Chapter 1: Learning Thai from the Get-Go

Learn to speak Thai

Sawasdee Ka… welcome to the first chapter of our Thai crash course on — the complete source of learning Thai and Thai culture in a cheerful fun-filled way. Whether you’re a western guy seeking a Thai woman, an expat relocating to Thailand, or a tourist visiting Bangkok for the first time, if you’re thinking about learning Thai, you’ve come to the right place! We promise to guide you through a series of instructive lessons that will help you learn Thai ways and language quickly and unwind the questions you might have about the mysterious unexplainable behaviors of your Thai colleagues, neighbors or even your girlfriend. Put it simply, we will help you to overcome the language and cultural barriers you encounter in day-to-day life, improve your dating skills and enhance your experience of staying in Thailand with more efficient communication.

In the introduction, you’ve learned about Thailand’s social landscape and some common phrases that Thais use. But to be able to speak Thai or truly communicate with Thais, you need to know more than Sawasdee Krab and Sawasdee Ka. Instead of telling you to memorize all the alphabets and vowels from the beginning, I’d like to take you to the more advanced step — Constructing Sentences.

Now, you might be thinking why I am so cruel to you. No, I am not — I’m just cruel to be kind. It is true that knowing some common phrases like Khob-khun krab, Khor-tod or Mai-pen-rai would be very useful to your everyday situations, but being able to construct some simple sentences will enable you to communicate what you really have in mind, expand your conversation topics and enrich your narration ability. But to acquire these capabilities, you need to learn the G-R-A-M-M-A-R.

Yeah… I know, this sounds boring but believe me, memorizing some basic grammar is worthwhile because it is the core of learning every language and it can help you to improve your language skills very quickly. But before we get to that point, let’s warm up a bit with some vocabulary you’re going to see in this chapter.

Chapter 1: Vocabulary

Khon Thai (n.): This compound noun is composed of two words. “Khon” means the human being, people or individual person. “Thai” means… well, you know what it means. It’s used to call everything in relation to Thailand or Thai people. Anyway, its original meaning is freedom.

Phoo-chai (n.): A noun meaning man or men. It could be both singular or plural depending on its context. Not like in English that “s” or “es” is generally used to pluralize a noun, Thais add classifiers or numerical designators before and after the noun to pluralize it. For example, Puak phoo-chai means a group of men or Phoo-chai song khon means two men.

Phoo-ying (n.): Similar to the above but the noun means woman or women.

Ma andPai (v.): Probably the most often used verbs in both Thai and English meaning come and go. As Thai is a tonal language, if you pronounce the word “Ma” in a higher tone, it will be a dog.

Gin (v.): Another verb that Thais use a lot. You will see Thais do this activity all day. It means to eat.

Rean (v.): This is the most important verb you need to know in this chapter. “Rean” means to learn or to study. If you want to say you’re learning Thai you can say Phom or chan rean pa-sa-thai.“Phom” and “Chan” means I or me — the first only used by male speakers, the second mainly used by the female.

Khao (n.): This word could mean rice, white, he or him, and many others depending on its pronunciation tone and vowel.

See (n.): When you describe a color you can say “See” followed by a color adjective, for example, See-khao means white color, See-fah means blue color, etc.

Now, all beginners, if you’re ready… meet the very basic Thai grammar you need to know to construct sentences. Here we go! 

1. Sentence Structure

Thai grammar has the same basic structure as several other languages — that is Subj. + V. + Obj. which makes it easy to remember. Once you have accumulated a number of vocabularies, you will be able to create various sentences. It is true that when speaking it out, your accent won’t sound like a Thai (and it never will be) but who cares? The listeners are all impressed with your trying to speak Thai and better than that, you’ve made it understandable, thanks to the Thai grammar you’re going to learn. Let’s see the following examples.

English Thai
Dang goes to school. Dang + pai + rong-rean
Thais eat rice. Khon-Thai + gin + khao
He bought a car. Khao + sue + rod
You learn Thai Khun + rean + pa-sa-Thai

These are simple sentences you’ll be able to create if you know some words and grammar. Basically, they are composed of two nouns and a verb (or one noun and one verb if you don’t need the object noun). You can string more complex sentence using the adjectives you’re going to learn but no matter how long or complicated it is, it’s still based on this basic structure “Subj. + V. + Obj.”. Yes, as easy as that!

2. Adjective

“I wear a red shirt today” in Thai, you would say “I wear shirt red today”. it would always be “N. + Adj.”

Let’s see another example — “The Japanese guy is riding the white bicycle”. Again you would say “The guy Japanese is riding the bicycle white”. You can see that it is not “Japanese guy” and “bicycle white” but “guy Japanese” and “bicycle white”. See? the order is switched. So, whenever you come up with the compound noun, just swap the order by placing the adjective after the noun. Remember that it is “coffee hot” not “hot coffee” and “tea iced” not “iced tea”.

It might be confusing in the beginning but after some practice, you will be able to swap the order automatically. Now, get to know some adjectives vocabulary starting from these beautiful colors. Each “See” is an adjective modifying the predecessor noun.

English Thai
Blue sky Tong-fah + see-fah
Red bike Jak-kra-yan + see-daeng
White shirt Suea + see-khao
Green leaf Bai-mai + see-khiao
Pink flower Dok-mai + see-chom-poo
Brown eyes Ta + see nam-tarn
Yellow light Fai + see-lueang
Black bird Nok + see-dum

Other frequently used adjectives are included in the table below. You can see that all examples in the right column are N. + Adj.

English Thai
Beautiful girl Sao + suay
Big man Phoo-chai + tua-yai
Small shop Ran + lek-lek
Tall building Tuek + sung
Long hair Phom + yao
Short hair Phom + san
Wide road Tanon + kwang
Narrow ally Soi + khaeb
Hot weather Arkard + ron
Cold weather Arkard + yen
Good person Khon + dee
Bad person Khon + leo
Old man / Old woman Phoo-chai + kae / Phoo-ying + kae
Young boy / Young woman Phoo-chai + noom / Phoo-ying + sao
Spicy food Arharn + phed
New car Rod + mai
Old town Mueang + kao
Expensive price Rakha + paeng
Cheap price Rakha + thuk

See? very easy. Just swap the order and you get the way the Thais speak. For the more complicated structure like “The guy Japanese is riding the bicycle white”, you have to recall this formula “Subj. + V. + Obj.” No matter how messy it seems, you’ll survive if you hold on to this structure and swap! Here are more examples.

English Structure Thai Structure
The Japanese guy + is riding + the white bicycle The guy Japanese + is riding + the bicycle white
The rich guy + has + many expensive cars The guy rich + has + car expensive many
That beautiful girl + is carrying + pink flower That girl beautiful + is carrying + flower pink
The aggressive dog + bit + the foreigner guest The dog aggressive + bit + the guest foreigner
The naughty boy + has broken + his mother’s invaluable vase The boy naughty + has broken + vase invaluable his mother’s

4. Personal Pronouns

Regardless of what language you’re speaking, by no means you can communicate efficiently if you don’t know any pronouns. Imagine you don’t know who gets what from who or give what to whom — that would be very confusing. Regarding this, Thai has many pronouns to use. But slightly easier than the English language, our subject pronouns and object pronouns are the same.

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns Thai Personal Pronouns
I Me Phom (only used by men) Chan (mainly used by women) Dichan (only used by women) Rao (rarely used)
He Him Khao
She Her Tuer, Khao
It It Man
You You Khun or Puak-khun, Kae
We Us Rao or Puak-rao
They Them Puak-khao

From the table, you can see that Thai personal pronouns are divided into male and female, singular and plural just like in English. “Khao” can be used interchangeably between he and she while “Tuer” is used for she only. “Kae” (you) is mostly used by women but sometimes can be used among male close friends too. But if you see boys calling each other Kae, chances are that they’re gay boys.

Regarding the I, “Dichan” is official language seldom used at official occasions.“Chan” is polite and more common for everyday use while “Phom”, reserved only for men, is proper for all occasions.

“Rao” (I, we) can be both singular and plural whereas “Khun” (you) tends to be singular. But if you add “Puak” in front of both words — “Puak-khun” and “Puak-rao” will definitely be plural.

All right, I know that now words and rules are making your head spin. To make it bearable for the beginners, I’ll give you some tips. At this stage, what you have to remember is only two words — “Phom” or “Chan” for the first person or yourself, and “Khun” for the second person or the other one you’re speaking with. These three words are commonly used and polite enough for every occasion. Here below are some examples showing how to use subject pronouns and object pronouns in sentences.

English Thai
I sent email to her Phom song email tueng tuer
She is talking to him Tuer kui kab khao
He works with me Khao tam-ngan kab phom / chan
She teaches us Tuer sorn rao / puak-rao
I called you yesterday Phom trow ha khun muea-wan-nee
We will see them tomorrow Rao ja phob puak-khao prung-nee
They like you Puak-khao chob khun

4. Verb

Still, you won’t be able to construct a sentence without a verb. The secret of using the verb is there is NO SECRET. What you have to do is to remember the vocabulary. That’s because Thai doesn’t have verb conjugation like English. So, no matter the situation already happened in the past or will happen in the future, you don’t have to change the verbs form. Instead, you use the words such as “Ja” (will) and “Laeo” (already) to indicate the time. I hope that by knowing this truth, you will be more patient and read this article until the end. Here are the most common verbs you should get to know.

English Thai
Go Pai
Come Ma
Bring Nam
Take Oa
Get Dai, Oa
Has, Have Mee
See Hen
Look, Watch Du
Say, Speak Phood
Talk Phood, Kui
Listen Fung
Hear Dai-yin
Smell Dai-klin
Walk Dern
Run Wing
Eat Kin
Work Tam-ngarn
Like Chob
Love Rak

Now, I believe that you’ve learned a lot and should be able to string a few sentences by yourself. Try weaving the verbs, the adjectives, and the personal pronouns together, choose some nouns from the dictionary, and then you get different sentences. Always keep in mind the very first grammatical structure you’ve learned from the beginning— the Subj. + V. + Obj. Start from that and try to extend your simple sentences a bit with one or two adjectives. Here we go!

Thai English
Phom chob khun I like you
Khon Thai kin khao Thais eat rice
Rao dai-yin khun We hear you
Khao dai-klin dok-mai He smells flowers
Tuer pai tam-ngarn She goes to work
Puak-khao rak maeo They love cat
Chan mee pak-ka I have a pen
Puak-khao fung rao They listen to us
Tom du TV Tom is watching TV
Chao-nai phood kab khao The boss speaks to him

Adding more adjectives for more complicated results.

Subject (n. + adj.) Verb Object (n. + adj.)
English The Japanese guy rides the white bicycle
Thai The guy Japanese rides the bicycle white
Phoo-chai yee-pun khee jak-kra-yan see-khao
English Thai people eat hom-ma-li rice
Thai People Thai eat rice hom-ma-li
Khon Thai gin khao hom-ma-li

You must’ve been exhausted with this intensive lesson so far. Tonight, you will lie down in your bed with all these new vocabularies whirling in your head. But instead of grabbing some aspirin and swallowing it, try practicing what you’ve learned a bit every day. And before giving it up, please remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither does your language skills.

Now I have nothing to say but “Su Su!”. Keep fighting and see you again in the next chapter.

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