Thailand | Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 3

Page Contents



Thai Sign - see explanation below about classifiers

Thai Sign - see explanation below about classifiers


Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 3


We're going to be a little adventurous in this tutorial and cover three consonants and a vowel.

If you say 'tog' and 'dog' alternatively, you will be aware that your mouth makes basically the same shape. However, if you hold the palm of your hand in front of your mouth as you say these words you will feel a puff of air when you say 'tog'.

If you do the same thing while alternatively saying 'bunch' and 'punch', you will notice the puff of air with 'punch'.

This is because 't' and 'p' are aspirated sounds so we get that puff of air.

Transliteration from Thai into English gets really messy with aspirated sounds because some genius decided that an 'h' after the initial consonant would be used to indicate aspiration. However, as we all know, putting an 'h' after a 'p' or a 't' makes an entirely different sound altogether in written English.

This is why Lonely Planet podcasters can't pronounce 'Thonburi' correctly, and why the pronunciation of 'Phuket' has become a joke with some people in the English-speaking world (see photo on Tutorial 1). The 'h' is not only unnecessary but it is highly confusing.

English has many words that have a sound somewhere in between 'b' and 'p' and 'd' and 't'. The 'p' in 'super' and the 't' in 'sister' aren't aspirated sounds.

If written English was accurate there would be another couple of consonants for these sounds. However, there isn't so we use 'p' and 't', which isn't very accurate.

Written Thai, being a much more accurate written language, does have separate consonants for these sounds.

Name in Thai: ป ปลา

Name in English: Bpor Bplaa (fish)
Initial: bp
Final: p
Class: Mid
Usage: Very common
Comments: For transliteration purposes I think the best way to write this is 'bp' to indicate the sound is somewhere between a 'b' and a 'p' but you will often see it transliterated as simply 'p'.

Name in Thai: ต เตา

Name in English: Dtor Dtao (turtle)
Initial: dt
Final: t
Class: Mid
Usage: Very common
Comments: For transliteration purposes I think the best way to write this is 'dt' to indicate the sound is somewhere between a 'd' and a 't' but you will often see it transliterated as simply 't'.

Name in Thai: บ ใบไม้

Name in English: Bor Bai Mai (leaf)
Initial: b
Final: p
Class: Mid
Usage: Very common
Comments: This is a straight 'b' sound when used as an initial consonant.

Next, another vowel.

This vowel is always written above the preceding consonant so I will write it above the zero consonant


The sound this vowel makes is 'ee' as in 'see' or 'sea'. It's quite long. People are aware that tones are important with Thai but vowel length is also very important and for most (all?) vowels there is a short and long version.

Yet another problem with common transliteration systems is that they don't distinguish between short and long vowels.

We have now covered enough letters for the place name shown on the previous tutorial.

Return to top of page

Reading Practice


You should recognise the first syllable from Tutorial 2. The second syllable is the 'b' sound followed by 'ee'. This vowel, remember, is written above the consonant.

What about the tone of the second syllable? The initial consonant is mid-class and the first tone mark is used. The tone is therefore low (Tutorial 14).

Transliterated, it sounds like gruh-bee (first syllable low tone, second syllable low tone). By the way, there is a distinct pause between the two syllables.

This is a place name that is normally written in English as Krabi. If you tell an American you are feeling 'crabby' they will know you are in a rotten mood, but if you tell a Thai you are going to 'crabby' they won't know what the hell you are talking about thanks to a transliteration system that is completely useless.

'Krabi' isn't the only such example. Most Thai place names are transliterated into English so badly that if an English speaker reads the transliterated version a Thai won't have a clue what you are trying to say.

The only way you will be able to make yourself understood is by throwing away those useless phrase books and learning how to read Thai.

Return to top of page


What is a classifier? English uses classifiers; an example would be 'loaf', which is the classifier for bread. We don't ask for two breads, but instead we ask for two loaves of bread.

Some nouns have more than one classifier. We can use 'bottle' or 'carton' for milk.

With Thai, everything has classifiers, not just selected nouns. When learning nouns, you really need to learn the classifiers for the nouns as well. There are a lot of them and, as in English, sometimes you can use different classifiers for the same nouns.

The photo at the top of the page was taken at a clothes market. dtua is the classifier for clothing and also for animals. "3 dtua 50" means that three items of whatever article of clothing is being sold sell for Bt50.

The question, "How many cats?" would be, "maeow gee dtua?" and when answering you would use a number plus the classifier, for example, "sawng dtua."

The classifier for round-shaped things and fruit is look, and for people kon. I only know a few of the commonly used ones.

The classifier for packets of things is sawng, spelt:


This is a low class initial consonant and a live syllable, therefore the tone is mid.

If you ask for 10 packets of things, sip (low) sawng (mid), it is likely that you will get twelve because sip (low) sawng (rising) is the Thai word for 12.

When a Thai shopkeeper listens to a foreigner, he will just be listening out for numbers and not expecting the foreigner to be using classifiers.

Return to top of page

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

Return to top of page

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