Traveling with Thai Phrase Books

Thai Phrase Books

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Do language phrase books ever talk our talk?…

To set the record straight, phrase books and I have never talked the same language. Sure, they are a window into learning a foreign language, but for me it has been a meager view.

But no matter. In the hopes of changing my opinion, I escaped to a tiny island off the coast of Thailand with six Thai language phrase books stuffed into a very full backpack.

Collins Thai Phrasebook CD Pack, Eyewitness Thai Phrase Book, Thai: Lonely Planet Phrasebook, Practical Thai 15th Edition, Thai Without Tears and The Rough Guide to Thai Dictionary Phrasebook.

The main agenda for the trip was to get some serious and needed R&R (which I did). But as it also presented an opportunity to check out Thai phrase books in real time, I went for it.

The plan? When conversing with Thais, my dear Canadian friend and I were to limit ourselves to speaking only the Thai we could locate quickly in the phrase books.


Singh It was hilarious dragging a stack of phrase books around the island (they may be small, but when multiplied by six the awkwardness grows).

It was equally amusing digging through book after book for just the right phrase, with waitresses standing and sometimes sitting at the end of our table, clicking their pens and rolling their eyes.

The outcome? Finding the perfect first phrase was a struggle. And equally important? The phase that comes after a Thai response. The surprise? It was near on impossible to read some of the text in low light situations.

But all in all, my Thai island getaway loaded down with Thai phrase books was a hoot of an exercise, and the Singha went down grand!

Regrets, I have a few…

Regretfully, I did not include Thai Fetch-a-Phrase or Instant Thai in the mix.

Another regret? That we did not take the time to find our way around each book before venturing out. Why? Because it’s no good complaining that phrase books don’t work if an effort to understand how they are arranged is not made.

With this in mind, in the next post I’ll discuss what to do before you head out with that Thai language phrase book.

Next up: Using Thai Phrase Books.

Reviewing Thai phrase books, the series…

8 thoughts on “Traveling with Thai Phrase Books”

  1. I was wondering if anyone you knew could send me a copy of the 60 Minutes to Learn the Thai Alphabet by email. I dont have the abilty to purchase goods over the internet.

  2. ‘he would like wife that not have mouth stink’

    LOL! Which one is that?

    After going wild buying phrase books, I’m convinced that any with CDs are ahead of the lot.

    My personal choice is Collins, but that might be the designer in me.

    Some phrase books have a design style that does nothing to help the reader. I found it surprising as book design isn’t brain science, it’s pure common sense.

  3. Happy to see there are more phrase books out there that seem better than what I came home with.Thai phrase book with tones.I cant figure how to make tones without hearing them first, bits of chopped up eng lish words to make some thai sounds????But the romance section was helpful#17 he would like wife that not have mouth stink.#19 he wants only kitten.??#34 no I love him true true.not his money. Humm…with that phrase book in my back pocket good thing I didnt have any romantic encounters on my last trip!!So which one do you recommend just in case,after all your singah,for my next trip.Cheers Greg

  4. Thanks Martyn. Some of the transcription drives me wild. Well, most drives me to distraction!

  5. Speak THAI quick 191 is copyright of Freeman Multimedia Co Ltd and the book lists a website at and the copy I have was priced at 69 baht. Personally with its use of the Haas transcription I wouldn’t bother….it makes it a bit like learning a foreign language.

  6. Awk! I don’t have Speak THAI quick 191 (time to holler at Danny from DCO).

    I agree on the difficulty of using Thai phrase books in real life. You can never find that ‘one’ perfect phrase, and even if you do get something out, you are left staring blankly at their reply. After staring at these phrase books for weeks, I have a solution…

    Beer does help a ton when learning a language. Beer, wine, whisky… but when you wake up in the morning, all that knowledge seems to have disappeared. Thai lessons in a brewery… I wouldn’t turn that down. Not at all!

    Except for 191, I pretty much have every Thai phrase book there is. Two posts from now I go through about 13 in painful detail, so if you are patient… 😉

  7. My heap of Thai phrase books include Thai for Travelers, Spoken Thai and Speak THAI quick 191 which uses a strange Haas transcription. I find they are all great for learning until it comes to putting it into practice…..panic sets in and with a reddening face I blurt out something even more incomprehensible than Haas transcription itself. I am still trying and have seen that your site offers many good resources which I will use when my posterior changes gears. Your mention of Singha beer reminds me that whilst alcohol makes me even redder it does improve my language skills the more I drink. Perhaps a Thai brewery should offer language classes. Enjoy your day.


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