Asking what languages are spoken in Thailand can seem like a silly questions. After all, there is only one official language in Thailand and that is, of course, Thai. However, that does not show the whole picture. As a country of over 60 million people and an area that spans from China to Malaysia, there is understandably a lot of diversity in the language that is spoken. Whether formally or informally used, these dialects are shaped by the culture of the area.
Sound interesting? I think it is. So let’s look at some of the different dialects and languages that are spoken in Thailand.
This is likely obvious, but Thai is the most spoken language in Thailand. The main dialect of Thai that is used is Central Thai, which is used in education and a lot of the media. However, there are a few other notable ones.
Isaan is one of the more well known dialects, spoken in the Northeastern region (more on that later). Then there are Southern Thai and Northern Thai, spoken in the South and the North of the country respectively. These all have differences from Central Thai, but are for the most part mutually intelligible. There are then even smaller groups who speak some variation of Thai too. However, these are no where near as wide spread.
There are actually quite a few minority languages spoken in Thailand. While there are too many to list here, there are some notable ones. In general, the minorities that speak these languages all share the ‘Southwestern Tai’ family of languages.
Then there are the languages of neighboring countries. Understandably, sharing a border with another country will lead to people from that country stopping by. They will bring their languages with them too. In the case of Thailand, there are varying amounts of populations around the border who can speak the corresponding language. For example, closer to Cambodia, many people will have some level of fluency in Khmer, while people of the South will be able to speak Malay. There are also smaller languages brought by minority groups local to the area, offering more diversity in language.
Finally, as a major tourist destination, there has been a notable increase in language learning. This makes it easier to be able to communicate with visitors. As such, you can find many Russian, Chinese, and English speakers around the country. However, they will mostly be concentrated in tourist destinations.
Isaan is how people refer to the Northeastern region of Thailand. The region is well known for its unique culture, owing to its close relations and proximity to Laos. In fact, as we discussed previously, the Isaan dialect is not actually Thai but Lao. It takes many elements from the Laos language but still mostly uses Thai vocabulary and the Thai alphabet.
Despite some differing vocabulary and accents, Thai people shouldn’t have any difficulty understanding the Isaan dialect. For Thai learners like us, it might take some getting used to before we can fully understand the unique elements of this dialect
This is a major question that many people ask when considering a visit to the kingdom. As mentioned before, there is an incentive for Thai people to learn languages like English due to it being the lingua franca for travellers worldwide. Therefore, being able to communicate in the language can make things much more convenient.
English speaking abilities amongst Thais varies quite a lot. In major tourist destinations around the country, English should be quite widely understood and spoken. The quality can vary, but generally communication should go smoothly. However, as you start to head outside of the cities and into the smaller towns and villages, English become much less common.
If you are unable to speak Thai, your best bet is to try talking with some of the younger people or students as they usually have better English abilities thanks to improving education in the language. Ultimately, English is quite widely spoken, especially when compared to some other countries in the region. Learning at least some Thai words will definitely make things easier for you, though.
As you can see, what seems like a simple question has quite a deep answer. So while Thai is obviously the most popular language spoken in Thailand, there are notable amounts of other languages that are spoken and understood too. English, for example, is continuing to grow and the quality of understanding is improving too. Beyond that, there are many different minority languages of differing backgrounds. These are still used today by some groups. Ultimately, you would be best off learning Thai if you are stopping by in the country.
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