Why learn Thai?

Well, actually, you don’t need to learn Thai at all!

There are enough people who can speak or understand English – even (or especially) in business – that you can get by and live quite successfully in Thailand… for many years. Some expats have been here for 10 or 15 years and own or manage successful businesses, without speaking more than a smattering of Thai.

Besides, Thai is quite difficult and boring to learn – that is, if you go to a ‘traditional’ class or try to learn it the way it is conventionally taught.

Expats - Speaking Thai (not!) in Thailand

Thai is difficult to learn. Or is it?

The main trouble is that learning Thai is super boring and fiendishly difficult…!

Learning any language usually requires hundreds of hours of investment in time and effort. There are better things to do in life! Learning an obscure language like Thai isn’t one of them.

So why bother to learn Thai?

Nevertheless, there are subtle but significant advantages to being conversant and literate in Thai. The first quite simply is feeling confident about going out anywhere in Thailand without ever being afraid of getting lost!

The other is that you start to notice and understand and appreciate a ‘parallel world’ that is real Thailand – and you can start interacting with Thai people in a more personal way.

Is there an easier way?

An American in Phuket

Well, not just Americans and not just Phuket – any ‘farang’ in Thailand has to decide whether to bother learning Thai or just get by with English-speaking Thai people instead.

Here’s an extract from an article in the Phuket Post, to learn Thai or not to learn, that is the question:

We all know what life is like for a farang… Pretty damn good if we are to be truly honest. Sure, there is the odd bit of stereotyping and discrimination involved in being white in Phuket, I mean we’re all not here as sex tourists or here to exploit a cheaper workforce in order to profit ourselves are we? Some of us are here because we enjoy the lifestyle, the beaches and the food. Some of us take steps to become integrated into Thai society. Don’t we? Don’t you?

Even if you don’t then you’re still unlikely to experience many problems. You can re-create your little Western existence in Thailand without having to even acknowledge you are in a foreign country or even a foreigner.

There are only five words that use the อ sex-change doctor, all of them starting with ย.

อยุด stop   "dead boy" - sad tone
อยาก to want (to do something)   "dead boy" - sad tone
อยู to live/reside, to be at (a place); to be happening continuously (-ing)   "singing boy" - boring, no tone
อย่า don't   "dagger on boy" - sad tone


type, kind, sort, a quality of an object or person; as, like, in the way of... (changing an adjective to adverb as in -ly)

  "dagger on boy" - sad tone
อย่างไร how; whichever    

Get to know them because then for all other words spelled using อ, it can only either be:

  • a silent consonant "placeholder" for any vowel that is attached to it
  • the "awe" vowel if attached to the right side of any consonant.

The only time where there may be a potential ambiguity is when no vowel is written, as in:

อก chest invisibe "o" vowel: "ok"
อบ bake; to scent/perfume invisibe "o" vowel: "ob"
อด to go without, miss, refrain invisible "o" vowel "od"
อม hide; embezzle/cheat; suck in mouth invisible "o" vowel: "om"
องค์ organ, body part invisible "o" vowel: "ong"
องุ่น grape spacer "a" vowel: "a-ngun"
อโศก Asok spacer "a" vowel "a-soahk
อธิบาย to explain spacer "a" vowel:  "a-tibaai"

In general, except for the top five 2-letter words, which are single-syllable words, if you see อ as the first letter of a multi-syllable word and no vowel written then it is most likely to be the spacer "a" vowel.