Learning a new language can be a lengthy, time consuming and difficult process at the very best of times, in the very best of circumstances, particularly for those who speak English as a first language. Going through the process of learning, not just the words but the grammar, context and how to properly use the language in full and complete sentence is extremely challenging and some people learn quicker than others, which can also be a frustrating factor in an educational setting. However, when considering learning the Thai language, for Westerners at least, this can add extra layers of difficulty to the process.
This is due to the stark contrast in structure, tone and grammatical context found in Thai from most European languages. In addition to this, Thai actually has more vowels than the English language and therefore requires English speakers to learn an entirely new set of sounds to make with their mouths, which can again, be easier for some than others. However, there are some things that you can do to help grasp the language faster and help you pick up the basics easily to serve as a foundation for continued learning.
Learn What You Need in Day to Day Life
For those living in Thailand, this will be a lot easier as you will pretty much encounter situations every single day in which you and try to practice your Thai. While you can definitely get by speaking basic English and using hand gestures, you will find rather quickly that speaking the basic necessities in Thai will not only make interaction more efficient, but you will also find most Thai people are very accommodating of non-Thais attempting to speak their language and particularly in a business setting, like a store or food stall, they will do their best to help fill in the gaps.
Good initial stepping stones can be as simple as learning to order your favourite drink at Starbucks in fluent Thai, or learning how to order a noodle dish that you like from street food vendor. Other good topics can be asking for directions, or for things like the time and what people are doing or eating (a popular conversation starter in Thailand). Try to also learn phrases that are semi transferrable, such as “Where is …..” “What is that?” and a favourite of many expats, “How do you say this in Thai?”
Find a Good Language School
Attempting to learn the language all by yourself is all well and good, however, if you are looking to become semi-fluent in the language, or even completely fluent, eventually you will need to consider the prospect of taking professional lessons at a reputable language school. The additional structure, lesson plans and assistance from a usually multilingual, native speaker will help you grasp a deeper knowledge of the Thai language. They will also be able to properly instruct you in both verbal and situational etiquette in Thailand.
The problem lies in the fact that Thai is a language that has a lot more protocol and verbal etiquette one must follow to be taken seriously in certain situation. Things like how to greet those who are older than you, or who hold certain positions in Thai society such as doctor or teachers. If you live in the capital then it shouldn’t be hard for you to find high quality and reputable language school in Bangkok. The extra practice and input on your mistakes will help improve your understanding, and ultimately speaking skill with the language.
A really important part of learning any language is learning how to say the numbers in that language. Just think about how crucial numbers re to any part of our lives in our own languages and you will; quickly see why it is so important to learn them early on in your journey to learning Thai. Learning how to ask for times, prices and other crucial information is pretty much useless if you can’t understand the numbers they are saying in their reply.
Luckily, as with most languages, numbers are actually just a system of saying the same 10 or so phrases with different words either attached to the beginning or end of the number. For example, look at the numbers 13, 14 and 15 in English, they are just slight differences of “three” “four” and “five” with the affix “teen” behind them. Similarly, the numbers in the Thai language function in the same way and with a little practice are easily learned. Try learning one to ten and having a friend or partner say the words in English for you to repeat in Thai, then increase the size of the numbers they say to you.
Thai people love eating and the very topic of conversation is a staple of day to day interactions between Thai speakers. Simply asking somebody what they are eating and whether it tastes good can even open up doors to new friendship’s, and some delicious food! Thai people are extremely proud of their cuisine and most are quite happy to show foreigners what they cook and how it tastes. However, if you have an allergy, or a special dietary requirement, such as vegan or vegetarian, you will need to quickly learn how to ask for your food how you like and need it.
Now while you may struggle to get an ingredient omitted for the fact that you don’t like it, Thai culture and the religion of Buddhism places a great deal of respect on people who are vegetarian or “jay” as they pronounce it and will usually try to accommodate you if possible. Knowing the difference between fried, boiled and steamed food and how to ask for things with no spice or to ask for eggs to a certain level of crookedness will help you have an easier time when ordering your food and make you more likely to enjoy what you are given