Speak Thai

Thai (also called Siamese) is a tonal language and the native tongue of Thailand. There are several dialects of Thai, including Isan, and Thai is related to the languages Lao and Shan. However, Standard Thai is used throughout the government and schools of Thailand. Thai is alphabetic, arising from Indic scripts.[1] When learning to speak Thai, it is important to speak the language out loud, since variations of tone are what define one word from the next.


Learning Basic Phrases

  1. Master greetings. In order to speak Thai, it is important to start with the basics. Easy phrases such as "hello" and "goodbye" can be used to make any interaction more pleasant, no matter who you are talking to. Knowing these phrases will also assist you in understanding what you hear others say.
    • "Hello" in Thai is สวัสดี (sà-wàt-dee)[2]
    • "Goodbye" in Thai is บ๊ายบาย (báai baai) or ลาก่อนนะ (laa gòn ná)
    • "How are you?" in Thai is สบายดีไหม (sà-baai dee măi)
    • "Have a nice day" in Thai is มีวันที่ดี! (Mī wạn thī̀ dī)
  2. Learn tourist phrases. If you ever go to Thailand, it will be important for you to know how to get around on your own. It is beneficial not only to know how to say these phrases, but to recognize when they are being said to you.
    • "Where is the bathroom?" in Thai is ห้องน้ำอยู่ไหน (hông náam yòo năi) [2]
    • "How do you say _____ in Thai" is ภาษาไทย ... พูดว่าอย่างไร (paasăa tai ... pôot wâa yàang-rai)
    • "Is there a restaurant near here?" in Thai is ร้านอาหารที่ใกล้ที่สุดอยู่ไหน? (ráan aa-hăan têe glâi sùt yòo năi?)
  3. Learn how to be polite. Expressing gratitude is important in any culture. An ungrateful guest is an unpleasant experience for anyone. Learn some expressions of gratitude in order to ensure a positive experience in Thailand.
    • "Thank you" in Thai is ขอบคุณ (kòp kun)
    • "Please" in Thai is ขอ ... (Kor ...)

Speaking Thai on Your Own

  1. Learn the Thai alphabet. In order to start learning a language, knowing the alphabet is the first building block. Find a Thai language learning book in order to learn the alphabet, or go online and look at any website with the Thai alphabet listed.
    • For example, at the website called Omniglot, you can find an alphabet and written pronunciations for English speakers.[3]
    • Find an app with phrases and their pronunciations, or look for a website you can visit frequently to help you get the pronunciations right.
    • One app that may help is called “In 24 Hours Learn to Speak Thai.”[4]
    • Go online and look at your local library website to see if they have lessons on Thai that you can check out. These may be books, manuals, DVDs, or CD-ROM programs that you can watch or play on your computer.
    • You can also buy Thai learning programs offline from websites like Amazon and Ebay.
  2. Study tones in Thai words. Thai is a tonal language, so learning the alphabet does no good until you have learned to pronounce each word carefully. Make sure that any learning programs you get have a verbal feature so that you can hear the words.
    • One website that might help is thai-language.com.[5] It shows you both the Thai script and English letter versions of Thai words, as well as what they should sound like.
  3. Find a native speaker. Whether you are inside Thailand or not, you can learn to speak Thai by exposing yourself to those who speak this language. This is called immersion. Find a native Thai speaker either by making friend with locals if you are located in Thailand, or finding a Thai community in your city. Make friends with a Thai speaker and integrate them into your life so that you are forced to speak Thai on a regular basis.
    • The reason you need to practice speaking in a language to learn it, which is what immersion does, is because your brain will process language more like a native speaker.[6]
    • If you aren’t living in Thailand, it will be more difficult to be “immersed,” but finding a native speaker to converse with on a regular basis will help more than silently studying the language.
    • If you don’t know anyone from Thailand in your city, visit places where you may meet a Thai person, such as at a college, a market, a local restaurant, a church, or classes at a community center.
    • You can also try to find Thai speakers you can video chat with online. You may find Thai speakers in Facebook groups, or ask people you know on social media if they have any Thai friends who might be willing to Skype with you.
  4. Study Thai each day. Although to become a Thai speaker you do need to speak it, studying the basics of the language will help you understand what you are saying, which can help you remember how to speak Thai. This may help you learn to speak Thai faster.
    • Look at the grammar structure. Ask yourself, where do adjectives and verbs occur in a sentence? For example, in Spanish, the adjective usually comes after the noun, whereas in English, the adjective usually comes before.
    • In Thai, the verb structure is simpler than European languages, but its tones and sounds are extremely important. How you say a word can change the meaning.[7]
  5. Meet with a native speaker frequently. While you are studying Thai, you should be speaking it on a regular basis. While it’s important to understand the verb structure, it is more important to learn conversational basics in order to speak Thai. The complete grasp of grammar will come as you speak it.
    • Make daily, bi-weekly, or weekly appointments with your Thai friend so that you don’t get behind in practice.
  6. Look up words in a dictionary. As you learn Thai, look up words that you don’t know. When you hear a person speaking Thai using words you have never heard before, either write them down or remember them so that you can look them up.
    • Since simple sentences in Thai can be easier than the same sentences in English and Romance languages, start with simple greetings like “hello” (sa-wat-dee) and “how are you” (sa-baai dee mai).[2]
    • Focus on getting your pronunciations of new words correct. Ask your friends who speak Thai to help you.
  7. Watch, listen to, and write in Thai. In order to help you get the pronunciations right, listen to music in Thai or watch Thai speakers on TV and in internet videos. Hearing others speaking this language every day is important for you to speak Thai, and if you aren’t in a community of Thai speakers all day long, substitute this with TV, internet videos, and music.
    • If you write in Thai, this may also help you understand the language so that you can speak it with more accuracy.
  8. Visit Thailand. Whether not you are an expert Thai speaker, taking a trip to Thailand is an important part of learning to speak Thai. In Thailand, you will be inundated with the Thai language. You will see it on every billboard and poster, on every storefront and newspaper, and Thai is all you will likely hear.
    • Costs once you are inside Thailand are pretty reasonable. There are 35 Thai baht to 1 US dollar, and a high-end hotel costs 3,000B per night (or about $85 USD).[8]
    • A plane ticket to Bangkok, Thailand, from Los Angeles in the U.S., for example, is about $900 round trip in August. The same ticket from London is about 585GBP ($860 USD). [9]
    • Try to stay with a Thai family so that you can be exposed to Thai all day. See if Thailand has programs like Airbnb[10] and Couchsurfing[11] to get space in a Thai home.

Learning in a Class

  1. Find a class that teaches Thai. Although not all colleges and community centers offer classes in the Thai language, you can find them online if nothing else. Finding a class to attend whether in person or online gives you an instructor to whom you may ask questions, gives you classmates to practice with, and it gives you tests to motivate you to remember what you learn.
    • For example, the University of Washington in Seattle has a Department of Asian Languages and Literature that offers courses in Thai.[12]
    • There are online schools like Thai Style USA that offer you an online learning environment to master the Thai language.[13]
  2. Learn about Thai’s tonal nature. Since you are in a class setting, you are most likely able to practice speaking Thai. It is important to practice speaking Thai so that you can master the different pronunciations of the Thai language. Since Thai is tonal, every syllable has a lot of meanings.[14]
  3. Figure out linguistic signals. It is helpful when learning a new language to focus on a few linguistic signals that indicate different elements of language. For example, learning how Thai speakers express formality, when they are indicating a plural, and which letters denote gender can help you quickly pick up on what others are saying.
    • For instance, Thai speakers make their statements formal by adding a particle to the end of each sentence. If a male is speaking, he adds a “krahp” to the end of a sentence to sound formal, and a female speaker adds “kha” to the end of a sentence.[5]
  4. Practice speaking with classmates and the teacher. Practicing what you learn is truly the only way to speak Thai, especially since Thai is a language based in the tones of the words. If you don’t speak what you see on the page, you will never get the pronunciations right. Practice conversations with your classmates and teacher.
    • If you are in a live class, play games in Thai to practice.
  5. Take verbal tests. Test are a part of any class, including language classes. To help you get the tones correct, make sure that your teacher gives verbal tests. You need to have your tones tested so you can make sure you are getting them right. Remember, a word pronounced slightly different can have an entirely different meaning in Thai.


  • Try watching movies that have been dubbed in Thai with subtitles in your language.
  • Aim for a specific amount of time spent learning Thai each day, such as 30 minutes to an hour, with an amount of time devoted to just listening to Thai, whether music or TV shows.
  • Try to memorize vocabulary words.

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Sources and Citations