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Thailand | Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 9

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Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 9

Easy Or Difficult So Far?

Thais tell me that English is difficult and Thai is easy, which is strange because most foreigners have an opposing view. Easy and difficult are relative terms. What we already know seems easy and what we don't know can seem difficult.

As I've been writing these tutorials they have seemed incredibly easy. First, I show you a letter and then tell you what sound it makes. When we have enough letters to make a short word we put all the sounds together to make the sound of the word.

If I was teaching a two-year Thai child how to read English I would do the same. First, I would explain the sounds of the letters and then show how the letters make short words: d-o-g dog; c-a-t cat.

Thai characters are different to English ones, consonants change sound depending whether they begin or end a syllable, and vowels are not always written after the consonant, but it is basically the same concept.

Perhaps I have been doing this for too long though and have forgotten what it is like to be a beginner? If something isn't clear, please tell me what isn't clear - and more importantly, tell me why. Feedback is important.

Maybe then I can work out a different way of explaining something.

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Review

We have now covered 14 consonants and nine vowels. Already, with that small subset of characters we can read hundreds of Thai words. We just need to remember what sound each consonant and vowel makes, and we need to remember a few basic rules.

There are some strange rules about written Thai but so far we have only come across one example. We found that with some words there is a short vowel sound written as the final character that isn't pronounced. Apart from that, everything has been very straightforward and logical.

I'm only going to add three new consonants today and one is so rarely used that you needn't bother learning it at the moment. However, the other two are quite important.

With these characters and the ones we have already covered in previous tutorials you will be amazed at how much Thai you can read.

Name in Thai: ว แหวน

Name in English: Wor Wairn (ring)
Initial: w
Final: w
Class: Low
Usage: Very common
Comments: This is a commonly used initial and final consonant, and it makes a 'w' sound. Many transliteration systems turn this into an English 'v' but that sound doesn't exist in Thai. You will see many Thai places names transliterated into English that have the letter 'v', such as Sukhumvit, but the 'v' should be a 'w'.

As a final consonant it is very important. We have already covered the short 'ao' sound but there are many words in Thai that use this same basic sound. Some use the long 'aa' vowel followed by wor wairn to make a slightly longer 'aaw' sound, as in the Thai word for rice.

When used after sara i as a final consonant it makes an 'il' sound in English, such as the Thai word for acne spot. If you do a direct letter by letter translation for this word it is 'siw' and it is pronounced 'sil'.

When transliterating from English to Thai the lor ling character is automatically used for 'l'. This is acceptable for initial consonants, but as a final consonant lor ling makes an 'n' sound.

Thais use the English word 'bill' when they have to pay for something, but because of this anomaly they pronounce it 'bin'. To be phonetically correct they should use wor wairn as the final consonant, but the transliteration system places no importance on phonetic accuracy.

This character is also used as a vowel. It can be used alone, or in conjunction with other Thai vowels, and it makes a kind of 'oo-uh' sound. For tone purposes it is a long vowel when used as a vowel.

As a vowel it can be used alone if there are initial and final consonants. If there is no final consonant mai-hun-aagaat needs to be used above the preceding consonant.

Name in Thai: ห หีบ

Name in English: Hor Heep (box/trunk/case)
Initial: h
Final: -
Class: High
Usage: Very common
Comments: This consonant makes an 'h' sound when used as initial consonant and it is never used as a final consonant. It also fulfils another very important function in Thai.

With each word we have covered so far I have also explained the tone rules, and you will have seen that the class of the initial consonant (Low, Mid, High) is very important when determining the tone of the syllable or word (low, rising, mid, falling, high).

The hor heep character is often used purely for tone rule purposes. When it is written before the initial consonant its only purpose is to turn the following consonant into a high class consonant but it isn't voiced.

Name in Thai: ฮ นกฮูก

Name in English: Hor Nokhook (owl)
Initial: h
Final: -
Class: Low
Usage: Very rare
Comments: This is another 'h' consonant, but it is used very rarely, whereas 'hor heep' (see above) is used all the time. Like 'hor heep', this consonant is never used as a final consonant. 'Hor Nokhook' is rarely used so you needn't bother to learn it at this stage.

Bear it in mind and don't confuse it with 'or aang', which looks similar.

It tends to be used for words that have been imported from other languages. An example would be a favourite term among Thais to describe wealthy/elitist people. They have borrowed the English phrase 'High Society' and - as usual - chopped the end off, thus it has become 'Hi-So' (the opposite is 'Lo-So').

Note also that with imported words the Thai spelling usually uses 'sor soh' for 's' sounds instead of 'sor suea', which is the consonant usually used for 's' sounds in Thai words.

ไฮโซ - hi-so

Thais use a lot of English words and if they have opted for an English word that has an 'h' sound they will write it using 'Hor Nokhook'. For example, if a hotel proprietor decides to use the word 'hotel' for his business instead of the Thai 'rong rairm', the word 'hotel' when transliterated into Thai will use Hor Nokhook.

โฮเต็ล - hotel

It is also used for words that describe the sound of things, eg, the sound of displeasure, the sound of sneezing, the sound of approval, the sound of merriness, etc.

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Reading Practice

หวาน

The first two characters are ones we covered today but the hor heep character is only there for tone rule purposes. The consonant wor wairn is the actual initial consonant. The Thai letter wor wairn is a low class consonant but because of the presence of hor heep it becomes a high class consonant for tone rule purposes.

It is followed by the long 'aa' vowel and the final consonant is nor noo. The word waan with a very distinct rising tone is the Thai word for 'sweet' (adjective).

Tone: High-class initial consonant and live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)


 

หมา

This word also begins with hor heep but just like the previous example, it is only used for tone rule purposes. It is followed by mor maa (the actual initial consonant) and the long 'aa' vowel. The Thai letter mor maa is a low class consonant but because of the presence of hor heep it becomes a high class consonant for tone rule purposes. The word maa with a rising tone is one of the Thai words for 'dog'.

Tone: High-class initial consonant and live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)


 

มา

Without hor heep the basic word sound remains the same but the tone changes. The word maa with a mid tone is the Thai verb 'to come'.

Tone: Low-class initial consonant and live syllable = Mid tone (Tutorial 14)


Because Thai is a tonal language there are various way of changing the tone of a basic sound. Adding hor heep before the initial consonant is one way, and/or adding a tone mark above the initial consonant is another.

ม้า

You should be able to read this word quite easily now in order to get the basic sound, but you can see the second tone mark written above the initial consonant. The word maa with a high tone is the Thai word for 'horse'.

Tone: Low-class initial consonant and second tone mark = High tone (Tutorial 14)


 

วิ่ง

The initial consonant is wor wairn and from previous tutorials you can see it is followed by the short 'i' sound (written above the consonant). The final consonant is the 'ng' sound which is easy to pronounce as a final consonant. You should also see that the first tone mark is used.

The word wing is the Thai verb 'to run'.

Tone: Low-class initial consonant and first tone mark = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ข้าว

The initial consonant is one of the 'k' consonants (kor kai). It is followed by the long 'aa' vowel and ends with wor wairn. This creates an 'aaw' sound. You will also see the second tone mark above the initial consonant.

This word is one of the most common words in Thailand and if you browse a Thai menu you will see this everywhere. The word kaaw with a falling tone is the Thai word for 'rice', the staple food of Asia.

Tone: High-class initial consonant and second tone mark = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

หัว

The initial consonant is hor heep and it is followed by mai-hun-aagaat (written above the consonant) and then wor wairn. When we see this combination it makes an 'oo-uh' sound. The word hoo-uh with a rising tone is the Thai word for 'head'.

The mai-hun-aagaat character is only used if there is no following consonant after the 'oo-uh' sound. If there is a following consonant, there is no need to use mai-hun-aagaat and wor wairn can be used on its own. The next example will illustrate this.

Tone: High-class initial consonant and live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)


 

นวด

The initial consonant is nor noo, the final consonant is dor dek (pronounced as an unreleased 't' when used as a final consonant) and there is a wor wairn in the middle. The word nuat with a falliing tone is the Thai word for 'massage'.

The mai-hun-aagaat character is only used if there is no following consonant after the 'oo-uh' sound. If there is a following consonant, there is no need to use mai-hun-aagaat and wor wairn can be used on its own.

Tone: Low-class initial consonant, dead syllable, long vowel = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ขวบ

The initial consonant is one of the 'k' consonants (kor kai). It is followed by wor wairn and then bor bai mai. As a final consonant bor bai mai makes a 'p' sound. This word doesn't actually contain a vowel but wor wairn acts as an 'oo-uh' sound vowel.

In this example, as in the example above, there is a final consonant after wor wairn, and so there is no need to use mai-hun-aagaat. The word koo-up is the Thai word for 'year' when referring to the age of a young child.

Tone: High-class initial consonant, dead syllable, long vowel = Low tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ขวด

The initial consonant is one of the 'k' consonants (kor kai). It is followed by wor wairn and then dor dek. As a final consonant dor dek makes a 't' sound. This word doesn't actually contain a vowel but wor wairn acts as an 'oo-uh' sound vowel.

In this example, as in the example above, there is a final consonant after wor wairn, and so there is no need to use mai-hun-aagaat. The word koo-ut is the Thai word for 'bottle'.

If you want to buy six bottles of Singha beer from 7-Eleven you can say: "Kor bia Sing hok kuat krup/ka"

Tone: High-class initial consonant, dead syllable, long vowel = Low tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ปวด

This word is the same structure as the one above except that instead of the initial and final consonants making 'k' and 't' sounds, they make 'bp' and 't' sounds. Both of these consonants have been covered in previous tutorials.

The word bpoo-ut is the Thai word for 'ache' or to be in pain. If we combine this with one of the words above, we get bpoo-ut hoo-uh (ache head) which you should be able to work out means 'headache'.

Tone: Mid-class initial consonant, dead syllable, long vowel = Low tone (Tutorial 14)


 

กลัว

First you should see that this word starts with the consonant cluster 'gl' and that the rest of the word (mai-hun-aagaat and wor wairn) is the same as the word for 'head'. There is no final consonant after the wor wairn. The word gloo-uh in Thai means 'afraid'.

Tone: Mid-class initial consonant, live syllable = Mid tone (Tutorial 14)


 

หมวก

When you see hor heep followed by mor maa at the beginning of a word you know that the initial consonant sound is really 'm' and hor heep is only there for tone rule purposes. It turns low class mor maa into a high class consonant.

In this word wor wairn acts as a long vowel and makes an 'oo-uh' sound. The final consonant is gor gai which has an unreleased 'k' sound when used as a final consonant. The word moo-uk means 'hat'.

Tone: High-class initial consonant, dead syllable, long vowel = Low tone (Tutorial 14)


 

อ้วน

The 'oo-uh' sound is a vowel and the convention in Thai is that words that start with a vowel sound are written using the silent initial consonant. The final consonant is nor noo. The word oo-un is the adjective 'fat'.

Tone: Mid-class initial consonant and second tone mark = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

อ้วก

This word is similar, but the final consonant is gor gai. The word oo-uk is the verb 'to vomit'. This word also uses the second tone mark and therefore the tone rules are the same as the word above.

Tone: Mid-class initial consonant and second tone mark = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

สิว

In this word the combination of sara i and wor wairn make an 'il' sound although I usually use the original 'w' when transliterating. The word siw means 'acne' or 'acne spot'. Thais used the verb 'to be' instead of 'have' when talking about acne. Therefore, someone 'bpen siw' rather than 'mee siw'.

Tone: High-class initial consonant, live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)


 

หิว

This word rhymes with siw, but the initial consonant is an 'h' sound. The Thai word 'hiw' means hungry.

Never, ever let your Thai companion get hungry. All Thais eat lunch religiously between noon and 1pm. If you want someone to do something for you between those times, forget. If the clock strikes noon and your Thai partner has no food, expect some serious whining.

Tone: High-class initial consonant, live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ไม่

This word consists of the consonant mor maa and the vowel ai mai-muh-laay. This particular vowel is written before the consonant. You can also see that the first tone mark is used. The Thai word mai with a falling tone means 'no', or 'not'.

Tone: Low-class initial consonant, first tone mark = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ไม้

This example is exactly the same as the one above except the second tone mark has been used. The Thai word mai with a high tone means 'wood'.

Tone: Low-class initial consonant, second tone mark = High tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ใหม่

This word is similar but there are a couple of differences. Instead of ai mai-muh-laay, the other 'ai' vowel ai mai-muan has been used. It's a different letter but sounds exactly the same. You will also notice that hor heep has been used in front of mor maa. This letter isn't voiced but just used for tone rule purposes. It turns the low-class consonant into a high class one. The Thai word mai with a low tone means 'new'.

Tone: High-class initial consonant, first tone mark = Low tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ไหม้

This word goes back to using ai mai-muh-laay but it makes no difference if ai mai-muh-laay or ai mai-muan is used. It uses hor heep again for tone rule purposes and the second tone mark. The Thai word mai with a falling tone means 'to be burned' or 'to be on fire'.

Tone: High-class initial consonant, second tone mark = Falling tone (Tutorial 14)


 

ไหม

This word is the Thai question particle used at the end of sentences to indicate that the sentence is a question, for example, sa-baay dee mai? (Are you well?).

In the vast majority of Thai spellings, the actual pronunciation follows the tone rules. However, there are a few exceptions. The silent hor heep in this word gives the word a high class initial consonant. The vowel ai gives the word a live syllable. There is no tone mark.

The tone rules state that such a combination should give a rising tone. However, both David Smyth and Benjawan Poomsan Becker say that the question particle mai should have a high tone.

David Smyth does not explain why the pronunciation he gives deviates from the tone rules. Benjawan Poomsan Becker explains that her transliteration system uses the pronunciation most commonly used by Thai speakers (not necessarily following tone rules).

In most cases, written Thai follows the tone rules, it is logical, and it is more phonetically correct than written English. However, there are some exceptions.

Tone rules: High-class initial consonant, live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)

Actual pronunciation = High tone


 

มั้ย

To further complicate matters, there is an alternative spelling for the question particle. According to the tone rules, the tone is different to the spelling above. However, in a tonal-based language where the same word has two alternate spellings the tone must be the same otherwise the meaning won't be the same. The tone rules for this spelling are actually consistent with common usage.

Mor maa is the initial consonant and is low class. The combination of mai-hun-aagaat and yor yuk also makes an 'ai' sound. This word uses the second tone mark. Therefore, the tone rules state that the word has a high tone, which is how it is commonly pronounced.

Tone rules: Low-class initial consonant, second tone mark = High tone (Tutorial 14)

Actual pronunciation = High tone


We now have enough letters for our first short phrase. Just like the pharmacy sign from a previous tutorial, this is a phrase you will see the length and breadth of Thailand.

เรารักในหลวง

It consists of three words and we have already learnt the first two words. The first word rao was explained in Tutorial 7 and the second word ruk was explained in Tutorial 6. These two words translate to 'we love'. Now, on to the third word.

The first character is ai mai-muan and it is followed by nor noo, so the first syllable is nai (low class initial consonant + live syllable = Mid tone (Tutorial 14)).

The first two consonants in the second syllable of the third word are hor heep and lor ling but hor heep is only used here for tone rule purposes - it turns low-class lor ling into high-class.

It is followed by wor wairn which in this position makes an 'oo-uh' sound and the final consonant is the 'ng' character. It sounds like loo-ung (high class initial consonant + live syllable = Rising tone (Tutorial 14)). We get nai-loo-ung (also transliterated as nai luang) which is the colloquial word for king.

Thais have immense reverence for their monarchy, especially the king. They won't get their hair cut on a Wednesday (in fact, barbers in Thailand are normally closed on Wednesdays) because Wednesday is the day when the king gets his hair cut.

There is a completely separate vocabulary in Thailand (raa-chaa-sup) containing words that are used only when talking with and about monarchy.

ราชาศัพท์

 

In addition, Thais don't like to speak the king's name. They have various terms they use when referring to the king, such as nai luang or pra-jao yoo hua.

พระเจ้าอยู่หัว

 

There is no definite or indefinite grammar article in Thai. Therefore, this Thai phrase (rao ruk nai luang) translates to 'We love the King'. This is a very popular sentiment in Thailand and you will see this phrase on clothes and stickers absolutely everywhere.

 

We love the King

We love the King

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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.

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.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand

 

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