Even if you only plan to travel to Thailand instead of living there, learning a bit of the language is going to help you immensely. Unlike certain countries in Asia where a foreigner is always an outsider, if you learn to speak the language in Thailand, people will treat you like one of them. Thais also know how difficult their language is, so even if you just speak a little, they’ll appreciate it and look at you as more than a regular tourist. Here are some tips for travelers to Thailand who want to pick up a bit of the language.
Ahn-nee Arai: This is one of the most helpful phrases for learning Thai. It means ‘what is this?’ Walking around and pointing at everything you see and saying ‘ahn-nee arai’ is going to help you expand your vocabulary very quickly.
Local Markets: This is one of the best places to learn language just because you’ll encounter so many things in every day life that you’ll want to know the word for from food and clothing to business transactions and random small talk. Since a big part of learning a language is learning the culture, markets are also a great place to see how every day life is lived in Thailand.
Forget The Tones, Mimic Instead: Most people get intimidated by learning Thai because of it’s a tonal language. This is the last thing you should be worrying about while learning Thai. Thais don’t even have a word for tone in their language and actually base them on how things are spelled. If you over think tones, you’re bound to mess them up. Instead, mimic locals and just speak the words how they do. If you decide to learn to read and write, you’ll learn a better way to discern how to pronounce words using the proper tones.
Learn Standard Thai: Before jumping into the dialects like Phassa Neua, the language of Northern Thailand, learn to speak standard Thai. This is beneficial for travelers to Thailand because just about everyone in the country can speak it. It’s the standard language taught in schools. Also, it’s easier to learn specific dialects after building a base in the standard language.
Use Khrap/Kha: Unless you are very familiar with a person, use khrap and kha and the end of your sentences frequently. It’s considered a polite inflection and people will appreciate your courtesy in interactions.
Get A Good Thai Language Dictionary: Most people buy the Lonely Planet Thai language phrasebook. It is our opinion that this book isn’t very helpful or accurate. We recommend the Thai to English dictionary by Benjawin Poomsan, which is available on Amazon and at most bookstores in Thailand. Write down 5 or 10 new words a day and find specific situations to use them to expand your vocabulary.
Mess Up and Play Around: Don’t worry about speaking the language incorrectly. People will correct you and help you learn. Also, get creative and play around with the language. Try different combinations of words and sentences and ask people if what you are saying makes sense. The best way to learn a language is to experiment with it.
Sink or Swim Situations: Go to places off the path where English isn’t normally spoken. Put yourself in situations where your only way to get things done is by speaking Thai. By doing this, you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in the language and culture a lot faster. If you spend all your time in tourist areas where people will speak English the second they see you struggling with Thai, you’re skills won’t develop past a very remedial level.
Interested in learning Thai? Checkout the World Word Exchange here!