The Thai language is not very difficult to learn as everyday conversation uses very few conjunctions unlike the English language. It is a very tonal language and getting your tongue around some of the words may prove to be challenging as I had come to learn. Many words have more than one meaning when pronounced incorrectly.
After each sentence however you would add the word ‘Khrub’ if you are a male and “Ka” if you are a female. Some of the most commonly used words/phrases that you would use are:
Hello (sa-wat dee)
Without a doubt the most commonly used word. If you are a male you would say, “Sa-wat-dee + Khrub”.
Thank you (khob-koon)
Again as before you would always add the ‘khrub’ at the end of the sentence. So would you say, “kob-koon + khrub”. It does however sound more like ‘Cup-Koon-Cup’.
Over the past few years I have learned that Thai’s do not pronounce “R” very well and this more often than not becomes an “L” when they pronounce the word.If your name is “Russel” more often than not you will be called “Lussel” until such time that they get used to using the “R” in your name. I have however noted oddly though that when Thai’s came from the Southern Provinces they always pronounced the “R” but those from the Eastern and Northern provinces did not. When ever I visited a friend who lived out in Rom Klao a smaller town outside of Minburi whenever I told the taxi driver Rom Klao and he understood I knew he was from the Southern Provinces. It is a strange conclusion to draw however that is what I have come to experience.The word ‘Khrub’ is also most times pronounced as ‘Cup’
Some more common words/phrases:
Never Mind – (Mai Pen Rai) or (Mai Pen Lie)
Very useful phrases for the taxis who don’t want to use the meter and I wave then away – Mai Pen Rai Cup.
Delicious – (A-Roi)
Also commonly used as they always ask you in the restaurant how the food tastes.
How much – (Tow-Rai)
Tow being pronounced as the first syllables of Tow and Rai.
Sorry – (Khor-Toat)
Saying sorry is also a good word to learn. It does however sound more like ‘Co-Taught’
Some of the other words that you might need revolves around transport and eating. I always figured that as long as I could explain where I wanted to go and what I wanted to eat – that was my need met. Here of some of what I like to refer to Taxi Thai.
Go - Pai
Stop - Jort
Turn Right – Leo Qua
Turn Left – Leo Sai
Go Straight – Tong Pai
U-Turn – Pai U-turn (go u-turn)
Don’t want – May Ow
There – Noon
In – Nai
On – Bon
Market – Talaat
Thai is spoken a bit different as the subject and predicate is not always where you would expect them as in the English language. As an example you want to go to the market in Minburi and you want him to stop at the 7-11.So you would say:
Pai Talaat Miniburi Cup. (Go Market Minburi)
In English you would have said ‘I want to go to the market in Minburi.’ As stated early Thai’s tend to shorten the sentences and even though they would understand you saying Pom (I)Tonkaan (want) to go to (Pai) Market (talaat) Minburi. The shortened version is more acceptable and more commonly used.
Jort Nai 7 Cup (Stop in 7-11)
In English it would be stopping at the 7-11 however in Thai they use in. Nobody talks about the 7-11 as everyone uses the shortened version of 7.
Many Thai words also sound like an English word so by drawing an association with it – learning Thai on your own is not that difficult. Over the years I have met Westerners who had mastered the Thai language and some have even mastered the Thai writing script. I do recall the Brit who spoke fluent Thai and released a book on some of the most commonly used Thai words used during conversation. Amazing enough he was self taught and spoke Thai very well by learning from a computer program called The Rosetta Stone.
If you are going to retire in Thailand. It would help you greatly if you could at the very least understand some very basic Thai to get around and to eat what you wanted. Many people retire in places such as Phuket and Bangkok or even Pattaya. When you retire in one of these cities, you don’t need to learn much Thai as English is spoken and widely understood. Opening up accounts for utilities and the likes might however be another task!
Some retire in the Northern provinces of Thailand where English is minimal. You might not even hear English the entire week other than from your wife or friends. If you do decide to retire in Issaan or the other provinces, learning more than basic Thai will serve you well.