Oh, Thai – Why, oh, Why?

Intimidating is a great descriptor of the Thai language. Over the years, pronunciation, reading, and writing have thrown more than a  few learners of Thai. And here we find ourselves with 3 months of speaking lessons and 1 month of reading and writing lessons under our belts. It’s coming along and we’re doing our best to keep a good sense of humour about it all.

This is the Thai alphabet. You’re looking at consonants, vowels, and tone marks.

Thai is a tonal language. There are 5 tones. We want you to meet them. Just like how we were taught, we’ll use phonetic tone marks to demonstrate, but these are not the real symbols used in Thai:

  1. Rising Tone – go low and then go high
  2. Falling Tone – go high and then go low
  3. Mid Tone – keep that voice level
  4. Low Tone – voice goes deep
  5. High Tone – a little falsetto in your life







Now, as native speakers of a non-tonal language, we felt the temptation to believe that tones don’t matter. Our advice on that: grab that thought right now and kick it to the curb. TONES MATTER! Often the difference between words comes not in spelling, but in pronunciation. Which tone and how long you hold the vowel sound can completely change what you are saying. Again, we’ll demonstrate using phonetics (though the Thai alphabet does make it clearer):







Oh, the ways we could make some unintended comments!

Thais have been very encouraging of our efforts to communicate in Thai. Interestingly, nationals often tell us to only learn how to speak, but not how to read and write. The rules for reading and writing are certainly more involved than those for speaking (brain stretching at times), and perhaps the Thais are taking pity on us! Whatever the case may be, we want to learn to communicate in all forms and we’re feeling like this is something doable!


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