This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
I’m all for the easy way out…
Learning how to read Thai is often a stumbling block for students of the Thai language. Some students have opted to forgo the pleasure. Others have stops and starts. Then there are those who soar through all with ease (and those, we admire through clinched teeth).
I’m of the stops and starts variety. I also go for the easiest way possible, which is what you’ll get here.
Note: In this post I won’t be taking you through the Thai alphabet letter by letter. I’ll be sharing methods and available resources for beginners learning to read and write Thai. And while my way may not be your way, you’ll still find decent resources.
Alternatively, you can head over to Learn Thai from a White Guy website. After enter your email, you get free five Thai lessons to help you read Thai within two weeks.
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- Reading Thai the Easy Way...
- Getting the Thai Sounds Down...
- Testing Your Alphabet Skills Via Flashcards...
- Testing Your Alphabet Skills Via Flashcards (SRS)...
- Writing Thai the Easy Way...
- Putting It All Together...
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Reading Thai the Easy Way…
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.
And if you’ve started to panic at the thought of learning 44 Thai consonants (along with their initial and final sounds), 32 different vowel configurations, numbers, and all those extra symbols, then head over to Thaipod101 Alphabet Made Easy.
How it works… as you can see from the image, you get access to different videos. Each video 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 speaker.
There are 25 videos in total. It takes 2 hours and 40 minutes to watch them all.
Prepare a notebook, pronounce and write down each consonant and vowel repeatedly, and you should be able to memorize all of them within a week.
You can rewatch these videos as many times as you want to. Note: Although these lessons are only available for paid members, you can use their 7-day free trial and learn all of them.
Getting the Thai Sounds Down…
Your next move is to get the actual sounds and full names into your head. IMHO, the best Thai alphabet sources available on the Internet are:
- e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam (offline – waiting)
Thai reading, Thai alphabet, Thai alphabet test, Lesson one, Lesson two, Lesson three, and Lesson four.
Three Consonants Classes, Vowels and Numbers With Thai Script.
You’d think that learning to read Thai with 60 Minutes would interfere with learning the individual names, but it didn’t for me.
The Thai I learned at ashoka10’s Channel and Learn Thai Podcast slid to the front. What I learned at 60 Minutes stayed in the background until I needed to remember which letter had two sounds, and what class they were. Then visual linking clicked in.
Testing Your Alphabet Skills Via Flashcards…
If you are in Thailand, you can purchase flash cards at most Thai bookstores with a children’s section (all in Thai).
To my knowledge, there are no Thai flashcards that include everything – alphabet, graphic, English explanation and examples – so if it’s important to you, you’ll need an additional resource.
Suggestion: Buy two sets of flashcards with complimenting elements (I used the colour Thai version, with the English / Thai black and white).
And you can always print your own from slice-of-thai.com, Thai consonant/vowel flashcards. Or by printing an existing set and/or creating a new one at Cram (formerly Flashcard Exchange).
Testing Your Alphabet Skills Via Flashcards (SRS)…
SRS (Spaced Repetition Systems) are basically digital flash cards. Some are online, other SRS programs can be downloaded to your computer. Some, like the Cram have Thai sets created by other users.
Others are a clean slate (no Thai available).
- Anki (download)
A program designed to help you remember words and phrases (Mac, Windows, Linux and Debian).
- ProVoc (download)Easy-to-use vocabulary trainer (Mac).
- SuperMemo (download, online, as well as without computer)
A learning method that makes it possible to learn fast and retain memories for years (Windows).
- The Mnemosyne Project (download)
A flash-card program to help you memorise question/answer pairs, but with an important twist: it uses a sophisticated algorithm to schedule the best time for a card to come up for review (Mac, Linux and Windows).
You’ll also find a growing list of SRS products in Searching for a Thai Language Learning Style: SRS and More.
Writing Thai the Easy Way…
When I started writing Thai, I felt forced into an uncomfortable scrunch when using the course books from AUA. It was definitely not for me. You might not feel the pinch so go ahead and try them. But I did. Beware. The books are poorly reproduced so they are also difficult to read. Eye strain. Hand strain. That’s all the excuse I needed to bail.
Knowing there just had to be a better way, I started hounding the different bookstores in Bangkok.
For those living in Thailand, kindergarten books for practicing the Thai alphabet are not difficult to find. Again, just drop by that Thai bookstore with the childrens’ section.
And just like their counterpart in the West, they have ample space to practice your new alphabet. Over and over.
If you prefer a grown up approach, then Reading Thai is Fun by James Neal might just be the one for you.
In Reading Thai is Fun, James shows you how to feel the natural flow of writing Thai by using the cursive style of an adult. Not the formal boxy style taught to children.
To understand what I mean, grab a stack of scrap paper.
Then, as big as you like (I used a 1/4 page for each), fluidly write the Thai letter ม in the graphic to the left.
Each letter has a start and finish, so be sure to note the drawing direction at learningthai.com/writing_09 (site offline for now).
Keep tracing over that letter until you own it. Until you are in the alphabet zone if you like. I like.
Putting It All Together…
- To get a general feel, flip through 60 Minutes to Learn the Thai Alphabet.
- With paper and pen, work through each letter at Reading Thai is Fun while……intermittently clicking on relevant sounds found at learningthai.com/writing, Practice Writing Thai Letters (site offline for now). If tech savvy, record each into a loop for hands-free ease.
Soon you’ll have the shapes, sounds, tones and class down solid. You’ll also be ready for Thai / English readers found at Thai publishers such as Nanmeebooks. Right?
More Reading and Writing Tips…
- Practice writing the Thai script for at least 15 minutes a day.
- Listen to spoken Thai often, no matter how bored, frustrated, or confused.
- Load down an iPod for short walks around town.
- Grab a stack of flash cards when headed out the door.
What You Might Not Know…
- Spoken Thai and written Thai are not always the same.
- You are not going blind, there really are missing letters in Thai words.
- Yes, some Thai words are read from middle to left then top to bottom.
- If the lack of spaces between words frustrates you, hark back to Illuminated Manuscripts.
More Reading and Writing Resources…
- Consonant shape learning aids
Scroll down to find his notes on useful patterns.
- Learn Thai with Maanii Books
Learn to Read Thai with Manee and Friends.
- Thai Alphabet
Wikipedia resource on the Thai script/ alphabet.
- Thai Font Comparison.
If you’ve ever been confused at trying to read Thai around town, here’s a good round up of available Thai fonts to defog your brain.
Shortly after taking on the Thai alphabet, I found myself sitting in a taxi at a long light on Paholyothin in Bangkok. Looking out the window to my left, I was thrilled to be able to read a street sign in Thai.
I wish you the same joy.
29 thoughts on “The Easy Way for Beginners to Read and Write Thai”
A little bit embarrassing, but I’ll share anyway… Am Thai-born and left at the age of 4. I can speak Thai fluently, but never learned to read and write. Now at 46 years old (and still living abroad) I’ve decided that it’s time to claim back my heritage. A simple Google search has led me to your blog, Khun Catherine, and I’m very grateful. Am heartened to see that it’s not going to be quite as difficult as I thought.
Good luck Sue. It really isn’t that hard to tackle reading simple Thai.
Catherine it is great to see your recommendation for “Reading Thai is fun” by James Neal.
While I haven’t tried his writing approach yet, as I have not seemed to have a suitable place/time to write in over a month, the section in his book “Begin Reading” is incredible.
In four short pages he broke down how to read the different syllables within a word/long sentence(us foreign learners of Thai love it when there are no spaces between words. 555!)
This book is the first I found and if memory serves (It doesn’t always) the only one that explained the rules for when a syllable starts and stops. This was so hard for me.
He explained and demonstrated it so easily and now it seems possible.
To other readers I definitely recommend this book if you are serious about learning to read Thai.
Betsy, blowing the pages up is a great idea (I wish I’d thought of that at the time)!
I’m so glad I’m not the only learner going cross-eyed with the AUA books. My teacher doesn’t understand why my classmates and I can’t tell the difference between so many of the letters, but that book prints them all so tiny that they look identical (cho-so-kho, for example, or do-kho). And don’t get us started on the writing workbook! When I complained, the teacher asked if I didn’t write that small in English. No, I definitely don’t. I started photocopying pages to blow them up to 250% in order to do the written exercises.
Hi Jonathan, there are many Thai alphabet apps for the iPhone – an updated review is coming soon (waiting on one more app to be released). But I would LOVE an app version of 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet to be included.
Your recommendation, the 60 minutes to learn the alphabet, was a great help! In the ebook/pdf they also have a very easy and condensed way of remembering the complicated rule matrix for tones too!
Incidentally, another helpful way I found of helping to memorize the alphabet in my spare time (on the bus, in queues) was to pull out my smart phone and use an app like this free android one (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.foonugget.thaiscript&hl=en) Not sure what the iphone equivalent would be but I am sure there are probably a few out there.
Terima kasih, Catherine!
I’ll be traveling with my daughter to Thailand this September and I vow to learn Thai to survive there. I’ll be using this post as my guide. Thanks again!
Hi Joe. There are a few online… none for free that come to mind.
Learn Thai Podcast has a complete course with downloadable Thai alphabet sheets.
Buy Thai Books has downloadable alphabet sheets.
Do you know where I can find sheets with the letters on and the lines for me to copy the letters horizontally across the page on?
Sarawan, welcome 🙂 I’ve developed a twitter addiction since the latest political crisis in Thailand. Sometimes I’m glued to twitter, sometimes I turn my back and do something else.
I did check out the tire fires but now I’m regretting it. My lungs hurt.
Btw – have you checked out the resources page?
Learn Thai for FREE
Even the pay sites have free offerings to give everyone an idea how they work.
Just stumbled across this site via Thailand Voice and it’s inspired me to start learning to read and write after 8 years here and only (very) limited speaking skills to show for it. Thanks for giving me a much better outlet for my energies over the next few tense days than obsessively following Twitter and rubbernecking out of my balcony window to check on the state of the tire fires…
I’ve always wanted one of those all teak houses. That was the plan when I moved to Thailand anyway. But like most beautiful things, a teak house was not practical for me either. Then put termites into the mix? No thanks.
How do Thais stop termites from eating teak anyway? I know about the tin cans and the concrete, but is there more?
good luck with the termites reminds me of a chap in issan who built a lovely wood kitchen the builders left a large pile of scrap wood at the back door the termites hate that and is kitchen while he was away working
‘Easy’ is not something that I’d equate with learning Thai, but there is ‘easier’ 🙂
Wow, this looks easy. Maybe I can learn the language.
Thanks Betta! There are a ton of language learning blogs for the European languages, but not as many for Thai. I hope what I’m doing helps someone besides me (because I know it’s helping me a great deal)
This is quite a nice idea Cat 🙂
Especially because writing while learning it can help others who are learning it as well to see that maybe certain difficulties they are encountering might be because of the type of language… and not necessarily because of them!
You know, you find a problem, and explain how you overcome it, together with the resources you are posting… That’s fairly helpful.
Quite a nice idea.
Thanks. What a great idea for a font! I can open it in my PC emulator (it switches to English with ‘The Quick Brown Fox’). But so far, not my Mac. Fingers crossed I can get it to work properly on both 🙂
This is front for try to write Thai.
Same as in a book for children’s writting.
((My English is bad.I’m sorry if I write this comment wrong.))
It’s not difficult for U.
Apologies for my tardiness. Sigh. Put it down to a bad dose of termite poisoning (here’s hoping you don’t have the same experience in your new abode).
Erotic, huh? I always have to pull myself back when posting so I know where you are coming from. And it’s not like my mother reads this blog or anything, so no excuses, right?
Hmm… well, there was that one penis episode in the beginning…
You are SO lucky to have a garden. I miss mine dreadfully as a patio (no matter how large) just doesn’t cut it.
I can’t get totally smudgy in mud and grunge and be able to skittle through water when I want. Well, the water skittling is possible, but I look pretty silly doing it in this cramped space.
Hey, whenever you need a writing push, I’m your gal. I also do lazy pretty well too.
Thanks for adding me to your resources and making a link to my husband’s website. The number of people visiting his website should be increased soon :)-
I’ve been delayed in writing my third short story as it’s quite erotic and I’m not sure whether I should post it, though some of my friends have asked me to do so.
Now as my garden is in shape I’ll have more time to translate my old short stories (there’re only 2 actually). I’ll let you know when I’m finished.
Thanks for pushing me to write. I’ve been lazy lately.
Jessis last blog post..My Warmy Home in Lang Suan
Truthfully, I’m just awful at Thai! So, knowing that I can’t live here without speaking the language, I had to figure out how I could approach it my way.
Researching everything I can about the subject is one way. Sharing it all on a blog, another.
No promises on the quality of my Thai when I get done, just the promise that I will struggle through 🙂
So some of what you’ll be reading here will be pretty much what I’m doing at the moment. Sometimes after trial and error. Sometimes just after I’ve sourced it all out. But it’ll be fresh in my mind when posting (mistakes included), that’s for sure.
And that’s why your short stories are so important. And why I’m looking forward to reading the Thai and English translation of your stories. It will be a great help for those of us who are determined to learn to read and write Thai.
Thank you for adding me to your blog list (I’m honoured). I have you in my resources in my top nav, under ‘blogs’. I’ll be sure to keep in touch as you settle into your beautiful home!
by the way, I added you to my blog list. Hope you don’t mind.
Jessis last blog post..My Warmy Home in Lang Suan
It’s so amazing to know how an expat wants to learn Thai. I’ve known a lot of expats who’ve been living in Thailand for almost 10 years and can only understand 2 Thai words; Sawasdee,and Khob Khun.
My husband is a writer (crime and mystery) and he can speak and read Thai, but writing is a bit difficult. Now as we moved to a remote place in Thailand, we automatically speak Thai all the time. However, it’s kind of bad advantage for me.
Thanks for visiting my blog. I’ll let you know when I translate my short stories into English.
Jessis last blog post..My Warmy Home in Lang Suan
When you come out, look me up and I’ll pass over some helpful bits to get you started.
cats last blog post..The Easy Way for Beginners to Read and Write Thai
That idea is sheer genius and I am going to steal it (well– adopt it)next month.
Thank you Janet. When I stumbled across 60 min, it opened up reading Thai in an afternoon. From that point on, I knew I could do it.
Then finding Reading Thai is Fun gave me what I needed to write Thai without feeling like my hands were as huge as elephants!
I’m still wrestling, but I’m determined to find each and every easy way to learn Thai there is. And if I have to, I’ll develop one myself.
Right now I’m having sentences translated, then recorded. Sentences I know I’ll use daily. Stay tuned as l plan on sharing when I’m done.
This is a brilliant and very encouraging post. I’ve wrestled with the Thai language for years and this is the first thing I’ve read that makes me feel that perhaps I might eventually find some success in leaving the ranks of the tongue-tied.