How to speak Thai and sound like a native?
(or close enough for Thai people to understand you!)
If you are beginners who just started to learn Thai and Thais don’t understand what you say!? OR if you are one of the Thai learners who have been learning Thais for a while but still struggling when speaking. Here are some useful advices from a native Thai speaker and a successful Thai learner!
Some advices from my own experiences of teaching Thai and learning other languages:
Listen A LOT and speak A LOT
One of the best ways to get better at the tones and pronunciation is through hundreds and thousands of hours listening to native speakers, mimic the sound and talking to the natives. Moreover, you can also listen to the Thai news, Thai movies, Thai series/dramas so that you learn the language in different situations both formal and informal.
Use particles in Thai
(ค่ะ kâ, ครับ kráp, นะ ná, เลย loiie, etc.)
Using them really makes you sound Thai, though there are so many… It is difficult to know when to use which one for the situation. However, using them really makes you sound more like a native Thai. (Going back to listen a lot and speak a lot!)
Use Thai interjections!
(Oh! = โอ้โห! ôh hǒh, etc.)
Thais have their own unique interjections in many situations, so listen to how they use them in certain situations. An example, we would say Oh! in English for a surprise situation, in Thai they say that too, but often say โอ้โห! ôh hǒh instead.
Use Thai slang words
(ปัง! bpang, เวอร์ wêr, etc.)
Thais also have their own unique slang words in many situations too! However, there are always new slang words… Using them makes you sound more like a native Thai. For example: ปัง! bpang (bang!) = magnificent, outstanding in Thai / เวอร์ wêr (over) = overact, exaggerate in Thai.
Record your voice and listen
Another tip, I do record my voice and listen to myself too. Most of the time I think I speak pretty good English or German but why people don’t understand what I say?? Since I started doing this, I realize that many times I don’t sound any close to the words/phrases I wanted to say. So I keep repeating them again and again until I got the right pronunciation. (or close enough for people to understand me!)
Sorry, sounds basic and boring but it is true. I think consistency and to pay a very close attention to the pronunciation is the key. Sometimes it might pay off after a few months or could be years… but it will do. Be patient. ?
Excellent advices from Tod Daniels, a successful Thai leaner:
If I had to list important things;
DO NOT translate your language into Thai
I’d say LISTEN to how Thais say things. Don’t think up a sentence in your language and translate it into Thai and then spit it out. That is usually a total fail.
Don’t OVER pronounce what you’re saying
The tones in Thai are subtle, Thais don’t speak in that over the top, over enunciated, over toned way that the language is spoon-fed to foreigners in Thai language school. (This goes back to the listening again)
STOP using first/second-person pronouns
STOP using first/second-person pronouns when the subject is understood (When people know you’re making a statement, OR when the person you’re talking to knows you’re talking TO them).
*In Thai, people rarely say I or you when speaking to others. However, there are so many ways to use person pronouns in Thai according to a different gender, age, status, formality and situation.
Learn all the “frozen-phrases”
You can learn and use them. Those are phrases that never change, that Thais say and hear all the time and that you need to “glom on to” and use.
*For example: Hi, how are you?/how is it going?, nice to meet you, no worry, you’re welcome, sweet dreams, have fun!, etc.
Get the idea that you want to be “fluent” right out of your mind
Fluent is nothing but an imaginary place in your mind that gets in the way with you learning Thai. Strive to be “fluid”: getting a complete thought or sentence or idea out without pausing at the wrong time or stopping because you forgot or don’t know a word.
Use what works for you to further your learning
People can only recommend what worked for them or what has a high percentage of return in terms of learning, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t work for you, try another way, method, etc.
“Good Luck, I am a dumb hillbilly from rural USA who could only speak American English when I came here, yet I was able to learn to speak, understand, read, write and type Thai, because of one reason, I WANTED to. So start wanting to, if I can do it, ANYONE can. ?”
– Tod Daniels, a successful Thai learner
Is learning Thai script or Thai alphabet helps with tones and pronunciation?
There is no one size fit all in learning languages. Some might say master the Thai script or Thai alphabet and the tone rules is the best way. Yes, I agree it benefits many things in the long term and does help some people with the tones and pronunciation too.
However, I don’t think only learning Thai alphabet will really help with the pronunciation to 100%. As native speakers, we don’t calculate all the rules in our head for ‘every single word’ before we speak. It’s also hard for the foreigner learners to do that too. Plus, in spoken language, there are many words in Thai that don’t pronounce as it written. So I suggest trying the useful tips above if you want to sound like (close to) native Thais.
I know a few learners who already mastered all the Thai alphabet and tone rules. Their reading and understanding is excellent BUT some are still struggling when speaking. They said people don’t understand them when they speak Thai and it’s very demotivating… Plus, they have seen some learners who only study Thai for 2 months and speak better than them… and some can’t even read and write Thai yet, while they have been studying Thai for years.
“To all the learners, I think everyone is different and has their own path of learning. Comparing yourself to other just to demotivate yourself doesn’t help. Except where you are and water your own grass. What can you do to improve? Do what works for you! Never stop learning and keep practicing!”
– Jennesa, a native Thai speaker & Thai teacher
Thai language is not complicated as it seems… With the right learning ways, you can learn Thai successfully! So if you are looking to learn Thai the fast, fun and effective way, feel free to contact me, and let me know what I can help you with! ?