This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
English Words in Thai Signs…
Lots of people find that when they first begin to read Thai they like to look at street signs and ads and try to decipher them. Reading signs helps to build vocabulary and will also get you to be comfortable reading all kinds of different fonts. For those who are interested in practicing reading in this way you might want to take a look at my Reading Thai Roadside Signs which I offer for free. Just contact me through [email protected] and I will email it to you.
But… A big problem we encounter when trying to read signs is that we are always running into words we just can’t find in any dictionary. They just don’t seem Thai. In fact, they usually aren’t. Lots of signs have English words in them. At first they are quite confusing but once you learn to recognize an English word written in Thai, it will in fact help you learn your Thai letters and help you in sounding out the written Thai.
Here are a couple of hints in helping you to identify a word borrowed into Thai that is rendered using Thai script.
1. Most English words that begin with an “S” are spelled in Thai using the infrequently used ซ.
2. Most English words that begin with an “H” are spelled with the equally rare ฮ. As an example, my name Hugh written in Thai is ฮิว.
Here is a sign with the name of a local restaurant that shows examples of both of the above.
ไฮโช – HiSo (slang coming from the English words “High Society”)
3. Lots of foreign words have endings that are not pronounced or are unpronounceable in Thai. For that they use the symbol ์.
The next sign uses this symbol because the “r” and the final “k” sounds are not pronounced. If you see this symbol it usually means that the word is borrowed (not always from English though).
There are an uncountable number Thai signs with English words in them. We’ll only show a few here. To show just how ubiquitous they are, the following pictures of these signs were taken on a five minute motorcycle ride around the block from my house.
Borrowed words: The word มอเตอร์ไซค์ /mor-dter-sai/ is the most common word used for “motorcycle”. The Thai word is จักรยานยนต์ /jàk-grà~yaan-yon/ literally “motorized bicycle” but is very rarely used nowadays.
ซ่อม /sôm/ – repair
มอเตอร์ไซค์ /mor-dter-sai/ – motorcycle
Meaning of sign: This is a sign for a motorcycle repair shop.
Show Up Resort…
โซว์ อัพ รีสอร์ท
Borrowed words: This sign is all English, although the term รีสอร์ท /ree-sòt/ “resort” is already in wide usage throughout the country. Not so much for the term โซว์ อัพ “Show Up”.
Meaning of sign: This is a sign for one of those “24 Hour” motels (usually where rooms are hired by the hour for various activities) called the “Show Up Resort”.
แอล พี จี แก๊ส
Borrowed words: The first three words in the sign are how the English letters are written in Thai.
The word แก๊ส is the word used for “gas”, “methane”, or “natural gas”, also “cooking gas”.
Meaning of sign: LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) Gas. This is a sign at a service station that offers natural gas fill ups for automobiles, taxis, buses, and trucks and is becoming more and more popular as people convert to using the cheaper fuel.
Chiang Mai Night Safari…
เชียงไหม่ ไนท์ ซาฝารี
Borrowed words: The two words ไนท์ “night” and ซาฝารี “safari” are put together to form Night Safari.
เชียงไหม่ – Chiang Mai
ไนท์ซาฝารี – Night Safari
Meaning of sign: This is a road sign pointing to the zoo-like Chiang Mai Night Safari.
Doi Kham Hillside…
ดอย คำ ฮิลล์ไซด์
Borrowed words: ฮิลล์ไซด์ is the transliteration of the English word “hillside”.
ดอย /doi/ – hill
คำ /kam/ short form of ทองคำ /tong-kam/ – gold
ฮิลล์ไซด์ – Hillside
The term ดอยคำ /doi kam/ is the name of a local Chiang Mai hill with a beautiful ancient temple on the top.
Meaning of sign: ดอยคำฮิลล์ไซด์ or Doi Kham Hillside is the name of the housing compound where your humble author currently lives.
ไม่ ลง ทางลอด
Borrowed words: โฮม is the Thai spelling for “Home” and โปร is for “Pro”. The word โฮมโปร is the name of a popular DIY (Do it Yourself) chain which carries kitchen and bathroom fixtures as well as lighting, tiles, hardware, electronics, and furniture.
โฮม /hohm/ – Home
โปร /bproh/ – Pro
ไม่ /mâi/ – Don’t
ลง /long/ – Go down
ทางลอด /taang-lót/ – highway underpass (made up of ทาง /taang/ – way, and ลอด /lót/ – to go through, as in tunnel)
Meaning of sign: This sign gives directions to Home Pro. Don’t go through the underpass.
หมู กระทะ ซีฟู้ด
Borrowed words: Normally the word “seafood” is translated as อาหารทะเล /aa-hǎan-tá~lay/ “food from the sea”. But this sign wants to look cool and use the English word, spelled in Thai as it sounds, ซีฟู้ด.
หมู /mǒo/ – pig, pork
กระทะ /grà~tá/ – frying pan
หมูกระทะ /mǒo grà~tá/ – This is the name given to a type of restaurant, usually a buffet, where a small barbeque-type stove is placed on your table and where you can barbeque or boil up your meats (not always just pork), veggies, and seafood.
ซีฟู้ด – seafood
Meaning of sign: This is a sign for a self-barbeque buffet restaurant which specializes in offering seafood.
อินเตอร์เน็ต ผ่าน สาย เคเบิล
599 บาท / เดือน
Borrowed words: No Thai word for Internet yet except อินเตอร์เน็ต /in-dter-nèt/. The word สาย /sǎa/ could be translated as cable but more likely they would use the complete term สายเคเบิล /sǎai-kay-bêrn/. When used for TV and Internet they often just shorten that to เคเบิล /kay-bêrn/.
อินเตอร์เน็ต /in-dter-nèt/ – internet
ผ่าน /pàan/ – pass, pass through
สาย /sǎa/ – cord, line, string
เคเบิล /kay-bêrn/ – cable
บาท /bàat/ – baht
เดือน /deuan/ – month
บาท/เดือน – baht per month. The “/” in this term is pronounced ต่อ /dtòr/ so the term บาท/เดือน is pronounced /bàat dtòr deuan/
Meaning of sign: This sign was on an electric post along the road, advertising for Internet service.
599 baht per month
Mountain Green Restaurant…
ร้านอาหาร เมาเท์น กรีน
Borrowed words: Lots of names around Chiang Mai have the word เมาเท์น “mountain” in them and the word กรีน “green” is also in vogue.
ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/ – restaurant
เมาเท์น /mao-tan/ – mountain
กรีน /green/ – green
Meaning of sign: Although nowhere near a mountain, and with nothing green around it except the sign itself, this is a sign for the Mountain Green Restaurant.
แอร์ บ้าน จำหน่าย ติดตั้ง ล้าง ซ่อม
Borrowed words: The word แอร์ /ae/ comes from the English “air” and means air condition, either in the home or car. There is a real Thai word for air conditioning ระบบปรับอากาศ /rá~bòp-bpràp-aa-gàa/ “system to control the air”. But แอร์ /ae/ is the popular shortcut.
แอร์ /ae/ – air condition
บ้าน /bâan/ – house, home
จำหน่าย /jam-nàai/ – agent, distributor
ติดตั้ง /dtìt dtâng/ – install
ล้าง /láang/ – clean
ซ่อม /sôm/ – repair
Meaning of sign: Distributor of Home air conditioning – installation, cleaning, repair
Doi Suthep condo…
วิว ทะเลสาบ และ ดอยสุเทพ
เพียง 5 นาที จาก สนามบิน
Borrowed words: The word คอนโด /kon-doh/ is easily recognized as “condo” as in condominium. Sometimes to be more sophisticated a sign might have the longer word spelled out คอนโดมิเนียม /kon-doh-mí~niam/.
The word วิว /wiw/, although pronounced in the Thai manner, comes from “view”. There is a more classy Thai word for “view” ทิวทัศน์ /tiw-tát/ which has taken a backseat in everyday conversation to the shorter borrowed term.
คอนโด /kon-doh/ – condo
ใหม่ /mài/ – new
วิว /wiw/ – view
ทะเลสาบ /tá~lay-sàap/ – lake
และ /láe/ – and
ดอยสุเทพ Doi Suthep – Suthep Mountain
เพียง /piang/ – only
นาที /naa-tee/ – minute
จาก /jàak/ – from
สนามบิน /sà~nǎam-bin/ – airport
Meaning of sign: This is an ad for a new condo currently under construction.
Lake view and view of Doi Suthep
Only 5 minutes from the airport
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8 thoughts on “Thai Language Thai Culture: English Words in Thai Signs”
I am looking for a thai word that sounds like (phonetoically written) as son,soon, or sin. Are there any thai words that sound like this and what would be their meaning. Could anyone help me with this please?
That’s true. That is why the title of this post is “English Words in Thai signs”, not “loan words”. Reading them can help us read Thai, especially when we are just beginning to learn the letters, since we already now the approximate pronunciation. I consider borrowed words to be Thai words. They originated from other languages but now are part of the Thai lexicon. Every language does that, English especially.
Some of these signs aren’t necessarily loan words. A lot of these businesses just have English names, and by Thai law, the phonetic version must also be printed in Thai script above the English version. Take the sign for HomePro as an example. I doubt you will find anyone using the word โฮม in place of บ้าน, although it’s possible that I’ve just never heard it. On the other hand, I do think that โปร is a borrowed word.
Note: I deleted my last comment. Got some sleep and recognised the word, ฝรั่งเศส. Goodness.
Regarding words with a final “ส”, I ran into an interesting one this morning. I was looking at a Thai newspaper and saw this word ฝรั่งเศส. Now I could figure out the first part was ฝรั่ง /fà~ràng/ or Farang meaning foreigner, usually westerner. But what was that second part เศส?
After lots of dictionary look-ups with no luck I finally figured it was a foreign word. ฝรั่งเศส /fà~ràng-sàyt/ is now a Thai word and means “French” or “French person” (borrowed from the French language this time).
I should have listened to my own advice.
Thanks. You always have interesting takes on my posts. The word you had trouble with รีเควส “request” had me going for a while too, until I remembered another one of those foreign word indicators – the final “ส”. Since there is no final “s” sound in Thai a final “ส” would be kind of weird – unless the word came from some other language. I should have thought of that for the original post for hints in identifying English words.
When “request” is spelled รีเควสต์ it makes lots more sense. The final สต์ gives us the “st” in “request” , another sound combination (at the end of a word) not found in Thai. It gives us “requeST” instead of “requeS”.
BTW, the banner referred to had the Thai รับสมัครด่วน”. This means รับสมัคร “applications taken”, ด่วน “urgently”. You see this sign often in front of restaurants and other shops with high employee turnover.
The number of English word written in Thai is changing more dynamically than Thailand has ever seen, possibly in its entire history. This is mostly due to the ease of Thais connecting to the internet and their exposure to the world at large. Unlike before where Thailand could “pull an ostrich”, keep its head in the sand pretending Thai was the only language which mattered and where English wasn’t all that represented in signage or the spoken language; that certainly ain’t the case anymore.
In every media from b/s hand written signage on the street, to giant billboards, newspapers, magazines, television, etc, more and more English is being “borrowed” into Thai and used daily. The Thai language only forums are a great source for finding new words the Thai youth of today are incorporating into their Thai conversations, as is eaves-dropping on unsuspecting Thais’ talkin’ with one another too.
Anecdotally, the other day I was reading a pretty large “รับสมัครด่วน” banner which went up across the street from my house. I was stuck on the wording รีเควส (which I erroneously thought was pronounced as “ree-ka-wait”). I just couldn’t work the word out in context and it wasn’t in my trusty Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English Dictionary either. Finally I asked the security guard what it was. It turned out to be the English word “request” spelled in Thai – go figure! I’d would have NEVER made that “leap in logic” if it wasn’t told to me. Even though I could read every other word in the sentence, it just didn’t “click”.
After I got home I Googled it; and it does seen to be a fairly high frequency word, although sometimes it’s spelled as รีเควสต์ to better reflect the English spelling (although even that wouldn’t change the Thai pronunciation, which if I go by what the security guard said; the คว are a consonant cluster and its not even close to the mangled pronunciation I came up with).
Interesting post, Hugh, great example pix too!! I always look for those seldom used characters and/or the การันต์’s to try to discern English but even that’s not fool proof.
The first words I recognized in Thai were on a number of signs: ทางออก indicating the exit. 🙂