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Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 5

Duplicate Consonants

Once you start reading Thai you will notice that for several consonant sounds there are multiple consonants. Which 's' or which 't' consonant do I use for this word? It makes spelling tricky because unless you can remember, you're never quite sure which letter to use for a certain sound. English does this as well (gel/jam; see/ceiling) but there are many, many more in Thai.

Why?

'Why' questions are often pointless when related to language anomalies. Just because something doesn't make any sense, nothing is going to change. You just have to accept it and get on with it. However, if you have an inquisitive mind it is good to have some answers. Unfortunately I have no definitive answers!

Thai is a tonal language - as we know - and the initial consonant is important when determining the tone of a syllable or word. Some letters that have the same sound are a different consonant class so that is one reason.

For others, I have never read or been told a reason but I think there are reasons. Thai society is founded on the cornerstones of Nation, Religion, King. These institutions are extremely important to Thais and certain letters seem to be reserved for them.

The Thai flag represents nation and the word for flag is pronounced tong. The 't' in this word is not a letter that is used commonly. This special 't' seems to be used mainly for words related to Nation, Religion, and Monarchy. Another 't' consonant (the 't' for tahaan - soldier) is much more commonly used for common things, which aren't related to Nation, Religion, or Monarchy.

I can't remember the exact details but I was talking to someone about a Thai spelling inconsistency. She told me that a previous Queen's name used the regular spelling. The spelling of some common objects was thus changed so that they wouldn't be the same as the Queen's name. Monarchy is a very special and revered institution in Thailand and common things cannot be the same as royal things. That is why there is a special vocabulary in Thai just for matters relating to royalty.

With spoken language we need to learn vocabulary, and with written language we need to learn characters. Today I am just going to cover the 'k' consonant sounds and not cover any new words.

There used to be five 'k' consonants but even the Thais seem to have decided that five was too many! Therefore, two were made obsolete. However, when Thai kids are taught how to read they are still taught the obsolete consonants. Of the remaining three 'k' consonants, two are used often but one is used rarely, thus you only really need to remember two - the first two below.

Name in Thai: ข ไข่

Name in English: Kor Kai (egg)
Initial: k
Final: k
Class: High
Usage: Very common
Comments: You need to remember this.

Name in Thai: ค ควาย

Name in English: Kor Kwaay (buffalo)
Initial: k
Final: k
Class: Low
Usage: Very common
Comments: You need to remember this.

Name in Thai: ฆ ระฆัง

Name in English: Kor Ruh-kung (bell)
Initial: k
Final: k
Class: Low
Usage: Rare
Comments: Very rarely seen. Concentrate on other characters first and don't worry too much about these rare consonants at this stage.

Name in Thai: ฃ ฃวด

Name in English: Kor Kuat (bottle)
Initial: k
Final: k
Class: -
Usage: Obsolete
Comments: This consonant is obsolete and here only for reference purposes. There is no need to learn it.

Name in Thai: ฅ ฅน

Name in English: Kor Kon (person)
Initial: k
Final: k
Class: -
Usage: Obsolete
Comments: This consonant is obsolete and here only for reference purposes. There is no need to learn it.


Regarding the obsolete consonants, you may have noticed that kor kuat looks a little like kor kai and kor kon looks a little like dtor dtao:

Kor Kuat

Obsolete

Kor Kai

Current

Kor Kon

Obsolete

Dtor Dtao

Current

Obviously, as these letters are now obsolete you don't have to worry. However, there are many Thai letters still in use that look similar to others.

Maybe there's an extra notch, an extra loop, or the loop goes the other way. Just be careful at first, but with time and practice identifying Thai letters will become less confusing.


Another example is a consonant I haven't covered yet (dor dek) and kor kwaay, but there are more. The difference may be clear in some fonts, but in certain fonts - and handwriting - some letters may look very similar to others.

ด ค

This is what makes many fonts used on signs difficult to read because the notches and loops disappear altogether.

To Thais and experienced readers of Thai the differences are obvious, but to new readers they can be difficult to spot. Study the letters carefully and - as I keep saying - the best way to remember them is to write them out repeatedly.


The syllable we learnt a few days ago is actually a complete word as it stands.

กระ

This is the Thai word for freckle. Thai girls have some funny ideas about beauty. They use expensive lotions to turn their lovely brown skin a ghostly grey colour, and those who are fortunate enough to be born with cute freckles get them removed at a skin clinic.

There are lots of skin clinics with signs outside for various skin 'deformities' that can be treated. The following is such a sign. The idea is to give you more practice reading the unusual fonts used on Thai signs.

Gruh - freckles

Gruh - freckles

Reader Question

A reader asks how 'people' and 'bottle' are spelt if the consonants for those words are now obsolete. They are simply spelt using other 'k' consonants that aren't obsolete. People is spelt using kor kwaay and bottle using kor kai.

คน - kon (people/person)

ขวด - kuat (bottle)

Maybe it is confusing to include the obsolete consonants here, but maybe it is confusing not to? If someone reads or is told that there are 44 Thai consonants but can only find 42 they might wonder about the 'missing' two if I leave them out?

My wife is attempting to teach our young daughter the Thai alphabet and has a book called gor gai. When I hear her reading aloud, she includes kor kon and kor kuat. When Thais teach children, they still include the obsolete characters. I don't know why and I've not yet found a Thai who can tell me why. This brings me on to another point.

If you wish to learn to speak Thai, learning from a Thai teacher is fine. In fact, it is recommended. Their tones and sentence structure will be exactly how Thais speak. However, learning to read Thai is another story.

I find that Thais don't have the same inquiring minds about their own language compared to foreigners. I realise myself that written English is very inconsistent and contains a lot of anomalies. I understand why certain things could be very confusing to foreigners.

Thais simply accept every odd thing about written Thai and can't understand why anything should be difficult for a foreigner to understand. They will even try to explain and justify things when there is no explanation or justification.

Written Thai is so natural and logical to Thais that everything is obvious and nothing needs explaining. Except that at times it isn't logical and it does need explaining.

I've had to write examples in Thai to show Thais that their consonants change sound depending on whether they begin or end a syllable. It's a realisation that amazes them.

Unfortunately, this all goes back to the Thai education system where students are taught to remember and accept things, rather than to question their teachers.

When I ask Thais questions about written Thai I very rarely get satisfactory answers. The answers normally come from one of the foreign author books I have, or I work it out for myself.

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Questions And Feedback

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Recommended Books

Amazon UK

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon US

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Downloadable Worksheets

Downloadable worksheets

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.

Downloadable Worksheets

Visit Thailand

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.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.

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.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

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