Thailand | Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 8

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taay roop - digital photography

taay roop - digital photography


Learn To Read Thai - Tutorial 8

Learning Style

Are you a passive or an active learner? A passive learner will just read what I write and although he will probably understand everything at the time, he won't remember. He will remember basic consonant shapes but won't remember which side the little loop is written on. He will remember basic vowel shapes but won't remember if a particular vowel is long or short.

Many Thai characters have a similar shape but have a completely different sound so just being able to remember vaguely isn't good enough.

Most of the Thai students to whom I have taught English have been passive learners. During lessons everything is understood and there are no problems, but by the next lesson they have forgotten everything. If we just look and listen without taking any positive action, nothing gets committed to our long term memory.

As I have gone through these tutorials I have given you information about individual Thai consonants and vowels but if you don't write anything down, you won't remember.

If you live in Thailand, I suggested a couple of very useful resources in the first tutorial. If you buy some wall charts (link opens pop-up image) for Thai consonants and vowels, you can add the information to your wall chart. If you do this you will learn actively, the information will be highly visible, and you will remember.

Another excellent resource are kids' books (link opens pop-up image) where you can join the dots to practice writing Thai characters. This activity requires you to be active and as a result you will remember the Thai characters.

If you live outside of Thailand and can't obtain these resources easily, just write everything down in a notebook. If you write things down you will remember; if you don't, you won't.

Don't be a passive learner otherwise you won't remember anything.

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We have covered 11 consonants and six vowels so far. That's not many and already we can read lots of Thai words from that limited character set.

The Thai language doesn't use spaces between words in sentences and seeing a very long string of characters can be intimidating, but once you start to understand the writing structure you can then start to separate the words.

In any case, the objective of these tutorials is only to teach people to read signs and menus which mainly consist of single words or very short phrases.

In the last tutorial I covered a long 'aay' sound. The vowel sound 'ai' is important in Thai so today I will take a look at other 'ai' sounds, and I will also cover three more important consonants.

Name in Thai: น หนู

Name in English: Nor Noo (mouse/rat)
Initial: n
Final: n
Class: Low
Usage: Very common
Comments: This is another very commonly used character that must be remembered.

Name in Thai: ม ม้า

Name in English: Mor Maa (horse)
Initial: m
Final: m
Class: Low
Usage: Very common
Comments: You will see that this character is similar to the one above but that the loop at the bottom is on the opposite side. It is another very commonly used letter.

Name in Thai: ล ลิง

Name in English: Lor Ling (monkey)
Initial: l
Final: n
Class: Low
Usage: Very common
Comments: Another very commonly used consonant. The two consonants above (nor noo and mor maa) retain the same sound when used either as an initial or final consonant but this one changes from an 'l' when used as an initial consonant to an 'n' when used as a final consonant.

Before I could read Thai I went to Bangkok and asked a taxi driver to take me to the Oriental hotel but he didn't know where it was. I couldn't understand why a Bangkok taxi driver didn't know where Bangkok's most famous hotel was.

Once you start to understand written Thai it will explain a lot about the bad Thai pronunciation of English words and it will help you to communicate with Thais. If you wondered why Thais say 'Orientan' instead of 'Oriental' and 'Centran' instead of 'Central' it's because of lor ling.

Now on to some 'ai' vowels.

This one, called ai mai-muh-laay, is the most commonly used short 'ai' vowel. It is written before the consonant.


This one, called ai mai-muan, as well as looking somewhat similar to ai mai-muh-laay, has exactly the same function as ai mai-muh-laay. It is also written before the consonant and sounds exactly the same. However, whereas ai mai-muh-laay is commonly used, ai mai-muan is only used in about 20 words.



Two vowels we have covered already - when used in a vowel combination (here in conjunction with the zero consonant) - also make an 'ai' sound. It's not used very often but it does come up and is worth being aware of.

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Reading Practice


The first character is ai mai-muan which makes an 'ai' sound but it is written before the initial consonant or consonant cluster. This word uses a consonant cluster. The first consonant in the cluster is the hard 'g' sound and the second is a consonant we learnt today, lor ling which makes an 'l' sound.

The Thai word glai means 'near'. The tone of this word is very important for reasons that will soon become apparent.

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



The first character is ai mai-muh-laay which sounds the same as ai mai-muan. The same consonant cluster as the word above is used in this word but there is no tone mark.

The Thai word glai means 'far'!! The Thai words for 'near' and 'far' were specially created to confuse foreigners learning Thai.

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



The first character is ai mai-muh-laay again and written after it is the consonant that comes between an unaspirated 'b' and an aspirated 'p'. The Thai word bpai means 'go' (or 'went' or 'gone' as there are no verb conjugations in Thai).

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



This time the same vowel is used with dor dek, the 'd' sound. The Thai word dai means 'can'.

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



The first character is nor noo followed by the long 'aa' and the final consonant is 'ng'. These are all letters that I have covered previously. The Thai word naang is like the English word 'Mrs' - the term of address for a married woman.

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



This is a two syllable word.

The first character is the 'n' consonant and you should have spotted the 'um' vowel with the second tone mark above it. As I mentioned in the previous tutorial, this word meaning water, liquid or fluid (it prefixes many Thai words) is pronounced with a naam sound and not a num sound, as you might expect.

The second syllable begins with the 'dt' consonant, is followed by the long 'aa' vowel and ends with lor ling. The Thai consonant lor ling has an 'n' sound when used as a final consonant. Therefore this syllable is pronounced dtaan.

The Thai word naam-dtaan means sugar.

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

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



This is actually two words. The first word starts with a 'k' sound; is followed by a long 'aa', and ends with a 'y'. We get kaay which is the Thai verb to sell.

The second word begins with yor yuk and is followed by the long 'aa' vowel. The Thai word yaa means drugs, or medicine.

This sign is outside a shop that sells medicine. You see these signs the length and breadth of Thailand outside pharmacies.

If you click here (link opens pop-up image) you can see a real example.

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

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

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With the Thai characters we have already covered (and there aren't many) we can start to read hundreds of Thai words. Now that we know 'm', 'n', 'l' and 'ai' sounds this opens the door to many more Thai words.

However, first we need an extra character that is often used just for tone rule purposes before we can continue. In the next tutorial I will cover this letter and give you some more reading practice.

With the reading practice I will only use characters that have already been covered. You should therefore know them and you should be able to read the words quite easily. If you can't, then you aren't following what I am teaching - or you can't remember.

This could be because you are trying to learn passively when you need to be learning actively. See my comments at the top of the page.

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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

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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