If you travel to Thailand often enough or live here, you’ll want to learn to speak Thai. Thai is one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn. Thai is a tonal language, which means the same world said with each of five different tones means five completely different things. That’s why very few foreigners ever learn to speak Thai like a native. It’s difficult to get the Thai pronunciation, it’s hard to remember which tone the word carries, and Thai grammar can be a pain.
I’ve been learning Thai for just over seven years and, although my Thai vocabulary still needs expanding, I’ve been told many times my accent sounds like a Thai person. If you’re one of tens of thousands of foreigners struggling to learn Thai, take heart. It is possible to learn to speak Thai like a native and here’s how.
Learn the Tones Correctly – Anyone who wants to be able to speak Thai like a native must learn how to pronounce the five tones correctly. As every word has a tone, if you can’t pronounce the tones properly, Thais will have a problem understanding you. Before anything else, learn the five tones – high, rising, mid, low and falling. Start with the word ‘mai’ and learn to pronounce it each of the five ways correctly.By the time you’ve finished with mai, you’ll know the Thai words for ‘new’, ‘wood’, ‘not’, ‘silk’ and ‘burn’. Then apply those five tones to other similar words, until, according to a native Thai, you are pronouncing the tones correctly 100% of the time – then move onto the next step.
Learn to Read Thai – Many foreigners don’t learn to read Thai, which means they have a heck of a time picking up new vocabulary. Thai is not written in the Latin alphabet it’s written in Thai script so, if you can’t read it, you can’t learn new words or the tones those words hold.Sure, there’s the transliteration way (translating the sounds of Thai into the Latin alphabet), for example the Thai word ‘mai’ (that’s how it looks in Latin alphabet). But, because the transliteration way doesn’t show how the tone is held in the word, you’ll never learn Thai like a native that way. It took me about two months to learn how to read Thai correctly (there are 44 consonants and 30 vowels), but it was worth it. Now, I can read the dictionary and learn new words. Plus, on a normal day in Bangkok, I pick up new words just by reading street signs, bus signs and newspaper headlines.
Copy How Thais Speak – Too many westerners speak Thai with one flat tone, which is difficult to understand and horrible to listen to. When you learn new vocabulary, if you want to learn to speak Thai like a native, get a Thai friend to repeat the word for you and keep repeating after her until she says you’ve got it correct.
Get Thai Friends – Which leads me to the next point, get Thai friends. I’m amazed how many westerners live in Thailand for years and still have no Thai friends. In Bangkok, I currently have two western friends and over 100 Thai friends. That means, I can practice speaking Thai any time I want and there’s always someone there to correct me.
Watch Thai Movies With Thai Subtitles – A great way to learn to speak Thai like a native is to watch Thai movies with Thai subtitles. That way, as you’re hearing the sounds, once you can read Thai you can read along. With both sound and written Thai, the vocabulary gets stuck in your brain that much faster.
Read Thai Newspapers – As you’ll have noticed, there are no spaces between Thai words. Each word runs right into the next one. By reading Thai newspapers you’ll not only learn how to differentiate one word from another, it’s another perfect way of learning new vocabulary.
Have Fun Learning Thai – Most of all, don’t make learning Thai a chore. Make it fun. Do it every day and practice all the time then, as you learn more and more, you’ll suddenly see your whole world opening up and understanding Thai will be fun.Learning to speak Thai like a native is very difficult. In my seven years in Thailand, I’ve only met a handful of westerners who can.
Photo – Learn to read Thai, and you’ll soon speak Thai like a native – copyright Tasty Thailand