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Thailand | Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 6

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Tanon Naang Ngaam

Tanon Naang Ngaam


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Learn How To Read Thai - Tutorial 6



More Confusing Transliteration

The sign above contains three words and the transliterated version is written underneath. The first objection I have with the transliteration is use of the unnecessary and confusing 'h' after the 't'.

While listening to a Lonely Planet podcast, the presenter fell into the usual trap and pronounced Thonburi with his tongue between his teeth.

Secondly, transliteration systems do not distinguish between short and long vowels. Long 'aa' vowels are used in the second and third words, but the transliterated version uses single 'a's. There are many problems with transliterating Thai words into English.

So far we have covered eight commonly used consonants and two common (and easy to pronounce) vowels - remember there were two alternative ways of writing one vowel sound depending on whether a final consonant was used or not. We also looked at two obsolete consonants, which you can ignore completely, and a rarely used consonant which isn't important at the moment.

It would be easy at this stage just to plough through every consonant and vowel telling you what sound they make. This is what most books do but I think it is a bad approach. When new learners get too much thrown at them they suffer from information overload and switch off. That approach thus becomes counter-productive.

What I plan to do now is just add one more commonly used consonant, and one more common and easy to pronounce vowel. Then, using that small subset of characters, form a few words so that you can practice.

Before continuing make sure that you can remember what has been taught already. What we have covered so far is very basic, very easy, and very important as a foundation in learning to read Thai.

Name in Thai: ด เด็ก

Name in English: Dor Dek (child)
Initial: d
Final: t
Class: Mid
Usage: Very common
Comments: There is another 'd' sound initial consonant but it is very rarely used. This one here is used 99.99%, or more, of the time. This is also a very commonly used final consonant. Although there are several other Thai consonants with a 't' sound, when a word ends in a 't' sound it is this consonant that is often used.

In the same manner as some previous vowels that we have covered already, the following vowel is always written above the preceding consonant so I will write it above the zero consonant .

It is known as sara i.


The sound it makes on its own is a simple 'i', as in 'bin' or 'lid'. I make the point 'on its own' because when certain Thai vowels (including this one) are combined with other Thai vowels in a vowel combination, the sound changes. However, that is for later and at the moment we will only look at simple vowels used on their own.

In your armoury now you should have ten Thai consonants and four easy Thai vowels. Don't worry about the obsolete consonants. The following consonants are all commonly used, apart from kor ruh-kung.

Here's a summary:

- gor gai

- ror reua

- bpor bplaa

- dtor dtao

- bor bai mai

- ngor ngoo

- kor kai

- kor kwaay

- kor ruh-kung

- dor dek

- sara uh

อั - mai-hun-aagaat

อี - sara ee

อิ - sara i

This isn't rocket science or deciphering hieroglyphics. If you were teaching someone how to read English and gave them nine common consonants and four easy vowels you would expect them to be able to remember quite easily. It is the same with Thai. If Thai kids of three and four years old can do this, I'm sure it can't be beyond the ability of most foreign adults.

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Reading Practice


The first consonant Kor Kwaay is a 'k' sound. Above it is the short 'i' vowel, and the word ends with dor dek, which, when used as a final consonant makes an unreleased 't' sound. The word is kit and describes what you need to do to learn this. It is the Thai word for think.

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



The first consonant ror reua is an 'r' sound. Above it is mai-hun-aagaat - an 'uh' sound - and the final consonant is gor gai. You should know that as a final consonant, gor gai makes a 'k' sound. The word is ruk, the Thai word for love.

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



The first consonant is ror reua again. Above it is sara ee, the long 'ee' sound. The final consonant is bor bai mai. This makes a 'b' sound as an initial consonant but a 'p' sound as a final consonant. The word is reep which means to be in a hurry in Thai.

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



Similar to the word above, except that the final consonant is a 't' instead of a 'p' sound. The word is reet in Thai means to iron, as in, iron clothes.

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



The first consonant is kor kai - a 'k' sound. Above it is sara i, the short 'i' sound. The final consonant is ngor ngoo. The 'ng' character can be difficult to pronounce as an initial consonant but it is easy as a final consonant. The word is king - the Thai word for the spice, ginger.

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



The first consonant is the one that comes between an unaspirated 'b' and an aspirated 'p'. The rest is the same as above except there is a tone mark used in this word. With words that have a vowel written above the initial consonant, the tone mark (if necessary) is written above the vowel.

bping is the Thai verb 'to toast/grill' but it is also used as an adjective as in kanom bpung bping which is the Thai noun for 'toast'.

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



The first consonant is the one that comes between an unaspirated 'b' and an aspirated 'p'. The next is the 'r' sound so this forms the consonant cluster 'bpr'. Above the second consonant of the consonant cluster is mai-hun-aagaat - the 'uh' sound - and the final consonant is bor bai mai which makes a 'p' sound as a final consonant.

bprup can mean to tell, to compare, to contrast, to improve, to better, to upgrade. It's the verb you use in a bank to get your bank book updated.

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



The first consonant is 'kor kwaay', one of the 'k consonants. The next is the 'r' sound so this forms the consonant cluster 'kr'. Above the second consonant of the consonant cluster is mai-hun-aagaat - the 'uh' sound - and the final consonant is bor bai mai which makes a 'p' sound as a final consonant.

krup is the polite particle used by males in Thailand and it is a word that you will hear often.

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



The first consonant is the hard 'g' sound, as in 'gate' not 'gel'. Above this consonant is mai-hun-aagaat - the 'uh' sound - and the final consonant is dor dek which makes a 't' sound as a final consonant.

gut is the Thai verb 'to bite'.

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



The first consonant is the unaspirated 'dt' sound between a 'd' and a 't'. The second consonant is the rolled 'r' sound and these two consonants form a consonant cluster, making a 'dtr' sound. With initial consonant clusters, any vowels written above or below are written above or below the second consonant in the cluster, but the first consonant is used for tone rule purposes. Above the consonant cluster is mai-hun-aagaat - the 'uh' sound - and the final consonant is ngor ngoo which makes a 'ng' sound and is easy for foreigners to pronounce when it is a final consonant.

dtrung is a very attractive province in southern Thailand that doesn't see many foreign tourists. I have been several times and really enjoy it there because it isn't a tourist ghetto. The standard transliteration is Trang.

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

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Important Note

Regarding words and syllables that end with a 'p', 'k' or 't' sound, don't release the final consonant sound fully. Make the right shape with your mouth to release the sound but hold it back and don't let the sound out all the way.

This is difficult to explain but easy to demonstrate. The best way to learn is by listening to native speakers in the flesh or via tapes and CDs. (Author's recommendation: Thais in the flesh are generally much more fun than tapes or CDs.)

You will observe that the Thai verb 'to bite' gut sounds different to the English word 'gut' (as in stomach). With the English word, the final 't' has a lot more emphasis and thus the word almost becomes two syllables as we release the final 't'. This doesn't happen in Thai and the word is very definitely mono-syllabic.

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With just this small amount of knowledge, you should now start to recognise lots of words. Of course, you will also need to have some vocabulary knowledge, otherwise the words you can read won't mean anything.

To get to this stage shouldn't take very long and hopefully the success you have will inspire and encourage you to continue so that you can read even more.

Regarding tones, don't worry too much at this stage. Just concentrate on recognising the Thai consonant or vowel and remembering what sound it makes. Also try to remember the names of the consonants and vowels.

David Smyth says, ".. it is not necessary for the foreigner to know these names in order to be able to read." He is quite correct but if you ask a Thai to help or to spell a word for you, it makes life a lot easier if you know the name of the character rather than saying, "The one that looks like a 'w' with a small loop at the start on the outside."

I could continue but you can see how easy it is. This is what I mean when I say that reading basic Thai is easy. After learning just a few Thai characters you can start to read lots of short words. You just need to remember what the characters look like and what sounds they make. Remember that consonants often change sound depending on whether they come at the beginning or end of a consonant or vowel.

I think the best way to learn is to get comfortable with a basic level and then to gradually start adding more consonants and vowels.

This is how I intend to continue. With each tutorial I will add a few new letters, and combine these with previously learnt letters to make words. I will also try to add some photos of real signs so you can practice reading the different fonts.

It is important though that you learn and remember as we are going along because this method places a lot of importance on previously learnt material. Don't try to skip over stuff without understanding it, as this will cause problems later.

Pretty soon you will have remembered all you need to know. Don't get over confident though because there is a lot more to reading Thai than simple monosyllabic words.

Some of the vowel combinations are tricky and almost impossible to transliterate into English. Some sound like the noise you would utter if you stepped on a fresh, steaming mound of dog poop.

In written Thai there are no spaces between words, there are lots of implied (unwritten) vowels that we haven't covered yet, and as we have seen already the fonts used in the real world do not resemble the fonts as written here. Also, the tone rules are difficult to remember.

Getting to a reasonable level takes time and it takes effort. I've been attempting to teach myself to read Thai since 2004. I constantly attempt to read signs while out and about in Thailand.

It takes time and effort but it is something that is quite achievable for anyone who is motivated enough to learn.

Feedback so far has been positive but I don't receive many e-mails. In the past when I have covered Thai language stuff, those who were interested were very positive but overall there wasn't much interest. It seems that only a tiny minority of readers are interested in learning how to read Thai. That's a shame because nothing improves the experience of being in Thailand more than being able to read Thai.

I think it's because most people regard learning to read Thai to be just too difficult so they never even consider learning. What I am trying to demonstrate here is that reading basic Thai is very easy and well within the capability of almost anyone.

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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


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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