The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Intro

The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation

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The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation…

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start – Maria Von Trapp

I’m a big advocate for those learning Thai, especially if they are of a “mature age”. My latest blog post on Retire2Thailand, No Old Friend, You are Never Too Old discusses this at length.

Because of this interest I’ve been thinking about what would be most important for students of Thai (old or young) to focus on at the very beginning. The following is an introduction to an eBook I’m working on, The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation.

Each chapter will be posted as they come available (pdf and audio files included). Later, when the eBook is complete, you can download it for free.

This series is for basic beginners, and because of this, it will have transliteration. If you would like a pdf without transliteration please let us know via WLT’s contact page, or leave a comment under each post. There will now be two pdfs to download – one with transliteration and one without.


If there are questions on anything covered here, or in future postings, please leave them in the comments and I will try to answer.

Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Introduction…

Long before I retired to Thailand I lived in Seattle, Washington. Surrounded by lakes, rivers, oceans, and mountains, Seattle is a beautiful city and the people there have the seemingly contradictory lifestyles of being the best read people in the country and the people who spend the most time outdoors, on the water and in the mountains.

I fit right in, and when I wasn’t hunkered down reading on a rainy northwest day I was out in the mountains, rock climbing and glacier traversing (often in the rain). I joined The Mountaineers to learn as much as I could about the backcountry. Since the 1930s they have given courses that prepare climbing and hiking enthusiasts to travel and survive in the North Cascades and neighboring mountains, especially when “stuff happens”.

One of the most important things they stress is to always carry the Ten Essentials. This is from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

Many a time when I was out in the back country, never lost of course, but often confused, I was happy to have each and every one of them.

So when I started thinking about what would be the most important vocabulary a new learner of Thai would need to survive here in Thailand, the Ten Essentials came to mind.

I asked myself what are the 10 most essential sets of vocabulary items one would need as they begin their studies of Thai. These would be vocabulary you would need to get through your everyday existence here as you meet with people, buy stuff, pass the time of day, talk about yourself, ask about those you are talking to, get the things you need, learn more Thai, and all the good things that make living and communicating with others so interesting and enjoyable.

Other authors and teachers may come up with a different set of priorities, and maybe add a vocabulary group or two, but there is no question that the following Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation will give you a solid base to develop your Thai language.

The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation…

  1. Thai greetings and ending particles.
  2. “Please” and “Thank You” and “Excuse Me”.
  3. Personal pronouns and how to refer to yourself, family members, and to others.
  4. Essential verbs. Subject + verb (+ object) patterns. Speaking in the present, past, and future.
  5. Adjectives and adjective word order.
  6. Asking and answering:
    • yes/no questions
    • when questions
    • where questions
    • who questions
    • how questions
    • how much questions
  7. Vocabulary you’ll need in order to ask if a person (shopkeeper, clerk, etc.) has the thing you are looking for.
  8. Vocabulary that is important and interesting to you (your own personal idiolect). Find the nouns that fit your needs. We’ll look at 10 common topics of interest; here are a few examples:
    • Enjoy gardening? Learn the Thai words for the plants, insects, and birds you will encounter.
    • Enjoy eating Thai food? Learn to order all the Thai dishes you like.
    • Enjoy cooking Thai food? Learn all the names of the condiments and sauces that you will need.
  9. Increase your vocabulary by asking:
    • “What is this?”
    • “How do you say … in Thai?”
    • “How can I translate …?”
  10. Vocabulary and patterns you will need to talk to a doctor, or a pharmacist, and how to tell them and your Thai companion(s) how you feel.

Class influence on our vocabulary choices…

Thai is a class society. One’s status in Thai society is very important in relationships and also in the language choices we make. We may come from a culture where social status is unimportant. We would speak mostly the same way to our parents, our children, our teachers, our boss, our gardener, or a waitress. That is not the case in Thailand.

Money, educational level, age, relationships, type of work one does, and family history, these are some of the influences on one’s status in Thai society and thus the language choices they make. Luckily for most of us, foreigners, maybe because they supposedly (and not always true) have lots of money, and a high education level, are usually looked at as having a fairly high status.

Our social status, and that of to whom we are speaking, will have an influence on which words we choose to use in our daily conversations. Ignoring a listener’s status (compared to our own) is the best way to commit a language faux pas in Thailand.

Thais understand these relationships, like they understand which grammar patterns to use, without having to think about it. But this is something most foreigners must learn.

When presenting vocabulary, we will try to indicate with whom it would be best used so that we can avoid those language faux pas.

More about the series…

The posts in this series will cover each of the above Ten Essentials. We want to make this more than a simple phrase book so the vocabulary you’ll need will be discussed in its linguistic and cultural context.

Each item will be written in Thai script, but phonetic transcriptions are also given for those just beginning with Thai. As previously mentioned, if you need a pdf without transliteration, contact us via WLT’s contact form or leave a comment.

At the end of each chapter will be a review of all the vocabulary and patterns that have been presented. If you want you can review the vocabulary before diving into the chapter.

Suggestion: Get a good teacher but until you find one use one of the “talking” dictionaries to help with pronunciation.

At the end of each lesson, important Thai phrases will be linked to audio recordings by a Thai native speaker. This should help when a Thai teacher is not available to you. Individual vocabulary items can also be cut and pasted into Google Translate to use the audio feature. It is quite good.

Take your time and go through each chapter in any order that suits you. You won’t learn Thai in a few days, but with a solid base you can add to your Thai language knowledge daily.

Learn these Ten Essentials and you’ll more than survive in Thailand, you’ll thrive.

Pdf download: The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Intro

15 thoughts on “The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Intro”

  1. Michael,

    BTW, I bet your local print shop (in Thailand or abroad) knows how to print larger. In Thailand it is really cheap, 1 or 2 baht per page.

  2. Michael,

    I’m not an Adobe expert but I was a computer programmer for about 20 years so I fiddled around with the PDF file. Try this.

    1. Click on the print icon on the top.
    2. Click on Custom Scale.
    3. Make it more than 100%. I tried 150% and that was too large. Try 125%.
    4. Then click on Landscape below.
    5. Try printing out one page and see how that looks.
    Experiment from there.

    If there are any Adobe, PDF experts out there who know a better way to enlarge the print please leave a note for us and we can all benefit.



  3. The tip for reading the small Thai fonts is good..Unfortunately does not work for me once the pdf is printed! lol

  4. A number of people have mentioned that they learned reading Thai when their speaking was unsuccessful (for one reason or another). I just had someone write me about this exact problem and this is what I wrote her.

    “The cure for that is a good belly laugh. I say something in Thai, everyone laughs at me uncomprehendingly. What do I do? Belly laugh. And then I ask those around me to correct me. I am fairly fluent in Thai but make about a hundred of these belly laughs a day. The more I make, the better my Thai becomes. You can try to do the same.”

    So I thought I might give an example. If I can make a fool of myself trying to speak Thai, and laugh about it, then anyone can.

    The last time I played golf I got dehydrated (ขาดน้ำ). So I told my caddie this and I wanted to say to her,

    “Please remind me to drink water.”

    I said “ช่วยตื่นกินน้ำ”

    Big laugh by my caddie and all the other caddies.

    She corrected me saying, “ช่วยเตือนกินน้ำ”.

    I had said ตื่น /dtèun / which means “wake up”. So what I had said to her was “Please wake me up to drink water.”

    I should have said เตือน / dteuan /, to remind. Close, but no cigar.

    So, what did I do? 55555, huge belly laugh. And I will never get those two mixed up again.

    The one, and I believe only, way to improve your speaking Thai is to…Speak Thai.

    Good luck and keep on laughing.

  5. For those who have trouble reading the small Thai script try this: Hold the Ctrl Key down and at the same time use the scroll wheel on your mouse and roll it up, away from you. The script (all of them on the page) will get larger. This works for Internet pages, Word pages, and PDF pages. I use this all the time, even reading English, and especially reading Thai.

  6. Hugh, I think it is not a problem, and I don’t want to bother you with making different sets of file for each lessons.
    Fact is that PDF can be “edited” with simple software (like Previous which is free in OS X, but sure there is similar app on Windows too), and each one can easily mask the transliteration if he feels better like that.

    By the way, I still use the transliteration in some way. For example, I’m in the process of “re-writing” in Thai script a course that was published some years ago in English and transliteration only (Practical Situational Thai by Peter Faller). It has 25 lessons, but I have yet not much time and just achieved to rewrite (and also correct, with help of thai friend) up to lesson 10. It is a good exercice to learn and train you writing Thai script.

  7. Dear Hugh, nice project, thank you!
    i would also prefer a version without transliteration.
    A solution might be to keep the transliterations as footnote…
    Also at my age it becomes more difficult to read Thai script if it has the same font size as the English script on the same page. The reason is Imthink explained clearly by an other comment. So, please have the Thai script in a larger font size.
    Finally, most of the existing material is with a female Thai voice. It would be great if you would have a male native for the sound files. Thank you!

  8. Thank you. I think a simple download is, as you say, the best way, and I look forward to it.

    Another problem with transliteration is that there are so many systems, and every book or course seems to use a different one. They make different representations of Thai vowels in weird combinations of English letters, and I find it impossible to understand those superscripts which are supposed to indicate the tone. If you are going to transliterate Thai the only sensible way to do it is with IPA, but that in itself is quite complicated and hard to learn. But with Thai script the tone is immediately apparent, and so are the vowels. For pronunciation there is no shortage of recordings by native speakers to be imitated, so I don’t see the need for phonetics at all. Most Thai words are already spelled phonetically in their native language!

  9. I meant : ” I still CAN’T find them back on my lips when I want to say something to someone”.

  10. Thanks Hugh ! Yes everyone has his own way to learn. In fact I learnt script from the beginning many years ago and I can read much more than I can understand (because of my lack of vocabulary).
    And for speaking, I still can’t after so many years. Even if I know in my brain many sentences almost perfectly and trained myself to pronounce them for years, I still can find them back on my lips when I want to say something to someone.

    I think now that it is not clearly at all a “thai language problem”, but more a “relational problem” of mine. Sure I don’t need a Thai teacher, but a psychoanalyst. Never mind, don’t need to speak to take fun and spend lot of time with the Thai language !

  11. For those who don’t want the transliterations:

    I understand and will have a PDF file available for you without them. But… and this is quite interesting, I learned with transliterations, and so do (or used to at least) the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, The Defense Language Institute, the Peace Corps, Mary Hass, et. al.

    I am an advocate of learning the basics before learning to read and write. That’s the way I did it when I was a child (although I had to rely on just listening and repeating). Reading is a passive activity and some students are quite comfortable learning passively and don’t venture as quickly into active speaking. But everyone is different and has different reasons for studying Thai.

    BTW, If you like stuff without transliterations you might want to mosey over to my reading blog I, irregularly, post some reading stuff there.

    This course is directed towards those just beginning to learn Thai. For those of you at the intermediate levels, and can read some Thai, and know lots of the basics, the comments on linguistics and culture should prove interesting and they will be a good review and maybe even add a thing or two about your understanding of Thai. (e.g. How many words do you know for “Hello” in Thai? Check next week’s post)

    Of course there are people who don’t agree with me about transliterations and that is okay. We can disagree. But there are lots of people who do rely on transliterations and who put off reading until much later.

    So for them I have added the transliterations. I myself have no trouble blocking them out and reading just the Thai. But I understand if this is a pain. So a PDF with deleted transliterations will be made available.

    It is easy for me to do and I will talk to Cat about the best ways to get it to you. Probably a simple download would work.

    Please enjoy. I’m a bit hyperactive and with the rainy season here, thank gods, I have put myself to something indoors and useful. I hope this will add to your Thai studies.


    Hugh Leong

  12. This sounds very useful, but only if it doesn’t have transliteration. I find it impossible to keep my eye away from the Latin characters when they are right next to the Thai ones, because they are so familiar and easy to read. Also, Thai script always looks so much smaller than Latin. I think that’s because Thai requires four levels (the base, subscripts, superscript vowels and then tone marks above them), but most letters use only one. By contrast, translit uses just two levels , so in the same vertical space the base can be much larger. This makes the transliteration appear very prominent, making it even more distracting. So, please – a version without any karaoke!

  13. Your comment “never lost of course, but often confused” brings to mind something I heard many years ago. “We’re not lost, we’re on an adventure.” Thanks to GPS, I’ve had some wonderful adventures over the years, especially since moving to Thailand (from Everett, WA).

  14. That is a huge project Hugh ! I will follow it as much as possible.
    Thank you !
    And yes, I would prefer to be in the list of people interested to get lessons in thai script only.


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