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Thai is an unforgiving language

26/06/2013

Thai is an unforgiving language

In Romanised script, the Thai word mai can mean: mile, new, to burn, silk, or can be the word at an end of a sentence to indicate a question. The meaning depends on how it is pronounced, which tone is used. It broadly sounds like the English word “my” but with different tones or inflections.

This is how the five words are written in Thai script.

ไมล์   ใหม่   ไหม้   ไหม   มั้ย

By understanding the alphabet, it is easier to get the correct pronunciation. Particularly with older people or those who have not leant a foreign language, using a wrong tone may mean they just don’t understand you. Thais appreciate your trying to speak their language and they will help when they can but they sometimes genuinely will not know what you mean if you use a wrong tone.

There are some exceptions but, because it is largely phonetic, the Thai language is easier to learn if you master the alphabet first.

As with the Chinese languages, Cantonese, Mandarin, Shanghai, Fukienese etc; Thai is tonal. There are four tones in Chinese; five, in Thai. Different tone; different meaning.

Some other features of Thai:

Words can be omitted when the meaning is clear from the context. Where are you going? is usually expressed as “go where.” It is an economical language but that does not affect its clarity.

Don’t worry about verb tenses or noun declensions. There is none. Latin has 12 forms for each noun. Most Romance languages have two, singular and plural. Thai has one word whether you are talking of one item or several. It does make the language easier. To indicate a plural you just add a classifier after the noun. It is strange at first but actually quite convenient once you get used to it. “Three dogs” translate as “dog three animals,” Talking of one dog you say either “dog” or “dog one animal.”

Tenses are easy too. There are no different words for present, past, or future. Time is indicated by the context or the addition of a single word to indicate past or future. Verb conjugations won’t worry you.

The main difficulty for the foreigner, the farang, is the tonal system.

If you have no native teacher and you want to learn the language, take a look at Benjawan Becker’s website. There are many media sources you can use to learn Thai; Becker’s is probably the best as it quickly gets you off Romanised transliterations and reading Thai script. Much the best way to learn the language and interact with the people.

http://www.paiboonpublishing.com

Well worth a visit if you want to learn Thai or are travelling to Thailand. Speaking a little of the language will certainly enhance the enjoyment of your stay.

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