Thai Language Thai Culture: Telephone Thai

Thai Language

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Talking Thai on the telephone…

It probably took me ten years before I could understand anything anyone said on the telephone here in Thailand. It’s not the language. My wife had the same problem in English when she got to America. It is just really hard dealing with a disembodied voice and not seeing the person who is talking. We quickly realize how important body posture, facial expressions, and mouth movements are when we are talking to someone on the phone, especially in a foreign language.

One way to make things easier is to be able to use telephone-specific speech correctly. Every language has its own special telephone phrases. Below are some useful Thai phone words and phrases.

Note: Thai ending particles or หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/ (e.g. ครับ/คะ /kráp/ká/) are very important in everyday life and even more so over the telephone. I have even heard someone comment on the undesirability of a person because they didn’t use หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/ appropriately. When it comes to telephone conversations, especially when we are talking to someone on the other end of the line who we may not know, you can never overuse หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/. The more the better. Never underestimate the importance of Thai ending particles; try to make liberal use of them in any telephone conversations we have.

Saying Hello…

Thais will typically answer the phone with สวัสดีครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/. But occasionally they will use the English loan word ฮัลโล /ha-loh/. As native English speakers, we usually answer the phone in Thailand simply by saying “hello”. As innocent as this may be it can lead to some problems.

If you answer with “hello” the caller will almost invariably know that you are not a native Thai speaker no matter how good your Thai pronunciation is. I am always a bit disgruntled when I answer the telephone and the caller knows immediately that I am not a native speaker. I mean, I work really hard at my pronunciation and I have only said one word, “hello”. How do they know? Well, it turns out that a Thai “hello” (and this is officially a Thai word now and can be found in the dictionary) and an English “hello” are different animals.


When I answer the phone with “hello”, often the person calling will stutter and try to speak English to me, or they sometimes hang up altogether.

Here is how that kind of conversation usually goes (taken from an actual conversation I had just this morning). You may have encountered something similar.

Telephone: Ring
Me: Hello.
Caller: (after hesitating) ฮัลโล /ha-loh/.
Me: Hello?
Caller: (longer hesitation) ฮัลโล /ha-loh/.
Me: Hello!
Caller: Hangs up.

What’s the story? I think I have discovered the reason. Native speakers of English usually say the word “hello” like this, /hel lôw/, stressing the second syllable which makes it sound like a falling tone. The Thai way to say “hello” is ฮัลโล /hel loh/ where both syllables have a mid tone. I have even heard this word used with a rising tone and an elongated vowel on the second syllable. Also, the English “hello” ends with a “w” sound. The Thai “hello” has a more elongated second syllable with maybe a hint of an “h” at the end.

So you see, when a native English speaker says “hello” in Thai we are usually using the incorrect tone and sometimes even an incorrect ending sound. Since the caller often doesn’t want to hassle with speaking to a foreigner over the phone they just hang up. Now I stick with สวัสดีครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/ when I answer the phone.

Typical telephone-specific speech situations…

ขอพูดกับ… ครับ
kŏr pôot gàp… kráp
May I speak to…

ผมอยากจะพูดกับ… ครับ
pŏm yàak jà pôot gàp… kráp
I would like to speak with …

nêe krai pôot kráp
Who is this.

นี่…พูด ครับ
nêe… pôot kráp
This is…

bpròht tĕu săai wái sàk krô kráp
Hold on a minute.

gà-rú-naa ror sàk krô kráp
One minute please.

jà kâo maa mêua-rai kráp
When will he be back?

dĭeow maa kráp
He’ll be right here.

Voice mail (message): ข้อความ /kôr kwaam/

kŏr fàak kôr kwaam kráp
Can I leave a message?

jà fàak kôr kwaam măi ká
Would you like to leave a message?

gà-rú-naa fàak kôr kwaam ká
Please leave a message.

hâi ráp chái à-rai ká
How may I help you?

ขอโทษค่ะ Mr. Wallace ไม่อยู่ค่ะ
kŏr tôht ká/ Mr. Wallace /mâi yòo ká
I am sorry. Mr. Wallace is not available.

Put you through, connect you: ต่อให้ /dtòr hâi/

jà toh maa mài kâ
I will call you back.

ต่อ 411
dtòr 411
Extension 411.

dì-chăn jà sòng fâek àyk-gà-săan
I’ll fax you.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
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