Thailand: Thai Language


THE THAI LANGUAGE

So you thought that all Thais spoke Thai? That would be handy—you would only have one set of words to learn. Sorry to inform you, though, it’s not quite that easy….


There are an estimated 50 million Thai speakers worldwide. 85% of this population lives in Thailand, while the remaining 15% is found in smaller communities spread around the world. Sometimes referred to as Siamese, it is considered part of the Tai language family, which also includes Lao, the national language of Laos, the Shan language from Myanmar, and Zhuan, a major language in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi.

There are four main dialects spoken within Thailand. In the north, there is Lanna. In the south, Pak Tai. Issan is the major dialect spoken in the northeast region of the country. The central region speaks what we typically think of as Thai, also referred to as Central Thai, or Bangkok Thai. Even though each region speaks its own dialect, Bangkok Thai is taught in almost every school across the country.

It should also be pointed out that there are many small ethnic minority groups, especially in northern Thailand, which are often referred to as the “hill tribes.” These tribes account for around 60 other languages that are being spoken in the country but which bear no resemblance to Thai.

I recommend starting by learning as much Thai as possible, after which you can always collect a few regional dialect phrases to throw into the mix.


Map of the Major Thai Dialects

thai dialects map

A FEW THAI SURVIVAL PHRASES


Learning just these few phrases will allow you to travel throughout Thailand with ease.

The Thai language is relatively easy to learn. The grammar is very simple—it’s much less complicated than many of the European languages because Thai does not have tenses.

However, Thai is a tonal language, built upon five different tones. This aspect makes the Thai language very difficult because just a slight mispronunciation of a word means that no one will understand you.

Don’t feel defeated when it is difficult at first. Practice will make perfect!

hello
thank you
yes
no
Where is the bathroom?
water
excuse me
How much is it?

sa-wat-dee
korp kun
chai
mai chai
horng nam yoo tee nai?
nam
kor toht
tow rai?


Till next week, folks.
And remember, never stop dreaming.


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