Backstage View into the Process of Creating a Thai Dictionary

Chris and Slice-of-Thai.com…

A little over a year ago, I featured Chris Pirazzi at Slice-of-Thai.com. Back then, Chris and Benjawan Poomsan Becker had just released their New Thai & English Compact Dictionary.

This year, Chris and Benjawan went at it again with a software version of the Thai dictionary. You can read what Chris had to say about putting together the dictionary at Backstage View into the Process of Creating a Thai Dictionary, as well as what I had to say in Review: Three-Way Talking Thai Dictionary: Mac and PC.

While Chris was working on the software version of the dictionary, he also revamped Slice-of-Thai.com.

My website has always let the reader click to choose pronunciation guide (transcription) systems for all Thai text on the site. I have now updated the site to include all 12 systems found in the Windoze dictionary. This includes the PDF flashcards, the vowel and consonant pages, stress page, etc.

While adding all those new pronunciation guide systems, I did a huge update to the page describing each system and pronunciation guides in general: Pronunciation Guide Systems for Thai. And this included bringing my description and implementation of the TLC (thai-language.com) system up to date with some recent changes on Glenn’s site.

What you might not know is that Chris has put in over 1000 personal hours into tweaking Slice-of-Thai.com. What he’s done over the years is pare down his extensive knowledge of the Thai language into clear, online instructions for the likes of us. Nice.

I just love the unique banner Chris crafted for his site. And as I’m nosy, I asked about it.

Well I guess the most logical story I can come up with is:

The rainbow is from my backyard: allaboutpai.com >> nature, and also appears on the header of allaboutpai.com. The Thai dessert is cuz the desserts page was one of the earlier ones on slice-of-thai.com: Slice-of-Thai.com >> desserts and also goes with the “slice” theme. The banana leaf was convenient for making a background for the text and goes with the Thai desserts.

And in general the idea is that Slice-of-Thai.com provides you with small servings of random Thainess.

And small servings of random Thainess, I like!

As I didn’t do a proper run through of Chris’s site last year, here’s an overview of the Thai section found at Slice-of-Thai.com:

Printable flashcards for the Thai consonants and vowels
These beautifully designed Thai consonant and vowel flashcards are the best on the Internet. Bar none. Before you download, select your page set up (A4 or Letter), choose four cards per page or nine even, and decide on your pronunciation style (there are ten). And did I mention that they are free?

Consonant shape learning aid
As far as I’m concerned, when learning to read Thai one cannot collect enough tricks to remember the shapes of the Thai alphabet. I got a quick start with 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet, and Chris’ suggestions tweak the memory a step further.

If you are embarking on reading Thai, than these patterns will be especially helpful to you. And here’s a sample to show you what I mean:

Amongst the “W-like” letters…
No tail (ผ [pɔ̌ɔ-pʉ̂ng] and พ [pɔɔ-paan]) indicates a [p] sound.
Long tail (ฝ [fɔ̌ɔ-fǎa] and ฟ [fɔɔ-fan]) indicates an [f] sound.
Curly tail (ฬ [lɔɔ-jù-laa] is a [l] sound.

Voice viewer: see yourself talk!
The Voice Viewer is a free software download written for PC, but Macs running PC emulators can use it as well. What you do is speak into a mic and the colour patterns your voice makes is shown on a spectrogram.

Voice Viewer lets you see the way tones are supposed to be pronounced, and then try it yourself and compare the results!

The five tones of Thai
To show you how the five tones work, Chris uses the Voice Viewer. You are also given examples of different Thai words via sound, Thai script, and transliteration. Oh. And the secret of the disappearing tones is revealed as well!

The consonant sounds of Thai
The same as with the five tones you get an overview of how consonants work, and the use of the Voice Viewer. And if you are having difficulties distinguishing between voiced or aspirated, p, b, p, dt, d, t and such, this section is where you work it out for yourself.

The vowel sounds of Thai
Thai vowels are confusing to newcomers as they show up all over the place: infront, behind, above and below. But after you read Chris’ explanation and listen to the sounds, it’s not as mysterious. Again, you are given the sound, the Thai script, and transliteration.

Syllable stress
Syllable stress is something we pick up naturally when growing up, but it needs to be learned in Thai. And while my Thai teacher automatically corrects my spoken Thai (she’s my mom away from mom), it’s comforting to know that I can come here for the logic of it all.

By understanding syllable stress, you can predict when many of these “slurred syllables” are likely to occur. This helps you understand Thai speech more easily, and it may even help you speak more like a Thai.

Pronunciation guide systems for Thai
Ah, the bane of my early Thai language learning struggles – which system to choose?

The basic goal of a pronunciation guide system is to make it easier for you, the foreigner studying Thai, to learn how a Thai word is pronounced, without having to know full Thai script. This then allows you to say that word so that Thai people understand you, and it allows you to correctly recognize and distinguish that word from other similar words which you hear Thai people say.

Chris is the king when it comes to explaining the different guide systems so I’ll leave you two be. Trust me, you don’t need me in this conversation, as I still have scars :-)

How to type pronunciation guides
How to type using the funky characters to indicate Thai tones is a skill I haven’t acquired yet. I did learn for French, but not for Thai. I mean, what trips off the tongue better: crème brûlée or creme brulee? For Thai, I’ve learned how to cheat with the grand ‘ole cut and paste. The problem with cheating is that you have to source the exact character each time. But if you follow Chris’ instructions instead, you will learn where the characters are hiding on your keyboard.

Most of the pronunciation guide systems use tone marks to indicate the Thai tone of each syllable (e.g. [àa], [âa], [áa], [ǎa]). These tone marks are hard to type because they don’t appear on most Western keyboards. Various European languages for which you can find keyboards use some subset of the marks, but no language that we are aware of uses all four tone marks at the same time.

Free Thai fonts
If you don’t have a decent set of Thai fonts on your computer, then you are just going to love this section. And if you’ve ever tried finding decent Thai fonts, then you’ll know why – the links to downloading fonts don’t often work. But hey, they do here! Thanks Chris.

Resources for learning Thai
The resources page is where Chris places Thai materials that he’s either tried out himself, or he knows has a decent reputation.

Other websites for learning Thai
I enjoy reading about the different websites for learning Thai. And especially from Chris as he’s been around the Thai learning circuit for ages. I hear he knows where the bodies are buried too, but you won’t find out about it here (just kidding).

I hope you spend quality time at Slice-of-Thai.com. And I will give my personal guarantee that if you work through each of Chris’ well-crafted pages, you’ll grow in your understanding of the Thai language.

Chris Pirazzi on WLT…

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.