Exciting news! If you are a fan of aakanee.com, which hosts Andrej’s classy illustrations and recording for learning Thai (and Khmer), then you’ll be thrilled to know that Pablo Román is compiling the Thai recordings with their matching illustrations on YouTube.
Thai Language Thai Culture: Speaking Thai in Tenses…
To avoid talking about the last shot I had just hit into the water on the 3rd hole last week I got to talking with my golfing partner, a former fellow English teacher, about something much more interesting than trying to find my ball, Thai grammar.
I know, you’ve heard the frequent sayings of the not-so-well-informed foreign learner of Thai that “Thai has no grammar”, or “there are no tenses in Thai.” So we got to thinking, how accurate are these statements?
I thought about all the English tenses we have (other languages have even more) like: simple present, present continuous, past, future, future continuous, present perfect, past perfect, and passive voice. Then I had one of those “ah ha” moments. I realized that you could say all of these tenses in Thai too. They just don’t stick an “ed”, an “en”, or an “ing” at the end of their verbs. They do their tenses in their own Thai way.
Those comments about Thai having no tenses probably comes from the fact that in English verbs change depending on their tenses, look, looked, eat, ate, eaten, etc. We have to change the verb depending on who is talking and when. In Thai the verbs themselves never change. It’s the words around them that do the changing.
Special tense words:
In Thai most tenses will require “special tense words” instead of special verb endings. These words sometimes carry their own meaning and sometimes are just there to carry a time stamp. We have listed some of them in the tense examples.
Sometimes the affirmative sentences and the negative sentences are formed slightly differently with special words or a different word order, so we have given examples of both.
Note: We are giving just a few verbs as examples but any Thai verb can be substituted into the patterns. The examples given are just a few of the ways to use these tenses. Thai, being a robust language, has lots of ways to say the same thing.
Let’s look at some examples about how to render these English tenses into Thai.
Simple Present tense…
In English this tense is probably misnamed. It is really the tense we use when talking about something we always do, or usually do, not something we are “doing” at this moment. In Thai it is used in this same way but it can also be used for something we are doing “now”.
Some Thai words we can use with the simple present are:
He plays football (often).
Every day: ทุกวัน /túk-wan/
Often: บ่อยๆ /bòi-bòi/
Usually: โดยปกติ /doi-bpà-gà-dt/
He plays football (often).
kăo lên fút-bon (bòi-bòi)
He doesn’t play football (often).
kăo mâi lên fút-bon (bòi)
I (usually) eat rice.
(doi-bpà-gà-dtì) chăn taan kâao
This is the English tense we use when talking about what we are doing “now”. In Thai we have two tenses for “now” but this one maybe gives it a little more emphasis; something like “right now”.
For the negative form use the negative of the simple present.
Some Thai words we can use with the present continuous are:
Now: ตอนนี้ /dton-née/
Right now: เดี๋ยวนี้ /dĭeow née/
At this time: เวลานี้ /wee-laa-níi/
Special tense word: กำลัง /gam-lang/
He is playing football (now).
kăo gam-lang lên fút bon (dton-née)
I am eating (right now).
chăn gam-lang taan kâao (dĭeow née)
We are visiting our friends (at this time).
(wee-laa-níi) pûuak-rao gam-lang yîiam pêuan
English has lots of ways of expressing actions in the past. The phrase “used to” is also used for past action in English. In Thai you would need to add a word or two of explanation about when something happened.
There are lots and lots of words for the past. Some we use here are:
Already: แล้ว /láew/
This morning: เมื่อเช้านี้ /mêua cháao-née/
Used to: เคย /koie/
Yet: ยัง /yang/
Special tense words:
He played football.
kăo lên fút-bon
He didn’t play football.
kăo mâi dâai lên fút bon
I (already) ate.
chăn dâai taan kâao (láew)
We will visit our friend (next week).
pûuak-rao jà bai yîiam pêuan (sàp-daa-nâa)
We won’t visit our friend (next week).
pûuak-rao jà mâi bai yîiam pêuan (sàp-daa-nâa)
In English we make ample use of the words “going” and “going to” or we just add an “ing” to the verb. Thai is almost that simple and usually indicates something we are just about to do.
For the negative use the regular future tense negative.
Special tense word: กำลังจะ /gam-lang jà/
He is going to (just about to) play football.
kăo gam-lang jà lên fút-bon
I am going to (just about to) eat.
chăn gam-lang jà taan kâao
We are going to (just about to) visit our friends.
pûuak-rao gam-lang jà bai yîiam pêuan
Present Perfect tense:
The English present perfect tense is used for some action in the past that could already have been completed or may still be going on. It would sometimes require additional words as explanation of when something occurred. Thai would almost always need words in the sentence that would explain it more fully.
Some time words we used here are:
wan-née … láew
Throughout the week
For … years
… bpii láew
Special tense words:
He has played football (many times).
kăo lên fút bon (bòr-yá-kráng)
He has never played football.
kăo mâi koie lên fút-bol
I have eaten (already) today.
wan-née chăn taan kâao (láew)
We have visited our friends (throughout the week).
pûuak-rao bai yîiam pêuan (dtàlòt sàp-daa)
(This week) we haven’t visited our friends.
(aa-tít-níi) pûuak-rao mâi dâai bai yîiam pêuan
She has studied English (for five years).
เขา (เคย) เรียนภาษาอังกฤษ (ห้าปีแล้ว)
kăo (koie) rian paa-săa ang-grìt (hâa bpee láew)
She has never studied English.
kăo mâi koie rian paa-săa ang-grìt
Past Perfect tense…
The past perfect is one of those tenses that English could probably do without (and is almost impossible to teach to Thai students) since we have other ways of saying the same thing. It is usually used when one thing happened in the past before another. In Thai we will need to explain a bit.
The time words used here are:
Before he ran, before running
Then we met
láew rao jəə-gan
He became ill
kăo rêrm mâi sà-baai
Before she could speak well
gòn têe kăo pôot gèng
He had kicked the ball (before he ran, before running).
เขาเตะลูกบอล (ก่อนวิ่ง, ก่อนเขาวิ่ง)
kăo dtè lôok bon (gòn wîng, gòn kăo wîng)
I had eaten (and then we met)
chăn taan kâao (láew rao jəə-gan)
We had already visited our friend (when he became ill).
lăng jàak pûak rao yîam pêuan láew (kăo rêrm mâi sà-baai)
She had studied English for 5 years (before she could speak well).
เขา (เคย) เรียนภาษาอังกฤษห้าปี (ก่อนเขาพูดเก่ง)
kăo (koie) rian paa-săa ang-grìt hâa bpee (gòn kăo pôot gèng)
This is always a fun tense to use. Children (and some adults) use it to direct attention away from themselves and something “they did” and make it something that “was done” (by someone). “I hit the golf ball into the water” becomes “the golf ball was hit into the water (by me).” “I stole the money” becomes “the money was stolen (by me)”, etc. Thai has some neat ways to produce this pattern but as in English not every verb is a candidate for the passive voice (“English was studied by me”, is not a really great sentence, is it?)
The one word most often used in English with the passive voice is “by” to indicate who was doing the action. Thai also uses it.
By: โดย /doi/
Special tense words:
The ball was kicked.
lôok bon tùuk dtè
The ball wasn’t kicked.
lôok bon mâi tùuk dtè
He was struck (by the ball).
kăo dohn grà-tâek (doi lôok bon)
He wasn’t struck (by the ball).
kăo mâi dohn grà-tâek (doi lôok bon)
For us just getting used to speaking Thai in different tenses there is a less sophisticate but a pretty easy way to say just about all we need to say. Just use the verb and add some time words after it if you need to be more specific. Every tense starts out the same way.
Selfstudythai.com creates study materials from news articles with corresponding audio from the voathai.com website. Articles are broken down so you can listen to and read them a line at a time, and for each line an English translation is also provided. As some of you may be aware, articles on the VOA Thai website don’t always match the audio provided, but selfstudythai changes this so can read along with what you’re hearing. The site is for people who have at least a basic understanding of how to read Thai. For those who can’t, I highly recommend starting as soon as possible. That way you can learn from material that’s out in the real world, instead of being stuck learning what someone else has decided is important.
Currently over 50 articles are available covering a wide range of topics. Aside from the first few, I’ve made an effort to choose topics I hope others will find interesting. I try to cover the hot topic of the day, whether it’s political unrest in Egypt, the latest US mass shooting incident, the resignation of the Pope or even the Gangnam Style craze. I also try to add diverse topics to gain exposure to different vocabulary, like online dating and winemaking, plus I’ve also added a few Thailand related topics, like looking back on the 2004 Tsunami, a recent Lese Majeste violation, and hunting for criminals in the Thai entertainment districts. I hope to keep adding at least one article a week to keep the site from becoming stale. Next up are a couple of articles related to outer space.
There are many ways to use selfstudythai. Extensive vocabulary lists are provided in alphabetical order at the end of each article and for each study page. This makes it easy to either choose an article with vocabulary you’d like to learn or choose an article to reinforce the vocabulary you’re already familiar with. Since you can listen to an article one line at a time, you can also use the study pages to help improve your reading skills. Simply try reading a line and then hit the play button to see how you did. The study pages also include a way to listen to a paragraph or two at a time. This way you can see how well you understand everything when it’s all put together before moving on. Of course you don’t need to use the study pages at all and can use the site similar to thairecordings.com, where you play audio and follow along reading the article text.
The project started as a way to help me improve my Thai language skills while at the same time helping others. Having lived in Thailand for just over a decade, I was hoping I would have picked up more of the language by osmosis. Unfortunately the word a week I was learning wasn’t cutting it. When I posted selfstudythai’s 50th article, I decided it was time to go back and proofread everything, taking all I had learned and applying it to my earlier work. I’ve made a huge number of changes, and feel the site is now the best it has ever been. That said, I’m always looking for ways to improve the site and welcome any comments or suggestions.
Combining choice lists in a spreadsheet, I handed it over to programmer Mark Hollow, who then collated 17,000++ words down to 6000 (give or take). After adding the vocabulary from Essential Thai as a quality marker (thanks Jim!) a Thai teacher and I trimmed the list down to 3000 and a bit.
James (Jim) Higbie: When I chose the basic vocabulary for the first part of Essential Thai I took an “organic” approach, that is I took words that Thais used in basic conversation – the words you would most often hear Thais saying. This is a good way to approach Thai because the language is very much attached to Thai culture and their discourse.
Benjawan Becker: I design the subject for each lesson first and then come up with vocabulary and sentences.
Good to hear! Just like Jim, we chose the most common words out of the tens of thousands found in the Thai frequency lists. And similar to Benjawan, each post will focus on an individual subject.
Video: How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country…
In David Mansaray’s latest video he asks interpreter and translator Robert Bigler for his views on learning a language in a foreign country. In the video, Robert also discussed how he actively studies languages.
This is one of the best videos on learning languages. It’s that good. Actually, this video is what I’ve come to expect from David. David’s How to Use Motivation Effectively video is brilliant.
How to learn a language in a foreign country…
My original intention was to share only the bare basics but I found so MUCH good stuff I asked David for permission to post the full list. Thank you for your generosity David!
And while I’m handing out thanks, thank you for introducing us to Robert too. He’s a jewel :-)
In the interview Robert gives advice on learning resources. I’ve added top favourites for learning Thai to the post below. I could easily add more but I ran out of time. If you have other suggestions, please do share them in the comments.
Talking points: How to Learn a Language in a Foreign Country…
Prepare yourself: get as much information about the country as possible, acquire enough of the language to have a basic conversation, be open-minded and interested in the language as well as the culture and people.
The bare essentials: a good dictionary with sample sentences, basic grammar book, self-study course with dialogs, a good phrase book.
Instead of buying ten books and merely glancing at each, take one small book to focus on.
Learn phrases you’ll use in discussions pertinent to your life: who you are, where you are from, what you do, how old you are, etc.
Have a basic set of structures: how to say what happened in the past, what is going on right now, what’s going to happen in the future.
Anticipate likely conversations, prepare your replies, talk to yourself in the foreign language, rehearse as if you are on stage.
When preparing for conversations on certain subjects write down repeatedly used words and expressions. Go through them. The words you lacked in previous conversations are the words you need to focus on.
If you hear a nice expression use it in your next sentence. Make sentences out of the words you’ve just heard.
When you have problems with expressing yourself, immediately look it up. If there is something you cannot say because you don’t know the word, look up that word.
Don’t learn words on their own without context. If you learn them in context you will get exposure to the words and structures. Exposure is the key.
You don’t need a lot of material but you have to be able to reproduce them automatically so it’s essential to actually speak the language. You need to get used to talking. Your muscles need to be trained.
How to listen…
Be a good listener. You will benefit from the wealth of knowledge received from the person you are talking to.
To get into the flow of the language listen to audio. Get a lot of exposure by listening. Listening helps to practice the language passively. Listen carefully and attentively. Don’t listen in the background.
Create a natural environment by getting involved in discussions of interest on TV and radio. Sitcoms are a great way to get use to structures that come up in everyday conversation. If you lack the words to get your point across in your fake conversation, look them up. Keep talking. Say something like, “I’m sorry I have to look up the word”.
For language exchange using email, you both choose the topics you are interested in. Each prepares text. Each corrects the other’s. You have the time to work with whatever tool you feel comfortable with (a dictionary, sentences from books, etc).
When going abroad for an extended period of time, try to meet people by: joining clubs, fitness clubs, playing sports, and doing volunteer work.
Volunteer work is the best way to actually live with the people and not just beside them or next to them.
Be honest enough to tell people that you appreciate being corrected. Encourage people to correct you. Ask them to help you out. But also ask them not to judge you. There is a major difference between correcting somebody and judging somebody.
But it’s not the mistakes you should be worrying about. It is not being told about your mistakes.
It’s very important, especially in the beginning stages, that you meet someone you feel comfortable with to talk to.
When you get to the stage where you are open enough to actually learn from others without feeling bad for making mistakes, then you will be really successful.
Making progress is why it’s very important to have somebody around you who is understanding, but is also honest enough to actually tell you what you are saying wrong.
How to deal with communication snafus…
There will be moments of frustration, even when you believe that you are well-prepared. When this happens, don’t give up. Keep practicing.
You will make a lot of mistakes and at first might not understand much of what they are saying. When you make mistakes ask people to help you out.
When you struggle in conversation, once back at home get out your dictionary and turn to the subject at hand.
A final word from David Mansaray…
When it comes to spoken language people are willing to let some things go, but when it comes to writing people are a lot more sensitive to mistakes. They are going to be a lot more honest when correcting your mistakes. Writing is a great tool for the shy because you don’t have to immediately deal with that confrontation, you can look at your own mistakes to see where to improve.
It’s really important to have someone that you trust to help you with your language. Who you practice language with is also very important. When going through the stages you can be physiologically fragile. If you are not corrected in a friendly way then you can lose confidence in yourself, and that can make you retreat.
Bangkok Post: We now have thousands of readers using stories from the Bangkok Post each day to learn English, but our sister newspaper Post Today can be just as useful for those of you who are learning Thai.
Each post has a short article in Thai and English, with audio for both. You can read along with the audio online, or copy everything onto your computer to study later.
Manee books (also spelt Maanee and Maanii) are beloved by many Thais, as well as those passionate about Thai learning materials. Like me.
Thai Skype teacher Mia, from Learn2SpeakThai, also shares the Manee passion. Aiming to offer free Manee lessons on her site, she waded through Thai bureaucracy to get official permission (good on her!) You can read all about her trials at My quest for Maanee books copyright.
Mia has my total sympathy because I too attempted to go the same route for a different set of expired Thai school books, but failed. Perhaps when I get more time I’ll give it another try.
After getting the all clear from the Thai Ministry of Education, Mia then started working through the Manee books. So far she’s recorded books one, two, and three, with book four coming soon: Learn Thai with Maanee Books. It will take Mia awhile to get through all 12 books, but after speaking to her about the project I can assure you it’s an absolute labour of love.