Thai Phrases for Beginners

Sukhothai Historical ParkAre you getting ready to travel to Thailand?  If so, you can make your life much easier by learning the basics of conversational Thai. It  may not be as difficult as you think. As you learn Thai phrases, you will notice that the same word appears to have many different meanings. This is because Thai is a tonal language, which means that pitch is a main part of the speech. Technically speaking, pitch is “the quality of a sound governed by the rate of vibrations producing it; the degree of highness or lowness of a tone.” In Thai, there are five tones: low, mid, high, falling and rising. So, several words look the same, but they have different meanings based on the tone. As you learn to speak Thai, don’t worry about getting your tone just right. The Thai people are accustomed to foreigners doing tonal damage to their words and can usually figure out what you are trying to say.

Many people who travel to Thailand make a stop in Vietnam before they leave. If you want to do that, you may want to take a quick course in conversational Vietnamese.

The Thai language is a member of the Tai-Kadai (also known as the Kam-Tai or Kadai) language family.   It is thought to have originated somewhere between North Vietnam and southeastern China. About 2000 years ago, the speakers of the original Thai language migrated south into Southeastern Asia, a land which extends from Thailand to Los.  This Tai-Kadai family of languages includes about 76 languages, spoken by an estimated 85 million people, most of whom live in Thailand.

Thai Grammar

Unlike many other languages, Thai grammar is based on simple word order:  subject-verb-object. You do not have to worry about conjugating nouns and verbs. There are also no plurals or grammatical gender. To indicate past tense, future tense, negation, and such, the Thai language uses particles and other grammatical markers.

Polite particles krap or ka are added at the end of sentences to make them sound more polite; men use krap and women use ka.  You can also use either of these words to answer “yes” to a question or to show your agreement.

The pronoun I is also gender specific. Women refer to themselves as chan and men as pom.  You can use chan or pom to refer to yourself as I or me.

Basic Thai Phrases:  Greetings and Introductions

If you are traveling around Thailand, especially, in the smaller villages, you can expect to be noticed. It is considered polite to smile and nod your head to any villagers you pass. A simple greeting of sa·wa·dee [krap / ka] is nice to say. Another common greeting you will hear is pai nai, which translates into “where are you going?”  It is not that they really care where you are actually going, but rather it is just another way of greeting someone. You can either give an answer or nod and smile. In general, it is considered impolite to stare or eye contact for too long.

Foreigner                                      farang

You might hear someone calling out farang as you walk through the village. Don’t be alarmed. Just smile and say

hello                                               sa·wa·dee [krap / ka]

Common Phrases and Greetings

Hello, good morning, goodby    sa·wa·dee [krap / ka]

How are you?                               sa·bai·dee mai [krap / ka]

I’m fine thanks                             sa·bai·dee

I’m not so good                            mai·sa·bai

Nice to meet you                          yin·dee tee dai roo jak

What is your name?                   kun cheu a·rai [krap / ka]

My name is                                  [pom / chan] cheu

Goodbye                                       bye bye [krap / ka]

Excuse me                                    kor toht

I’m from                                       [pom / chan] mah jak

Where are you from?                kun mah jak nai

Good night                                 rah·dtree sa·wat

Where are you going?             pai·nai

I’m going                                   pai 

Thai Phrases:  Food and Customs

Another customary greeting you may hear from a Thai person is: kin kow reu yang, which means “have you eaten?”  Don’t be surprised if you are invited to share a meal with strangers. Food is a big part of Thai social life and if you accept the offer, you can bet that you will have fun and eat well.  Now, if you want to know what’s cooking, or even better, impress a Thai person by cooking authentic Thai Food, then take a short course on authentic Thai cooking.

Have you eaten?                    kin kow reu yang

I have already eaten             kin laew [krap / ka] khop Khun

I haven’t eaten                      yang mai dai kin [krap /ka] khop khun

Thank you                             khop kun (mak)[krap / ka]

Thank you very much          khop kun (mak) [krap / ka]

Yes                                         chai

No                                          mai

Please                                    kor

Pardon                                 arai·na

Sorry                                   kor toht

Thai Food Etiquette

If you have been offered a place at a Thai meal, here some basic rules of Thai etiquette.

  • Take your time
  • Enjoy the conversation, even if you don’t understand it.
  • Take only small portions to ensure everyone has enough.
  • Serve only what you can eat in a few mouthfuls.
  • Expect a balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty.
  • If you are eating out, allow the older women to order.
  • Eat everything on your plate. It shows the host you liked it.

Basic Conversation

As we said before, when you speaking with strangers, you should always use the polite suffix after all phrases:

khráp (for men)

khâ (for women)

When addressing someone:

khun               Thai word for unfamiliar Mr/Ms/Mrs:

phi                   elder familiar person

nong                younger familiar person

*Note:  these two words are used with first names, not the last names.

Thai people also use nicknames for those who are friends.  Here’s how to ask “what is your nickname?”

kun cheu·len a·rai [krap /ka]

Common “getting to know you” question (not a come on):

mee fan mai                 Do you have a boyfriend / girlfriend?

 

Other Phrases

Just joking                                                                                         put len

 

It’s OK / that’s fine /nevermind/It’s all good                             mai pen rai

Thai people want you to be having fun, so they might ask you:

Do you like it here?              chop tee nee mai?

You can say:

I love it here.                          chop tee nee mak

I don’t like it here.                mai chop tee nee

(Are you) having fun?          (khun) sanook mai?

Yes, I’m having fun.              [krap / ka] sanook

If you want to take a picture with someone:

Can I take a photo of you?            tai roop (kun) dai mai?

Definitely learn this one!

Where is the toilet?                 you tee nai hong nahm?

Listen for this question if you are lost, shopping, or eating:

Can I help you?

hai [pom / chan] choo·ay mai?

Where are we?          Rao you tee nai?

If you are looking for something in a store or to eat:

Do you have?                                     khun mee?

I’d like to buy                                    [pom / chan] yak sue

How much does it cost?                 tao·rai [krap / ka]?

Expensive                                         pang

Can you reduce the price?            lod rah·kah dai mai?

The Menu

I would like (noun)              [pom / chan] yak dai

Rice                   kow

Water              nahm

Fish                 bplah

Chicken        gai

Pork             moo

Coffee          kah·fay

Tea             chah

Spicy          pet

Too spicy      pet mak

If you want to do something, here are some common activities:

I would like (+verb)                    [pom / chan] yak ja

village tour tour                     moo·bahn

mangrove exploration        sam·ruat bpa gong gang

Thai cooking lessons              rien tam ah·hahn Thai

Hiking                                        duen bpa

Snorkeling                              dtam nahm

bicycle ride                          key jaka·yan

swimming                            wai nahm

If you see something you want:

I would like (noun)              [pom / chan] yak dai

Directions

Where is?               yoo tee nai

the beach          chai hath

the mountain    puu khao

Straight ahead   dtrong bpai

turn left                ee·o sai

turn right             leeow sy, leeow kwah

Expressions:

Beautiful    soo·ay

Fun!    sanook

Great!    Yort

Help!    chuay duay

It hurts here    jep trong nee

Are you       kun  mai

I’m (not)        [pom / chan] (mai)

happy       mee kwam·suk

sad      saow

tired     neu·ay

hungry    hugh

thirsty   hugh·nam

hot   ron

cold    now

sick    bpoo·ay

So, there you have it.  The very basics of some Thai language.  If you happen to be one of the many practitioners of Thai Yoga massage who is traveling to Thailand for your certification, you can brush up on your skills by taking a Thai Yoga massage refresher course before you leave.