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How I Learned to Speak Thai During My First Month

Speak Thai

So, there I was: sitting in the same old café, listening to my cheerful old friend talking about all the fun she had while teaching English in Thailand, when suddenly I felt very old. I’m still what they call young, but at that moment I swear I was ancient. Something was missing from my life. And then I realized I had been listening about it for the last hour, in between sips of coffee.

I needed to go live abroad for a while! I needed to learn a new language, become friends with a new culture. The country I chose was Thailand. I had visited it before as a tourist, and fell in love with it, but this time I was going to get a teaching job there and finally learn Thai.

And that’s exactly what I did. I got a teaching job there. Now I was faced with the second part of my wish: learning the language. I had tried learning Thai, spent a lot on courses, but made no major progress. My pronunciation was terrible and my vocabulary limited. That got me worried. What if I wasn’t gifted enough to learn Thai? What if I get really disappointed? Perhaps it was just too difficult?

I’m sure many people feel like that when they’re about to embark on an adventure quite different than any before. The adventure in question here wasn’t just living in Thailand, but learning Thai too!

However, as I soon realized, there are ways of successfully learning a language no matter where you live! It is, of course, extremely valuable to communicate with native speakers on a daily basis if you wish to learn it quickly, but there are a few more things you can do. This is what I did in order to learn Thai fast:

1) I moved to Thailand…

Okay, yes, I know – easier said than done. You might not be in a position to move to Thailand, but I had already signed my contract, so for me it wasn’t an issue.

As it turned out, this proved to be the crucial step for my knowledge of Thai. It gave me the chance to figure out what I had been doing wrong and to focus on what needed to be fixed.

First thing I did, however, was this: I swore to myself that I was not going to be timid in my attempts to communicate with the locals. No way. I was going to immerse myself in the language and in the culture. I was going to surround myself with Thai and not resort to speaking English every time it got a little difficult to communicate. And it worked!

It was frustrating at times, but I powered through it. I used my free time for trips, I explored, experienced the everyday life of the locals. Thai people are very nice and interested in foreigners. The benefits of being surrounded by native speakers are numerous and extremely helpful for learning!

2) I learned the Thai alphabet before I arrived in the country…

Don’t panic – at first glance this seems extremely difficult if you’re used to the English alphabet and 26 letters. The Thai alphabet has a completely different script and consists of 44 consonants and 15 vowel symbols that comprise 32 vowels. A little overwhelming, I know.

Here’s what you can do, though, to make the learning easier: put two posters on your wall, next to your bed if you can – one with consonants and one with vowels. At this stage, everything will probably seem very strange to you, but that’s ok. Set aside a certain amount of time every single day to look at these symbols and make the sound with your mouth that they’re associated with.

Also, I found Easy Thai Alphabet very helpful and I highly recommend these learning methods. And, as a big fan of flashcards, I loved Thai FlashCards.

3) I started with the basics on my own…

In this day and age, technology allows us access to great amounts of material for learning. You can google the basics of any language and practice with various audio and video guides. That’s what I did.

First, I practiced the tones of Thai. This is a tonal language and a word in Thai can mean different things when a different tone is applied. Take ‘mai’ for example. ‘Mai’ can mean ‘no’, ‘new’ or ‘microphone’ depending on the tone applied.

When you read a Thai word, you will often see one of the four tone markers which are named ‘mai eak’, ‘mai toh’, ‘mai tree’ and ‘mai juttawa’. There is no tone marker in a syllable with a normal (mid) tone.

A good way of practicing the tones is through videos on YouTube. There are some very good ones, featuring native speakers. This lesson from Learn Thai With Mod was one of my favourites. Find the ones that suit you most and repeat the exercises as many times as you need!

Next, I learnt the most frequent groups of words. I focused on topics such as:

  • Greetings
  • Numbers
  • Places
  • Foods
  • Jobs

I made flashcards and practiced. You can do this too. Set mini-goals for yourself. Don’t try to take giant steps.

What kind of flashcards do you prefer? For me, a combination of physical cards and the Thai Flashcards app did the job.

Traditional, physical cards offer beginners the best focus possible. That rectangular space confines the word(s) and makes you really pay attention. You can add photos, drawings or colored letters to your flashcards. This will help you remember the words even better as more sensory nerves will be employed.

The digitized flashcards offer everything that your senses need: audio pronunciation, relevant images, dynamic games…

Whatever you choose, practice with your flashcards as often as you can! Repeating makes you burn the words into your long-term memory.

Finally, I moved on to basic conversations. These too can be found within some excellent channels on YouTube.

6) I used technology to the max…

We live in a world where technology can help us in many ways. There are language exchange programs that let you communicate with native speakers and numerous apps you can download easily.

I, for example, always carry the Talking Thai <> English Dictionary with me. On my phone, that is. It’s simple to use and comes in very handy. Apps like these are easy to find on Google Play or iTunes. Just choose the right dictionary or phrasebook for yourself and practice away!

If you can’t be in contact with native speakers every day, you can always use the advantages of learning via Skype lessons or through language exchange sites. I’ve heard only good things about Learn Thai with Mod.

Italki is a great example of language exchange program benefits. Teach your native language to a Thai native and learn at the same time. It’s the perfect exchange!

5) I watched Thai movies…

I know, sounds too simple, right? You shouldn’t underestimate this type of audio-visual learning! If you just relax, your brain will pick up things and you’ll be surprised!

There are a number of frequent words and phrases that get repeated throughout any movie, so these will quickly become familiar to you.

Repeat these words after the actors. Stop the movie if necessary. Listen carefully to the pronunciation. Your brain will connect the words to the context. And your vocabulary will expand with every movie.

No matter what genre you prefer, you can find a lot of Thai movies online. Try Filmdoo, for example.

Oh, a tip: Don’t watch the movies with English subtitles. Use the Thai ones instead. This way, your brain will connect the spoken words with the written ones in the subtitles and help you learn more.

6) I did not let myself give up!…

So, there I was: surrounded by the beautiful Thai people, eating fantastic Thai food, enjoying this different, fascinating culture, when suddenly I felt very tired. Learning Thai demanded a lot of effort. However, I considered myself quite lucky to have felt this sort of tiredness. It was a sign that I was doing something very important to me, something fulfilling, and that I was doing it right!

Learning Thai quickly is a challenge indeed, but a very rewarding one!

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Learn to Read the Thai Alphabet in 2 Weeks, 10 Days, 60 Minutes?

Read the Thai Alphabet in Two Weeks, Ten Days, 60 Minutes

Just how fast can you learn how to read the Thai Alphabet?…

Seriously, can you learn how to read the Thai alphabet in ten days? Two weeks? Sixty minutes? Sure. Well, all except for the 60 minutes promise (but it sounds good).

And before you get all fluffed up about what seems like a load of hype, with the right materials you can indeed learn how to read the Thai alphabet in record time. I did. You can hear all about it in The Easy Way for Beginners to Read and Write Thai.

Actually, with the right teacher and materials, you can start reading the Thai alphabet in a matter of minutes. But when you finish learning the entire 44 consonants, 21 vowels, and all the extra fiddly bits is totally up to you.

Anyway, for this review I’m looking at the top standalone courses for learning how to read Thai: Read Thai in Two Weeks (by Brett Whiteside of Learn Thai From a White Guy), Read Thai in Ten Days (by Bingo-Lingo), and 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet (the method that saved my sanity).

Read Thai in Two Weeks…

Brett: Have you struggled with boring Thai books and lessons and still can’t talk to anybody or understand anything? Have you been frustrated by the fact that no one can just explain stuff simply? Are you still waiting for it to ‘click’ so you can start having real conversations in Thai? I’ve been there. I’m a foreigner who went all the way from zero to fluent and I want to show you how I did it. I’ll also steer you away from the loads of time-wasting, frustrating mistakes that almost everybody makes. I’ve already struggled through them and I want to make sure my students don’t have to.

Read Thai in Two WeeksAuthor: Brett Whiteside of Learn Thai From A White Guy is a Western expat who’s resided in Thailand for over ten years. In addition to being fluent in Thai, he’s conversant in four other languages. Brett presently works as a consultant, translator and language tutor.

When struggling to learn tones and pronunciation, Brett created his own materials to teach himself Thai. After many adjustments to get it just right, and having great personal success himself, he designed a course to teach Thai to hundreds of expat students: Read Thai in Two Weeks.

Review: To give you a quick whip round this course, the introduction covers the intent of the course and instructions to setup Anki. The lessons are given in small, manageable chunks, each with audio files and mnemonics. Some have drills and/or exercises at the end of each lesson (these have audio as well). To test if you are ready to carry on with the next round of lessons, after the first 15 lessons there’s a quiz on hearing, writing, and the tones and vowels previously covered. A second quiz tackles the rest of the already covered tones and low class consonants. After eight more lessons (drills and exercises included – so no, you don’t get let off lightly) there’s a quiz on numbers. Thirteen more lessons are followed by a “What Now” exam, but no sweat as you’re already a superstar with the constant drilling, exercises, and questions asked throughout the course. To absolutely make sure you’ve learned what you should, a further six drills follow. A final lesson covers simple sentence structure.

The strength of this course is that being online it can offer clickable audio files, as well as quizzes, drills and exercises to test what you’ve learned (or not). Another plus are the mnemonics (memory hooks) to help get the materials down solid. Anki files with audio, as well as the free (to the public) iOS and Android apps tailored to the course, make sure you can continue your studies wherever you are. Note: the Android app has quizzes while the iOS doesn’t (hint, hint).

When it comes to getting getting Thai lessons into your head mnemonics are a powerful tool. There are several ways to use mnemonics – graphics pre-drawn and ones you create yourself. In my experience they both work. In this course, except for the Middle Class Story, detailed descriptions lead you to create personalised visuals using your own vivid imagination. The more vivid, the more personal, the better.

The clearly recorded sound files (female, with a voice that isn’t high or whiny) for each lesson show what the lessons are supposed to sound like. A heads up. For the majority of the course there’s only audio so forget about using the crutch of transliteration.

Brett’s experience as a student as well as a teacher of Thai shines through with the many insightful tips to help with concepts and remembering strange character shapes. The constant reminders to re-study what you don’t know are needed. And just incase you’ve forgotten, every so often he reminds you to go off and practice using the custom-made Anki cards that come with the course, or to play around with the free Alphabet apps.

While Brett is obviously not physically present, the way the course is written it’s as if he’s looking over your shoulder, advising you every step of the way. And his liberal use of humour, often with an “ah hah!!”, keeps the mood light throughout the course.

Price: $97 (orig $147) with 30 day money-back guarantee.
Product: 40 online lessons plus three quizzes and six drills all with audio recorded by native Thais (not T2S), 600+ Anki flashcards with audio (ditto), iOS and Android apps.

Website: Learn Thai From A White Guy
Facebook: Learn Thai From A White Guy
YouTube: Learn Thai From A White Guy
Twitter: @LTfaWG
Blog: Learn Thai

Interview: Bangkok Podcast: Learn Thai From A White Guy

Android App – FREE (includes quizzes): Learn Thai From A White Guy

Read Thai in 10 Days…

Bingo: The selling points of this course are simplification, understanding, and organisation.

Simplification: Many Thai script teaching courses don’t handle rules well. For example, the tone rules. Instead of using bloated tables or cumbersome-looking tone flow charts, RTITD organises tone rules into one principle (plus the default tone for each tone mark) and three exceptions. The course also has a different take on Thai vowels. RTITD simplifies the ‘traditional’ number of vowels from 32 vowels (plus 10 vowel changes) to 22 vowels (4 of which have two forms), and treats vowel shortening and vowel-less words as separate.

Understanding: People may forget what they remember, but they will never forget what they understand! RTITD doesn’t rely on sheer effort to purely memorise individual character’s sounds when at initial and final position, it tells you WHY they are the way they are. The course also explains the nature of the Thai phonological system, that there are no unreleased finals, and which initial sound will become which final sounds, and much more.

Organisation: By prioritising what’s essential, the entire course is carefully structured in such a way that makes sense. Lesson by lesson, what learners have previously studied is repeated and combined with the new materials being introduced.

For reading skill reinforcement, the approach draws from the principles of spaced repetition. Words chosen for the reading practice exercises are not random, but appropriately distributed throughout the course. Using this method, students quickly gain confidence in their ability to read Thai.

Learn to Read Thai in Ten DaysAuthor: Bingo (Arthit Juyaso) is a linguist and Thai national who developed a love for languages at an early age. The first foreign language he tackled was English (brave lad). Still in school, he then moved on to majoring in Japanese, attending a one year scholarship programme at Chiba University in Japan. After graduating Bingo did a stint as a Japanese translator. During that time he started dabbling in yet another language, Spanish. Realising his continuing love for languages, he then went for a Master’s Degree in Linguistics. After, he started teaching English, Thai and Japanese at various schools in Thailand. Dissatisfied with how the Thai alphabet is being taught to expats, and influenced by his studies in linguistics, he came up with the method taught in Read Thai in Ten Days.

Review: This course gets into a large amount of detail (more than most), which clearly demonstrates Bingo’s experience with teaching Thai to expats.

The materials come in two downloads: a pdf and a folder with audio files. Due to the pdf format Bingo uses transliteration with a pronunciation guide to approximate the Thai sounds, but advises students to depend upon the accompanying audio files instead.

The course starts out with a bit about Bingo, followed by a brief overview of the history of the Thai script, and then a pronunciation guide to help you through the unfamiliar Thai alphabet. Immediately after are first five lessons followed by an overview. Four more lessons follow, and after that, another overview. On lesson ten, the last day of the course, you get tips and tricks to help recognise the Thai alphabet. Before starting the course my advice is to go straight to the last lesson, especially “Same Same But Different”, where you learn how to recognise different attributes of the Thai alphabet. Finally, the Appendices sums up the rules, presents the Thai dictionary order, shares more samples of Thai fonts, and finishes with a Thai-English glossary.

Each lesson begins with an outline of what you can expect to learn in that lesson (topics that logically go together are grouped together). The sub-topics have an explanation, what to memorise (with audio), writing lessons with practice sheets, in-depth explanations and tips, and self-driven quizzes with answers partially hidden from view by being upside down. At the end of each lesson is an overview of everything covered in that lesson. The in-depth tips help immensely with ‘seeing’ as well as understanding what’s going on. If students cannot easily get through the overviews at the end of each lesson Bingo often reminds them to go back and study.

In the lessons teaching consonant and vowels there are samples of typical fonts, stylized fonts, and cursive fonts. Memory aids have been created for the mid-low-high classes (as groups) and the principle of tones (but not the tone marks). The recordings use the male voice (Bingo’s).

Price: $17.99 (orig $49.99)
Product: 170 page ebook + audio files

Website: Read Thai in 10 Days
YouTube: Read Thai in 10 Days
Twitter: @readthai

60 Minutes Thai Alphabet…

60 Minutes: Stop struggling with the Thai alphabet right now. Use this system, and you will be able to read within minutes! This is the original memory system for the Thai alphabet, and has sold thousands of copies since 2005. We have been featured in the Bangkok Post, The Nation newspaper and major blogs like WomenLearnThai.com and ThaiVisa.com

Seven years of development have been invested in this ground-breaking system, which will allow you to relate almost immediately, to one of the most difficult alphabet systems. We have devised a visual memory system that relies on simple images, to enable you to immediately learn the sounds and shapes of the Thai letters.

60 Minutes Thai AlphabetAuthors: This ebook was created by a team of expats at 1steasythaialphabet. As professional expats do not stick around one place for long, they found plenty of opportunity to learn new languages. With Thai, they pooled their knowledge to create and refine the 60 Minute Thai Alphabet course.

Review: This exact ebook is sold all around the internet at different websites under different names, some going so far as to list themselves as authors (cheeky buggers).

There’s a valid reason why this small course is so popular – the visual mnemonics work quickly to teach the shapes of the Thai consonants, vowels and Thai numbers, the tones, as well as the different initials and finals.

While I applaud 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet strongly (it rescued me from head-banging frustration) the lack of audio is indeed a weak point. But as there are many free apps and websites with audio files, not all is lost. You just have to work a little harder.

With only a small pdf sans audio, another downside is the present price ($19.99), compared to what Read Thai in Ten Days offers ($17.99). But if you wait it out, the price often drops.

Price: $19.99 (orig $49.99)
Product: 39 page ebook
Website: 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet

The wrap: The Thai alphabet in 2 weeks, 10 days, 60 minutes?…

The reason I chose to review these three courses in particular is because each have individual strengths that makes them the best of the standalone courses on the market. And after going back and forth between Read Thai in Two Weeks and Read Thai in Ten Days to double-check, I believe that more than ever. So, here you go, my thoughts… peppered with many “If’s”.

  • If you’ve tried to learn how to read the Thai alphabet and failed miserably (as I did), then start with 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet – but don’t stop there.
  • If you need readymade mnemonics, again, start with 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet (ditto on the not stopping).
  • But if you’d much rather create mnemonics personalised to your own way of thinking and understanding, then grab Read Thai in Two Weeks.
  • If you learn best by a hands-on approach of working through a multitude of online quizzes and exercises, then Read Thai in Two Weeks would be the top consideration.
  • If money is an issue, then Read Thai in Ten Days will get you there.
  • If a touch of spaced repetition is how you learn best, then go with Read Thai in Ten Days. But remember, with all those drills and exercises, Read Thai in Two Weeks also repeats the lessons learned.
  • If you need an instructor with experience in language learning and teaching Thai, who can clearly and simply explain the intricate details of the Thai language, then both Read Thai in Two Weeks and Read Thai in Ten Days are excellent.

Here’s another ‘IF’. If I had to do it all over again, I’d start right away with 60 Minutes Thai Alphabet with a Thai alphabet app by my side. After I felt comfortable with all those strange squiggles, I’d study using both Read Thai in Two Weeks and Read Thai in Ten Days.

But in saying that … product jumping can be a deterrent when learning a language (owning most everything for studying Thai has been a hindrance for me, not a help). So IF I had to choose between Read Thai in Two Weeks and Read Thai in Ten Days, with my visual-spatial learning style I’d do better with a course heavy in mnemonics, quizzes, drills and exercises, as well as clickable audio. So it’d have to be Brett’s Read Thai in Two Weeks.

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Finding the Tone of a Thai Syllable

Finding the Tone of a Thai Syllable

Tones Thai syllables…

Thai children can apply the tone rules long before they can explain them. This is because they learn words in groups with similar characteristics. For instance, the group of words ending in “p” (บ, ป, พ, ภ) and starting with a low class consonant. When they meet a new word, they automatically know the correct group and therefor will know the tones to use.

Knowing Thai tone rules is important if you intend to speak Thai clearly. Sometimes reading through the rules helps, but for others charts make more sense. I’ve included both in this post.

In Thai there are three kinds of consonants:

  1. low class: ค,ฅ,ฆ,ง,ช,ซ,ฌ,ญ,ฑ,ฒ,ณ,ท,ธ,น,พ,ฟ,ภ,ม,ย,ร,ล,ว,ฬ,ฮ
  2. mid class: ก,จ,ฎ,ฏ,ด,ต,บ,ป,อ
  3. high class: ข,ฃ,ฉ,ฐ,ถ,ผ,ฝ,ศ,ษ,ส,ห

You best remember the mid and the high class consonants – the low class are all the rest.

In Thai there are two kinds of vowels:

  1. short vowels: -ั, -ิ, -ุ, -ึ and ฤ. And all vowels with ะ or -็ in them.
  2. long vowels: all the rest

In Thai there are two kinds of syllables:

  1. dead syllable: ends a short vowel or on a p t or k sound.
  2. live syllable: all the rest

In Thai there are four tones marks:

  1. -่ : normally indicates a low tone
  2. -้ : normally indicated a falling tone
  3. -๊ : normally indicates a high tone
  4. -๋ : normally indicates a rising tone

The Thai tone rules…

If the syllable has a tone mark:

  • follow the tone mark
    • exception: the first consonant is low class: take the next tone

If the syllable doesn’t have a tone mark:

  • and the syllable is a life syllable: mid tone
    • exception: the first consonant is high class: rising tone
  • and the syllable is dead: low tone
    • exception: the first consonant is low class
      • and the syllable has a short vowel: high tone
      • and the syllable has a long vowel: falling tone

Chart of the Thai tone rules…

Thai Tone Chart

Download pdf: Finding the Tone of a Thai Syllable
Download jpg: Thai Tone Chart

Kris Willems

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AUA Thai: FREE Reading and Writing Videos

AUA Thai: FREE Reading and Writing Videos

AUA’s FREE Thai reading and writing videos…

Here’s a bit of fabulous news for Thai students. You already know about AUA’s Thai class videos being available for free download. Right? Well, David Long just uploaded AUA’s Reading and Writing videos. For free!

David Long: Following the idea of Sal Khan of Khan Academy. They cover the content of our first 2 R&W courses.

AUA: These videos are available for free and include the main content of each class hour. They can be used for review, or as a self-study program. They should be used together with the books below, and if you are not able to attend our classes, you can study on your own and meet on-line with one of our teachers.

The books mentioned are AUA’s Reading and Writing-Text and Reading and Writing-Workbook and can be ordered through AUA or amazon.com/co.uk. The books might be getting long in the tooth but the materials are totally solid. Some Thai teachers and students swear that these two books are the best for learning how to read and write Thai. How’s that?

The videos can be downloaded in either FLV or MP4. To test them out, I uploaded the first four Mp4 files to my iPad via iTunes and dusted off both books.

The first video starts on page 1 in the workbook and the textbook so I skipped past the lessons on transcription (bane of my life) and went straight to the lessons shown in the video.

The real value of the reading and writing videos is that you get to hear the Thai alphabet and vocabulary spoken as it’s being written on the board. Because with Thai being a tonal language, reading from books just isn’t good enough. You need to get the sounds into your head.

What I absolutely love about these videos is that unlike the books, there is NO transliteration. You get the audio explanation in Thai and the Thai in actual script. That’s it. But if you can’t understand Thai you are still covered because the books have the explanations in English.

A personal note: My writing in English is atrocious so you can just imagine what my Thai looks like! Following AUA’s Thai writing workbook, my Thai teacher demanded that I write in perfectly formed TINY Thai. That just wasn’t going to happen. My fingers cramped up and I grew frustrated. So what I’m saying is that while the writing books are wonderful, don’t sweat the small stuff. If tiny Thai grade school script isn’t your style then don’t quit – buy a ruled notebook to use instead. And if you want to see samples of a free-form style of writing Thai, purchase Reading Thai is Fun mentioned in my post The Easy Way for Beginners to Read and Write Thai. Btw, I’ll be rewriting that post to include the wonderful AUA materials…

Seriously, if you are going the self-study route by learning to read and write Thai on your own, or if you are attending AUA’s reading and writing course, then AUA’s Reading and Writing Thai videos will be a boon for you.

Edit: I checked with David and the rest of the videos should be online before the Xmas holidays. So ho ho ho everyone :-)

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e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam

e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam

Fabulous FREE online Thai reading materials…

I’ve mentioned the Thai study materials found at e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam School (dekgeng.com) in forums, comments on WLT, and in the Learn Thai for FREE section. But it wasn’t until I sent the url to Josh that I noticed the lack of a dedicated post. And as it’s a fabulous resource for learning to read Thai, here you go.

You start out first by studying the Thai alphabet with Thai reading and Thai alphabet. Next up is the Thai alphabet test. After, you graduate to learning consonant and vowel combos, just like in a real Thai classroom. You’ll find those in Lesson one, Lesson two, Lesson three, and Lesson four.

The important part (IMHO) of this site is the ability to hear the sounds on command. It’s a simple, but effective way to learn your way around the Thai alphabet.

e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam

e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam

e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam

For more advanced students there are comprehension tests, maths, games and more. So as you can see, e-learning at Sriwittayapaknam is quite the useful resource for learning Thai.

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iPhone apps: Thai Alphabet and Vocabulary

iPhone Thai Alphabet Apps

Thai alphabet and vocabulary apps for your iPhone…

When I started collecting Thai language iPhone apps last year, only a dribble came through. Later, they started coming fast, but then slowed down soon after. You will see what I mean when noting the creation dates for each app (listed below).

And btw. The iTunes store has improved their search since last year, but only a little. You cannot find all of the Thai apps by using the keywords ‘Thai language’. No, you need to know exactly what the app is targeting (nouns, verbs, alphabet, phrases, dictionary, etc) and even then you will not find them all. I’m not even 100% sure I have everything (but I’m pretty close).

Anyway, now that the iPhone apps have had plenty of time to update, I was thinking that it’s a good time to get back to doing that full iPhone apps review I promised.

The criteria I used for the iPhone Thai alphabet and word review…

Choosing iPhone apps to learn the Thai alphabet, or/or increase your vocabulary, is a logical affair. You might not be too fussed about all of the items I’ve noted below, but some will be a must. Up to you.

  • Vocab: How many words does it have?
  • Help: Is there a help or tutorial section?
  • More words: Can you add vocabulary of your own?
  • Internet connection: Do you need to be connected?
  • Sound: Do you need sound to increase understanding?
  • Design style: Does it add or subtract to the experience?
  • Thai script: Is the Thai script too small to read, or just right?
  • Tone tips: Are there tone markers, transcription, or nothing at all?
  • Zoom: Would a zoom to read small Thai script be an improvement?
  • Learning: Can you test your Thai? Or just hear and/or read the materials?
  • Target market: Does the app target beginners, intermediates, or advanced students?

As you’ll soon read, I’m a stickler for sound on iPhone Thai learning apps for beginners. For intermediate or advanced students there is not as much need (but it’s a nice touch).

Another concern of mine is tiny Thai script on iPhones, so here’s a note to iPhone app developers:

When reading tiny Thai script, experienced Thai readers will automatically fill in the missing details. But beginners need to see everything so please either make the Thai script large enough, or add the ability to zoom in. Ta.

If price matters to you, wait until the sales come in. And they will. On Saturday I got busy double-checking the prices for each app in the iTunes store. Some had dropped to half so I corrected this post. But by Sunday, the prices went back up again. Sigh…

And if you do want to keep an eye on app prices, then sign up for email or twitter alerts from Latest iPhone and iPad App Price Drops.

Disclaimer: Except where noted, the personal opinions below (cacca or otherwise), are all mine.

Learn the Thai alphabet…

When I started reviewing iPhone apps, my wishlist for a Thai alphabet app included the letters and their tones, vowels and their placement, pictures or words depicting their Thai names, and sound files for the lot. And a quiz would be grand as well. None of the below offer everything, but the newest app comes close: Reading Thai. I would not ignore the rest as one can never have enough apps for learning Thai.

I Know My กขค

I Know: My กขคII Know: My กขค
Price: Free
Author: TRUE
Date: 9 July 2010
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Not needed
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes (but it doesn’t work for me)
Quiz: No

This is a simple app with animated flashcards to help you learn the Thai alphabet. There is supposed to be sound when you click on the alphabet, but I’m not hearing anything. Richard (who wrote the below review) mentions sound so the blame is sure to be on my phone.

iStudy: Thai Alphabet

Thai AlphabetiStudy: Thai AlphabetiStudy
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: Ronald Bell
Date: 11 February 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Not needed
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

There are two modes: Test mode and study mode. In test mode you are on your honour to select correct or incorrect in response to your answer. A report card tracks your progress.

Reading Thai

Reading ThaiReadingReading ThaiReading Thai
Price: US$4.99 | £2.99
Author: Nagaraja Rivers
Date: 15 Sept 2010
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet + 350 words
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: No

The other alphabet apps are lacking in some way but this one has most everything needed: Consonants, vowels, numbers, tone marks and punctuation, tone rules, letter combination rules, and multi-syllable rules. It has a clean design with easy to use nav, and the sound is clear and loud (the sound in some apps cannot be heard over background noise).

The only item I see missing is a quiz. I would also add an info page with very brief instructions and contact/company details.

Genuinely useful, this app can operate as a learning tool, or to look something up when reading Thai. If you were limited to one Thai alphabet app for whatever reason, I would advise getting this app over the others.

Thai Alphabet App

Thai Alphabet App Thai Alphabet AppThai Alphabet App
Price:$0.99 | £0.59
Author: iPhone and iPad Developer Thailand
Date: 9 March 2010
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Not needed
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: Sort of

Last year I gnashed my teeth over Thai alphabet apps not having sound, so I was relieved when this one arrived this year. It is a very simple app, but effective.

A small complaint is that you cannot navigate easily; you must go back to the scrolling list each time to select a new letter. No matter, it does what it’s meant to do.

What is not explained in the app or at the iTunes store is the colour coding system. Suggestion: Use colour coding for low, medium, and high class. Oh, and different colours for vowel placeholders.

This app is not set up to quiz, but to quiz yourself simply take a guess before pushing the sound button. Easy.

Thai Alphabet QuickRef

Thai Alphabet QuickRefThai Alphabet QuickRefThai Alphabet QuickRef
Price: Free
Author: Ronald Bell
Date: November 11, 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Not needed
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: No

Same as Ronald Bell’s previous Alphabet app above, this one is lacking sound as well. If you sort of know the alphabet, then Ronald’s attractive and absolutely free app might work for you.

Beware as the ads on the bottom of the app are too close to the two bottom buttons. I don’t remember the ads being there the first time I downloaded, so looks like he’s trying to recoup costs. Fair enough.

Thai Language “Koh-kai”

Thai language Koh-kai thai language Koh-kaiThai language Koh-kaiThai language Koh-kai
Price:$0.99 | £0.59
Author: Ritsuro
Date: 4 Jan 2010
Version: 1.2
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: No

This app takes you through the Thai alphabet with graphics, Thai script, transliteration, and English. When you get to the first letter of the Thai alphabet you’ll see a graphic of a chicken, ก (Thai letter), K (initial letter), 01 (where it is in the Thai alphabet), koo kai (transliteration of the full Thai word), chicken (English translation), and โก่ (full Thai word for that letter).

The settings are simple. Auto scrolls through the lot, left and right arrows scrolls one at a time, pause… pauses, and top takes you to ก, the first letter in the alphabet. There is also a control panel where you can select information startup which is a quick nav (shown in the graphic above), night mode (a darkened screen), speed (controls how fast the alphabet goes by), and the ability to see the obsolete characters or not.

To make this a complete alphabet iPhone app, needed is sound and whether or not the letters are low, medium, or high class. Adding vowels and numbers would improve it as well.

Ritsuro has another alphabet app called Thai Language character Mechanism, but I haven’t been able to figure it out all the way. What you can do is get the initial sounds of the Thai alphabet and Thai numbers. The rest is a mystery.


TH-WriteTH-WriteTH-WriteNo longer online
Price: Free
Author: Nati Namvong
Released: 2 Jul 2010
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Alphabet
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: No
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: No

New out, this is a beautifully designed app. You get the name of the letter in Thai script, with transcription underneath (no tone marks). To practice drawing the Thai alphabet, trace over the dotted lines on the screen. You can keep erasing until satisfied with your efforts. Click on the cute speaker icon to the top right to hear clear sound delivered by a female voice.

As a graphically minded lass, I am soooooooo looking forward to seeing what else Nati comes up with!
EDIT: I received a query via email about the spellings used in this app. Nati is using phonetic Thai, so do not use it to learn how to spell.

TH Write has นอ-เณร
Should be ณ เณร
TH Write has คอ-ระ-ฆัง
Should be ฆ ระฆัง
TH Write has ทอ-ผู้-เฒ่า
Should be ฒ ผู้เฒ่า

A Thai word a day…

At the moment, there are two types of words a day to chose from: 1) Simple, and 2) On full-blown steroids. What is needed is a app targeting the middle ground and both ends as well (suggested in the comment below).

MyWords Thai

MyWords ThaiMyWords - ThaiMyWords ThaiyMyWords Thaiy
Price: £5.99 | $9.99
Author: Innovative Language Learning
Date: 19 June 2009
Version: 1.6.2
Internet connection required: Only when downloading new words
Word count: 3,650 words per year
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: Yes

UPDATE: The latest is for iPad only.

The idea is to learn ten new Thai words a day. After you wait around for their app to load (and it’s a long wait), you get a screen with tiny Thai script in the middle, and the translation in English on the right.

Clicking the orange box on the left of the screen takes you to a practice page where you listen, repeat, record your own voice, and then replay it back. You can also save words in a word bank to practice later, but you cannot add new words. As you can see from the sample to the right, even reduced, the Thai script on the practice page is readable.

ATTN: When I accessed the app the sound files were incorrect. Not only was I getting the wrong Thai word, but I couldn’t match what I recorded with what they had. It’s a decent app (even with the potential for eyestrain), so I’ll check with the developer and get back to you…

In the game you quiz yourself by matching the Thai script to the English translation. The Thai script is absolutely tiny, so you’ll need to be in very good light to read it (and when are we using our iPhones in good light?) No matter if you get some answers wrong at first, when you eventually get them right you receive a congratulations. I like that. Note: If you cannot read Thai script, you cannot play the game.

Across the bottom of the app is a clear nav: Play game, V (another ad), ? (a scrolling help page), and a calendar. The calendar is where you can go backwards in time.

The comment from the iTunes store (quoted below) about the inability to choose words via difficulty is a point well made.

I agree with another reviewer that it would be very helpful to be able to select a knowledge level from which to receive successive days of new 10 words, such as BEGINNER, MIDDLE or ADVANCED Thai speaker and also choose from categories such as GREETINGS, ACCOMMODATION, SHOPPING, etc.

As the other reviewer stated, a beginner needs to get basic greetings and simple conversational words and an advanced speaker will find many wasted days of words if the words sent include such basic vocabulary as “hat”, “red”, “desk”, etc. Adding the ability to select such levels and grouping would make this a 5 star app.

Thai Word of the Day

Thai Word of the DayThai Word of the DayNo longer online
Price: £0.59 | $0.99
Author:Date: 15 August 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 365 (more with free updates)
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: No

This is a basic iPhone app. As you can see in the graphic, you get the Thai word in script, whether it’s a verb noun or whatever, and the transliteration. If you are unsure what the arrows on the transliteration mean, the tone tips are shown in small copy along the bottom of the first box. In the second box you get the English translation of the word.

The only items clickable are the forward and back buttons, which take you to more words. You are given a year’s worth of vocabulary, with additional words on the way. It’s a simple app with no bells and whistles: no search, no sound, and no quiz.

Thai Word of the Day!

Thai Words of the DayThai Words of the DayNo longer online
Price: £0.59 | $0.99
Author: Ronald Bell
Date: 30 July 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Unknown
Thai script: No
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: No

This is another basic iPhone application. You get a new word of the day in transliteration. No Thai script. So unless your Thai friends read karaoke Thai, you are so out of luck if you need to ask for pronunciation help. And with no sound as well, you are doubly out of luck. If you missed a word, or want to see new words, the previous and next buttons show you more. This is a pretty app, but it’s sorely lacking.

Learn Thai words whenever…

Where the daily Thai word apps give you a new word (or ten) a day, the below give you freedom of choice. Some have powerful features, some not so much.

WordPower Thai

WordPower ThaiWordPower ThaiWordPower ThaiNo longer online
Price: £5.99 | $9.99
Author: Innovative Language Learning
Date: 2 Sept 2009
Version: 1.6
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 2000
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: No (Transcription)
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Search: Yes
Quiz: Yes

This is a decent iPhone app to have. What you do is scroll through the extensive categories to chose the subject you fancy (words, numbers, or phrases), and then pick one of the 2000 Thai words. You then listen to the recording, record yourself saying the word or phrase, and then play back your voice to see how close you came.

You also have the ability to create your own word bank from the existing words, but you cannot add new words of your own. Next to each category listing is a progress bar (that grey oblong box shown above). And (rare) there’s even a search (a search that works fabulously). The flashcards (where you can quiz yourself to your heart’s delight), have sound, Thai script, and transcription. Detailed instructions come with this app (another rarity). And the flashcard section can be controlled via settings as well.

This program uses transcription, meaning no tone markers. But with sound, is it really needed? Up to your preference really.

WordPower Thai Lite

Word Power LiteWordPower Thai LiteNo longer online
Price: £0.59 | $0.99
Author: Innovative Language Learning
Date: 15 September 2009
Version: 2.1
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Unlimited (but one per day)
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: No (Transcription)
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: Yes

This app is similar to their full version, but you are limited to one new word a day. So what this program really should be called is Thai Word of the Day on Steroids. And no worries if you want access to more Thai words, you can upgrade to their full version at any time.

Let’s face it, not everyone can commit full-time to learning a language. We know there are many things going on in your life: school, work, the kids, that special someone. That’s why we developed WordPower – Lite for the ultra-busy, 21st century lifestyle. There is absolutely no reason to miss out on all the benefits of learning another language just because you’re light on time.
With WordPower – Lite, start down the road to fluency and the many perks that go with it: greater job opportunities, higher income, broader view of the world, shock and awe unsuspecting friends and family, and many more.

Gengo Flashcards Thai

Gengo Flashcards ThaiGengo Flashcards - ThaiGengo Flashcards ThaiGengo Flashcards Thai
Price: £4.00 | $5.99
Author: Innovative Language Learning
Date: 8 July 2009
Version: 1.3
Internet connection required: No
Word count: Unlimited
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: No (Transcription)
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: Yes

Gengo is broken into two main operations: Flashcards and games. You can use the flashcards that came with the app, or create your own by taking a photo of the object, and then add in the Thai as well as the sound.

Tip: To add new words, you will need to turn on your Thai keyboard. To do this, go to >> Settings >> General >> Keyboard >> International keyboard >> Thai. Leave English selected. Then switch from English to Thai by clicking on the icon that sort of looks like a world.

In the flashcard section you get one photo. You then say the Thai word to yourself. To see if you are correct, either click on the small icon to the bottom right for the Thai script and translation, or play the sound button at the top right. If you got it right, you click the green check. If wrong, you select the red cross. And yes, you are on your honour.

In the games section you select a subject from the category and three photos appear. At the same time, you’ll hear a Thai word. The idea is to click the photo that matches the Thai sound. If you missed hearing the Thai word, click on Play Sound. If you need hints, click on the small round icon on the bottom right and the photo will flip around to show the Thai script, transcription, and translation of the word.

I loved this app when I first started playing around with it, but there is a problem. Some of the photos are ballpark, not absolute. For instance, in the computer section you get a photo of a guy and a gal smiling in front of a computer. And the answer? A social networking site. In the body parts section you get a photo of a women shown from her chest to her nose. Did you guess mouth? Hmm… To make this work you first have to study the flashcards to memorise what they are being called here, and then hope that you remember the illusive names when you play the game. And if you think about, this is almost like learning Thai in real life.

This is another app with a help section, so kudos to them. But on the downside, this app is slow loading on startup.

Gengo Flashcards Lite – Thai

Gengo Flashcards ThaiFree Gengo Flashcards ThaiNo longer online
Price: Free
Author: Innovative Language Learning
Date: 17 July 2009
Version: 1.3
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 10?
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: No (Transcription)
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: Yes

As in the full version, there are two main operations: Flashcards and games. The free version is limited to fruits and weather, and you cannot add new cards.

Gengo Flashcards Lite provides a revolutionary way for you to quickly grow your vocabulary. The application combines visual cues with the voices of native speakers to provide you with the most effective method of learning and retaining hundreds of vocabulary words. With these special flashcards, we’re adding another sensory receptor to your learning experience so you’ll learn Thai that much faster! You’re now learning just like a native speaker.

iStudy: Thai Vocabulary

iStudy Thai VocabularyiStudy: Thai VocabularyNo longer online
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: Ronald Bell
Date: 9 February 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 103
Thai script: No
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

This app uses karaoke Thai, but if you are not fussed, then go for it. There are two modes in this app: Test mode and study mode. In test mode you are on your honour to select correct or incorrect. A report card tracks your progress.

uTalk HD Thai

uTalk ThaiuTalk ThaiuTalk ThaiuTalk HD Thai
Price: £5.99 | US$9.99
Author: EuroTalk
Date: 15 June 2009
Version: 1.0.2
Internet connection: No
Word count: 260 words
Tone tips: Yes
Thai script: Yes
Zoom: No needed
Sound: Yes
Quiz: Yes

I reviewed this iPhone app in a previous post, Thai Language Phrase books, but it belongs here instead.

This is a beautifully designed learning app for beginners of the Thai language. It covers the bare basics of Thai vocabulary, with a few phrases thrown in.

The sections include: Word practice, easy game, easy game+, and hard game. You can record and playback your attempts at speaking the Thai language. The Thai script is a decent size.

In the preferences you can set the volume and chose from 80 available languages, as well as clear your history. The graphics incorporated into the design go a long way to making this program easy to use. Cheers to their design team!

The downside? To match the design quality of this product, more content is needed.
Seriously more content as 260 words are not enough.

ATTN: I was just told that EuroTalk has a much larger version in the works, so kudos to them! And while we are waiting for the Pro version, uTalk Thai has been upgraded to uTalk HD Thai. It now works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. And the language count has been increased to 80 as well. This is an exciting app; one to follow for sure.

Learn by Thai nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs…

Two products (TempleBar and Levitate) compliment each other so I’ve put them in a section on their own. Both companies have created simple learning products for the Thai market. And while the apps don’t include sound, they are useful.

TempleBar: These simple, but effective learning apps teach Thai words by SRS (spaced repetition software). The apps remember the Thai words you’ve learned, as well as the words you need to concentrate on. You can even track the progress for up to 4 users, and reset the scores if you so choose. There is no sound, but legible Thai script and transliteration (with explanation) are included. If you have a Thai friend who wants to practice English, or if you want to come up with the Thai name for an English word, just reverse the order (English shown instead of Thai). The about (help) section is extensive and indeed helpful.

The apps come with a limited number of Thai words but you can add your own. As mentioned above, here are brief instructions for turning on your Thai keyboard. Go to >> Settings >> General >> Keyboard >> International keyboard >> Thai. Leave English selected. Then switch from English to Thai by clicking on the icon that sort of looks like a world.

Levitate: This is a much simpler application. There is the choice to learn words (multiple choice answers), browse (forward and back arrows), and reset your score. You cannot add new words.


ThaiThaiThaiNo longer online
Price: £2.99 | $4.40
Author: TempleBar Development LLC
Date: 15 August 2009
Version: 1.6
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 900 ++
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

The sections are: Practice all words, practice nouns, practice verbs, practice descriptives (verbs and adjectives), and add your own words. Turn the browsing mode on when you want to review the words beforehand.

Thai Adjectives and Adverbs

Thai Adjectives and AdverbsThai Adjectives and AdverbsThai Adjectives and AdverbsNo longer online
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: TempleBar Development LLC
Date: 31 July 2009
Version: 1.6
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 325 ++
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

The sections are: Practice, browsing, and adding words. In browsing mode you can review the Thai adjectives and adverbs beforehand. Clicking on the other buttons, you can read the guide, set the viewing options, and see the TempleBar about page.

Thai Adjectives Quiz

Thai Nouns QuizThai Adjectives QuizThai Adjectives QuizNo longer online
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: Levitate LLC
Date: 29 June 2009
Version: 1.0
Sound: No
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 250
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Quiz: Yes

With this app you learn Thai adjectives and adverbs by using multiple choice questions.

The multiple choice quiz shows you the Thai word and you choose an answer. Then you see if you were right or wrong. But what makes this quiz SMART is the progress tracking in the background.

The program remembers which words you have trouble with, and which you have learned well. It focuses on the problematic items, while using longer spans of time between repetitions of learned material.

Thai Nouns

Thai NounsThai NounsThai NounsNo longer online
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: TempleBar Development LLC
Date: 4 August 2009
Version: 1.6.1
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 300 ++
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

As with the others fromTempleBar, you learn Thai nouns by SRS (spaced repetition software). The sections are: Practice, browsing, and adding words. In browsing mode you can review the verbs beforehand. The other buttons are mentioned above.

Thai Nouns Quiz

Thai Nouns QuizThai Nouns QuizThai Nouns QuizNo longer online
Price: £0.67 | $0.99
Author: Levitate LLC
Date: 28 June 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 250
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

Learn Thai nouns by multiple choice questions. You have three choices: Learn, browse, or reset.
When I started this review I found it with Sneakernet Studios (priced at $1.99), but it’s also being created by Levitate LLC who is charging $0.99 in the iTunes app store. I’m confused…

Thai Verbs

Thai VerbsThai VerbsThai VerbsNo longer online
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: TempleBar Development LLC
Date: 4 August 2009
Version: 1.6.1
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 270 ++
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

Learn Thai verbs by SRS (flashcards). The sections are: practice, browsing, and adding words. In browsing mode you can review the verbs beforehand. The other buttons are mentioned above.

Thai Verbs Quiz

Thai Verbs QuizThai Verbs QuizThai Verbs Quiz
Price: £1.19 | $1.99
Author: Levitate LLC
Date: 29 June 2009
Version: 1.0
Internet connection required: No
Word count: 250
Thai script: Yes
Tone tips: Yes
Zoom: Not needed
Sound: No
Quiz: Yes

Learn Thai verbs by using multiple choice questions. You have three choices: Learn, browse, or reset.

My top Thai alphabet and Thai vocabulary picks…

When I started this review, I wasn’t going to put forward an opinion on which iPhone apps I feel are the best. But after wading through all these apps, here you go.

The Thai alphabet:

Thai Language “Koh-kai by Ritsuro
Thai Alphabet App by iPhone and iPad Developer Thailand
NEW! TH-Write by Nati Namvong (no longer online)

Thai word of the day:

WordPower Thai by Innovative Language Learning (no longer online)

Thai words:

uTalk HD Thai by EuroTalk
Gengo by Innovative Language Learning
Thai, Thai Nouns, Thai Verbs, Thai Adjectives and Adverbs by TempleBar Development LLC (no longer online)
MyWords Thai by Innovative Language Learning is especially strong as well, but the glitches need to be fixed first. The much simpler apps are also useful, but my preference is more over less. I’m especially fond of the apps where you can add your own words and sound.

Learn Thai on Your iPhone: What’s gone before…

Learn Thai on Your iPhone: What’s next…

Previously I reviewed iPhone apps: Thai Language Phrase books. Next up will be Thai-English dictionaries for the iPhone.

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Grokking the Thai Writing System Part 1: Consonants

Luke Cassady-Dorion

Grokking the writing system by doing things youʼre not supposed to…

Iʼve seen a lot of posts on this site about how learning the writing system is essential if you want to pronounce Thai correctly (it is) and how itʼs really not that hard (itʼs not), but what seems to be missing is a good tutorial on how to make sounds pop out of your mouth that youʼre not used to.

Stu Jay Raj once pointed out to me that the Thai alphabet (like that of many Indic languages) maps directly to the human mouth (brilliant), but for someone who isnʼt used to thinking about his mouth, nose, throat and tongue this can be tricky.

I had a singer friend come visit for a week once and he was one of the few people who could perfectly pronounce Thai words after hearing them only once or twice. The thing is singers are used to thinking about the mouth as an instrument but the rest of us arenʼt. If you want to pronounce this language correctly, you need to spend some time making sure that you are pronouncing each letter correctly. Sounds are the basic building blocks of a language, you assemble them first into words and then into sentences. Since Thaiʼs grammar is pretty simple, once you know a bunch of words they can easily be combined into sentences. No need to deal with verb conjugations or noun declensions.

It is likely true that if you approach Thai using (one of the many) Romanization methods, that you will get down some basic vocabulary faster than a student studying the Thai alphabet first. Unfortunately, your chances of being understand are not very good. Sure people can probably figure out what you are saying if you say “Hi” “Bye” How are you?”, but this is often based on guesswork. Once you try to broaden your vocabulary and talk about anything of substance, you will likely be met with confused stares.

Another major downside to Romanized Thai is that there is no one accepted method. When Bangkokʼs new Suvarnabhumi airport opened back in 2006, there was a big hullabaloo because within the airport itself the name was romanized using more than one method.

Aside from the visual representation of the language, new students to Thai are likely intimidated by the idea of having to make tones come out of their mouth. Some will even go as far as to say that they are tone-deaf and incapable of getting their body to make the proper sounds. The thing is (as anyone who has spent time in a Thai karaoke bar will attest to) there are tons of tone-deaf Thais who are able to speak their own language perfectly. The tones are more a side-product of learning to control the throat, tongue and nose properly. Something that most of us arenʼt used to doing, but possible to pull off with a little work.

If youʼve spent much time in Thailand, you have likely met Thais who pronounce English words in a strange fashion; square becomes sa-quare, happy becomes hap-pii, and victory becomes wictory. These mispronunciations have roots in learning of English using the Thai letters, or a continued understanding of English backed by Thai phonetics. When learning a new language, itʼs very important to sit down and figure out how to make your mouth reproduce the sounds required before digging into the vocabulary. The upside of Thai is that each letter and vowel has (generally) only one corresponding sound. There are some exceptions when consonants change their pronunciation at the end of a word, but this is all laid out in easy-to-remember rules. There are some unfortunate non-standard pronunciations that have worked their way into the language over time, but they are much fewer than in English where even simple words like “go” and “do” have totally different vowel sounds.

Given an hour or two per day, the writing system can be sufficiently mastered in a week. Of course that doesnʼt mean that you could wiz through Thai literature, but you will have little problem figuring out what menus say. Then as you add more and more vocabulary to your repertoire, youʼll find that the words are generally understood.

As you approach Thai phonetics having to think about the position of the tongue, lips, throat and mouth you may get the feeling that it will be totally impossible to speak this language with any form of speed close to which you speak English. It is true that at first your words will come out slowly (albeit correctly), but the thought process behind it all will eventually fade away. Work with the system and over time, you will find that your mouth just does what itʼs supposed to do, you no longer have to will it into action.

The Thai language is composed of 21 distinct consonant sounds which are represented by 44 different characters. Vowels are constructed using 16 different symbols, for a total of 9 single-vowels, 12 double-vowels (diphthongs) and 3 triple-vowels (triphthongs).


The following chart breaks down the consonants based on where in the mouth you need to make the sound in order for it to come out. Donʼt rush through it, you may be happy just learning one row per week or so. Remember this part of the language is critical.

OK, so hereʼs the thing that every guidebook tells you not to do …. find a native speaker who speaks clearly and touch his head as he says the consonants. As foreigners when we learn Thai, we need to really think about which sounds exist in the throat, the lips and nose; we also need to be aware of which sounds require air to be expelled from the mouth (aspirated) and which donʼt. The deal with these sounds is that at first our ears will have a hard time differentiating the subtle differences between a correct and incorrect sound. Further complicating matters is that most native speakers will just tell you that youʼre saying it wrong, but are so far removed from the learning process that they will not be able to tell you what exactly is wrong. Until your ear becomes accustomed to these sounds, using your sense of touch adds another layer via which you can fully understand whatʼs happening.

People seem to respond in one of two ways to information organized in charts, they either bubble with excitement or just glaze over and try to move on. If youʼre the type to be turned-on by information organized neatly in columns and rows, then you can probably dive right in. For those of you who feel intimidated by information in this fashion, stop for a moment and familiarize yourself with what it all means. It may seem like a lot of hard-to-digest information is being thrown at you, but approaching the Thai writing system is really important as it helps you to get the sounds down.

Voiced vs Unvoiced…

Luke Cassady-DorionThe difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants lies in whatʼs happening with your vocal cords. Voiced consonants cause the vocal cords to vibrate, while unvoiced ones donʼt. To fully understand this difference, lightly place your index finger at the base of a Thai personʼs throat while he reads over the third and fourth rows. Try the same thing with your own throat while going over the consonants. If you donʼt notice the change in your vocal cords between the voiced and unvoiced ones, you are saying them incorrectly.

Aspirated vs Unaspirated…

Luke Cassady-DorionAspirated sounds require that air be softly expelled from the mouth and non-aspirated ones require that air not be expelled from the mouth. Try this experiment as you look at the first row in the table. First have a Thai friend say the five consonants in the row and as he does try to repeat each sound only once. For the second round hold one palm about two inches from his mouth and your other palm two inches from your mouth. Note which sounds cause air to be softly expelled and make sure that you mouth does the same thing.


Luke Cassady-DorionNasal sounds require that there be some sensation happening in the nose caused when the sounds make their way out. I donʼt mean a huge rush of air, itʼs much more subtle than that. Iʼm not sure if you want to stick your finger up your friendʼs nose to get a feel for this one, but if youʼre struggling, you may want to place the tip of your pinky finger inside your own nose. You should feel the nose vibrate slightly when you say ง.


A semi-vowel exists in that nether-world between a vowel and a consonant. Growing up in USA, we were told that Y was sometimes a vowel and sometimes a consonant but rarely got much more of an explanation as to what that means. Linguistically, the difference between consonants and vowels lies in your throat. Vowels are pronounced with an open throat while consonants require the throat to be constricted some. When pronouncing a semi-vowel, the throat is only semi-obstructed. This may all seem a little confusing (it is), but try not to stress over that. As you work with the letters and become familiar with your mouth and throat it will make more sense.


A fricative is created when the air is pressed through a narrow channel created in the mouth. The letters, ซ ศ ษ ส, are a subset of fricative called sibilants which are similar to the S sound in English. They are formed as the air is pushed out through the teeth.


Lateral consonants are formed when air escapes along one or both sides of the tongue. In Thai, the ล and ฬ sounds are similar to L in English and are formed when the tongue hits the teeth and the air escapes around it.


Flap consonants are produced with a single contraction of muscles, basically this means that the tongue is thrown against itself. Admittedly this may seem really hard to grok, but as with other tricky aspects just try to understand the basics and then slowly return to it as you work on this letter.

Another important thing to notice about the chart is that each row groups the sounds by the part of the body which needs to make the sound. In the first row, the throat needs to be activated in order to get the proper sound out. The reason that I said to go through this one row at a time is that most people arenʼt used to thinking about these parts of the body and you should really take time to make sure that youʼre getting the sounds down. If you put in the effort to master these sound-building blocks now, youʼll be very happy with the results when you actually start to assemble them into words. What youʼll notice is that in addition to grouping sounds by the location they occur in the mouth, the rows also group similar sounds together. The first row has sounds roughly similar to the English K/G, the second row has sounds similar to J/CH/Y. The reason that these sounds are similar is that they occur in a similar part of the mouth, this also provides yet-another memory device that you can use in memorizing the letters.


Velar consonants are pronounced with the back of the tongue near the soft palate, which is the fleshy, flexible part of the mouth near the back of roof of the mouth. Take a moment to play around with the four consonants in this group and really start to think about the things that are happening with your tongue.


In working with the Palatal consonants, the tip of the tongue moves towards the hard palate which is located at the front of the roof of the mouth (but not all the way up to the teeth). Each of the five consonants in this group require that the tongue move up and make soft contact with the hard palate. The first consonant in this group can be especially tricky to get down, due to its similarity in sound to the English letter J. Notice what happens with your tongue when you say the English word “jazz”, it rests towards the bottom of your mouth. When many people approach Thai, they assume that จ is pronounced similar to the J in jazz, when in fact it requires that the tongue be moved to a different location. Work through this column slowly, make sure that your tongue is going to the correct place for every letter.


The dental consonants are the biggest grouping and will provide the greatest challenge for you when writing out the letters. While visually different, they are phonetically very similar. Each of the seven groupings has only a single sound, the broad variation in letters is use to give coverage to all the tones and to deal with words of Sanskrit and Pali origin.


As you can probably guess from the name, labial consonants happen out towards the lips. This one you can experience with your eyes more than your fingers, focus on your friendʼs lips as he works through this row.


This category is a little tricker since thereʼs not much you can do to see or feel it. The sound is made in the larynx with the vocal cords partly closed and partly vibrating. Try to think about this part of your body as you say these letters.

Consonants graph

Ok, so spend some time on those. Work with a native speaker to get them down. Putting the time and energy into getting them down will make a huge difference when you start learning vocabulary.

Luke Cassady-Dorion
Goldenland Polygot

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Total Cuteness: Learning the Thai Alphabet on YouTube

Learning the Thai Alphabet on YouTube

Kids learning the Thai Alphabet on YouTube…

Clicking around YouTube, I came across new videos of Thai children practicing the Thai alphabet. The video below was so precious, I contacted Natcha to get permission to feature her daughter.

And if that didn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.

More YouTube sweeties learning the Thai alphabet…

Learning the Thai alphabet can be frustrating for children as well as adults. As adults, we don’t express ourselves in the same way as children do. Ok, I fess up… at least not when I have an audience. Or rather, too big of an audience!

So if you are frustrated and in need of motivation to continue your studies of the Thai alphabet, go ahead and click on any of the links below. They are totally fabulous.

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Review: Learn Thai Podcast Relaunches!

Overview of Learn Thai Podcast

Seeing Learn Thai Podcast anew…

I ran into Jo and Jay years back, when they had a few choice Thai sound files on offer. It was a simple affair, and popular. They dropped out of sight to later reappear with a professional looking product loaded down with audio and video files. I contacted Jo with a, ‘Hey, is that YOU?’

It has been my plan to review LTP, so when Jo mentioned their coming upgrade, it was time.

An overview of LTP…

When you first jump into learning a foreign language, you automatically start compiling a mental wish list of what you need to make your language learning adventure easier. And for a tonal language such as Thai, sourcing that list could save you from future frustration and bother.

After figuring out how I learn languages, for Thai I discovered that I had needs: I needed visuals, I needed to hear the tones while reading actual Thai script (not transliteration), and I needed to be able to test what I learned.

And at the top of my wish list? The desire to see and hear Thais speaking, and to study the breakdown of their conversation (vocabulary, phrases, and grammar). I mean, how many times have you sat amongst Thai friends, wishing that you understood everything being said? And how many times have you tried to quickly write down or record the conversations to review later?

If you are reading this right now, then I’m betting your answer to my question is, ‘recently’.

Checklist for LTP:

  • Visuals: Online lessons, downloadable YouTube videos in many formats.
  • Sound: Individual sound bites in online lessons, YouTube videos and mp3 files to download.
  • Thai script: Script included with all lessons, complete Alphabet course, transliteration.
  • Thai only: Lessons without English translations.
  • Conversations: Movies and sound files of actual Thais talking.
  • Testing: Reviews after each lesson, vocabulary trainer for individual words.
  • Extras: Printable notes to download.

Incase you didn’t catch that, LTP is big on sharing videos, some with Thais talking. And from what I’ve seen, LTP is one of the few complete Thai courses that offers real conversations spoken by real people. On video. With explanations.

So if you have a similar checklist, then please do read on.

Free LTP 6 day course…

To give you an idea of how LTP works, they’ve created a free 6 day course. The free course comes with: Audio files, video files in a wide range of formats, and pdf transcripts to download. Be sure to download the free study guide as well. LTP’s study guide outlines the various learning methods, and gives a sample schedule to follow.

Free LTP 6 Day Course

  • Day 1: Grammar Lesson: Question Words in Thai.
  • Day 2: Review Lesson: Question Words in Thai.
  • Day 3: Vocabulary Lessons / Introduction to cycles.
  • Day 4: Conversation Lesson: Bell and Wa plan their summer holidays.
  • Day 5: Grammar Lesson: Bell and Wa plan their summer holidays.
  • Day 6: Review Lesson: Bell and Wa plan their summer holidays.

After you complete the mini-course, you will know if LTP is for you. But no matter if you are wavering or not, check out their Learn Thai Podcast Premium Course Structure.

Learn Thai Podcast premium courses…

Under the signup form for the free LTP 6 day course there is a 1 year curriculum download in pdf format. Including the writing section, there are presently more than 700 lesson segments on offer, so you will find their recommendations enormously helpful for planning your Thai studies at LTP.

This 1 year curriculum is just a suggested learning schedule. You can download and keep all lessons on your computer so you can learn at your own pace. The course enables you to access lessons at any time. So if you want to start learning with intermediate lessons earlier, no problem.

To prepare for this product review, I deleted the LTP files I already had in iTunes. I did it because I wanted to start from the beginning. Because that way, I could describe most everything for you. Fresh. And while I have been using iTunes for years, pulling LTP in properly taught me a few new tricks (tricks that I’m sure most everyone knew but me).

To pull the files into iTunes, I copied the RSS feed url for my level, went up to the iTunes menu >> Advanced >> Subscribe to Podcast >> and pasted the feed url into the available box. What this does is sucks in a list of the lessons, each in the different formats to chose from. After reading about video resolution, I deleted everything except for HD and SDw, and then pushed the button that said ‘select all’. And from now on, whenever LTP adds new lessons, the lessons appear in my iTunes automatically. Btw – HD and SDw plays fine on my iTunes, iPhone, and Video iPod.

Learn Thai PodcastNow, you can study the downloaded lessons by watching the videos and listening to the mp3 files, but don’t forget that LTP has downloadable pdf’s and text files for each lesson too. These are especially useful in the reading and writing section.

And if you are learning how to read Thai, their online lessons at any level are invaluable. See, what you do is listen to the audio files by repeatedly clicking the red arrow next to the Thai word. So you get to listen to the pronunciation while being able to read the Thai script at the same time. And YOU are in control.

Learn Thai Podcast Premium Course: Beginner…

The beginners course covers 3000 basic vocabulary words that you absolutely must get into your head if you are serious about learning Thai: Verbs, adjectives, personal pronouns, conditional questions, confirmation questions, question words, conjunctions, prepositions, family, professions, pets and animals, body parts, groceries, cooking, drinks, Thai spices, drug store, numbers, time, telling time, days of the week, and months. And more (go here to see the full list).

And not only do you acquire the needed vocabulary, you get immersed in beginning grammer and pronunciation as well. Mini-conversations are included and new lessons are added all the time so keep an eye on your iTunes. The available conversations for all levels can be found at: Speak & understand real street Thai.

As mentioned, you need to get the basics down. And to do this, you need to go into repetition overdrive and listen, listen, listen, repeat, repeat, repeat, read, read, read. Now, you can spend a lot of time creating sound and text files to pull into a SRS (Spaced repetition learning systems). Or, you can start studying right away with a course such as LTP. Up to you.

On a personal note: I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’m an insomniac. When I’m in full non-sleeping mode, I have no desire to do much of anything. But what I can do is sit my face in front of a computer and watch video files. Over and over. It’s mesmerizing.

So when you’ve had a long day and you don’t have it in you to study, perhaps sit your face down and start watching too?

Learn Thai Podcast Premium Course: Intermediate…

The beginner course has conversations in text, whereas the intermediate lessons ramp up to video conversations. But you can follow along with the video conversations no matter what level you are.

The intermediate course is built around conversations and it goes like this: Vocabulary, grammar, conversation, review. Both the grammar and the vocabulary lessons include sentences with sound only.

As I’m a visual person, I especially love how the conversations work. Some of you will study the vocabulary and grammar before the conversations, but I would do it the other way around as I get a lot out of seeing people talk. So I would first watch the conversations, then go to the vocabulary and grammar, and then back to the conversations to check how I’m doing, and then finish with the review.

To see just what I mean, LTP uploaded sample videos for you to play with:

Just incase you missed it: By the time you get to the Intermediate level, you might be ready to do away with the English translations. You are indeed given that option, so if that’s your thing, be sure to take advantage.

Learn Thai Podcast Premium Course: Advanced…

At my last count, there were around around 30 lessons on this section (but don’t quote me). In the Advanced lessons you get regular conversations and newscasts. As it’s advanced, the conversations are noticeably longer. And while the conversations up to this point have been modern Thai, in the news section you are treated to the formal Thai spoken on TV and in certain settings.

The Advanced course is split into two sections like so:
News: Vocabulary, grammar, report, review.
Conversation: Vocabulary, grammar, conversation, review.

In the Advanced course, same as with the others, there are pdf and text files to download.

Reading and Writing and the Thai alphabet…

For the Reading and Writing course, the subjects include: Thai alphabet, theory, and practice. To break it down you get lots of tone markers and tone rules, live and dead syllables, consonant clusters, and real clusters. And, as always, there’s more.

The Thai alphabet course uses mnemonics. It might feel a bit odd at first, but if you are a visual learner it really is the easiest way to learn shapes, sounds, and classes. And to get you practicing at writing out each letter, alphabet sheets are available for download.

After you sufficiently suss the Thai alphabet, you’ll want to move on to the reading and writing lessons. First you go through the Thai alphabet again (consonants and vowels). If you are studying via your computer, you will notice a skip in numbers every once in awhile. So perhaps treat the gaps as a hint to get over to LTP to download the practical practice pdfs.

And if you are following the course with a mixture of on and offline, again, this is where the ability to click those red arrows comes in handy.

We are often told that learning how to read and write Thai is terribly important, so perhaps I should have put this section up front? Or have you heard this from me too many times before?

And that’s a LTP wrap…

Jo and Jay have put a lot of work into Learn Thai Podcast, and they continue to add more resources and courses. And btw: if you do sign up for the Thai courses at LTP, be sure to pass over a huge hello from me.

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Thai 101 Learners Series: Finding Your Voice

Thai 101 Learners Series

Thai is both voiced and voiceless…

In my previous column, I explained “contrasting” and “non-contrasting” sounds as well as aspirated and unaspirated sounds in Thai. This week, we’ll discuss another important distinction in Thai: “voiced” and “voiceless” sounds.

To briefly recap, those sounds we consciously distinguish are called contrasting sounds. Other times, there are multiple sounds that our brains automatically group together as one “sound”. That is, our brains aren’t trained to hear the difference. These are called “non-contrasting” sounds.

An example that illustrates the difference between voiced and voiceless sounds is “th” – the scourge of all non-native speakers trying to master English. “Th” can be one of two sounds, as in “this” and “thin”. Pay close attention to the first sound of each word. When pronouncing “this”, your vocal cords vibrate, but when pronouncing “thin”, your vocal cords don’t vibrate.

You can even feel the difference when you place your fingers on your neck while you make these sounds. Don’t be fooled by the vowel “i” immediately following the th-sound. One of the characteristics of all vowels is that making them always causes the vocal cords vibrate. Focus only on the initial consonant sounds, you can tell the difference.

Other words that begin with voiced-th are that, there, then, and though. For voiceless-th, we have words such as think, three, thimble and through. Proper English pronunciation requires you to distinguish the two. It just so happens that for native speakers, it’s a subconscious distinction.

There are many voicedvoiceless pairs in English. Many of them are contrasting sounds, so we don’t even realize that the only difference between the two sounds is the vibration of the vocal cords. These include s and z (“sit” and “zit”), f and v (“fan” and “van”), and ch and j (“chain” and “Jane”). Your pronunciation may vary slightly, depending on your dialect.

Thai 101 Learners SeriesIn Thai, there are only two voiced sounds, but they confuse many people: b and d. Combined with aspirated and unaspirated consonants, they make a threeway contrast in Thai. English has only two.

Where English has pet and bet, in Thai, there are เผ็ด /phèt/ “spicy”, เป็ด /pèt/ “duck” and เบ็ด /bèt/ “fishhook”.

Similarly, consider ที /thii/ “time, instance”, ตี /tii/ “hit, strike” and ดี /dii/ “good”.

The table to the left will help you sort out the difference.

One sound not found in Thai is the English sound “g”. Many phrasebooks use g to spell Thai words, but this is one of those misleading downsides of Romanized Thai.

The first letter of the Thai alphabet is ก ไก่ /kor kài/. It is a “voiceless” sound. In English, g is voiced. It’s a subtle distinction, but it is there.

The correct sound of ก ไก่ is one of those non-contrasting sounds in English, only found in words such as sky and ski. In that context, our brain groups it with k. In Thai, since there is no English g sound, it’s tempting to just let g fill in that gap, rather than learning to say the ก sound properly.

If you pronounce ก ไก่ like English g, it’ll sound wrong to Thais, even if they can’t explain why. Think of, say, Dracula. It’s like you’re saying, “I vant vun order of chicken fried rice.. mua ha ha”. Only no Dracula laugh.

Then again, maybe that’s why they put all that garlic in the food.

Rikker Dockum
Thai 101

The Thai 101 Learners Series first appeared in the Phuket Gazette ’08
@ Copyright 2008-2009 Rikker Dockum

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