Below you’ll find reviews of Thai language material recommended for students studying Thai. If I don’t have what you are interested in please let me know via my contact page.

Thai Grammar“ไวยากรณ์ไทย” นววรรณ พันธุเมธา
Thai Grammar by Nawawan Phanthumetha

2551 (2008), 190 baht

This book of Thai grammar first published by Chula University publishing in 1982 emphasizes the grammar of the spoken language. The author gets right to the heart of what we Westerners would call “grammar” by discussing topics such as parts of speech and sentence construction. She does not discuss historical etymology, spelling, pronunciation, the royal language, or the structure of Thai poetry, as many other Thai grammar books do. Her emphasis, rather, is on clear communications. Ajarn Nawawan provides numerous sample sentences, most of which are fairly accessible to intermediate foreign student of Thai. Her chapter titled “การละคำในประโยค” [Omitting Words from Sentences] is worth the price of the entire volume.

The penultimate chapter of the book beginning on page 346 discusses the grammar of conversations: ประโยคสนทนา. This chapter covers such topics as word repetition; word omission; word substitution; word relationships; and, words connecting elements of a conversation.

The benefit of this text for foreign learners is that it provides a structured approach to Thai grammar in the language which native Thai speakers can understand. This approach will allow the foreign language learner to better communicate with native speakers when the learner has questions about specific words or sentence construction. In addition, the book’s extensive use of sample sentences provides the student with much material for communications.

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Learning to Read Thai the New Way“หัดอ่านภาษาไทยแบบใหม่” ไสว สุนทร
Learning to Read Thai the New Way, Volumes 1 – 7 by Suwai Suntorn

ISBN Volume 1: 974-90393-3-5, 50 baht; Volume 2, 974-90394-4-3, 50 baht; Volume 3, 974-90740-7-6, 60 baht; Volume 4, 974-93172-7-0, 100 baht; Volume 5, 978-974-623-778-9, 100 baht; Volume 6, 978-974-13-6198-4, 105 baht; Volume 7, 978-974-05-3290-3, 110 baht.

Probably the greatest book bargain in all of Thailand for those wishing to learn to read Thai — reading in this case meaning to pronounce Thai words based on Thai orthography. These books do not teach reading comprehension, but rather association by comparison and contrast of consonants, vowels, tone marks, and other indicators with sounds of the language, as well as word recognition.

The books are comprised of a series of tables which link consonants and vowels in an orderly progression. For example, the first line of the first table in Volume 1 is: กะ กา กิ กี กึ กื กุ กู followed by the other consonants in the mid-class array. After each table is a list of words which can be produced from that table, appropriately color coded. Volume 2’s first table includes the line: ขระ ขรา ขริ ขรี ขรึ ขรื ขรุ ขรูว. Volume 4 begins กัง กัน กัม กัย กัก กัด กับ. Not to belabor the point, let’s jump to Volume 7 whose first line is: กรรมกร จรจัด อัสดร พรชัย.

The books contain no discussion of grammar rules or tone charts, just pages and pages of practice material. These books are appropriate for students looking for a practice supplement to the rules, or for those who would rather forgo the rule based approach for a practical, empirical approach to learning Thai reading. These texts are best used in conjunction with a teacher who can allow the foreign student to hear the nuances of consonant, vowel, and tonal elements in Thai.

Since the material is so well organized, these books can be used by foreign learners in conjunction with their Thai spouses or significant others who are likely to have little background in teaching or the academic aspect of their language. This is a great advantage for non-Thais who are living with their Thai spouses outside of Thailand and do not have ready access to a Thai language school.

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Treasury of Words“คลังคำ” คร. นววรรณ พันธุเมธา
Treasury of Words, by Kon. Nawawan Pantumaytaa, Amarin Press

First published 2554 (2001), ISBN 974-272-271-4, hardcover, 600 baht

(The word คลัง can mean storehouse or treasury; in this context, I like the treasury metaphor better)

This Thai language volume is a combination of dictionary and thesaurus and was targeted at the author’s university students. Its objective is to highlight similarities and differences between words in a specific category. The book is divided into two parts: the first portion is comprised of word listings with definitions within specifically defined sections and subsections. For example subsection ข ๙๐ (B90) is entitled “การลงความเห็น” (expressing an opinion) and the words contained in this subsection are: ตัดสัน (to decide) พิพากษา (pass judgment) วินิจฉัย (to come to a conclusion) ดุลพินิจ (to use discretion).

Each of these words is followed by a short definition or explanation. These definitions are less extensive than those in the RID; the book does not provide a pronunciation guide; and it does not always contain sample usages. คลังคำ was not created to replace a dictionary, but to provide the curious reader and serious author a means of comparing and distinguishing the meanings and usages of the Thai lexicon.

The second section of the book is an alphabetical listing of words followed by a reference back to the first portion.

The categories in the first section seem thoughtful. Here is an example of a section and some of its subsections:

Section 21 – 54, ส่วนหัวและหน้า (parts of the head and face): subsection 21: หัว (the head); subsection 22: ลักษณะหัวที่สัมพันกับปริมาณเส้นผม (characteristics of the head which relate to the amount of hair); subsection 23: รูปหัว (shape of the head); subsection 24: หน้า (the face); subsection 25: ลักษณะหน้า (characteristics of the face); subsection 26: รูปหน้า (shape of the face); subsection 27: ผิวหน้า (surface of the face); subsection 28: ความแดงของหน้า (redness of the face); subsection 19: หน้าแสดงนิสัย (one’s face displaying one’s temper or nature); subsection 20: หน้าแสดงความรู้สึก (one’s face betraying one’s feelings) . . .

Ajarn Nawawan’s book is not for the casual foreign learner of Thai, but it is for those learners with a strong curiosity about Thai words and their differences and who seek a broader vocabulary. One is often asked, “How come Thais use the word สวย (beautiful) so much; aren’t there any other words to express the same idea?” Well, this book gives you the answer with some 15 synonyms and 6 antonyms.

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Standards of the Thai Language“บรรทัดฐานภาษาไทย เล่ม๑, หนังสืออุเทศภาษาไทย, ชุด บรรทัดฐาน” สถาบันภาษาไทย, กรมวิชาการ, กระทรวงศุกษาธิการ
Standards of the Thai Language, Volume 1. Issued by the Thai Language Institute, Department of Curriculum and Instruction Development, Ministry of Education, in 2545 (2002).

First volume of a series explaining the Thai Language. The book sells for 59 baht.

This series, of which volume 1 is under review here, was published by the Thai Language Institute with a stated purpose of providing Thai teachers updated, standard material for developing curricula for teaching Thai language to their students. There is no indication that the Ministry of Education intends these volumes to be an “official text”, that is, a prescriptive set of rules to govern how Thai should be written or spoken. Rather, the Ministry found: “ครูผู้สอนภาษาไทยจำนวนมากขาดตำราที่ทันสมัยและเข้าใจง่าย ที่จะให้ความรู้เกี่ยวกับลักษณะและหลักภาษาไทย และมีเนื้อหาเกี่ยวกับการใช้ภาษาไทยในปัจจุบัน” (Many Thai language teachers lack modern and easily understandable text books which provide knowledge regarding the nature of and principles behind the Thai language and which contain material regarding the use of the Thai language in today’s environment.”)

The result is a textbook which provides a broad range of material for students. Volume 1 is composed of six major areas of study: 1. Knowledge about Language (which contains information regarding basic physical production of sound and introduces basic linguistic concepts, including the phonetic alphabet); 2. A History of Thai and its related regional languages; 3. The System of Thai Sounds; 4. The Thai Alphabet and the Use of Thai Orthography (including a developmental history of the Thai language); 5. How to Read and Pronounce Thai; and, 6. Writing and Spelling.

Unfortunately, the text lacks an index, but it does contain a five-page bibliography of both Thai and English reference works on the language in general and Thai in particular.

The book takes a practical approach to topics; the authors seem to have geared their presentation of the material to a general audience, rather than to a specialized academic audience. Take, for example, the question “Why are there so many letters in the Thai alphabet that produce an “s” sound?” Here is a broad answer to this question from page 77. After explaining that the current Thai language draws from multiple source languages, the authors state, “. . . ตัวอักษรที่มีในระบบการเขียนของไทยยังมีจำนวนมากกว่าหน่วยเสียงในภาษา ทำให้พยัญชนะหลายตัวแทนเสียงซ้ำกัน ผู้เขียนหนังสือไทยแต่โบราณมาก็มักรักษารูปศัพท์ของภาษาเดิมไว้ จึงมีการเขียนคำบางคำต่างกันทั้งๆ ที่ออกเสียงอย่างเดียวกัน.

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Standards of the Thai Language“๕,๐๐๐ สำนวนไทย นับแต่อดีตจวบจนปัจจุบัน” เอกรัตน์ อุดมพร
5,000 Idioms, Metaphors, and Proverbs, From Past to Present, compiled by Aekarat Udomporn

ISBN 978-974521855-0, January, 2554 (2011), 90.00 baht

Thai bookstores carry any number of books labeled “สำนวนไทย”. The term สำนวน is translated by some dictionaries as “aphorism”, and the author of the book containing 5,000 of them includes in the ambit of “สำนวน” the notions of “คำอุปมาอุปมาย” (metaphors), “คำพังเพย” (idioms), and “สุภาษิต” (proverbs). Suffice it to say that the book contains a hodgepodge of sayings and metaphors which might not be found in most dictionaries.

The format is an alphabetical listing of these items, followed by an explanation in Thai of what the particular item means; the book unfortunately does not contain much in the way of usages of the phrases. “๒,๐๐๐ อุปมาอุปมาย” (2,000 Metaphors) (ISBN 974-523-612-8, 2547 (2004), 90 baht) is prior work by the same author. This latter volume provides not only more explanation for each item, but often tells us who the author of the phrase was.

These two books and others like them are great conversation pieces when meeting with Thai friends or to break the ice with strangers. Thais will almost always smile when they read through the book and will have a great time trying to explain them to you. Some Thai metaphors and says are highly culture-specific, while others have similar English counterparts. For example, “แมวเฝ้าปลาย่าง” [Asking the cat to guard the grilled fish] is easily translatable into “Letting the fox guard the henhouse.” “หัวล้านได้หวี” is explained as “การได้รับสื่งที่ไม่มีประโยชน์สำหรับตน” (someone getting something which has no use to him) would seem to be “Bringing coals to Newcastle”. One website has it as “to cast pearl before swine”; I think this does a disservice to the follically challenged.

A book of a similar genre is “คำคล้องจอง, เสน่ห์ของภาษาไทย” (Harmonious Phrases (Rhyming Words), the Charm of the Thai Language), by ชัยรัตน์ วงศ์เกียรติ์ขจร (Chairat Wongkietkhajohn), ISBN 974-00-8727-2, 2546 (2003), 210.00 baht. This book contains many “elaborate expressions” which employ Thai rhyming schemes.

Bookstores carry volumes of phrases, aphorisms, metaphors, and proverbs for all levels of study, from elementary level on. Some even try to match up their equivalent English phrase or proverb. The best of them carry explanations of the cultural sources of the phrases. One of these books is “บ่อเกิดสำนวนไทย” (The origin of Thai Idioms) by ดนัย เมธิตานนท์ (Danai Maethitanon), ISBN 974-8229-71-8, 2548 (2005), 200 baht.

These books and other like them can be very valuable to the learner, not necessarily for normal conversations, but to gain a greater insight into the Thai cultural mentality and to recognize their meanings in everyday readings. Try these phrases in word games with a bunch of Thai friends.

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Mae Mai Muay Thai“แม่ไม้มวยไทย ศิลปะป้องกันตัว” คึกเดช กันตามระ
Mae Mai Muay Thai The Art Of Self-Defense, by Khukdet Kantamara

ISBN: 9789740327127, 370.00 baht

For those students of the Thai language who are interested in Thai boxing (or conversely those boxers interested in Thai) this is the book for you. The text is bi-lingual – each open set of two pages displays a line-drawing illustration, a set of instructions in English and a set in Thai. The English translation is fairly literal, but the dyed-in-the-wool boxer will not mind at all.

From the description of this volume from Chulabook:

Mae Mai Muay Thai-the Art of Self-Defense presents the history of ancient Muay Thai, the firm and agile styles of boxing, the primary and secondary techniques, the three-position foot-work, the offensive and defensive movements, the delivery of strikes, the counterattack strategies, and so on. The author focuses on the self-defense aspect, not the martial application in warfare, intending to cherish and preserve the indigenous knowledge of Muay Thai. The book hopefully benefits wider audience beyond Thailand.

I can’t speak for the quality or accuracy of the moves, but this book should go a long way in improving communications between Thai instructors and their foreign students.

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