Jaza's World Trip

One Thai word at a time

I'm usually not too bad at absorbing useful snippets of the local language, wherever I go. But the Thai language is a different story: it's Really Hard™ to learn. So far, I've been going at a rate of about one commonly-spoken word per week, and I'm struggling to maintain even that. I've got kop-khun khap ("thank you") down pat, as well as the famous sawadee-khap ("hello" / "goodbye"). I'm working on sabadee-mai ("how are you"), sabadee ("I'm fine"), and sabai ("good"). Also picked up a few food-related words, such as gai ("chicken"), goong ("shrimp"), khao ("rice"), and kha ("coconut"). Plus, being here on the island has helped me pick up some geographical terms, such as hat ("beach"), ao ("bay"), and of course ko ("island"). But it's slow going, and the Thai words have a habit of being awfully slippery against my memory.

Apparently, Thai is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. The vowel sounds in Thai can be spoken in five different tones, and changing the tone can make it a completely different word. Tones in particular are immensely difficult for Westerners to master, as we barely have them at all in our own languages (they're almost non-existent in Germanic languages, and quite rudimentary in Romantic / Latin languages). I've met farangs here in Thailand, who have been living in the country for 10 years or more, and who have still mastered little more than the absolute basics of Thai. This is hardly comforting for newcomers such as myself — but after having now been here for several weeks, I can certainly begin to empathise with them.