Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 23
I've only written 21 fairly short tutorials so far (unlucky 13 wasn't included) and we have already covered all the Thai consonants, all the short vowels, and the tone rules.
I wouldn't be confident about learning to read Chinese or Japanese because my perception is that there is just too much to learn (I could be wrong), but Thai is relatively easy. You have to be pretty stupid or pretty lazy (perhaps both) if you've been living in Thailand for a while and can't read a bit of basic Thai.
I doubt that these tutorials will go beyond 30. All I'm planning to do after this is some longer vowels and then I will add photos of real signs so that you can practice your reading.
As I have already said, there are different stages involved with learning to read Thai. If you learn purely from books there will be an additional stage in which you will to need to learn to read the fonts used in the real world. By showing you photos of real world signs, this will save you time.
Firstly though, I need to cover a few other things before I get on to longer vowels and reading practice.
There are some characters that appear in lists of Thai vowels, but they aren't really vowels. They are vowel/consonant combinations.
One crops up in a few words, and although the character is unusual the words are common.
This character makes an ri sound, as in 'grit'. My Se-ed Thai-English dictionary says it is a vowel adopted from Sanskrit, but the sound it makes is actually a consonant/vowel combination.
Another resource I found says that the modern Thai equivalent is as follows:
รึ (short reu)
I only know of a few words that use this character. One is the Thai adjective for things pertaining to England:
อังกฤษ - ung-grit
ภาษาอังกฤษ - paa-saa ung-grit (English language)
คนอังกฤษ - kon ung-grit (English people/person - there are no plural or singular forms of nouns in Thai)
Another word it appears in is the Thai word for season (of the year):
ฤดู - ri-doo (season)
ฤดูฝน - ri-doo fon (rainy season)
ฤดูร้อน - ri-doo rawn (hot season)
An aspect of Thai that adds an extra level of complication for foreigners learning the language is that there are often two or more alternative words in Thai for the same thing, whereas there would only be a single word in Thai. This applies to both verbs and nouns.
Quite often, the word chosen will depend on the degree of formality. When Thais eat they usually use the word 'gin', but when they wish to be more formal they use 'taan'. There are many examples of this.
There is another word for season that is used quite often - 'naa' with a falling tone.
หน้า - naa (season)
หน้าฝน - naa fon (rainy season)
หน้าร้อน - naa rawn (hot season)
Another word that crops up in names quite often is 'Preuksa'. The name of the housing development where I live contains this word and there is also an attraction nearby called 'Preuksa Park'. I think it is a Sanskrit word and it means plant/tree. The reason for using this word seems to be to give the impression of a natural environment with plants and trees.
พฤกษา - preuksaa (plant/tree)
This character can be combined with another unusual character to give:
I believe the modern Thai equivalent is:
รือ (long reu)
The only word I am aware of that uses these characters is the name for one of the 's' consonants (Tutorial 10)
Be aware that the following characters are also a part of written Thai but I will be extremely surprised if you ever come across them. I never have.
ฦ - The modern Thai equivalent of this old Sanskrit vowel is ลึ (short leu)
ฦๅ - The modern Thai equivalent of this old Sanskrit vowel is ลือ (long leu)
As we learnt in Tutorial 2, ror reua makes an 'r' sound if used as an initial consonant, and an 'n' or 'orn' sound if used as a final consonant. It has some other uses though that you need to be aware of.
When you see two consecutively written ror reua consonants they can act as a vowel if they are in the same word. Of course, they can be written consecutively but they may be in different words because there are no spaces used between Thai words.
This combination of two consonants is now a vowel and is known as ror hun. If it comes at the end of a word it makes an un sound but if it is mid-position it simply makes an u sound, functioning exactly like mai-hun-aagaat (Tutorial 2).
This is completely unnecessary but there must be historical reasons why it is used.
The Thai word tum-muh-daa means 'usual' or 'normal'.
You see this word a lot on food carts when you buy from street vendors. It is usual for two portion sizes to be offered. You can buy a normal sized portion (tum-muh-daa) or, if you are hungry, you can spend a few Baht more and get a special sized portion with some extra ingredients.
You have to decide whether you want 'tum-muh-daa' or 'pi-set'.
พิเศษ - pi-set (special, extra)
Ordinary or Special?
This consonant combination can be tricky. When you see a 'T' consonant (tor tuh-haan) and an 'R' consonant (ror reua) in a consonant cluster, what sound does it make?
The answer, of course, is an 'S' sound ... well, sometimes, that is.
If it is a pure Thai word this consonant cluster makes an 'S' sound and not a 'TR' sound. Thai already has four 'S' consonants, yet there is another way of writing an 'S' sound.
And despite having five ways of writing 'S' sounds there isn't a single Thai word that ends with an 'S' sound. This is just one of the reasons why Thais have difficulty with English. "I have two brother and three sister."
Despite the unusual spelling, this word is 'saap' and not 'traap'.
The Thai word saap means 'to know', the other verb 'to know' being roo. Both words have the same meaning. It is common in Thai for verbs and nouns to have several different words. Here is roo:
There are other Thai words that use 'tor tuh-haan' and 'ror reua' in a cluster to make an 'S' sound. For example:
ทราย - 'saay' (sand)
ทรงพระเจริญ - 'song pra-ja-rern' (Long live the King!)
However, this consonant cluster also makes a 'TR' sound sometimes. I've asked Thais why and they don't know. I was asked the same question by someone following these tutorials and so I looked into it a bit further. I think it has something to do with the origin of words.
Quite a few English words have been introduced into the Thai language and wherever the English word has a 'TR' consonant cluster they simply transliterate it to tor tuh-haan and ror reua.
In English the 'T' in the cluster isn't aspirated so actually it should be transliterated to dtor dtao and ror reua but transliteration systems don't use any common sense. They simply consist of fixed rules and make no allowances for the way words actually sound.
As an example, Thai students use the word 'entrance' incorrectly as a verb to describe gaining a place at university. Thais spell it this way (according to my Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English dictionary):
They transliterate the 'TR' as tor tuh-haan and ror reua and in this case it makes a 'TR' sound and not an 'S' sound.
I would prefer to see the transliteration written as follows because it is more accurate phonetically and there is no confusion with the tor tuh-haan and ror reua consonant cluster. With the English consonant cluster 'tr' the 't' is unaspirated so Thais should use dtor dtao.
Did you also notice the gaa-run over the final 'S' consonant? (Tutorial 21) The English word ends in an 'S' sound so Thais put a token 'S' consonant at the end, but then add gaa-run as an indication that it doesn't need to be pronounced. They do this with all English words that have been introduced into the language and then they tell us that the English pronunciation is wrong! The Thai pronunciation is something like 'en-dtraan'.
You either know how this consonant cluster is pronounced in different words or you don't. Often when you look at Thai words you know if they are real Thai words or English words that have been transliterated. If you see a word that you suspect is a transliterated English word and it contains tor tuh-haan and ror reua then the sound is probably 'TR'.
If you believe that the word is a Thai word, then the consonant cluster will have an 'S' sound. Simple, eh?
Here's another example:
Many Thai businesses use English words in the names of their businesses, and some of these words begin with 'tr'. I have seen 'trading' companies and many 'travel' companies. They use the standard Thai transliteration without thinking about how the word actually sounds.
This business is called KCT Travel. There is no 'v' sound in Thai, and so wor wairn is used. I can understand why they do this, but I can't understand why Thais transliterate wor wairn to 'v' in English instead of 'w'. Many Thais do this with their names, and Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok is a classic example with unnecessary 'h's and wrong consonant sounds. There is no 'v' sound in Thai!
I have a strong suspicion that when the standard transliteration system was being developed there was a lot of German influence. Germans pronounce 'w' as 'v' and 'v' as 'f'. They also pronounce 'j' as 'y', which is why Thais wear Levi 'yeans' instead of jeans and eat 'yam' instead of jam. There is a perfectly good 'j' sound in Thai, but it isn't used. They use a 'y' consonant instead.
Another problem with transliterating from English into Thai (there are many) is that the 'L' final consonant gets transliterated into lor ling and as a final consonant lor ling has an 'n' sound.
This is why the famous hotel in Bangkok is know as the 'Orien-dtun', why Thais shop at 'Sen-dtrun', and why they play ball games with a 'bon'.
Questions And Feedback
If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to contact me. Your feedback will help me to improve these pages.
The best way to remember the various characters used in Thai script is by writing them down on paper. In addition to improving your writing skills, the very act of writing the characters on paper will commit them to memory.
This is how Thai children learn and it is a very effective approach. The best way to practice your writing is by using the same worksheets that Thai children use. They are available everywhere in Thailand, but a lot more difficult to find outside of Thailand.
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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
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If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
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