Living in Thailand, you are exposed to some of the most fantastic, intense and delicious meals on Earth – so it’s really important that you aren’t held back from eating those wondrous dishes by a language barrier. Here I will give you some basic tools to get by in any restaurant. Continue reading Survival Thai for Dining
Even if you’ll only be traveling in Thailand for a few days it’s extremely useful to know Thai numbers. They are extremely simple and once you get the sounds down, you’re good to go! So here are the basics to Thai numbers: Continue reading Survival Thai Numbers
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.
- ‘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!
I find in my own daily teaching that Thai commands are much more effective than English ones. I can’t count the number of times I ‘shushed’ my class just to have them all mimic me loudly for the next 5 minutes because it means nothing to them. Here are the commands or words I find the most effective (or just the most fun to use):
*sidenote: pair this guide with the Pronunciation Guide for super Thai speaking abilities!
1. ‘Nee-Up!’ (knee-up): “Quiet!” Emphasize the ‘nee’. For maximum results, deliver loudly and harshly.
2. ‘Liaow Liaow’ (lee-ow lee-ow): “Hurry Up! Quickly!” I find this phrase most effective when my students are dragging their feet to do something, like leaving the classroom or getting out their books.
3. ‘Put Maak!’ (poot mawk): “You’re talking too much!” This is usually delivered as a scolding. I bust this baby out when my students won’t stop talking. Very effective.
4. ‘Kao Jai Mai?’ (cow jye my): “Do you understand?” If the students’ English level is low, this is a great way to check for understanding. I love it when my all-male classes answer me with a resounding ‘Kahp!’ (Yes!)
5. ‘Put Tam’ (poot tom): “Repeat”. If you can’t get your students to repeat after you, throw one of these out there.
6. ‘Alai-na?’ (uh-lie-nah): “What was that? Come again?” The respectful way to ask, huh?
7. ‘T-t-t-t’: Okay, I have no idea how to write out this sound, but it’s a clicking sound made behind your teeth, like when you call a cat or something. If you put your finger in front of you in the ‘quiet’ formation and do this, it means the same thing as “Shh!”. Thai’s don’t use “Shh”, and I often find it has the opposite effect that I’m looking for (aka, the kids find it hilarious).
8. “Bai Lao!” (bye laow): “Let’s go! Here we go!” This phrase has a lot of meanings, but whichever one you’re going for, it’s best used with enthusiasm.
Do you have any Thai phrases you use in class to add to the list? Let me know! Email me at email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org