Learning how to read and write the Thai alphabet may seem like quite the challenge, especially if you’re a native English speaker.
After all, Thai is filled with tonal rules that can change the meaning of similarly sounding words in an instant. This can be confusing when you’re first starting your language learning journey.
That said, we’ve come up with an in-depth guide on how to learn to read Thai in just a matter of months.
Enter your email below to receive our FREE Thai Language Cheat Sheet. It includes a comprehensive list of downloadable PDFs to quickly get you started learning the Thai language. The Cheat Sheet covers everything, from the alphabet, tone marks, and consonant sounds to vocabulary and much more.
- Thai Alphabet Song
- Thai Alphabet Song Breakdown
- Do I Need to Learn Thai Alphabet?
- How to Start Learning the Thai Alphabet
- How Long Does it Take to Memorize the Thai Consonants and Vowels?
- How to Learn the Thai Alphabet in Two Weeks
- Combining Consonants and Vowels into Thai Words
- Additional Resources for Learning the Thai Alphabet
- What to Read Next
Before you begin reading, you’ll need to know what each letter sounds like, its class, and if it has a different sound at the beginning of a word than at the end of a word.
There are 44 Thai consonants (along with their initial and final sounds) and 32 different vowels in Thai language.
All 44 consonants are divided into Middle Class Consonants, High Class Consonants, and Low Class Consonants.
These consonant classes are directly related to tones. There are five tones in Thai language:
- low tone
- failing tone
- mid tone
- rising tone
- high tone
(You can find out more on our guide to Thai tones)
If you can remember all of the consonant classes, it helps you correctly pronounce Thai words easier.
It can be overwhelming to learn consonants and classes at first. The trick is to remember all mid-class consonants and high-class consonants first. Once you can remember all of them, then you know that the other 24 consonants are low class consonants.
Middle class consonants can pronounce all five tones, which are mid tone, low tone, falling tone, high tone and rising tone when mixed with vowels. There are nine middle class consonants as show in the table below.
|Consonant||Pronunciation||Initial sound||Final sound||Listen||Translation|
|ก||gor-gai||g||k||Gai is chicken|
|จ||jor-jaan||j||d||Jaan is dish|
|ด||dor-dek||d||d||Dek is child|
|ต||tor-tao||t||d||Tao is turtle|
|ฎ||dor-cha-daa||d||d||Cha-daa is head dress|
|ฏ||tor-pa-tak||t||d||Pa-tak is goad|
|บ||bor-bai-maai||b||b||Bai-maai is leaf|
|ป||por-plaa||p||b||Plaa is fish|
|อ||or-aang||–||(vowel)||Aang is basin|
High class consonants can pronounce three tones, which are low tone, falling tone, and rising tone when mixed with vowels. There are 11 high class consonants as shown in the table below.
|Consonant||Pronunciation||Initial sound||Final sound||Listen||Translation|
|ข||kor-kai||k||k||Kai is egg|
|ฃ*||kor-kuad||k||k||Kuad is bottle|
|ฉ||chor-ching||ch||–||Ching is cymbals|
|ฐ||thor-thaan||th||d||Thaan is pedestal|
|ถ||thor-thung||th||d||Thung is sack|
|ผ||phor-pheung||ph||–||Pheung is bee|
|ฝ||for-faa||f||–||Faa is lid|
|ศ||sor-saa-laa||s||d||Saa-laa is pavilion|
|ษ||sor-reuu-sii||s||d||Reuu-sii is hermit|
|ส||sor-suea||s||d||Suea is tiger|
|ห||hor-heep||h||–||Heep is trunk|
Remark: ฃ (khor-khuad) is no longer in use.
Low class consonants can pronounce three tones, which are mid tone, falling tone, and high tone when mixed with vowels. There are 24 low class consonants as shown in the table below.
|Consonant||Pronunciation||Initial sound||Final sound||Listen||Translation|
|ค||kor-kwaai||k||k||Kor-kwaai is buffalo|
|ฅ*||kor-kon||k||–||Kon is person|
|ฆ||kor-ra-kang||k||k||Ra-kang is bell|
|ง||ngor-nguu||ng||ng||Nguu is snake|
|ช||chor-chaang||ch||d||Chaang is elephant|
|ซ||sor-soh||s||d||Soh is chain|
|ฌ||chor-cher||ch||d||Cher is tree|
|ญ||yor-ying||y||n||Ying is lady|
|ฑ||thor-mon-tho||th||d||Mon-tho is character in the Ramayana|
|ฒ||thor-phu-thao||th||d||Phu-thao is old man|
|ณ||nor-naen||n||n||Naen is novice|
|ท||thor-tha-haan||th||d||Tha-haan is soldier|
|ธ||thor-thong||th||d||Thong is flag|
|น||nor-nuu||n||n||Nuu is rat|
|พ||phor-phaan||ph||b||Phaan is tray with pedestal|
|ฟ||for-fun||f||b||Fun is tooth|
|ภ||phor-sam-phao||ph||b||Sam-phao is junk (Type of Chinese sailing ship)|
|ม||mor-maa||m||m||Maa is horse|
|ย||yor-yak||y||y (and also vowel)||Yak is giant|
|ร||raw-ruea||r||n||Ruea is boat|
|ล||law-ling||l||n||Ling is monkey|
|ว||wor-waen||w||(vowel)||Waen is ring|
|ฬ||law-ju-laa||l||n||Ju-laa is star-shaped kite|
|ฮ||hor-nok-huuk||h||–||Nok-huuk is owl|
*Remark:ฅ (kor-kon) is no longer in use.
Thai Alphabet Song
There is an alphabet poem song (similar to the ABC song) that helps you learn the Thai alphabet easier, as seen below.
Here’s the transcript in Thai and English.
ก เอ๋ย ก ไก่ ข ไข่ ใน เล้า ฃ ขวด ของ เรา ค ควาย เข้า นา ฅ ฅน ขึงขัง ฆ ระฆัง ข้าง ฝา ง งู ใจ กล้า จ จาน ใช้ ดี ฉ ฉิ่ง ตี ดัง ช ช้าง วิ่ง หนี ซ โซ่ ล่าม ที ฌ กะ เฌอ คู่ กัน ญ หญิง โส ภา ฎ ชะฎา สวม พลัน ฏ ปะ ฏัก หุน หัน ฐ ฐาน เข้า มา รอง ฑ มน โฑ หน้า ขาว ฒ ผู้ เฒ่า เดิน ย่อง ณ เณร ไม่ มอง ด เด็ก ต้อง นิมนต์ ต เต่า หลัง ตุง ถ ถุง แบก ขน ท หทาร อด ทน ธ ธง คน นิยม น หนู ขวัก ไขว่ บ ใบ ไม ทับ ถม ป ปลา ตา กลม ผ ผึ้ง ทำ รัง ฝ ฝา ทน ทาน พ พาน วาง ตั้ง ฟ ฟัน สะอาด จัง ภ สำเภา กาง ใบ ม ม้า คึก คัก ย ยัก ษ์เขี้ยว ใหญ่ ร เรือ พาย ไป ล ลิง ไต่ ราว ว แหวน ลง ยา ศ ศาลา เงียบ เหงา ษ ฤา ษี หนวด ยาว ส เสือ ดาว คะ นอง ห หีบ ใส่ ผ้า ฬ จุฬา ท่า ผยอง อ อ่าง เนือง นอง ฮ นกฮูก ตา โต
Gor er-ee gor gài. Kor kài nai láo. Kor kuat kŏng rao. Kor kwaai kâo naa. Kor kon kĕung kăng. Kor rá-kang kâang făa. Nor ngoo jai glâa. Jor jaan chái dee. Chor chìng dtee dang. Chor cháang wîng nĕe. Sor sôh lâam tee. Chor gà cher kôo gan. Yor yĭng soh paa. Dor chá-daa sŭam plan. Dtor bpà tak hŏon hăn. Thor tăan kâo maa rong. Thor mon-tho náa kăao. Thor pôo tâo dern yông. Nor nen mâi mong. Dor dèk dtông ni-mon. Dtor dtào lăng dtoong. Tor tŏong bàek kŏn. Tor ta-haan òt ton. Tor tong kon ní-yom. Nor nŏo kwuk kwài. Bor bai máai táp tŏm. Bor bplaa dtaa glom. Por peung tam rang. For făa ton taan. Por paan waang dtâng. For fan sà-àat jang. Por săm-pao gaang bai. Mor máa kéuk-kuk. Yor yák kîeow yài. Ror reua paai bpai. Lor ling dtài raao. Wor wăen long yaa. Sor săa-laa ngîap ngăo. Sor reu see nùat yaao. Sor sĕua daao ká nong. Hor hèep sài pâa. Lor jòo-laa tâa pà-yŏng. Or àang neuang nong. Hor nók hôok dtaa dtoh.
In addition to this, you can watch this alphabet song cartoon and play it repeatedly.
Thai Alphabet Song Breakdown
You can learn each letter of the Thai alphabet from the song by using the translation below. You should remember the translation by heart, as it helps you remember each letter of the alphabet much easier.
ก เอ๋ย ก ไก่
gor er-ee gor gài
ข ไข่ ใน เล้า
kor kài nai láo
The eggs are in the coop.
ฃ ขวด ของ เรา
kor kuat kŏng rao
The bottles belong to us.
ค ควาย เข้า นา
kor kwaai kâo naa
The buffalo goes to the field.
ฅ ฅน ขึงขัง
kor kon kĕung kăng
A serious person.
ฆ ระฆัง ข้าง ฝา
kor rá-kang kâang făa
A bell beside a wall.
ง งู ใจ กล้า
nor ngoo jai glâa
A brave snake.
จ จาน ใช้ ดี
jor jaan chái dee
A good plate to use.
ฉ ฉิ่ง ตี ดัง
chor chìng dtee dang
The handbells ring loud.
ช ช้าง วิ่ง หนี
chor cháang wîng nĕe
The elephant runs away.
ซ โซ่ ล่าม ที
sor sôh lâam tee
The chain ties.
ฌ กะ เฌอ คู่ กัน
chor gà cher kôo gan
A pair of trees.
ญ หญิง โส ภา
yor yĭng soh paa
A pretty girl.
ฎ ชะฎา สวม พลัน
dor chá-daa sŭam plan
Put on the dancer’s crown.
ฏ ปะ ฏัก หุน หัน
dtor bpà tak hŏon hăn
The rapid spear.
ฐ ฐาน เข้า มา รอง
thor tăan kâo maa rong
The base supports.
ฑ มณ โฑ หน้า ขาว
thor mon-tho náa kăao
Mrs. Montho has a white face.
ฒ ผู้ เฒ่า เดิน ย่อง
thor pôo tâo dern yông
The old person walks hunched over.
ณ เณร ไม่ มอง
nor nen mâi mong
The novice does not look.
ด เด็ก ต้อง นิมนต์
dor dèk dtông ni-mon
The children must invite.
ต เต่า หลัง ตุง
dtor dtào lăng dtoong
The turtle has a humped back.
ถ ถุง แบก ขน
tor tŏong bàek kŏn
The bag carries.
ท ทหาร อด ทน
tor ta-haan òt ton
The soldier is patient.
ธ ธง คน นิยม
tor tong kon ní-yom
The people’s favorite flag.
น หนู ขวัก ไขว่
nor nŏo kwuk kwài
The rats run around.
บ ใบ ไม ้ทับ ถม
bor bai máai táp tŏm
The leaves pile on each other.
ป ปลา ตา กลม
bor bplaa dtaa glom
The fish has round eyes.
ผ ผึ้ง ทำ รัง
por peung tam rang
The bees make their hive.
ฝ ฝา ทน ทาน
for făa ton taan
The lid is strong.
พ พาน วาง ตั้ง
por paan waang dtâng
The tray is placed.
ฟ ฟัน สะอาด จัง
for fan sà-àat jang
The teeth are very clean.
ภ สำเภา กาง ใบ
por săm-pao gaang bai
The junk spreads its sails.
ม ม้า คึก คัก
mor máa kéuk-kuk
The horse chomps at the bit.
ย ยัก ษ์เขี้ยว ใหญ่
yor yák kîeow yài
The giant has big fangs.
ร เรือ พาย ไป
ror reua paai bpai
The boat rows past.
ล ลิง ไต่ ราว
lor ling dtài raao
The monkey climbs the railing.
ว แหวน ลง ยา
wor wăen long yaa
The ring is in lacquer.
ศ ศาลา เงียบ เหงา
sor săa-laa ngîap ngăo
The pavilion is lonely and quiet.
ษ ฤา ษี หนวด ยาว
sor reu see nùat yaao
The forest hermit has a long mustache.
ส เเสือ ดาว คะ นอง
sor sĕua daao ká nong
A tiger leopard.
ห หีบ ใส่ ผ้า
hor hèep sài pâa
A trunk of clothes.
ฬ จุฬา ท่า ผยอง
lor jòo-laa tâa pà-yŏng
The chula kite poised to attack.
อ อ่าง เนือง นอง
or àang neuang nong
A full basin.
ฮ นกฮูก ตา โต
hor nók hôok dtaa dtoh
The owl has big eyes.
Once you know the Thai alphabet by heart, it’s a good time to start learning vowels. There are 32 Thai vowels in total. They are separated into 12 short vowels, 12 long vowels, and 8 special vowels.
Please note there’s a specific position that each Thai vowel has to be in. There are five positions in total:
- behind the consonant
- before the consonant
- above the consonant
- below the consonant
- in-between the consonant
You can see their respective positions in the below table.
|Short Vowels||Listen||Long vowels||Listen|
|-ะ* (a)||-า* (aa)|
|-ิ* (i)||-ี* (ii)|
|-ึ (eu)||-ือ (euuh)|
|-ุ* (u)||-ู* (uu)|
|เ-ะ* (e)||เ-* (ee)|
|แ-ะ* (ae)||แ-* (aae)|
|โ-ะ (o)||โ-* (oo)|
|เ-าะ (aw)||-อ* (aw)|
|เ-อะ (er)||เ-อ (er)|
|เ-ียะ (ia)||เ-ีย (ia)|
|เ-ือะ (eua)||เ-ือ (eua)|
|-ัวะ (ua)||-ัว* (ua)|
|ฤ (rue) short sound|
|ฤา (rue) long sound|
|ฦ (lue) short sound**|
|ฦา (lue) long sound**|
*These are popular vowels that you commonly see in Thai words.
**You won’t see many Thai words with ฦ and ฦา.
Do I Need to Learn Thai Alphabet?
I have seen the advice that you should learn to communicate in Thai before you learn to read it. Some even say that you should not learn to read Thai until you are proficient in the language. However, from my own experience, this is not helpful.
When I first moved to Thailand, I didn’t know a single word. This was not out of me being ignorant, but because my move here was quite sudden. I had one month to prepare for my new life, and I was more focused on the documents and legal aspects of moving here than learning the language.
For the first six months, my Thai language learning felt extremely slow. I couldn’t tell words apart, the sounds of the language were hard for me to pick up, and the tonal nature of the language made it confusing. I felt lost, and the task of understanding the language seemed out of reach and impossible.
That is until I had the idea of learning to read Thai.
By learning to read, I was also learning to listen to and speak the language in small and easy to manage blocks, which is perfect for a challenging yet rewarding language like Thai. By learning to read Thai, you build your knowledge of the sounds that are unfamiliar to you. This will greatly improve the rate of your learning, as well as improve your listening and speaking skills.
For me, learning to read was an essential step in improving my Thai proficiency and ability to communicate. Learning to read helps you to take the first baby steps in pronunciation, improve tones, and lets you to recognize the unfamiliar sounds that you hear. The ability to read was also the best tool that I had in helping me to remember and learn important vocabulary, because I began practicing it in real-world settings.
It’s surprising how many words you can quickly forget if you don’t keep using them. Seeing images and words together while doing real-world tasks really helped to make sure vocabulary stuck.
How to Start Learning the Thai Alphabet
Here’s how to learn the Thai alphabet in five steps. If you dedicate one to two hours per day on these steps, you’ll see dramatic improvements.
Step 1: Use One Resource
When learning a new skill, people tend to use a lot of apps or websites. This may feel like you’re giving yourself lots of options and ways to learn. However, it actually has the opposite effect. Learning can quickly become disorganized, information that was sequential can become disjointed, and you may not know where to start.
You need to pick a resource that is right for you and your own needs. You also need to make sure that the resource you use is both comprehensible and enjoyable.
But how do you know if a resource is effective? When I was learning to read, I was lucky and found an effective resource by chance. Reflecting on my choice, I think a good resource should have the following things:
- audio clips and images of all 44 consonants
- information about the ending sounds of consonants
- consonant clusters
- details of rarely used letters (such as ฮ and ฬ)
- audio clips and images of all 21 vowel sounds
- information about how to form words and example words to practice reading
- the different tone markers found in words
The Thai writing system is complicated. These are not the only things that make up the rules of the writing system, but they are the essentials. Some resources go into more detail about the class system of consonants and how they can change or determine the tone of a word. But I found that learning these rules from the start hindered my progress.
It was better for me to learn these rules briefly, but put my main focus and efforts into the seven things I listed above. The reasons why will be explored further in step four.
My one and only learning resource was Thaipod101. I used the Thaipod101’s YouTube channel and watched the video, Learn ALL Thai Alphabet in 50 minutes/hour – How to Write and Read Thai. The title of the Thaipod101 video has the words “learn ALL,” but there are actually a few letters missing from it.
However, I found that if I went to the Thaipod101 website, I was able to find and complete the reading and writing course using the free trial. This means that you don’t have to pay any money to learn how to read using Thaipod101.
The Thaipod101 resource was comprehensible for me, as it showed me the shape of the letters, the pronunciation, the name of the letters, and how to write words in short simple lessons. This built up my fundamental knowledge. I also enjoyed the content, which made me stick with it. This resource is great for learners who want to be taught using teacher-and-student-based learning, as that is the method which is applied.
In addition, the video uses graphics, has large visual examples of how to write the letters, and a view of the teacher saying the letters and words. This makes the video clear and easy to follow. Furthermore, it also included the seven essential things to learn and more. One resource was enough for me to learn how to read in just one month.
Step 2: Make a Plan
Learning a new skill is always a big task. It’s important that you don’t just jump into it and hope things work out. You also need to feel motivated to stay on track. Before using your resource, write down two or three simple goals. These goals should be two-month goals, as learning to read can be done surprisingly quickly.
I was able to read, albeit slowly, in just one month. That is a much better rate of success than what I experienced in my first six months of trying to learn through just listening and speaking.
The goals you write could be something along the lines of: “to be able to read the cities I see on road signs,” “to recognize the sound of individual letters when I see them,” or “to remember the rules of how to form words properly in Thai.” These goals act as a reward to motivate you in your learning journey. It’s easy to lose track of the progress you have made when you’re doing something every day.
Having goals and a means of testing those goals gives you a concrete example of how far you have come. It also helps you feel proud of your achievements and helps you continue learning.
You also need to fit your learning into your daily schedule. When can you learn? What time is good for you? Will you be able to learn after work? Or will you be too tired? Is it better for you to learn in the morning rather than the evening? Do you need to take a Thai class? You need to think about the actions you’ll take every day, as this guides you and helps you stay motivated to study.
Your learning schedule for each day does not have to be long. I was able to learn to read in just one month by only setting aside 20 to 30 minutes for learning each day.
The Thaipod101 course that I used is split up into separate lessons. Although it may be tempting to watch the whole video in one sitting, as it is just 50 minutes, I would advise not to do that. After all, it’s a lot of information to take in. Instead, if you watch just two of those lessons per day and continue to watch the entire video each day using this process. Then, the information won’t be overwhelming. In fact, it’s easier to digest and manage.
The Thaipod101 video also has reviews of the previous lesson to help you retain information, which makes this method of using the resource effective. You can use these sections as revision when you return to it the next day. Repeating information like this over periods of time is a good way to remember what your learning.
To make the Thaipod101 resource even more convenient, you can pin the tab to your web browser. By doing this, you save your place in the video so that you can continue at any time.
If you choose to use the Memrise course, then you can split the session up in a similar way. The course has separate sub-courses that you can access, each with a set list of letters or words. You can further divide these sub-courses into smaller, less overwhelming sessions. You have full control over how many words or letters you see in your learning session each day. My advice would be to see and practice just 10 words per learning session, as it will make information easier to digest.
The great thing about Memrise is that when you create a profile, you have a front page with the courses you have been learning. It also saves your progress automatically, meaning that your courses and progress are easy and convenient to access. Memrise also has an app with all of these features, so you can learn on the go, making it easy to fit into your schedule.
Similar to the Thaipod101 videos, Memrise has reviews of all the letters and words you have learned. Memrise uses a technique called spaced repetition. What this means is that you will see items that you find hard to remember more often than the things you get right all the time.
Each time you review an item correctly, it takes longer for the website to revisit that item in future reviews. You can even customize your reviews by using the classic review, which makes you type words out. You can even use the speed review, which is a multiple-choice style review system. This means that you can choose the review method that is best for you.
I have used Memrise for other learning materials in the past and found that this method helped both my short-term and long-term memory. However, the reviews are not automatic, so you need to set some time in your learning session to do this.
It doesn’t matter when you do your learning sessions, where you learn, or which resource you use, as long as you learn effectively every day. If you learn every day, even if it’s for 20 or 30 minutes, then you will always improve. Even if it’s only small improvements that you make each day, those improvements are helping you become a better reader. Consistency is key. This is why it’s important that your resource is enjoyable.
Step 3: Take Notes While Using Resources
To really make the information from your resource stick, you should keep notes of all the letters and words you learn. Using pencil and paper for taking notes is great for connecting you to the language, which helps you remember information better.
When I was making my notes, I wrote down the shape of the letter and the sound that the letter makes. For letters with unfamiliar sounds, I used the Latin alphabet to write an approximate sound in a way that made sense to me. Remember, it’s you that has to remember the sound. So, it only has to make sense to you. These are your notes after all, and nobody knows what makes sense to you more than yourself.
There is an official Romanized version of the Thai alphabet that you can easily find. However, this was not helpful to me as it doesn’t match my accent and the way I pronounce letters in English, and I am a native English speaker. Through using my own system, I was able to accurately repeat sounds because my notes were personal to me and my thought process.
You should also write the characters that you have learned several times after each lesson. Writing the shapes of the letters in this way really helped me to retain the memory of the shape through constant practice. I was able to connect the sound, visual image, and the kinaesthetic action of writing the letter through this method. By doing this, you’re giving yourself more ways of learning and a better chance of remembering what you learn. Also make sure to write the words that your resource teaches you and keep a translation so that you can build vocabulary.
I also found it very helpful to write the letters and words that I could remember at the end of each day on a separate page at the back of my notebook with no accompanying notes. I would then use this page as a revision page and see if could remember the sound of each of the letters and words that I was reading, using my notes pages to check whether or not I was correct.
Although both resources I mentioned have revision quizzes, I found it helpful to be able to revise and further practice reading letters and words in this way any time I liked. By doing this, I had two forms of revision that I could rely on using the same resource. Having notes like this is also another way in which you can remind yourself of how much you have learned, which helps to keep you motivated to learn more.
Step 4: Know What Information is Important
The Thai alphabet can be confusing. There are four tone markers that float above words to help determine the tone in which you should say that word. These tones change the meanings of similar sounding words.
The Thai alphabet also has 44 consonants. These consonants only have 21 unique sounds, meaning that some consonants share the same sound. This is because consonants are also split into three categories; high, mid, and low class. These consonant classes are not related to the tone markers and act differently to them, but they also help determine which tone to use in a word.
However, the classes don’t directly translate to the tones with the same name. For example, a high-class consonant doesn’t mean the word is pronounced with a high tone. This means that there are many ways to determine which tone you need to use in words.
A lot of the resources that you come across go into detail about this information. The learning resource I used certainly did. This made reading seem like an impossible task as I had to memorize classes, tone markers, and the various ways in which they interact.
The more I focused on these rules, the less I focused on the actual act of reading in my 30-minute study time. This, I found, hindered my progress. I realized this early on in the process, and I decided to not focus on these rules.
Do you remember the list of the seven essential things to learn in step one? Those are what you should focus your time and efforts into. While you should still learn the rules of high, mid, and low-class consonants, only study them as they come up in learning sessions and keep notes of them in your notebook. This way, you have a basic understanding of these rules and notes to refresh your memory if you want to go into more detail with these concepts.
By focusing on the seven essential things to learn, you can read any word and understand how to produce the sound. The tone may be wrong, but this is something that you have to practice in your speaking anyway. After all, this feature of Thai doesn’t come naturally to those who were not raised speaking a tonal language. As you learn to speak, you’ll naturally begin to understand these rules through context and meaningful real-world practice, settings, and contexts.
In Thai, a word is not read in the same way as languages with the Latin alphabet. Vowels can come before, after, below, or above a consonant. And clusters of vowels around a consonant can make an entirely new sound. The seven essential things to learn that I listed in step one help you to get to grips with these rules. So, you’ll know both how to produce the sound of what is written down, and more importantly how to read the word itself.
This means that you can now read to a degree that opens up opportunities to take your learning to the next level. Whether that be reading signs and menus in real-world contexts, or using further resources that use the Thai alphabet.
Step 5: Maintaining Your Reading Skills Through Context
Once you’ve learned to read, you need to practice using your newfound skills. If you live in Thailand, use this opportunity to read everything you can. Any sign, menu, or road marking is an opportunity to practice. Also, spell out names of people or places in your country using the Thai alphabet. These kinds of practices help cement the rules of phonetics and letter order of the writing system.
The more you practice, the better you get at reading. Soon, you’ll find that the order of the letters comes as natural to you as reading from left to right.
A great benefit of learning to read is that it’s very useful in your day-to-day life in Thailand. Having the ability to read menus in restaurants and products at supermarket and shops makes your life easier and can help you to pick up and memorize vocabulary. Did you forget the word for a meal or kind of meat? You can learn it or refresh your memory from a menu with pictures. Do you not know the name of a product or item? You can find it in the supermarket and learn the word from labels.
Reading words on real products or seeing pictures of meals accompanied by words on menus really helps you to learn and remember vocabulary. We learn better when what we have learned is meaningful to us. By putting yourself in real-world situations and completing real-world tasks, learning becomes meaningful.
Learning to read is something people take for granted, but it’s important if you want improve your Thai. Not only does it help your listening and speaking through learning pronunciation of letters and sounds, but it also opens up a wealth of new learning resources.
Resources like Anki and Memrise offer free courses, such as “Thai vocabulary 4000” and “Thai frequency, top 4000 words,” for you to further improve your Thai. These resources use the Thai alphabet. They also help you learn how to read new words every day. Both of these resources provide the word written in Thai, a translation, and matching audio for the Thai words. This helps you learn the tone rules naturally. By learning to read, you get access to so much more in Thailand.
How Long Does it Take to Memorize the Thai Consonants and Vowels?
Given an hour or two per day, the writing system can be sufficiently mastered in a week. Of course that doesnʼt mean you could wiz through Thai literature. However, you’ll have little problem figuring out what menus say. Then as you add more and more vocabulary to your repertoire, youʼll find that you can understand much more than you think.
How to Learn the Thai Alphabet in Two Weeks
Can you learn how to read the Thai alphabet in 10 days? Two weeks? 60 minutes?
There’s a standalone course for learning how to read Thai: Read Thai in Two Weeks (by Brett Whiteside). Here’s an in-depth review.
Brett: Have you struggled with boring Thai books and lessons and still can’t talk to anybody or understand anything? Have you been frustrated by the fact that no one can just explain stuff simply? Are you still waiting for it to ‘click’ so you can start having real conversations in Thai? I’ve been there. I’m a foreigner who went all the way from zero to fluent and I want to show you how I did it. I’ll also steer you away from the loads of time-wasting, frustrating mistakes that almost everybody makes. I’ve already struggled through them and I want to make sure my students don’t have to.
Author: Brett Whiteside of Learn Thai From A White Guy is a Western expat who’s live in Thailand for over 10 years. In addition to being fluent in Thai, he can speak four other languages. Brett presently works as a consultant, translator, and language tutor.
When struggling to learn tones and pronunciation, Brett created his own materials to teach himself Thai. After many adjustments to get it just right, and having great personal success himself, he designed a course to teach Thai to hundreds of expat students: Read Thai in Two Weeks.
Review: To give you a quick rundown of this course, the introduction covers the intent of the course and instructions to setup Anki. The lessons are given in small, manageable chunks, each with audio files and mnemonics. Some have drills and/or exercises at the end of each lesson (with audio files as well). To test if you’re ready to carry on with the next round of lessons, after the first 15 lessons there’s a quiz on hearing, writing, and the tones and vowels previously covered. A second quiz tackles the rest of the already covered tones and low-class consonants. After eight more lessons (drills and exercises included – so no, you don’t get let off lightly) there’s a quiz on numbers. Thirteen more lessons are followed by a “What Now” exam, but no sweat as you’re already a superstar with the constant drilling, exercises, and questions asked throughout the course. To make sure you’ve learned what you should’ve, a further six drills follow. A final lesson covers simple sentence structure.
Because the course is online, you can easily navigate to the audio files, quizzes, drills, and exercises to test what you’ve learned (or not). Another plus are the mnemonics (memory hooks) to help get the materials down solid. Anki files with audio, as well as the free iOS and Android apps tailored to the course, make sure you can continue your studies wherever you are. Note: the Android app has quizzes while the iOS doesn’t.
When it comes to getting Thai lessons into your head, mnemonics are a powerful tool. There are several ways to use mnemonics — pre-drawn graphics or ones you create yourself. In my experience they both work. In this course, except for the Middle Class Story, detailed descriptions lead you to create personalized visuals using your own imagination. The more vivid, the more personal, the better.
The clearly recorded audio files for each lesson show what the sounds are supposed to sound like. A heads up, though. For the majority of the course there’s only audio, so forget about using the crutch of transliteration.
Brett’s experience as a student as well as a teacher of Thai shines through with the many insightful tips to help with concepts and remembering strange character shapes. The constant reminders to re-study what you don’t know are needed. And just in case you’ve forgotten, every so often he reminds you to go off and practice using the custom-made Anki cards that come with the course, or to play around with the free Thai alphabet apps.
While Brett is obviously not physically present, the way the course is written, it’s as if he’s looking over your shoulder, advising you every step of the way. And his liberal use of humor keeps the mood light throughout the course.
Price: $99 with a 30 day money-back guarantee.
Website: Learn Thai From A White Guy
Combining Consonants and Vowels into Thai Words
You can make a Thai word by combing consonants, vowels, and tones. There are two types of Thai words:
- first consonant + vowel + ending consonant + tone mark (eg. กิน, นอน)
- first consonant + vowel + tone mark (eg. ขอ, ดี)
*You can read our Thai tone article to learn more on tone mark.
First Consonant + Vowel + Ending Consonant + Tone Mark
- บ้าน = house (first consonant “บ” + vowel “-า” + ending consonant “น” + tone “ ้” )*
- ร้อน = hot (first consonant “ร” + vowel “-อ” + ending consonant “น” + tone “ ้” )**
- แพง = expensive (first consonant “พ” + vowel “แ-” + ending consonant “ง”)***
*For mid-class consonants when pronouncing the falling tone, you must use the tone mark called “mai tho” (ไม้โท) which is “ ้”.
**For low-class consonants when pronouncing the high tone, you must use the tone mark “mai tho” (ไม้โท) or “ ้”.
***For class consonants when pronouncing the mid tone, you don’t need to use tone marks.
First Consonant + Vowel + Tone Mark
- ปู่ = grandfather (first consonant “ป” + vowel “-ู”+ tone “ ่” )*
- สี = color (first consonant “ส” + vowel “ -ี”) **
- พ่อ = she/her (first consonant “พ” + vowel “-อ”+ tone “ ่” ) ***
*For mid-class consonants when pronouncing the low tone, you must use the tone mark “mai ek” (ไม้เอก) which is “ ่”.
**For high-class consonant when pronouncing the rising tone, you don’t need to use tone marks.
***For low-class consonants when pronouncing the falling tone, you must use the tone mark “mai ek” (ไม้เอก) or “ ่”.
This may seem confusing at first. But you’ll learn it naturally as you learn more vocabulary.
Additional Resources for Learning the Thai Alphabet
There are additional resources to help you learn Thai consonants and vowels.
Thaipod101 Alphabet Made Easy is a series of videos from ThaiPod101 that consists of a few consonants and vowels.
These consonants and vowels are grouped based on their sounds and appearance. You also learn how to pronounce them correctly from a native Thai speaker.
There are 25 videos in total. It takes 2 hours and 40 minutes to watch them all.
Prepare a notebook, then pronounce and write down each consonant and vowel repeatedly, and you should be able to memorize all of them within a week.
You can re-watch these videos as many times as you like. Although these lessons are only available for paid members, you can use Thaipod101’s 7-day free trial and learn all of them.
In addition to this, you can check out:
- Consonant shape learning aids (scroll down to find his notes on useful patterns)
- Memrise: Thai Alphabet Crash Course
- ThaiStyle: Thai Letters & Pronunciation Guide
- Thai alphabet poster
- Vintage Thai alphabet poster at pinterest.com
What to Read Next
- Thai Tones
- How to Improve Your Pronunciation
- Finding the Tone of a Thai Syllable and Consonant Class
- 100 Basic Thai Words for Beginners
- How to Learn Thai Language for Beginners
- Basic Thai Phrases for Everyday Use
Or you can go back to our main Learn Thai page to find out more learning resources.
Credits: Catherine Wentworth