Things your students say when they think you can’t understand them

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Drawing from personal experience, my students say some pretty outrageous things in Thai when I’m well within earshot. For some reason, they continue to assume I won’t understand them, when in fact, knowing only a hundred words or so of Thai, I tend to laser-focus on the words I do know when I hear them. And unfortunately that list now includes some truly inappropriate ones. I will say, working at an all-male Thai high school has taught me some true gems. And now I pass this wisdom to disapprove onto you. So watch out for these (more adult*) words and sayings:

    • ‘Alai’wa?’ (ah-leh-whaa?): I love this expression! Hands down, this is the most common Thai phrase I hear at school. If you’ve ever taught teenaged males, you know this is the go-to response when you ask a question. Once again, the direct translation is subject to debate: some claim it translates to ‘what the fuck?’ but that seems too strong in my experience. ‘Huh?’ is probably closer to the true meaning, but either way it is very impolite and not something to be said to a teacher (in theory…I’m looking at you, students!)
    •  ‘Chuk-waa’ (chuck-wow): Would it be a high school without ‘masturbation’ being thrown around at least once a day in class? I learned this special word on my very first day of school. The male teachers warned me to watch out for it, and sure enough, I heard it when asking where a missing student was. Naturally, hilarity ensued when I looked with understanding at the kid who had said it (while the 13-year old inside me giggled). Wearing the disapproving teacher face can really be a challenge sometimes.
    • ‘Ayeeyah’ (a-yee-uh): This one has been the subject of many debates amongst the foreigners at our school. Some claim it is slang for the c-word but it is used so frequently by my best-behaved students, I find that hard to believe. I think it translates more easily to a soft f-word.
He always makes this face at me
He always makes this face at me
  • ‘Hoopbah’ (hoop-ah): Translates directly to ‘shut up’. No explanation necessary here.
  • ‘Kwai’ (k-why): Literally translates to ‘buffalo’ and is an insult used to call someone stupid, slow or simple. Perhaps it would be helpful to know water buffalo are very prolific farm animals in Thailand used as beasts of burden (you get the comparison). Kwai is used often with hoopbah, as in ‘shut up, you buffalo!’
  • ‘Dting-Dtong’ (ting-tong or ding-dong): This pronunciation is a bit tricky, with the dt sound like a soft t or aspirated d. From my understanding, it’s an affectionate way to call someone crazy or zany (or weird). As in, acting wild rather than literally insane. You would never use this word with someone you didn’t know well, though. It could be insulting to use with a stranger, so don’t go around calling people ‘ding dong’.

*disclaimer: I’ll just emphasize once again these are specific to my all-male Thai high school and may not reflect the general slang used in other Thai schools

Have any gems to add of your own? Have any funny experiences to share? Comment below!

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