Are 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.
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.
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]
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.
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?
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]?
Can you reduce the price? lod rah·kah dai mai?
I would like (noun) [pom / chan] yak dai
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
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
Help! chuay duay
It hurts here jep trong nee
Are you kun mai
I’m (not) [pom / chan] (mai)
happy mee kwam·suk
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.