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Thai Phonetics: #3 Basic Skills You Need To Speak Like A Native

August 25, 2022

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Do you feel like your Thai pronunciation practice is going nowhere? As a result, you likely overlook a crucial aspect of Thai phonetics, leading to your continued failure to master the language.

You may have heard that if you master the fundamentals, you can eventually become an expert in any language. The study of phonetics is an essential first step in learning any language and should not be rushed.

Speaking simply by repeating what you heard the locals say might work in some situations however, you'll need in-depth familiarity with each field, such as Thai vowels and consonant sounds, if you hope to perfect your Thai pronunciation.

This article will help you get back on your feet after a period of confusion, so read on and let's get back to the basics together!

Overview Of Thai Phonetics

The Thai language is based entirely on phonetics. Pronunciation and tone accuracy are the biggest challenges. Since Thai words include many homophones and homographs, the meaning of a word can be significantly changed if it's heard incorrectly or mispronounced.

So it's time to dive into the 3 essential skills to help you speak Thai like a native.

Thai Phonetics - consonants

#1 Skill: Learn 44 Thai Alphabets And 21 Consonant Sounds

In Thai, we use 44 consonants. However, only 21 consonant sounds can be made by these consonants because some sound the same. Also, some of them are quite close to the English phonetic alphabet.

Thai Alphabet


gɔɔ gài

kɔ̌ɔ kài

kɔ̌ɔ kùat

kɔɔ kwaai

kɔɔ kon

kɔɔ rá kang

ngɔɔ nguu

jɔɔ jaan

chɔ̌ɔ chìng

chɔɔ cháang

sɔɔ sôo

chɔɔ gà chəə

yɔɔ yǐng

dɔɔ chá daa

dtɔɔ bpà dtàk

tɔ̌ɔ tǎan

tɔɔ naang mon too

tɔɔ pûu tâo

nɔɔ neen

dɔɔ dèk

dtɔɔ dtào

tɔ̌ɔ tǔng

tɔɔ tá hǎan

tɔɔ tong

nɔɔ nǔu

bɔɔ bai

bpɔɔ bplaa

pɔ̌ɔ pʉ̂ng

fɔ̌ɔ fǎa

pɔɔ paan

fɔɔ fan

pɔɔ sǎm pao

mɔɔ máa

yɔɔ yák

rɔɔ rʉa

lɔɔ ling

wɔɔ wɛ̌ɛn

sɔ̌ɔ sǎa laa

sɔ̌ɔ rʉʉ sǐi

sɔ̌ɔ sʉ̌a

hɔ̌ɔ hìip

lɔɔ jù laa

ɔɔ àang

hɔɔ nók hûuk

Comparing Thai Consonants With The Roman Alphabet

As mentioned earlier, some of the Thai consonant sounds are similar to those heard in English. Here are the examples to show what we mean. Knowing these sounds will also make learning the sounds in Thai so much easier to remember.

Thai AlphabetRoman AlphabetExample of English WordsExample of Thai Words
gGame, go, gunไก่ (gài) - chicken
ค, ฅ, and ฆkhKing, come, cakeควาย (kwaai) - buffalo
ng-งู (nguu) - snake
jJanuary, job, joinจาน (jaan) - dish
ช and ฌchChain, chat, chillช้าง (cháang) - elephant
sSing, song, sitโซ่ (sôo) - chain
ญ and ยyYard, Yellow, Youยาย (yaai) - grandmother
ฎ and ดdDance, do, duckเด็ก (dèk) - child
ฏ and ตdt-เต้น (dtên) - dance
ฑ, ฒ, ท, and ธtTwo, top, tankทาง (taang) - way
ณ and นnNote, noon, nutนั่ง (nâng) - sit
bBird, book, breadบอก (bɔ̀ɔk) - tell
bp-ปาก (bpàak) - mouth
พ and ภpPan, pot, pinพูด (pûut) - speak
fFast, fun, feelฟัง (fang) - listen
mMove, man, makeไม่ (mâi) - not
rRat, run, rightเรือ (rʉa) - boat
ล and ฬlLong, Live, Loveลิง (ling) - monkey
wWing, wow, wolfวาง (waang) - put
aAt, in, onอาหาร (aa hǎan) - food
hHorse, hat, hotนกฮูก (nók hûuk) - owl

In Thai, there are 21 main consonant sounds. However, the same consonants can have more than one tone. So now we'll explore the Thai alphabet in its lower-tone form.

Thai AlphabetRoman AlphabetExample of English WordsExample of Thai Words
ข and ฃkh
(low tone)
-ไข่ (kài) - egg
ch
(low tone)
-ฉัน (chǎn) - "I" as a personal pronoun
ฐ and ถt
(lower tone)
-ถึง (tʉ̌ng) - arrive
p
(low tone)
-ผิด (pìt) - incorrect
f
(low tone)
-ฝน (fǒn) - rain
ศ, ษ, and สs
(low tone)
-สอง (sɔ̌ɔng) - two
h
(low tone)
-ห้อง (hɔ̂ɔng) - room

#2 Skill: Learn The 27 Thai Vowel Sounds

Thai Phonetics - vowels

Thai has 27 vowel sounds, which is much more than other languages. Despite this, most vowels are consistent with the English alphabet, making it easier to learn the basic sounds and progress to the more complex ones when your schedule allows. So, if you put in the effort and practice a little bit each day, you can get better and better at it.

OK, let's take a look at those vowel letters as a whole.

Vowel Letters

Short Vowels

Thai AlphabetRoman AlphabetExample of English WordsExample of Thai Words
-ะ-a- จะ (ja) - will
-ิ-iPin, ginกิน (gin) - eat
-ุ-u-จุ (jù) - contain
เ-ะ-e-เตะ (dtè) - kick
แ-ะ-ae-แกะ (gaɛ̀) - sheep
เ-ียะ-ia- เปรี๊ยะ (bpría) - cracking sound
-ัวะ-ua- ผัวะ (pùa) sound of whipping
โ-ะ-oeโต๊ะ (dtóe) - table
เ-าะ-awเงาะ (ngaw) - rambutan
เ-อะ-ooe เยอะ (yooe) - many
-ึ-ue อึ (ue) - stool

Long Vowels

Thai AlphabetRoman AlphabetExample of English WordsExample of Thai Words
-า-aaCar, far, jarมา (maa) - come
-ี-iiFree, see, bee มี (mii) - have
-ื-uue- มือ (muue) - hand
เ-ือ-uua- เกลือ (glʉua) - salt
-ู-uuDo, clue, zoo งู (nguu) - snake
เ--eeGrey, say, play ดี (dee) - good
แ--aaeFair, care, bear แม่ (maae) - mother
เ-ีย-iiaFear, here, cheer เลีย (liia) - lick
-ัว-uua- กลัว (gluua) - scare
โ--ooeFour, show, low โง่ (ngôo) - Stupid
-อ-aawLaw, call, shore รอ (raaw) - wait
เ-อ-ooeHer, blur, sure เธอ (tooe) "she" as a personal pronoun
-ำ-amCome, mom ทำ (tam) - do or make
ไ--aiLine, hi, die ไป (bpai) - go
ใ--ai(same as above)ใน (nai) - in 
เ-า-aoNow, sound เรา (rao) - "we" as a personal pronoun

#3 Skill: Learn Thai Tone Marks

Thai Phonetics - tone marks

Thai is one of the tonal languages. There're five tones in Thai, represented by four distinct markers since the natural tone has no marker. And mispronunciation of tones might result in a complete shift of meaning, for example;

  • ปา (bpaa) - throw
  • ป้า (bpâa) - aunt

Thai Tone Markers

Tone Marker NamesPronunciationExplanation
สามัญsǎa manMid-tone mark
่ เอกèekLow tone mark
้ โทtooFalling tone mark
๊ ตรีdtriiHigh tone mark
๋ จัตวาjàt waaRising tone mark

To illustrate, let's look at the Thai word กา (gaa).

(สามัญ)่ (เอก)้ (โท)๊ (ตรี)๋ (จัตวา)
กา
gaa
ก่า
gàa
ก้า
gâa
ก๊า
gáa
ก๋า
gǎa

Summary

Many Thai learners have trouble understanding native speakers, but we believe your pronunciation will improve when you've mastered the fundamentals of Thai writing that we've explained above because learning Thai pronunciation will make learning the language much simpler. Assuming you've mastered the fundamentals, you should now be able to pronounce like a native speaker.

Learn Thai With The Ling App

Learn Thai with the Ling App

If you're finding Thai phonetics particularly difficult and considering abandoning your Thai language studies altogether, take a deep breath and read on; we've got the perfect solution for you!

The Ling app is excited to provide the most comprehensive language learning application, which includes more than 60 languages worldwide. In particular, the Thai language is featured since it's one of the most learned and popular choices for language study. We've only just scratched the surface of Thai pronunciation.

Our program is packed with other tools designed to speed up your progress, such as an extensive library of Thai vocabulary you'll need to communicate with natives. If you want to blend in with the locals, our chatbot can help you practice listening to the language daily.

The most important aspect of our Thai lessons is that they're not like reading a dry textbook that makes you want to sleep every time you have to read it. Instead, we give fun, interactive mini-games that make learning new Thai words a regular habit

Most Thai learners chose Ling to help them succeed, so why not join them? Download the Ling App from the Google PlayStore and Apple AppStore now, and prepare to be fluent in Thai soon!

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