last one is still a “two-letter” word! The ห is just there to change the sex of ม from a ladyboy into a girl. Another way you can think of it is that the first consonant (reading from left to right) is what determines the “sex” of the entire syllable.

Now what about the multiple syllable words?

Well, strictly speaking, they’re still single syllable words. These are usually foreign-derived words (from English or Pali) that cannot be easily pronounced by Thais – like “stamp”. So they add a kind of “spacer” or “breather” sound… an “a” (like the “a” in “pizza” or the “u” in “up). So “stamp” becomes “sa-tamp” and “steak” becomes “sa-tehk” and “tnon” (street) becomes “ta-non”. (Can you say “tnon” as a single syllable???)

So if there is no vowel written anywhere in a 3- or 4-letter word then very likely it’s one of those words that have two consonants fused together like Siamese Twins in the beginning and then the invisible “o” vowel in the middle.

ขนม is a good example of this.

This is actually the two letters ขน fused together to form the unpronounceable sound “cn” followed by an ม. So as there’s no vowel written, it’s the implied “o” sound. And the word – which should be “cnom” becomes pronounced as “canom”.

There are several examples of this in Thai, where two fused-together letters are “spaced out” by inserting a short “a” sound, like:

– ตลาด tlaahd = ta-laahd

– สวัสดี swas dee = sa-was dee [s signifies that the “s” isn’t enunciated, so sounds almost like a strangled “t”]

– สบาย sbaai = sa-baai

In all other cases (where two consonant letters are fused together), you can either say them as written or – very often in colloquial speech – simply drop the second consonant entirely, as in :

– ครับ krab or kab

– ปลา bplaa or bpaa

Pronouncing the Vowels

Pronouncing the Vowels

It is absolutely essential to pronounce the vowel sounds accurately in order to be understood.

Thankfully, the vowel sounds in Thai are very consistent, they do not change depending on your region, as in English. There are regional dialects in Thailand, of course, but if you pronounce the vowels in particular the ‘standard’ (middle-country) way then you will be universally understood.

There are only nine vowel shapes in Thai. All the vowels are made up of short (cut-off) or long versions of these sounds, or of two vowel sounds pronounced in sequence (“dipthongs”). This article is a summary for your reference and practice.

If you haven’t already watched the videos on youtube then watch them now.

Exaggerated ‘farang’ version and explanations The normal Thai way of pronouncing the vowels
Exaggerated ‘farang’ version and explanations The normal Thai way of pronouncing the vowels


Practice them in an exaggerated way until you develop a muscle memory for the feeling of each shape. Stretch your muscles so that they feel tired after a minute or two (otherwise you’re not doing it right)! It may feel a bit silly to talk in such an exaggerated potato-in-mouth way (in fact, it should!) but it’s normal for Thai people, just like it feels quite normal and natural for us to stick our tongues out when pronouncing “th” in English. We need to train our mouth muscles so that these shapes eventually feel normal and comfortable if we want to be able to enunciate Thai clearly.

If a Thai person compliments you by saying พูดเก่งนะ then they’re just being polite: “hey, good effort (but I still don’t understand you)!” However, if someone says พูดชัด then you know you’ve arrived: you speak clearly enough that they can actually hear what you’re saying.

Stretch your mouth sideways
Stretch sideways and open wide (push your tongue out slightly)
Open wide, like at the dentist!
Make a large O with your mouth.
The shortened “ao” vowel (as in เกาะ) is the short, cut off version of this sound.
Make a smaller O with your mouth.
The “invisible” vowel (as in ฝน) in is a short, cut off version of this sound.
Blow a kiss!
Stretch out your mouth into an inane grin.
Keep your mouth in a smile (maybe not as much as before) and clench your teeth slightly while saying the “birdy” vowel sound.
Americans, keep your tongue out the way to avoid making an “r” sound – for all the “birdy” or “dirty” vowels.
Relax your mouth and drop your jaw.
Two vowels: “dirty” plus “chiminey”
Two vowels: “dirty” plus “puppy”
Two vowels: “chiminey” plus “puppy”
Two vowels: “balloon” plus “puppy”
Two vowels: “puppy” plus “hook”
Two vowels: “puppy” plus “igloo”
ไม้ ไม่ ม้าย ไหม


How Thais (and Asians) pronounce their “R”s and “L”s

How Thais (and Asians) pronounce their “R”s and “L”s

In the European languages like English, German, Italian, French and Spanish, the sounds for “L’ and “R” are quite distinct. This is because the position of the tongue is either at the extreme front end of the mouth (pushing quite forcefully against the top teeth) for the “L” or at the general back part of the mouth for the “R”. The French “R” is with the back of the tongue almost being swallowed at the back of the mouth, while the German “R” is vibrated very vigorously in the middle of the mouth. The English “R” is produced with the tongue floating just beneath the palate towards the back of the mouth.

So the “L” is a very different animal from the “R” because the “L” is a strong tongue-pushing-at-the-front sound and the “R” is a vibrating or rolling tongue sound nearer the back.

However Thas (and Asians in general) produce an “L” by positioning the tongue very lightly against the palate well behind the teeth just in front of the middle of the mouth.

While the “R” is in the same position but with the tongue allowed to drop a little so that it “floats” ever so slightly below the palate.

The Asian “R” becomes an “L” simply by touching the palate with the tongue.

That’s why L and R sound so similar to our Western ears – because they are very similar. And when Thais (and Asians) speak a little lazily, or fast – which is usually the case – when pronouncing “R” it’s usually easier to let the tongue touch the palate instead of leaving it “float” just below it – which results in an (Asian) “L”.

At the end of a syllable, Ls and Rs aren’t fully enunciated. Instead you simply close down your palate and push your tongue down. The resulting sound is very like our English “N”.

That’s why อาหาร and บิล are pronounced “ahaan” and “bin”, respectively (not “ahaar” and “bill”).

Tones the ‘Thai’ Way

Tones the ‘Thai’ Way

Tones are actually dead simple in Thai.

At least, it should be. Unfortunately, the traditional Thai system seems arbitrary and overly complicated, and the terminology is unnecessarily confusing (e.g. high class / high tone), which leads one to assume that there must be some matching relationship between class and tone.

Well there isn’t! None at all.

There is also a great deal of irrelevant information that has to be learnt… For example, for two of the tone marks, the class of the letter is irrelevant. And in general, it does not matter how long or short the vowel is, except in one special case. You also don’t need to know about initial and final consonant sounds, nor the actual names of the letters, etc.

The Rapid Method

Less is more.

My ‘Rapid’ system is designed around the absolute minimum amount of information required (on a need to know basis) to be able to read easily and accurately. And as often as possible, I’ve wrapped up the information in stories and pictures in such a way that several linguistic elements can be conceptualized as a single, easy to remember unit.

For example, both boys and girls are sporty, so they can surf down the wave with ease “yeah!” – this is one item of information, but it represents two separate combinations in the traditional Thai tone table; and the whole concept of the surf mark is wrapped into a single picture story so that you conceptualize the surf mark as a single unit that plays out in your mind like a short youtube movie)!

The Conventional Thai Consonant / Class Tone System

If you learn the tone system the conventional ‘Thai way’, you would be required to memorize and understand the consonant class tables below:

For syllables with a tone mark, the following rules apply:

Tone Mark Class Tone
known as ไม้เอก low
known as ไม้โท low
known as ไม้ตรี (any) high
known as ไม้จัตวา (any) rising

For syllables without a tone mark, both the initial consonant class and whether it’s a ‘live’ or ‘dead’ syllable are important.

For ‘live’ syllables without a tone mark, the tone rules are (relatively) simple:

Initial Consonant Class Tone
low/mid middle
high rising

But for ‘dead’ syllables, you need to be aware of whether the vowel is short or long:

Initial Consonant Class Vowel Tone
low short
mid/high (either) low

It’s a bit complicated, right?

Having to keep all this mind when deciphering each word is quite a complicated mental juggling act. This slows down your reading quite considerably.

Nevertheless, if you put enough effort into it then you can memorize these rules, along with the class each consonant belongs to.

Or you can dispense with these tables entirely by doing it the ‘Rapid’ way, which is simpler and hence quicker and easier.

English is a Tonal Language!

English is a ‘Tonal Language’ – surprise, surprise!

In Chiang Mai, a woman came to the course who could already read after a fashion and speak fairly fluently – but she came because she had a great deal of confusion about the tones, and so never bothered to “read the tones” – previously she simply tried to recognize the tone from memory of her spoken Thai.

The ‘Rapid method’ clarified the whole issue for her.

The main confusion, I think, is that the ‘Thai method’ uses the same terminology for classes and tones: high tone, high class – mid tone, middle class – low tone, low class (plus rising and falling tones)…

There is absolutely no relationship at all between the class and the tone!

Letters have sex!

That’s why I created a completely different way to classify the consonant classes:

  • ladies (for high class, because they are higher class creatures!!!)
  • ladyboys (for low class, because they are kind of lower class riff raff – not politically-correct and certainly insulting, but then this mnemonic is only for those who’ve already learned the ‘class system’); and
  • boys who are very simple non-descript creatures and who kind of float (fart) around in the middle…

English Tones

I also changed the tonal system – it may be technically accurate to describe them as high/low/falling/rising (in terms of tonality), but no native speaker ever thinks like that. When we ask a question, for instance, we never consciously make a rising inflection. It just happens naturally. Similarly, a Thai person never thinks: “Because the word ‘three’ has a rising tone, I have to deepen my voice and allow it to rise to a reasonably high squeaky pitch…”

So here is how to say the (four) Thai tones correctly using ‘English tones’:

  1. The so-called “rising tone” is our question: “Why?”
  2. The so-called “high tone” is when we ask a question while feeling unsure or skeptical: “Are you sure?” “Is that the new iPad?
  3. The so-called “falling tone” is our emphasis or excitement: “Yeah!”
  4. The so-called “low tone” is our sad or relaxed feeling: “Oh dear….”

And I don’t like to refer to a 5th tone, but it could be considered a flat, boring, monotonous sound as in the shipping forecast!

That’s all there is to it.

The Male Sex-Change Doctor

There are only four/five words that use the อ sex-change doctor, all of them starting with ย.

อยาก to want (to do something) “dead boy” – sad tone
อยู to live/reside, to be at (a place); to be happening continuously (-ing) “singing boy” – boring, no tone
อย่า don’t “dagger on boy” – sad tone
อย่าง type, kind, sort, a quality of an object or person; as, like, in the way of… (changing an adjective to adverb as in -ly) “dagger on boy” – sad tone
อย่างไร how; whichever (usually written informally or spoken as ยังไง)

Get to know them because then for all other words spelled using อ, it can only either be:

  • a silent consonant “placeholder” for any vowel that is attached to it
  • the “awe” vowel if attached to the right side of any consonant.

When a vowel is attached to it then it just becomes the sound of the vowel. The อ letter itself is silent (actually, it’s the “glottal stop” so that you can launch into the vowel sound):

อา โอ ฮี อึ เอา

When it’s attached to the right side of a consonant then it is the “awe” vowel:

รอ บ่อ นอน

The only time it can be potentially confusing is when it’s a two-letter word with the invisible or implied “o” vowel in-between; or when it’s fused together with another consonant, making it unpronounceable as it stands:

อก chest invisibe “o” vowel: “ok”
อบ bake; to scent/perfume invisibe “o” vowel: “ob”
อด to go without, miss, refrain invisible “o” vowel “od”
อม suck, keep in mouth; hide; embezzle/cheat invisible “o” vowel: “om”
องค์ organ, body part invisible “o” vowel: “ong”
อร่อย delicious spacer “a” vowel: “a-roi”
องุ่น grape spacer “a” vowel: “a-ngun”
อโศก Asok spacer “a” vowel “a-soahk
อธิบาย to explain spacer “a” vowel: “a-tibaai”

In general, except for the top five 2-letter words, which are single-syllable words, if you see อ as the first letter of a multi-syllable word and no vowel written then it is most likely to be the spacer “a” vowel.

Expats – Speaking Thai (not!) in Thailand

Expats – Speaking Thai (not!) in Thailand

Thai is difficult to learn. Or is it?

The main trouble is that learning Thai is super boring and fiendishly difficult…!

Learning any language usually requires hundreds of hours of investment in time and effort. There are better things to do in life! Learning an obscure language like Thai isn’t one of them.

So why bother to learn Thai?

Nevertheless, there are subtle but significant advantages to being conversant and literate in Thai. The first quite simply is feeling confident about going out anywhere in Thailand without ever being afraid of getting lost!

The other is that you start to notice and understand and appreciate a ‘parallel world’ that is real Thailand – and you can start interacting with Thai people in a more personal way.

Is there an easier way?

stickfigure-at-desksm There is a way to start becoming fluent in Thai without spending too many hours in a dreary language class. As a non-linguist who has found it difficult to learn languages in the past, I’ve developed a ‘Rapid’ approach.

I’ve simplified Thai – by throwing out anything that is superfluous, and then I’ve found ways to use what we already know and what already comes naturally to us.

For instance, what’s known as the ‘rising tone’ in Thai is simply the tone we use naturally when asking a question: “Are you fine?”… “Are you saam? [three]”

The ‘Rapid’ Method

My aim as the owner / author / developer is to find the most convenient, most enjoyable and most effective way to learn Thai.

In the case of learning to read Thai – an essential first step – it takes no time at all if you do it intensively. But I’m otherwise not really interested in intensive and ‘quick’ ways to learn. These methods usually involve taking time away from your work and social life and studying all day, every day, over several weeks or months.

I’m sure that you have a life! And no doubt you are also not the kind of person who gets pleasure out of reading a dictionary from cover to cover as bedtime reading…

The ‘Rapid’ method is designed to require as little time and effort as possible – and the little studying that is required must be as enjoyable as possible in its own right.

So if you don’t want to take off a weekend to attend a workshop – or devote two whole afternoons to follow the Read Thai in a Day ebook – then you can follow the course leisurely as part of your daily coffee break, 15 minutes a day… This is the laziest way, yet it is extremely effective. By the end of two months, you will be literate!

One man shamefully admitted that he had lived in Thailand for 8 years and still didn’t know how to even pronounce a single letter in the alphabet!

And my ‘fluency’ course is probably even more astonishing. Just one lesson a week (about an hour to 90 minutes) and 15 minutes a day for the remaining four days – and you will be able to speak fluently and understand 90% of an everyday conversation after about a year.* It takes most people 3-4 years of continuous, applied study at a Thai school at least twice a week to achieve the same level.

Read more about the Rapid Method here…

* This assertion is an estimation, which will be tested and tangibly measured in 2011. My definition of ‘fluency’ is to be able to speak naturally and at speed (but not always correctly) in an everyday conversation without thinking. You will not necessarily achieve high scores in academic measures of your linguistic skills. I also do not consider writing to be a necessary or desirable skill if you merely want to be a ‘fluent’ reader and conversationalist.