Learning a new language can be a daunting task. Add to it some quirky language features, and you are likely to make a linguistic faux pas. I know I did when learning to speak Thai. Those confusing Thai words left me red-faced before a new colleague.
Instead of saying, for example, “ฉันเจ็บเข่าเมื่อวันก่อน or C̄hạn cĕb k̄hèā meụ̄̀x wạn k̀xn” (I hurt my knee the other day), I accidentally said, “ฉันเจ็บเคราเมื่อวันก่อน or C̄hạn cĕb kherā meụ̄̀x wạn k̀xn!” (I hurt my beard the other day.) I could see my colleague trying her best not to burst out laughing at my bizarre sentence on the video call. I felt so embarrassed that day! To save you the same situation, I am sharing a list of similar confusing Thai words to be mindful of. Let’s begin!
The Thai language can be tricky for non-native speakers to learn, particularly because it is a tonal language. There are five tones in Thai, each of which can change the meaning of a word. For example, the word “มา” or “mā” can mean “come” in one tone, and “ม้า” or “M̂ā” meaning “horse” in another. It is, therefore, essential to pay close attention to both tone and emphasis when speaking Thai and to practice with native speakers or language tutors to develop an accurate accent and proper intonation.
The Concept Of A Tonal Language
Did you know that Thai has 32 vowel sounds in its kitty? That’s quite a mouthful, pun very much intended! No wonder Thai is a highly tonal language, meaning each word has a distinct pattern and meaning. There are five tones: mid, low, falling, high, and rising. These tones are essential to distinguish between words with similar spellings and meanings.
We can understand this concept of tone and pitch with the help of examples from the English language. Now, English is not a tonal language, implying that the tone and pitch used to pronounce a word don’t change its meaning. However, inflection or stressing upon a particular syllable can change its usage in a sentence.
For instance: He wanted to present her with the medal of honor, but she wasn’t present to receive it.
Here, the verb is the same, but its usage implies two meanings. The first usage implies the action of giving, while the second is the action of being somewhere.
Learning With Examples
Now, let me share an anecdote I came across while discussing the ultimate question: Is Thai difficult to learn? Well, a European pianist was sharing his experience as a self-taught Thai speaker whose musical training helped him understand this tonal language better than many other foreigners. He spoke a sentence that sounded like the same word spoken again and time again: Mị̂ h̄ım̀ mị̀ h̄ịm̂ chı̀ h̄ịm (ไม้ใหม่ไม่ไหม้ใช่ไหม).
In simple words, the sentence sounded like ‘mai mai mai mai mai.’ Looks like some gobbledygook, right? Now let’s apply the tones. Mai in high tone means ‘new’ while with a low tone, it means wood. Mai spoken with a falling tone means not or does not. Interestingly, mai in a falling tone but with a longer vowel – ai – sound means to burn. And lastly, mai pronounced in a rising tone means ‘does it’. Thus, after correct tone application, the phrase reads – new wood (does) not burn, does it? Voila, a perfectly meaningful sentence!
List Of Confusing Thai Words
The first Thai word that needs to be pronounced correctly by most non-native speakers is the word ‘Thai’ itself. For starters, the word is pronounced with a short vowel sound, as Tai (Thịy – ไทย), not Taai (Thāy – ทาย). The meaning of the latter is ‘guess’ in English. Sounds interesting? Let’s now go over some more confusing Thai words and how to pronounce them with the right tone to alleviate the confusion.
Confusing Thai Words By Sound & Spelling
Confusing Thai Words By Meaning
|Just||แค่||Khæ̀||This cap is just 300 baht.||S̄eụ̄̂x tạw nī̂ khæ̀ 300 bāth|
|Only||เพียง||Pheīyng||Only 10 million baht||Pheīyng 10 l̂ān bāth|
|Only||เอง||Xeng||It is only 11 o’clock.||11 Mong xeng|
|Only||แต่||Tæ̀||My son only watches TV||Lūkchāy dū tæ̀ thīwī|
|Only||เท่านั้น||Thèānận||Today only!||Wạn nī̂ thèānận|
|At||ที่||Thī̀||I will meet you at home||C̄hạn ca pị phb khuṇ thī̀ b̂ān|
|At||ตอน||Txn||I will meet you at night||C̄hạn ca phb khuṇ txn klāngkhụ̄n|
|Have (possession/ownership)||มี||Mī||I have a computer||C̄hạn mī khxmphiwtexr̒|
|Have (food)||กิน||Kin||I want to have Phad Thai||Xyāk kin p̄hạd thịy|
|Ask (a question)||ถาม||T̄hām||I want to ask a question||C̄hạn t̂xngkār t̄hām khảt̄hām|
(for something/ to do something)
|ขอ||K̄hx||He asked for wifi password||K̄heā k̄hx rh̄ạs̄ p̄h̀ān wịfị|
|Tired (sleepy)||ง่วงนอน||Ng̀wng nxn||I couldn’t sleep last night. So now I’m very sleepy.||Meụ̄̀x khụ̄n p̄hm nxn mị̀ h̄lạb txn nī̂ k̆ ley ng̀wng nx nmāk|
|Tired (exhausted)||เหนื่อย||H̄enụ̄̀xy||I can’t run anymore. I’m so tired.||P̄hm wìng mị̀ h̄ịw læ̂w h̄enụ̄̀xy māk|
|Sorry (apology/ excuse me)||ขอโทษ||K̄hxthos̄ʹ||Excuse me, please||K̄hxthos̄ʹ kh̀a|
|Sorry (regret/ grief)||เสียใจด้วยนะ||S̄eīycı d̂wy na||I am sorry to hear that||C̄hạn s̄eīycı thī̀ dị̂yin xỳāng nận|
Want To Improve Your Thai?
I hope that this article helped you alleviate your fear of confusing Thai words to a certain extent. With these examples in mind, I hope you can develop a good and strong foundation in Thai tones and vocabulary. However, there’s so much more to learn aside from these tones! To achieve fluency, you should try to learn more Thai lessons in the Ling app!
Start Learning Thai With Ling
The Ling app brings together advanced tools and engaging techniques for easy language learning through a variety of its features – a gamified interface, interactive exercises, and fun quizzes. What’s more, not only can you speak & write Thai, but you can also learn 60 more languages with its help. I am sure you won’t be looking back once you get hooked on this app! So, go to your Google Play Store or Apple App Store and download the Ling App for free now!