Basic Characteristics of Thai Language Such as Difficult Tones, Thai Characters and Grammar

Original Culture, Original Language: Characteristics of the Thai Language

September 20, 2016

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Thai Language

The Kingdom of Thailand (Thailand) is the only country in Southeast Asia which has never been affected by colonisation and a kingdom that has a long, unique, dynastic history. A trading hub between East and West located in the centre of Indochina, Thailand has maintained a unique culture and language while absorbing the influence of India and China. Thailand has friendly relations with Japan, and the number of people who travel to Thailand from Japan on business has been increasing year on year. Due to the limited use of the English language in Thailand, translation and studying the Thai language are crucial to doing business. Here we introduce some features of Thai, a language that is commonly known as a difficult language to learn.

Difficulties of Tones

Difficult tones in the Thai language are strongly influenced by the Chinese language. There are five distinctive tones in Thai, and the key to learning the language is how well one can pronounce them. For pronunciation, it is important to hear the differences in tone. First of all, let's acknowledge the differences as knowledge.


2. Low tone: Low voice with no intonation and spoken flat

3. Falling tone: Drop the tone immediately from a higher tone

4. High tone: Keep the high tone throughout

5. Rising tone: Rise from a lower tone and end on a higher tone

If these tones are pronounced incorrectly, the meaning of the words can change utterly. As mistakes cannot be avoided in learning languages, not worrying about mistakes and trying to speak with Thai people is the shortcut to improving your Thai.

Difficult Thai Writing System Simple Grammar

Thai characters exemplify the difficulty of the Thai language. Even for Thai people, it takes a great deal of time to master Thai writing. When learning the Thai language as a foreigner, the biggest barrier is the Thai writing system. It might be a good idea to start learning Thai characters by writing your name.

Difficult elements stand out in the Thai language, but there are simple elements that are easy to learn. For example, the basic word order that forms sentences is 'subject + verb + object,' which is the same as in English. There is no inflection of pronouns like in English such as 'I, my, me, mine', and there is no conjugation of verbs in past and future tenses, which makes it more effective as you can communicate well by just putting the vocabulary in order.

Polite Ways of Speaking in Thai

Just like in Japanese, there are polite ways of speaking in Thai, similar to the way "desu" and "masu" are added to the end of a sentence in Japanese. For communicating globally in different cultures, speaking in a polite way might be an opportunity to give a positive impression. However, in the Thai language, it is important to be careful as polite ways of speaking differ for men and women. It is similar to how "~desuwane" is a feminine expression in Japanese. Basically, by adding 'kha-' for a woman and 'khra (p) ' for a man at the end of a sentence, you create a less blunt and more polite way of speaking.

The examples below show polite ways of saying 'sawatdii' in Thai, which means 'good morning', 'hello' and 'good evening'.

For women -> sawatdii kha

For men -> sawatdii khra(p)

Thai Language is Crucial for Business in Thailand

When doing business abroad, precise translation of contracts and other important documents is required. However, it is a good idea to actively include local words when communicating with people. Learning simple greetings in Thai and writing names in Thai characters show respect to the other person. While doing business in foreign countries, language can be more than just a communication tool.

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