Quick Thai Pronunciation Guide

My Thai teacher Aom and I
My Thai teacher Aom and I

This Pronunciation Guide focuses on sounds in the Thai language that are difficult for English-speakers to pronounce (I base this on personal experience, here). I have tried to use the same spelling you see out and about in Thailand to make it easier. Enjoy!

  • ‘bp’ as in ‘bpai’ (go):

The bp sound is a difficult one to make for a lot of foreign speakers, as it’s the simultaneous sound of a b and p. You could describe it as a harder and more aspirated ‘b’.

  •  ‘k’ or ‘kg’ as in ‘kung’ (shrimp):

This is an extremely difficult sound to make. It’s like a ‘g’ sound (as in go), but you make the sound farther back in your throat and shorten it so that it’s more like a ‘k’.

  •  ‘ph’ as in ‘phet’ (spice):

This is just like a ‘p’ sound but more aspirated, like you’re whispering, hence the h in the spelling. Add some air to that P! Unfortunately, some people read it like English and make the f sound. No! Hard P only. Don’t be like that person who said ‘fuck-it’ instead of Phuket! (poo-ket)

  •  ‘th’ as in ‘Thai’ (Thai):

Just like the ph sound, the th is always a hard ‘t’ like in time. One of my favorite parts of Hangover 2 is when Alan keeps calling it ‘Thigh-land’ in his speech at the reception dinner. Don’t be like Alan!

  •  ‘v’ as in ‘Suvarnabumi’ (the major international airport in Bangkok):

One of the most confusing things about Thai language is the ‘v’ and ‘w’ mix-up. If you’ve ever taught English, you know most Thais find it confusing too! The ‘v’ sound in Thai is always pronounced like a ‘w’, as in water.

  •  ‘r’ as in ‘tao rai’ (how much?)

Like the ‘v’ sound in Thai, the ‘r’ is not usually pronounced as an English r. Thais have a difficult time pronouncing it, so it usually comes out as a straight ‘l’ sound, like in ‘love’. Sometimes the r is trilled like a Spanish r, but that is considered more formal.

  •  ‘ai’ as in ‘mai’ (no/not):

This is an easy sound to make, it sounds like the ‘I’ in kite and it’s very difficult to mess up.

  •  ‘ae’ as in ‘gafae’ (a):

This sound is a bit more tricky. It’s like the ‘a’ in apple meets the ‘eh’ sound and is drawn out a little longer. My Thai teacher taught me to show my whole tongue when I say it to help make the sound.

  •  ‘ao’ as in ‘mao’ (drunk):

This sounds just the way it looks, like the ‘ow’ sound in ‘ouch’.

  •  ‘iaow’ as in guay tiaow (noodle soup):

This is a group of sounds found in a lot of words and is pronounced like ‘ee-ow’, as in ‘knee’ and ‘ouch’

  •  ‘i’ as in ‘ti ni’ (here) and ‘i’ as in ‘sip’ (ten)

The ‘i’ in Thai is used to note both the ‘ee’ sound, like in ‘knee’ and the ‘i’ sound like in ‘lip’.

  •  ‘u’ as in ‘wan gur’ (birthday)

The ‘u’ sound in Thai is tricky, as it often sounds more like ‘uh’, as in ‘what’. It’s much more guttural. 

Have any questions about this guide? Shoot me an email at leavesfrmthevine@gmail.com


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