What I Love About Learning the Thai Language

Bunt

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

What’s to love about the Thai Language?…

(Attention: เนื้อหาไม่เหมาะสมสำหรับเด็ก content not suitable for children)

I love that I can look a taxi driver right in the back of the neck while telling him to turn penis. Or even turn right.

And that I can walk around for three years introducing myself as drunk, or Cat (short for Catherine). Or both. All without collapsing into heaps of laughter.

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And how do I do that? By using the same word (to our western ears) for each, with slightly different intonations.

Yes, just by being a tonal language, the Thais make it easy for you to learn anywhere from two to five words to every one. Pretty great, hhmmm?

For instance…

Remember that old classic movie? The one the Thais hate? The Bridge over the River Kwai? Well, there you have it. With a little bit of tongue twisting, you’ve just learned the name for penis in Thai. And if you are clever, 50% of the time you can morph kwai into directions for turning right.

Now how great is that?

Kwăa = Right

ขวา

Khuay = Penis

ควย

Turn right = Láew kwăa

เลี้ยวขวา

Or if you want to get really fancy…

Líeow láew kwăa…

แล้วเลี้ยวขวา

…which translates into then, turn right.

Which doesn’t quite have the same impact as then, turn penis. Right?

Another for instance…

Most days I’m a kind soul. So, instead of insisting on Thais calling me Catherine, I’ve shortened it to Cat.

Cat in Thai is the sound a cat makes. Meow. Easy, right? Well, that’s what I thought too. Easy. Until yesterday that is. Yesterday I discovered that while going for the lightbulb of understanding, cat can also be drunk.

(but not always, honest!)

Maew = Cat

แมว

Mao = Drunk

เมา

Dì-chăn maew = I Cat

Dì-chăn mao = I drunk

And to be even more interesting, mĭeow also means cat.

เหมียว

Flaffing off aside, the super-duper proper way to introduce yourself is:

I/me name (insert your name here), (polite particle).

For females:

Dì-chăn chêu (insert your name here), ka.

ดิฉันชื่อ ( ) ค่ะ

For males:

Pŏm chêu (insert your name here), kráp.

ผมชื่อ ( ) ครับ

So for me (with no spaces), it’d be:

ดิฉันชื่อแมวค่ะ

But in real life I say:

ฉันชื่อแมว

Now, how fun is that?

13 comments
  1. Penis is pronounced Koi/Cuy/Koy,Leo Kwaa is turn right and Saphan Kwai/Cwy/Kwy it’s very basic I honestly don’t understand how you are getting these simple words mixed up?
    Now try the Thai phrase/saying ‘Naa,Tua,Jai,Sua’?

  2. Loved reading this!!! My first mistake was telling my Thai family during a road trip that I loved large water buffalo…. 555!

  3. Thai is difficult (for me anyway) but as long as I keep having fun with it, I’m fine. When it stops being fun… oh well.

  4. I am having much difficulty writing the Thai language these days. It’s hard to keep up with the tones.

  5. Oh dear! I’ll have to start compiling a list of words to avoid…

    My Canadian friend has a driver. Male. She’s always trying her Thai out on him and he’s always blushing to his roots when she ventures into unknown territory.

    That poor chap! (but it’s hilarious to us 😀

  6. haha, that’s funny.
    my kid once had a homeroom teacher called Kru ( teacher ) Moi ( chinese girl ) . I avoid addressing her by her name cuz I know I’ll mispronounce it and call her Kru ( teacher ) Moi ( pubic hair )
    🙂

  7. I’m coming in early October to resettle–so I’ll be there when you return from your roaming…

  8. You are a brave lass to attempt Saphan Khuay! I’ve yet to pull out that particular jewel.

    October, you’re on! When will you be here? I’m roaming around off-station from the 14th to the 30th.

  9. Well, well…I thought I was the only one to recognize the inherent horror in telling a taxi driver to turn penis–or to go to Saphan Khuay! When I get to Bangkok in October, let’s talk.

  10. Hah! (just wait until you get out here again… 🙂

    Well, at this point I’ll have to say that learning the Thai language is much easier on the temper than fighting with an Internet connection during the rainy season.

    If gnashing teeth could kill…

  11. Haha. Nothing like a light-hearted read to brighten my morning. I don’t envy you in your studies!

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