Thai Language

Poot pa sah thai dai mai?

Thai language is not easy to master, considering how different it is from many western languages. Firstly, it’a tonal language meaning that it doesn’t just matter what wors you use, but how you say them. There are five tones and each one can give a different meaning to a word.

To make things worse, the Thai alphabet looks nothing like the Latin one. It’s composed of 44 consonants, 18 vowels and 4 diphthongs but memorising those is not enough to read correctly as pronunciation doesn’t always precisely reflect the writing. And then there are often no spaces between words. Luckily in most cities most information is available in English too, the same goes for road signs.

Oh, and a standardised transcription of Thai into English does not exist so for example street names with three slightly different names in English are fairly common

Last but not least, there are the dialects. After a couple of years in Thailand, I can hear a distinctive difference between the way Thai is spoken in the North and in the South, in Bangkok and in Issan. You often ask if I speak Thai – no, I don’t 🙁 I know a bit here and there, I know how to order food in a restaurant, ask for prices in the shop or directions the street but I cannot hold a conversation with a Thai. I never had to – I work in English, my wife is not Thai and after a few months of living here that I can do without Thai. Sure it would come in handy at times but I never found time to acquire this “superpower”.

Luckily for you, the very basics aren’t that hard to master. A few words and sentences spoken in the local language can go a long way in Thailand. Here are a few examples worth remembering:

After each phrase, you should add Kap is you’re a man and Kaa if you’re a woman. 

  • Hello- Sawadee
  • Thank you – Kophun
  • I’m sorry – Kothor
  • Yes- Chai
  • No – Mai
  • Delicious- Aroi
  • Not spicy  – Mai Ped
  • What’s this – Ani Alai?
  • I don’t want – Mai Au
  • Where? – Yunai?
  • No problem – Mai Pen Rai
  • How much is it? – Tao Rai?
  • Expensive!- Peng Mak!
  • Cheap! – Mai Peng
  • Money – Satang
  • I like – Chop
  • I don’t like – Mai chop


1 – Nung, 2 – Song, 3 – Saam, 4 – Sii, 5 – Ha, 6 – Hok, 7- Djet 8 – Pet, 9 – Kao, 10 – Sip. Further numbers are made by using those basic ten, for example 34 – Saam Sip Sii, 14 – Sip Sii. Except for all tens + 1, for example, 11 – Siped, 30 – Saam Siped, 90 – Kao Siped. Further exception – 20-29 – Yisip + nung, song, saam and so forth. 100 – Nung roi. 1000 Nung paan.

Other useful phrases: 

  • No plastic bag – Mai Au Tung
  • I don’t have money – Mai mi satang
  • I’ve had enough (of food) – Eem lew
  • I don’t eat xxxx – Mai keen xxxx
  • English language please: Pasa engrit kap / kaa
  • I don’t speak Thai – Poot pasa thai mai dai

The good news is that Google Translate works great in Thailand, it can even “read” Thai script and translate signs, menus etc.