Is Thai Hard To Learn? 5 Surprising Facts You Need To Know

Thai hard to learn - A photo of a girl biting a pencil

Last updated on November 6th, 2023 at 08:11 am

How difficult is it to learn Thai? Or is Thai hard to learn? These are probably the first questions people ask when they want to learn the Thai 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.

Is Thai Hard To Learn? – 5 Reasons Why

Many people, when they first hear about Thai, wonder: Is Thai hard to learn? You should know that Thai comes from the Tai-Kadai language family, which has old roots in Southeast Asia.

Because of this, Thai has its own special way of writing, with different sounds and tones. Yes, these might seem tricky at the start. But with some effort and the right tools, learning Thai turns into a fun adventure.

Another thing that surprises many learners is Thai grammar. Unlike some languages, Thai keeps things simple. Here’s how:

  • No Tenses: In English, we change verbs to show past, present, or future. Like ‘run’ becomes ‘ran’ in the past. But in Thai, the verb stays the same. This means you don’t have to remember lots of different verb forms.

  • Easy Sentence Structure: Thai sentences often follow a clear pattern. For example, in English, we say, ‘I eat rice.’ In Thai, the structure is similar, making it easier to pick up.

  • No Gender: Some languages, like Spanish and English, have male and female forms for words. Thai doesn’t do this. So, you won’t have to worry about whether a table or a book is male or female.

While the script and tones might seem challenging, the grammar is a bright spot. It’s one of the reasons many people find joy in learning Thai.

1. Thai Is A Tonal Language

If you look back at our tips to help you learn Thai, you will know that Thai is a tonal language. It has five 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. For example, saying something in the wrong tone won’t make you say something offensive. It will, however, make things much easier to understand and ensure no meaning is lost. Let’s have a look at the table below:

ToneDescriptionThai WordMeaning
LowA steady, low pitchมา (maa)Horse
MidA neutral, even pitchมา (maa)Come
HighA steady, high pitchมา (maa)Dog
FallingStarts high and drops downมา (maa)Mother
RisingStarts mid and rises upมา (maa)Question particle (like “right?” in English)

As you can see, the same word ‘maa’ can have different meanings based on its tone. This highlights the importance of mastering tones in Thai. The best advice is to try learning the tones from the beginning as you learn rather than having to learn after. 

2. Regional Variety In The Language

Thailand is a big country. That means that there is a lot of variety of cultures throughout the different regions of Thailand. Each of these cultures will then have its own way of speaking and some dialect of the Thai language.

Southern Thai: A Coastal Twist

In the southern provinces, close to the sea, the way people speak Thai has its own special touch. For example, when they talk about something being “delicious,” they might use the word “หร่อย” (rɔːj). But if you go to Bangkok or other central parts of Thailand, people will say “อร่อย” (àʔ rɔ̀ːj) instead.

This is just one of the many small differences you’ll find in the Southern Thai dialect. It’s like how, in some parts of the English-speaking world, people might say “soda,” and in others, they say “pop.” It’s the same idea but a different way of saying it.

Isaan Dialect: A Mix Of Thai And Laos

The Isaan area is in the northeast of Thailand. People there speak a bit differently because they are close to Laos, another country. So, their way of speaking Thai has some words and sounds from the Laos language.

For example, when people in most parts of Thailand want to say “thank you,” they say “ขอบคุณ” (khob khun). But in Isaan, they often say “ขอบใจ” (khob jai), which is a bit different.

Central Thai: The Standard Form

In the middle of Thailand, especially in big cities like Bangkok, people speak Thai in a way that most people learn in schools or from books. This is the usual way of speaking Thai that many people know. It’s like the main version of the language.

Why So Many Ways To Speak?

Thailand has a long history. Over time, people moved around, met people from other places, and traded things. Because of this, different areas of Thailand started speaking a bit differently.

It’s like how people in some parts of one country might have a special way of saying things or using different words. All these different ways of speaking show the rich stories and history of Thailand.

Thai hard to learn - A photo of women learning Thai together

3. The Thai Script Is Unique

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 there are not as many characters to learn as in the Japanese language, you will have to find an effective way to memorize these. We have a few tips to help you learn.

5. Pronunciation Is Very Different

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. Let’s see more examples:

ChallengeThaiTransliteration VariantsNotes
Tonal Differencesข้าวkhao (rice), khâo (enter), khǎo (knee), kháo (news)The same spelling but different tones can mean entirely different things.
Unique Sound Combinationsแล้วlaewThis combination of vowel sounds can be unfamiliar to English speakers.
Lack of Official Transliterationน้ำnam, naamBoth transliterations refer to the word for “water,” but there’s no standardized spelling in English.
Similar Sounds, Different Lettersฝ and พfBoth transliterations refer to the word for “water”, but there’s no standardized spelling in English.

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 just to be a guide, they are very useful for speaking at the start.

One of the best ways to improve 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.

Helpful Tips For Easier Thai Learning

Honestly, learning Thai is fun, but sometimes it’s hard. But with some smart tricks, you can make it easier and more enjoyable. Here are some special tips to help you learn Thai in a fun way and make it easy for you:

  • Learn Everyday Words First: Start with simple Thai words that people use every day. Words like “hello” (สวัสดี) or “how are you?” (คุณสบายดีไหม) are good to know. This way, you can start talking to Thai people faster.

  • Use Picture Cards: Make cards with a Thai word on one side and a picture on the other. Look at these cards every day. This will help you remember the words better.

  • Listen to Thai Songs and Watch Thai Shows: Thai songs and TV shows can help you hear how words sound in real life. It’s a fun way to learn how Thai people talk.

  • Join a Group with Other Learners: Find a group where people are learning Thai, too. You can ask questions, share what you know, and practice talking together.

  • Set Small Goals: Don’t try to learn everything at once. Maybe one week, you learn ten new words. The next week, you practice saying “hello” and “thank you.” When you reach your goal, give yourself a treat!

  • Write a Little Every Day: Try to write some Thai words every day. It helps you remember the letters and how to write them.

  • Use Language Learning Apps: There are apps that can help you learn Thai. One good app is the Ling app. It’s easy to use, has games, and lets you listen to real Thai people speaking. It also helps you remember words by showing them to you again and again.

Remember, every learner’s journey is unique. What works for one person might not work for another. The secret here is to find what works best for you, stay consistent, and enjoy the process.

Thai Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult, Learn With Ling!

So, is Thai hard to learn? Well, 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 any language, such as Thai, consistently is key.

One way to help you learn is using language learning apps such as the Ling app. Using a mixture of tests and games is amongst the best tools to help you learn Thai.

Download the Ling app from the Google Play Store or App Store today!

Updated by: Jefbeck

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