Writing is one of the main elements of a language. Alongside reading and speaking, it is a core skill that is essential to truly learn and understand a language. However, many people put the majority of their focus on their speaking ability, to the detriment of these other skills. This is all well and good for basic conversation and communication for short visits, it does miss out on a major part of the language.
Reading and writing go hand in hand, with the common denominator between these skills being the understanding of the alphabet and the individual characters that make up the language. The Thai language is written using its own unique alphabet, which was derived from the old Khmer script. Known as ‘aksorn Thai’ (อักษรไทย), the Thai script is used throughout Thailand and in some regions of neighboring countries. At first glance, Thai writing appears to be made up of a lot of squiggles, circles and lines. These are what make up characters in the Thai language.
It is written left to right, though due to the way characters are ordered, you may need to look above or to the right of a character to read it properly. Also, Thai is traditionally written without using and punctuation or spaces between words. These days, however, you will find that some punctuation is used and spaces are often put between each word.
So those were the basic facts about Thai writing. Now, let’s look at the characters that make up the Thai Alphabet.
In total, there are 72 characters in the Thai alphabet. This can be split up into 44 consonants and 28 vowels. This can then be split further with 12 long vowels and 16 short vowels. While this may seem like a lot compared to the 28 letters of the Latin Alphabet, it is worth noting that 6 characters (2 consonants and 4 vowels) are no longer used, being a relic from old Thai or otherwise taken from Sanskrit or Pali.
One thing to note is that the Thai consonants are generally shown with an acrophonic. This refers to words that start with that consonant’s sound. The equivalent in English would be to say ‘U as in Universe’.
|ก||ก ไก่||g gɔɔ-gài||chicken|
|ข||ข ไข่||k kɔ̌ɔ-kài||egg|
|ฃ||ฃ ขวด||k kɔ̌ɔ-kùuat||bottle (no longer in use)|
|ค||ค ควาย||k kɔɔ-kwaai||buffalo|
|ฅ||ฅ คน||k kɔɔ-kon||person (no longer in use)|
|ฆ||ฆ ระฆัง||k kɔɔ-rá-kang||bell|
|ง||ง งู||ng ngɔɔ-nguu||snake|
|จ||จ จาน||j jɔɔ-jaan||plate|
|ฉ||ฉ ฉิ่ง||ch chɔ̌ɔ-chìng||cymbals|
|ช||ช ช้าง||ch chɔɔ-cháang||elephant|
|ซ||ซ โซ่||s sɔɔ-sôo||chain|
|ฌ||ฌ เฌอ||ch chɔɔ-chəə||tree|
|ญ||ญ หญิง||y yɔɔ-yǐng||woman|
|ฎ||ฎ ชฎา||d dɔɔ-chá-daa||headdress|
|ฏ||ฏ ปฏัก||dt dtɔɔ-bpà-dtàk||goad|
|ฐ||ฐ ฐาน||t tɔ̌ɔ-tǎan||pedestal|
|ฑ||ฑ มณโฑ||t tɔɔ-mon-too||Montho|
|ฒ||ฒ ผู้เฒ่า||t tɔɔ-pûu-tâo||elder|
|ณ||ณ เณร||n nɔɔ-neen||novice monk|
|ด||ด เด็ก||d dɔɔ-dèk||child|
|ต||ต เต่า||dt dtɔɔ-dtào||turtle|
|ถ||ถ ถุง||t tɔ̌ɔ-tǔng||sack|
|ท||ท ทหาร||t tɔɔ-tá-hǎan||soldier|
|ธ||ธ ธง||t tɔɔ-tong||flag|
|น||น หนู||n nɔɔ-nǔu||mouse|
|บ||บ ใบไม้||b bɔɔ-bai-mái||leaf|
|ป||ป ปลา||bp bpɔɔ-bplaa||fish|
|ผ||ผ ผึ้ง||p pɔ̌ɔ-pʉ̂ng||bee|
|ฝ||ฝ ฝา||f fɔ̌ɔ-fǎa||lid|
|พ||พ พาน||p pɔɔ-paan||tray|
|ฟ||ฟ ฟัน||f fɔɔ-fan||teeth|
|ภ||ภ สำเภา||p pɔɔ-sǎm-pao||junk boat|
|ม||ม ม้า||m mɔɔ-máa||horse|
|ย||ย ยักษ์||y yɔɔ-yák||giant|
|ร||ร เรือ||r rɔɔ-rʉʉa||boat|
|ล||ล ลิง||l lɔɔ-ling||monkey|
|ว||ว แหวน||w wɔɔ-wɛ̌ɛn||ring|
|ศ||ศ ศาลา||s sɔ̌ɔ-sǎa-laa||pavilion|
|ษ||ษ ฤๅษี||s sɔ̌ɔ-rʉʉ-sǐi||hermit|
|ส||ส เสือ||s sɔ̌ɔ-sʉ̌ʉa||tiger|
|ห||ห หีบ||h hɔ̌ɔ-hìip||chest|
|ฬ||ฬ จุฬา||l lɔɔ-jù-laa||kite|
|อ||อ อ่าง||o ɔɔ-àang||basin|
|ฮ||ฮ นกฮูก||h hɔɔ-nók-hûuk||owl|
As mentioned, reading and writing, two skills that require understanding of the Thai Alphabet, make up a significant part of language learning. While speaking ability alone can get you far, there will be some occasions where reading and writing will also prove useful.
Another thing to point out is that learning the Thai Alphabet can also help you with your speaking. Let’s not forget that a lot more opportunities to learn will open up. You can start reading documents, books and other material that you couldn’t read before. This will greatly increase the speed in which you can learn and improve your skills. Your vocabulary will increase significantly and you will gain further insight into the culture of Thailand.
When visiting Thailand, you will find that many of the more authentic experiences, eating or otherwise, are not always signposted in English or any other language. They will use their native Thai to write out their menu or whatever else they have on offer. As a traveller, you may well be looking for the authentic Thai cultural experience rather than a tourist orientated one. For this reason, learning to read Thai can be invaluable for visitors to Thailand.
Unfortunately, there is no single method that will help you learn Thai overnight. It will require a lot of time and effort on your part to learn the characters of the Thai Alphabet and get to the point where you can read it with ease. There are, however, some ways you can speed up the process. These best practises will help optimize your learning and potentially cut down the amount of time it takes.
Ideally, you should start out learning the alphabet from the get go. You can learn each individual character and know exactly how it is pronounced. Bear in mind that the length of the vowel – that is, how long you hold the syllable – can change the meaning of a word. Therefore, spending the time to learn each character can actually improve your pronunciation and reduce any awkward misunderstandings.
Another tip is to use associations as a way to remember things such as pronunciation and how to write the characters. For example, you may look at the character (ต) and think that it looks like a tooth. You can use this association to immediately recall that the character that looks like a tooth is ‘to tao’ (ต เต่า). Do this with all the characters and you should over time be able to memorize them.
Due to the quirk mentioned above about how characters are ordered and read, you will find that in some words the vowels are placed not only next to a consonant but also above it or even behind it. This is because consonants act as a base for the vowels to attach onto. This can make the learning process a bit more complicated. By focusing first on the consonants so that you can better identify them, you should be able to see the vowels easier.
Finally, you should just try to draw the characters out by hand. Trace it, free hand it and repeat. It is quite interesting to see how your handwriting improves over time until a point where it is recognizable and easily readable. Also, seeing your progress can be great motivation to continue your learning.
There are some related lessons you can do related to learning the Thai Alphabet.
As well as having its own alphabet, Thai also has its own number system. These Thai numerals can be seen in many places, including on bank notes. Some shopkeepers have been known to use these Thai numerals to hide the ‘local’ prices of their goods from foreigners. However, they appear alongside the number system we are familiar with in the West the majority of the time. Either way, it is useful to learn.
When it comes to writing, you will unlock the ability to test your understanding of the grammar. You can better communicate with other people. This is especially the case when it comes to online and the digital world.