Thai Language, Translation
Professional translation services
New businesses and individuals usually need a verbal translator as well as written translation in order to function well in Thailand. A good service provider with a wide range of rates and services can be found at www.thai-english-translation.com Their website also discusses many elements of the Thai language and issues in translation.
Learning the Thai language is the key to opening the doors to a wide variety of Thailand experiences as well as allaying frustrations, and it's also important to understanding the Thai culture. A good place to learn the Thai language is the Thai Language Hut, run by a good British guy, Mark Shee, whom I know and recommend. It's located near the Phrom Pong skytrain station, down soi 43, colocated with Travel Today Asia. They can also suggest things to do in Thailand!
Learning to speak Thai is well worthwhile, and better sooner than later.
I find it fun, though challenging. Attitude has certainly helped me.
As you learn Thai, you will not only become more functional and less frustrated, but you will also extend your range in the Thailand experience, and also come to appreciate the culture. The extent of your understanding of the Thai culture will be limited by how well you understand the language, as it is the core of the Thai mentality.
Nonetheless, I know many expat managing directors and others who have spent years in Thailand and not learned the language. I, myself, had spent 4 months in Thailand before I started to learn the language, as all the Thais I dealt with could speak good English. Professional Thais can usually understand and can often speak English well.
Whether to learn Thai, and how much, all depends on what kind of existence in Thailand you wish for in your experiences, and how much you are really willing to work to learn the language.
The good news is that the language isn't really very difficult, the most difficult part is the first few months when the hearing part of your brain needs a little experience with this language's various sounds. Also, your brain starts to process the patterns, which are simple for Thai. After you learn a little bit of the language, you start to learn it faster and it becomes fun.
Other websites cover the Thai language very well, and I'd rather not reinvent the wheel (though their teaching/learning style often differs from my own). Instead, I would like to just point out the main features of the Thai language, give some tips about learning the basics, and relate my experiences in learning Thai. After that general guidance, I list some websites and non-web resources to help you.
Thai language is easier to learn than European languages in these ways:
Thai language is more difficult to learn than European languages in these ways:
Most expats learn just basic spoken Thai, not written Thai. However, the alphabet doesn't take long to learn, and it has helped me to see words and hear them better as well as pronounce them more clearly.
Many expat men learn Thai by falling in love with a "long haired dictionary" and lovingly remembering every sound they speak, both from phrase books and when out-and-about together. It's a good way, just copying them, and love certainly helps memory! It's best if you find a pleasant tutor who pronounces words fully. I should admit that this was my first big jump forward in learning Thai, one particular lady with a radio quality voice and gentle, lovely personality.
If it's an office or other high class lady arrangement, then the foreigner will learn a classier dialect. Otherwise, the foreigner may learn a lower status choice of words, phrases and pronounciations, especially if you learn from a bargirl. Like everywhere, your choice of language partially establishes your class and respectability.
Countless times, I have heard foreigners proudly exercising their learned Thai to other Thai people in a professional environment, but using "bargirl Thai" (some bargirls speak well but many do not). Imagine walking into an office on Wall Street and speaking street language from the lower part of town. Imagine a Thai executive coming up to you and saying "I ain't got no phone number for da big guy of Acme. Gimme it." There are also a lot of crude words, phrases and gestures. Further, there is a different accent for various parts of Thailand, and Thais may know where your pronounciation teacher came from.
If you use the Isaan (northeast) dialect, well, did you know that the vast majority of prostitutes come from Isaan, the dryest, most remote and poorest part of Thailand? Most prostitutes also have a 6th grade education or less, from a country school. This is not to judge prostitutes as bad, as I don't think that categorically, but if you want to speak Thai in an office environment and gain the respect of the highest number of people, then it's best to recognize the differences in regional dialects, including the bar microcosms.
Thailand is a class conscious society much moreso than the West, and polite charm rather than assertiveness helps get one ahead. Thai is a politely spoken language in good business, and as there are different ways of saying the same thing in general social conversation, sensitive word choice can make a difference in the course of things. It may be good for you to appreciate the differences. While it's not a majorly significant factor if a foreigner of established position or skills speaks some bar Thai while trying to speak the local dialect, and Thais will generally forgive non-native speakers and take it all in good humor, nonetheless it's at least enjoyable to be sensitive to all elements.
It is always recommended that you learn Thai from a formal school. However, realistically, in this busy and unpredictable world, what businessperson can schedule in regular classes?
I, the Thailand Guru writer, never has attended a Thai class nor hired a professional tutor, but I can speak it fairly well, and can read and write it. Nonetheless, if I could go back and do it all again, then I would attend classes and then hire a professional tutor after I had learned a certain amount.
Instead, the spoken part I learned initially from a Thai lady I fell in love with and who had a good sense of humor, was patient and genuinely helpful, spoke very clearly with full and proper pronounciation, and had a quality voice. From there, I have used special friendly opportunities to improve my Thai.
One way to remember Thai words, especially if it's not convenient to see their spelling, is to picture something in your mind. For example, the word for "mirror" is "krajoke", so you might picture a crack/krack and then think of a broken mirror as bad luck and joke about the superstitious. Krack joke. Krajoke. Likewise, a vehicle like a car or bus is a "rote", so picture a "row" of cars in traffic. Row, rowt / rote.
Funny story: One day with my girlfriend in a mall, she saw a kangaroo with a baby in its pouch which was removable as a separate doll. The word for kangaroo is "jing-joe". I already knew that "true heart" was "jing jai" so I pictured the opposite, a guy named Joe hopping from lady to lady to remember "jing joe". So I joked "jing jai, mai chai jing joe" (true heart, not kangaroo). She laughed and told the story to many people. She circulated among some superstars, and less than a year later a popular Thai song came out which had a line that said "Jing jai mai chai jing joe" which was a hit! So I guess I made the nation laugh.
(I also made up a word "pu-ching" which did not previously exist in the Thai language. People ask what should we call a Thai transvestite, "him"/"pu chai" or "her"/"pu ying", so I just merged them as "pu-ching". However, this deliberate effort hasn't caught on, unlike the flippant joke.)
A few simple notes which don't fit anywhere else:
Passively hearing a foreign language is easier than creatively speaking it. Thus, understanding Thai will be easier than speaking it. The same applies to Thais in hearing/speaking English.
Many Thais are shy about their English.
However, be careful about Thais who don't normally hear English. They will often pretend that they understand, and say "yes", when in fact they don't understand. This is a common problem in Thailand! Tip: Sometimes, you must speak slowly and clearly, and choose your words carefully, avoiding slang and sophisticated words.
Learning to Read Thai
As noted before, most foreigners who can speak Thai cannot read or write Thai at all. If you don't have time for classes, then you might want to follow my rather substandard way of learning to read Thai.
The written part I learned from reading my name written in Thai, Thai street signs, company names, and various other words whereby I knew the sound so I could start to figure out which letter made what sounds. That was supplemented by presenting some questions to Thai friends who explained some of the rules of Thai spelling & pronounciation.
To this day, I can read all geographical signs and many words and sentences, but I still don't know the names of many of the letters of the alphabet! It would be like an Asian knowing how to read/pronounce the word "gift" but not knowing "gee, i, ef, tee". I learned the sound every letter makes a few years before I learned the names, and I still don't know the names of some of the letters.
Based on this, I can get around on transportation systems with no English, fill out basic forms with no English instructions, understand some basic instructions written in Thai, and read a lot of signs. Most enjoyably, I can see the roots/origins of many words. For example, the Thai word for "newspaper" is "nong-sue-pim" which literally means "book typed" (as I had already learned the words for book and typing). "Police" is spelled "tam druit" which means "do inspection" though it's pronounced "tal luit" which sounds like "do blood" (and how I originally remembered the word before seeing it spelled).
Many words are pronounced a little bit differently than they are spelled, but most words are pronounced exactly as spelled.
The absence of space between words is not a big problem after you learn to read some Thai because you start to both recognize words and see the patterns of particular letters which tend to denote the endings and beginnings of words, as well as recognizing words in the stream. However, it's still not as easy as if there were spaces between the words.
(Thai is my fourth language, after Spanish and Russian. The latter a different alphabet, not a problem after a week. But Thai introduced no-spaces and tone challenges.)
I get along well enough for my own purposes, but I recommend that you do better than me, and I am very impressed by those rare expats who can do better than I do -- and relieved to not need to step up in handling communications tasks around us! These guys have almost invariably learned it formally. Therefore, I recommend you take some classes.
When you speak and read Thai well, it can become a burden when you are with expats who don't. It's fine if they enjoy dealing with the challenge and you don't mind just kicking back patiently with your time and let them flounder. I have a difficult time letting others make mistakes without helping them with the solution. However, when you need to get business done, then there's no time to waste on fun and you must help them. Likewise, I need help -- I have professional translators in my office, and I take one to my business meetings so that I don't miss anything.
The most pressing need to learn the written Thai language is just finding your way around. Many signs with geographical names do not have an English, "romanized" (A-Z) version. (If you can't read Thai, then you would be oblivious to this.) Sometimes, they are romanized but there are many different ways to romanize, for example:
Ram Indra = Raminthra
You can go down one expressway and see the romanized name of the same town or exit road spelled differently on different signs as you approach, but of course the Thai name is the exact same on every sign.
Of course, many don't have ANY English, especially when you go well outside of city centers.
There is no single standard set of rules for transliteration (i.e., romanization) of Thai into English, and vice versa, to the best of my knowledge. If there is, then not many people follow them. For example, different books on learning to speak Thai, written by language professionals, use different romanization systems (usually discussed at the beginning of the book). After reading one book, if you pick up another then you may need to learn a considerably different way to learn pronounciation by romanization.
It is better to just learn to read and right the Thai letters, and forget about romanization!! Think in Thai.
The ability to read Thai certainly helps in pronounciation, both correcting major mistakes as well as refining your pronounciation. After seeing how something is written in Thai, I have been able to hear a significantly different sound in Thais speaking the word, and after that I spoke so that I was better understood.
I don't recommend my 100% "osmosis" method of learning Thai, but if you're like me and you just don't have the time to formally learn Thai, then with a positive and funloving attitude you can still do it.
(But you won't learn much under the influence of alcohol. Try a nice tea or coffee instead.)
If you have the time, then I recommend you learn Thai more systematically, and get to know Thai better than I do:
There are several websites that can help you learn to read Thai but first you need to be able to view Thai fonts. We have done everything we can to make this automatic for your browser, by properly coding our web pages, but if you cannot view the Thai fonts automatically then you will need to take one or a few easy steps, which we might be able to guide you thru.
Test: ¹¾ËÃ If this doesn't show a sanskrit font, then click here.
To view the Thai font on Thai websites, you need one of two things:
ThailandGuru plans to give more detailed instructions on the above three options ... in the future, and if there's demand. I've also done quick consulting work to configure peoples computers to load the Thai font, either at their place or at my office (in a nice Thai suburban area!).
An English-Thai and Thai-English on-line dictionary called Lexitron is on-line thanks to NECTEC at http://www.links.nectec.or.th/lexit/lexitron.html. However, you need either the Thai font... No sound.
There's a helpful introductory website for a Thai language newcomer, 100% romanized (i.e., no Thai script), at http://www.fortunecity.com/oasis/cannes/42/speakthai.html
It's best to stick with one product for learning Thai, because they all romanize Thai and have different ways of spelling Thai words with roman letters.
It is also good to choose a contemporary product, because many Thai people will tell you that many of the reprinted books use a lot of "old" Thai which isn't used in today's society. Also, some products just aren't very considerate and practical. A farang child or language academic learning Thai isn't the same as a businessperson or tourist learning Thai. Get the product best suited for your application.
I've seen & heard several of the multimedia CD products, but not many of the tape products, and the following is mainly just from user inputs and an occasional exposure. I'd rather not mention several products I saw but did not like, and which others did not like, either. (I'd rather not say bad things, but ignore them, sorry.) Anyway, some of the computer multimedia CD and tape products you can get:
The best I have seen is the Rosetta Stone CD. Rosetta Stone makes CDs for many languages, so you must get the Thai one in particular. The software took awhile to figure out, but once you do, it's a nice and effective way to learn.
It has a series of lessons from the most basic to advanced.
For example, the first set of lessons includes photos which you click on, whereby it speaks the word in Thai and shows the spelling in Thai and the word in English. You can speak back into the microphone, and can compare your voice profile with the voice profile of the Thai speaker.
You eventually get into sentences, and on from there.
A friend of mine bought it in the U.S., and it cost over $100, and worth it to him.
I have not seen this product, but one guy says to try www.transparent.com and follow thru looking for 51 Languages of the World in the CD-ROM learning section. You can get all 51 for $50 or you can get the Thai-English for $20. You can order from:
Transparent Language, Inc.
One report states that Office Max sells the 51 for $30, though it's unlikely every Office Max stocks it.
It will only teach a few hundred words or phrases, but it does it with several options:
It's been called a good value. Thanks to "Jack" (but I don't know who he is, or if he works for them).
The 'Linguaphone' package is available overseas and offers 4 cassettes and 2 workbooks. In London, it's quite expensive at £108.00, and is available at:
Linguaphone Institute Ltd.
I haven't seen this one, but it was recommended.
There are many schools which teach Thai to foreigners. Typical costs are around 300 baht per hour, more or less (about $10/hour in 2008). You can either join a classroom of other foreigners or else get one-on-one instruction.
Some schools even offer an education visa (ED), but I don't know how long immigration will continue to accept these as they have become quite popular with foreigners.
ThailandGuru's Thai Language Tutorials
A good list of Thai language tutorials and other information can be found at www.geos-oceania.com/links/thai-language.htm , the GEOS International Group's "Oceania" division. GEOS offers English Language Colleges in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa in modern facilities.
The quickest way to learn Thai is one-on-one with a tutor, including out in public practicing it, which is quite fun. The service www.ThaiEnglish.com offers this from time to time, especially on weekends when they are more leisurely.
You can also practice in the bus by reading advertisements, shop signs and street signs.
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