In the previous article, we have talked about English proficiency in Thailand and tips & tricks to navigate the country without speaking Thai. However, the best way to enjoy Thailand (especially if you are looking to stay long-term) is to learn the Thai language.
Like many languages, whether a language is easy to learn depends a lot on how similar the language is to your mother tongue. We will explore more about Thai written language and spoken Thai in this article.
Table of Contents
Written language and alphabets
Thai language alphabet has 44 consonants and 32 vowels (out of which only 28 are still used today). This is almost twice the amount of Latin counterparts. Approximately 70 million people in Thailand use the Thai language alphabet. It is unique and nowhere else in the world uses this alphabet. You can find the full list of Thai alphabet and its pronunciation here.
Thai is a phonetic language. So, you can look at the Thai written language and will be able to pronounce it directly. The difficulty comes with being able to produce accurate tones and pronunciation. Inaccurate pronunciation and tones can distort the meaning of the words.
Is Thai a tonal language?
Yes, Thai language has 5 tones.
If you have learnt languages like Mandarin (4 tones) or Cantonese (9 tones), you will understand the added complication of learning tonal languages. The same word pronounced with different tones can imply completely different things.
For most cases, there are marks in the Thai writing that indicate tones (similar to what you see in Chinese pinyin).
Learn Thai language: the difficulty
Difficulty of learning a new language can vary for everyone. One key determining factor is how different is the language from your mother tongue?
Compared to English, Thai language has simpler grammar and sentence rules. Structuring a basic sentence in Thai would be manageable for English speakers (with a minor exception of adjective placement).
For example, saying “I want to go to the Airport” in Thai would follow the exact same sentence structure as English.
The challenge with Thai language lies heavily in its tones and pronunciations. This is especially true for people who have not learnt tonal languages before.
The learning curve of Thai language
Just like many languages, picking up basic Thais can be done without much difficulty. And this is especially true if you are living in Thailand. You can get used to holding basic daily conversations. For example, you’ll be able to converse with local shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc.
However, the learning curve starts to kick in when you have to strive for language accuracy or the correct nuances. It also gets harder when you try to switch from casual language to more formal one. Formal Thai is used in work setting, business meetings, official communications or in legal documentations.
The Foreign Language Training of the United States categorizes Thai language as “difficult language to learn”. This implies it would require approximately 44 weeks for learners to reach professional working proficiency.
Should you learn the language?
We strongly believe that learning Thai language would make your experience in Thailand a lot more enjoyable. Picking up Thai language while staying in Thailand could be fun and rewarding. You can start experiencing Thailand like a local and this will allow you to see Thailand from a different angle.
However, due to the fact that Thai language has a unique alphabet and tones, you will need patience in mastering the language. This might be a challenge that you want to take up if you are looking to stay in Thailand for a long term.
Learn more about Thailand through our other posts: