In Thailand, especially in tourist areas you don’t necessarily need to know any Thai. However, to lots of foreigners who plan to stay longer in Thailand, learning to speak in Thai is quite useful, when the subject of conversation goes beyond the usual daily things like ordering Pad-Thai. Several reasons to learn reading Thai.
Foreigners mostly learn Thai vocabulary and pronounciation (more or less) through friends, neighbours or their Thai girlfriends. Words for daily things that are used for introduction and daily interactions are learned quickly. However, the writing and reading part is often neglected, as it can be a tough challenge to memorize more than 60 letters that look quite similar to each other. On top of that, the fact that there are 5 tones and several different letters that seemingly sound like a “k” to non-Thais, which can be confusing.
Why Foreigners in Thailand should learn the Thai Alphabet
The learning curve is steep, there are many rule exceptions and the script is totally unnknown to Western people. So, if learning the Thai alphabet is that much of an effort, why should Foreigners living in Thailand learn the Thai Alphabet in the first place?
Taking a public bus will be less of a headache
While using Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain and MRT is no big deal for foreigners (signs, directions and maps are well exolained in English), taking a bus is a completely different story. On most buses, the final destination and important stops are written only in Thai. Furthermore, Google Map’s information on the bus lines, routes and schedule is inaccurate. Thus, the only way to get accurate information is to ask local bystanders. If locals don’t speak English well, directions can be miscommunicated and misunderstood, such that someone might end up at a completely wrong area.
To many foreigners, this is too inconvenient, too stressful and some also shy away from asking locals every time they want to take a bus. Thus, almost no foreigner can be seen in a public bus. However, a bus is the cheapest form of public transportation in Bangkok. Locals seem to be perfectly fine taking a bus. So why not be part of it?
Being able to read even junks of Thai names will be immensely helpful. For example when having a rough idea what direction you are heading to, but you are still not certain. Being able to read the names of the bus stops (even partly), you will know whether you are driving to the right direction or not. This will give one more confidence. Driving by bus will be less of an unknown variable, as one will not have to rely only on the information regarding directions from a local.
You will be able to read the actual price locals pay
Wherever one wants to buy something, use a service or enter an attraction, he/she intuitively checks the price first. This is rational behaviour, as nobody wants to encounter an unpleasant surprise afterwards. What a foreigner looks at first is information about pricing written in English using numbers that are known to foreigners.
What many don’t know however, is the fact that in some establishments, there is a different pricing for foreigners and Thais. Thais pay less for certain services and places. This can be the boat from Krabi to Koh Phi Phi or the entrance fee to a national park. Of course, this is not a fair treatment and many would be upset if only they could read in Thai language. The price for locals is written only in Thai, such that foreigners who can’t read Thai won’t feel “discriminated against”.
Being able to read Thai and knowing about the actual (lower) price locals pay, certainly won’t change the pricing for you. However, you will be aware in case you are required pay more than the regular place. Thus, you might reconsider if you really want to accept this unfair treatment or refuse it. With more and more people refusing, one day those in charge might realize that it is not okay and hopefully change this practice.
Finding directions will be much easier
Although most street signs and boards are written both in Thai and in latin alphabet, there are still many street names, bus stops, shop names and businesses that are only written in Thai letters. Even google maps displays names of BTS Skytrain stations only in Thai. Only if you zoom in, click on the details of that very location, the name might apprear in latin alphabet. This is quite inconvenient, especially when you are in a hurry and don’t want to bother with searching.
Furthermore, Thai names, when translated into latin alphabet, can be written in multiple ways. For instance the name ทองหล่อ is a unique name in Thai. But it can be written as Thonglor, Thong Lo or Thonglo when using latin alphabet. This list could be continued with many more examples. It can be quite confusing, as each version can be interpeted as a different location. Knowing to read Thai would simply spare you from this confusion for you would know the original name of a certain place which does not have different interpretations in Thai language.
Impressing Thai Girls in Online Dating Sites
If you happened to spend some time in the world of online dating in Thailand, you probably have encountered a common problem of foreigners. Language problems. She is cute, pretty, but speaks hardly any English. When trying an in-depth conversation, you might find yourself in a dead end. However, if you know some Thai pick up lines or even words and are able to write them using Thai alphabet, you can be sure that she will be amazed. Not only will it ease to flow of the conversation, but also it will show her that you are putting effort in talking to her and trying to learn more about this country. Of course, you can use google translate instead of the long learning process. But beware that lines translated by google often are incoherent and make no sense.
Chosing and Buying Thai Streetfood
One of the many things Bangkok is well known for is the large variety of delicious street food. It can be found everywhere. Nevertheless, most menus, labels and boards that display the dishes are written in Thai. In order to find out what a particular food vendor is selling, you will have to approach and ask or gesticulate what he is selling in the first place.
This hurdle is inconvenient, compared to being able to see and read what dish is being offered by that vendor from a distance without even having to interact. Often I learned about a dish that I like at street food booths near my place through my local friends. It never caught my attention even though I passed it on a daily basis. If I had been able to read in Thai earlier, I would definitely have given a try long ago.
Knowing what your Girl is texting with others
Have you ever been on a date and your girl kept texting with someone and you asked yourself who she is texting with, and what are they talking about? In case you can’t read Thai, you probably will never find out. However, given that you can read Thai, you can try take a peek over her screen (of course without her noticing, as you are a gentleman) and put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out about the “Who and What”.
I am not encouraging anyone to spy on his girl or to check on her. We should respect other’s privacy. However, let’s be honest. We are human and we want to know what is happening around us. Knowing roughly what and why she is texting with others while she is with you could satisfy our curiousity.
So let’s start with a few facts about Thai language and the Thai Alphabet:
Thai alphabet is used to write the Thai, Southern Thai and other languages in Thailand. It has 44 consonant letters, 15 vowel symbols that combine into at least 28 vowel forms, and four tone diacritics [Wikipedia]. Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones. The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonant, the type of syllable (open or closed), the tone marker and the length of the vowel.
Consonants are divided into three classes: middle, high and low, which help to determine the tone of a syllable. The sounds represented by some consonants change when they are used at the end of a syllable (indicated by the letters on the right of the slash below). Some consonants can only be used at the beginning of a syllable.
There are 32 vowels in the Thai alphabet, but only 30 are in use. Vowels are split into three groups: singular (18 vowels), compound (6) consonant-like (8). Vowels are pronounced either long or short.
Numbers in Thai Language
Many haven’t even known it, but even numbers are written different in Thai language. Knowing how write and read them will help you to know the price of items without having to ask the vendor.