Thailand | Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 24

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rup lairk bplian ngern dtraa

rup lairk bplian ngern dtraa


Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 24

Sign Translation

rup - this word has many meanings: to receive, to take, to get, to obtain, to undertake, to bear, to suffer, to accept, to agree, to adopt, to admit, to answer, to meet. It is used in signs where someone is offering a service.

lairk - to exchange, to barter

bplian - to change

ngern - money

dtraa - another word with many meanings. It can mean 'brand' or to seal, to stamp, to chop, to mark, to sign, to promulgate, to enact, to pass, to note, to take note of, to remember, to tie. I think the meaning in this sign is that the money changer is authorised.

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Vowel Combinations

In English, a vowel can be used on its own or in combination with another vowel. If a combination of vowels is used, the sound changes. For example, far, fare and fair; mat and mate.

It isn't sufficient to look at one vowel. We need to look at all the vowels and to determine whether they form a vowel combination or not.

In English the vowels are sometimes written together (fair) and sometimes separated (fare).

The same concept applies to Thai. Vowel combinations make a different sound to vowels used alone. They are never written together. Vowel combinations surround the initial consonant and the component parts of the cluster can appear in various combinations before, after and above the initial consonant or consonant cluster.



There are two words here and the first problem for learners of Thai is being able to separate words because there no spaces between words. This becomes easier with practice and experience.

The first word is:


You should see that there is only one consonant - gor gai (Tutorial 1). The other characters are all vowels and in this combination make a single vowel sound.

I have covered all of these vowels in isolation before, but here they aren't in isolation. Despite the vowel using lots of characters, the sound is a very short 'o'. The initial (only) consonant makes a hard 'g' sound. If you say the English word 'got' but leave off the final 't' you will be pretty close.

If I write 'go' you will pronounce it wrong because it will rhyme with 'so'. This word is normally transliterated as 'koh' and therefore farangs normally pronounce it wrong. They pronounce it 'koe', as in Sebastian Coe.

Think of 'got' without the 't' and you will be a lot closer. It means 'island'. The second word is:


The first two letters are consonants that make 's' (Tutorial 10) and 'm' (Tutorial 8) sounds respectively, but this isn't a consonant cluster (Tutorial 22). We therefore have to add an implied 'uh' between the consonants.

Under mor maa we have the 'uu' vowel (Tutorial 18) and the word ends with yor yuk (Tutorial 7). yor yuk is one of the Thai consonants that can also function like a vowel and with sara uu it makes an 'uu-i' sound.

When we put all this together we get goh suh-muu-i, otherwise known as Koh Samui.

Samui island

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Shortening Vowels

Vowel length is very important in Thai and there are short and long versions of all the vowels. There are also a couple of ways that long vowels can be shortened.

One way is to add sara uh to the end of the vowel. When you see this vowel at the end of a vowel combination, you know that the vowel is short.

The following word using the ao vowel combination means old and it is a long vowel:

เก่า - gao

Using the example above again, you can see that when sara uh is added, the vowel combination becomes short:

เกาะ - got without the 't'

The other way of shortening vowels is to use a special symbol reserved specifically for the purpose of shortening vowels. Its name is mai dtai koo. It is exactly the same symbol as the Thai letter eight.

ไม้ไต่คู้ - mai dtai koo

Here it is written above gor gai:


This is actually a word. It's the shortest word in Thai and the first word in Thai dictionaries. It sounds like "gor". It's a kind of conjunction to join parts of a sentence, but it is also used by speakers who aren't very coherent. It's similar to an English speaker who fills every silent pause with an, "uh," or "um." I have heard a lot of Thais criticise Yingluck for filling her sentences with "gor" repeatedly.

When used in conjunction with sara ay, it turns the 'ay' vowel into an 'e' sound, as in 'pen' or 'leg'.

เป็น - bpen (one of the Thai verbs 'to be')

เป็ด - bpet (duck)


When sara uh is used in combination with sara air, the resultant vowel sound is very short. Imagine the 'a' in 'cat', but without the 't' on the end.


The consonant is an 'l' sound and surrounding it is a vowel combination. This is a very short 'a'. If you say 'lat' but don't pronounce the final 't' it should be quite close. The meaning is 'and', 'in addition' or 'moreover'.

แพะ - pat without the 't' (goat)

แกะ - gat without the 't' (sheep)

แคะ - kat without the 't' (to pick nose or ears)


sara ay, sara ee and yor yuk make an long ee-uh sound.

เสีย - see-uh (broken)

The 'broken' example doesn't have a final consonant, but this vowel combination can have a final consonant.

เสียง - see-ung (voice, sound)

See more examples below.




I am hoping now that you will be able to pick out vowels, consonants and tone marks quite quickly. The first two consonants are the fish bpor bplaa (Tutorial 3) and the monkey lor ling (Tutorial 8). These two consonants do form a consonant cluster so we get a 'bpl' sound.

Above the second consonant in the consonant cluster is sara ee (Tutorial 3), and above it is the first tone mark.

Before the consonant cluster is sara ay (Tutorial 16) but in this word it isn't used on its own. It forms part of a longer vowel combination.

Next is yor yuk - as in the example above - and again it is used more as a vowel here. Combined with sara ay and sara ee this combination of letters makes an 'ee-uh' sound. The final consonant is nor noo (Tutorial 8).

When we put this all together we get something that sounds a little like bplee-un which is the Thai verb meaning 'change'. Can you find this word in the sign at the top of the page for a money changer? If you can find it and read the rest of the sign you are doing very well.

Robertson's Practical English-Thai Dictionary

I don't think I've mentioned this before but along with the books below, I have found this to be an extremely valuable resource.

It's quite old now but that doesn't matter. Richard G. Robertson's little dictionary uses one of the most accurate transliteration systems I have seen. For example, his transliteration for 'change' is exactly the same as I've used above.

He also provides the tone for every syllable. He does this in a convention that is completely unambiguous, and which doesn't use any funny signs. He simply writes 'f' 'r' 'h' or 'l' in brackets to indicate which tone.

The ISBN is 974-8236-38-2 and I thoroughly recommend this book if you can obtain a copy. My only criticism is that the Thai font used is not very clear and with some words it is very difficult to work out vowels written above consonants, especially if a tone mark is used.

The next word uses the same vowel combination as above. The final consonant is also the same but the initial consonant is different.


You should have been able to work out quite easily that this word makes a sound like ree-un which is the Thai verb to learn.

Thai Sign

If we add rong (which means building in Thai) before ree-un we get rong ree-un which means 'school':


Thai School Sign


It is not only yor yuk that can function as a consonant and a vowel; the Thai letter wor wairn can also do this. Used at the end of a word, wor wairn makes a kind of 'l' sound but in mid-position it makes an 'oo-uh' sound. As you may remember, the common 'l' consonant lor ling makes an 'n' sound if used as a final consonant.

Take a look at these two words:


The first word consists of kor kai (Tutorial 5), the long 'aa' vowel (Tutorial 7), and wor wairn (Tutorial 9). It also uses the second tone mark.

The word kaaw pronounced with a falling tone is one of the most common in Thailand. It means rice. Let's take a look at the second word. Remember that the grammar structure of Thai is noun-adjective, and not adjective-noun as in English.

We have hor heep (Tutorial 9) followed by nor noo (Tutorial 8). In this word, hor heep is only used for tone purposes and it isn't voiced (Tutorial 12).

Above nor noo you will see sara ee again (Tutorial 3) and it is followed by yor yuk (Tutorial 7) and wor wairn (Tutorial 9).

This combination makes a kind of 'ee-owl' sound. Once again, I have to remind you that it is impossible to transcribe Thai words accurately using the English alphabet. What you need to do is listen to native speakers.

The end result is something like kaaw nee-owl which means 'sticky rice'. Another adjective you might here is kee nee-owl which means 'stingy'.

Thai Sign

I will give you more practice later. Make sure you compare the font used on these pages with the writing used on the various signs I have included, and that you can recognise handwritten characters, as well as the typical fonts used on signs.

I'm only planning to do a couple more of these tutorials but I am also planning to add more photos to the ones I have already written when I get some free time. The objective wasn't to provide a complete course but to convince people that learning basic Thai isn't very difficult.

By making things easy here I hope to encourage a few more people to start learning on their own.

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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. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia. used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

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.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand