‘How difficult is it to learn Thai?’ or 'is Thai hard to learn?' are probably one of the first questions people ask when they look into learning the language. Of course, the difficulty will mean it takes a bit longer and will require more input before people can gain the confidence to speak it in public.
However, there is no simple answer to this question. There are so many different variables that will impact how difficult it will be for you to learn Thai. It depends on what languages you already know and whether you have access to resources for example. Let’s look at some aspects of the language that may impact the difficulty.
If you look back at our tips to help you learn Thai, you will know that Thai is a tonal language. It has 5 tones to be exact, with every syllable being pronounced with one. This can make things quite difficult, especially for those who have never learned a language with tones.
However, saying that, tones aren’t as important as in other languages like Chinese. Saying something in the wrong tone won’t make you say something offensive, for example. It will, however, make things much easier to understand and just ensures that no meaning is lost.
The best advice is to try learning the tones from the beginning as you learn, rather than having to learn after.
Thailand is a big country. That means that there is a lot of variety of cultures throughout the different regions of the country. Each of these cultures will then have its own way of speaking and some dialect of the Thai language.
One example is that Thai is spoken in the Isaan region, which is very closely linked to the Laos language. This means that some words may be spoken differently and vocabulary may change. Likewise in the South, there is some changes in the way Thai is spoken.
It is not a major problem for learners but it can still make it a bit more difficult to learn Thai. The Central Thai variety is generally seen as the most common form and so is the type to learn. However, it can be interesting to learn phrases from each region too.
Unfortunately for learners, Thai uses its own script. When it comes to reading and writing, it will be a big hurdle to overcome. Much like the Chinese language script, you should focus on learning this from the beginning rather than leaving it to the last minute.
Characters mostly represent syllables, but there are around 44 consonants, each with an inherent vowel. On top of this, there are 18 other vowels to learn. Add to this the lack of spaces and Thai writing becomes very daunting. There is not really a quick fix for learning this so you will need to put in the time. It will really help you in your day-to-day life in the country, however, as not everything is translated into English.
While we know that tones can make pronunciations difficult, there may also be challenges. Sometimes the combinations of sounds that make up words can be very weird to speakers of English. Take the word ‘laew’ (แล้ว) for example. This combination of vowel sounds is not really common and can take some getting used to.
It doesn’t help that there is no official transliteration for Thai, meaning that a search online will bring up different results with different spellings. While they are meant to just be a guide, they are very useful for speaking at the start.
One of the best ways for improving pronunciation is to talk with a Thai person. They can help you get better at speaking Thai clearly. You can also try doing Thai tongue twisters for practice. I’m sure your Thai friends would be very impressed by that.
Ultimately, Thai is not much more difficult than other languages. There are some areas that can prove hard as we have just mentioned, but with perseverance and dedication, you can learn. Taking time to practice consistently is key.
One way to help you learn is using language learning apps such as the Ling App from Simya solutions. Using a mixture of tests and games is amongst the best tools to help you learn Thai.