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

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