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Thai Language Thai Culture: Singing and Saying English Tones Help with Our Thai

Thai Language

Singing and saying English tones will help with our Thai…

Thai tones are the bugaboo of most learners of the Thai language. I know they are my biggest problem. Some people blame their “tone deafness” for their difficulty, although only a very small percentage of people have real tone deafness.

Aside: For Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit players, here are some synonyms for tone deafness. Amusia, Dysmelodia, Dysmusia.

Tone Deafness is the inability to distinguish between musical notes and is thought to be congenital or possibly due to brain damage. Tone-deaf people seem to be disabled only when it comes to music and not tones in languages (they seem to be able to speak their own tonal languages). It appears to be genetically influenced although it can also be a result from brain damage.

I don’t seem to be brain damaged so why do I have so many problems with Thai tones?

You might want to test to see if you really are tone deaf.

My own test for tone deafness: Have someone hum the tune for Happy Birthday. Then have someone hum the tune for God Save the Queen (or the Star Spangled Banner). Can you differentiate between the two? If you can then you have enough tonal ability to differentiate between Thai tones.

But you might want to try a real tone deafness test; tonedeaftest.com will help you there.

So let’s say you aren’t truly tone deaf.

English is full of tones that we may not be aware of. Hearing and saying them will give us an understanding that we can really differentiate and say these tones (approximations to Thai though they may be). We can practice these sounds and after we understand how our voice mechanisms make them we can we can then try them out on real Thai words.

It is sort of like a golfer taking some swings at the driving range. It doesn’t mean he will hit the ball perfectly when he is on the course but it should give him an idea of how it will feel.

Please note that since we are comparing two different languages here the sounds are only approximations. Hitting balls on the driving range is merely an approximation of what real golf is like.

Listen to these English tones. See if you can make them too. You will realize that you have been using tones all your life. I hope these practice swings with tones will help some.

Falling tone:

In answer to the question “how are you traveling?” You can answer, “I’m flying.” with the emphasis on how you will be traveling. The word “flying” here will usually contain a falling tone.

Go to Google Translate, choose English for the first box, enter “I’m flying” and click on the speaker icon at the bottom of the box. You’ll hear a falling tone, especially in the “fly” part of the word.

Rising tone:

But if we have a friend who is afraid of flying and he says he is going to fly anyway, you may ask him incredulously “are you really flying?”

Go back to Google Translate, choose English for the first box as before, enter “are you really flying?” and make sure to keep the ?, then click on the speaker icon. Now the word flying has a rising tone, especially on the “ing” part of the word.

Many onomatopoetic English words, that is words which sounds like what they describe, keep their tones so as to keep the word sounding like the things or activities that they are depicting.

Here are some examples.

Low tone:

The sound that we say a clock makes is “tick-tock”. The second word in this expression is usually a low tone. Here we can hear it in a talking dictionary example, tick-tock (click on the speaker icon).

You can also hear the low tone in the term we use to say the sound that a horse makes when it walks, “clip-clop” or “clippety-clop” The “clip” in this recording (clip-clop) is a falling tone. So the English term “clip-clop” is an example of falling tone, low tone.

High tone:

The onomatopoetic English word “hiccup” which sounds like what it describes is usually said with a high tone on the first syllable and a low tone on the second. Listen to it here: hiccup.

Popular songs offer examples of tone practice. They can help us learn a number of tones.

Listen for the tones in these songs.

Falling tone:

Somebody Done Somebody Wrong, by B.J.Thomas

A really good example of a falling tone is the exclamation “hey!” said when you want to get somebody’s attention.

It used to be very common for little children in Thailand to call out “hey you!” (two falling tones) to any foreigner they would encounter. That would be the only English they knew and there were so few foreigners around that it at least gave them a chance to practice their English. That is one good thing about Thailand having lots more foreigners around today. You don’t hear a barrage of “hey you!” whenever you leave your house.

You can hear the falling tone in the word “hey!” in the song Somebody Done Somebody Wrong. Listen to how he says “hey!” He elongates the word and when it is drawn out the final “y” in “hey” pulls the sound down making for the falling tone. It’s the same with the word “play”.

Low tone:

A Summer Song, by Chad and Jeremy

The final word in each verse of A Summer Song is a low tone:

As we walked by
Just you and I
In the starry sky

And there is a great falling tone in the last word of the bridge in “wish you didn’t have to go – no no no no”. And interestingly enough the Thai word for “no” is also a falling tone ไม่ /mâi/.

High tone:

In My Life, by The Beatles

The high tone is very rare in English. In this song we get a close example of a high tone. The word “ever” in “forever”, in the line, ”some forever not for better” approximates a high tone.

I hope these practice swings at recognizing and making your voice mechanism create tones will help you create good Thai tones. I have to admit, after so many years of speaking Thai, my tones still suck (according to my wife). So I will be taking those practice swings along with you (P.S. My golf game also sucks).

Good luck.

Hugh Leong
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Buddhist Vocabulary by the Numbers

Thai Language

Thai Buddhist Vocabulary by the Numbers…

It wasn’t until about 300 years after the Buddha’s death that his teachings were put down in writing. Before then the teachings were organized in an oral tradition. One of the ways that the early teachers organized complicated ideas was to make lists. So in Buddhism you have The Three…, The Four…, The Five…, The Eight …, and many more.

Other religions have done similar things. There are the Ten Commandments, even though when we take a closer look at the Bible there are lots more than ten. But ten is a nice round number and easy to remember.

Giving numbers is a great way to teach complex ideas, especially with an illiterate audience as it was in the beginning. The early Buddhists made great use of lists. And those lists have come down to us and are still used today.

Thai LanguageMany foreign visitors and residents of Thailand take an interest in Buddhism. We have presented here some vocabulary that might help you understand, discuss, and even ask questions if you are so interested. And because much of the teaching is in list form it makes learning the vocabulary that much easier.

The Buddhism in Thailand is riddled with influences from other belief systems, Animism, Hinduism, and Mysticism. We have concentrated here on very basic Buddhist vocabulary.

This is not a thesis on the Buddhist religion. You’ll have to look into that yourself. But it will get you started on the vocabulary of Buddhism. You’ll find lots of lists in different books and websites, some will have the original Pali words, others might have Chinese, Japanese, Korean words, or a slightly different Thai Translation. In the spirit of language learning and not religious doctrine, we have tried to stick with the easier to remember vocabulary words.

NOTE: For those needing transliteration, there’s a pdf download at the end of the post.

Buddhism: The basics…

The following are some everyday vocabulary words that one hears often when discussing Buddhism.

Buddha: พระพุทธเจ้า
พระ: venerable (title for a monk or other religions figure, eg. Jesus = พระเยซู)
พุทธ: Buddha
เจ้า: lord

(It can easily be seen how the Thai word พุทธ could be changed to the English “Buddha”)

Religion: ศาสนา
Buddhism: พุทธศาสนา or ศาสนาพุทธ
Buddhist image: พระพุทธรูป or simply พระ
Monk: พระ or พระสงฆ์
Monk’s bowl (alms bowl): บาตร
Alms round, seeking alms (food): บิณฑบาต
Present food to the monks: ใส่บาตร
Novice: เณร or สามเณร
Nun: นางชี or แม่ชี
Meditate: ทำสมาธิ or นั่งสมาธิ
Chant: บทสวดมนต์
Karma: กรรม

By the way, the classifier for monk and novice is รูป (the same word for “picture”) and sometimes องค์, for Buddhist image it is also องค์, but for nun it is คน.

In speaking about Buddhism, there are both specifically religious words and also common Thai words which have the same meaning. The common words are used by most people when talking about Buddhism. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone use the religious words except a monk. So they are here just in case that is someone you find yourself talking to.

We have given the religious words first, and below, the common Thai.

Three (The Three Characteristics of Existence)…

Buddhism describes “existence” as having three characteristics. These are characteristics that are shared by all sentient beings

The Three Characteristics of Existence are:

  1. Impermanence: All conditioned things are constantly changing.
  2. Suffering: All things are subject to dissatisfaction and because of this, suffering.
  3. Soullessness or non-self: There is no such thing as a personal self or soul that we alone own.

ไตรลักษณ์:The Three Characteristics of Existence
ไตร: three (similar and maybe related to the English prefix “tri”)
ลักษณ์: characteristic

  1. อนิจจัง: impermanence
  2. ทุกข์ขัง or ทุกข์: suffering
  3. อนัตตา: non-self

อ…: is a prefix meaning “not” (similar and maybe related to the English prefix “a…”)
อัตตา: ego (state of being an individual)

Four (The Four Noble Truths)…

These “truths” contain the heart of Buddhist teaching. By understanding them we will be able to understand what Buddhists believe.

The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Suffering (is real).
  2. Cause of suffering (there is a cause to it).
  3. Cessation of suffering (suffering can be ended).
  4. Eight-Fold Path (can lead to the cessation of suffering).

อริยสัจสี่: The Four Noble Truths
อริยสัจ: Noble Truth
สี่: four

  1. ทุกข์: suffer, ความทุกข์ suffering; hardship
  2. สมุทัย: cause, มูลเหตุ the cause
  3. นิโรธ: the cessation of, extinction of suffering, การหยุด = cessation; ending
  4. มรรค: way; path, ทาง direction, way or path

Eight (The Noble Eightfold Path)…

Thai LanguageThis is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. It is taught that by following this path we can bring about the cessation to suffering.

The following is an English interpretation of the components of the Noble Eightfold Path. Lots of books and websites can be overly philosophical and difficult to read and understand when discussing this concept. Interestingly, Buddhism for Dummies (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-eightfold-path-of-buddhism.html), where this list comes from, has one of the clearest presentations.

The Eightfold Path is:

  1. Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble Truths are noble and true.
  2. Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice Buddhist faith.
  3. Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of untrue and abusive speech.
  4. Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa), as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual impropriety.
  5. Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or working at jobs that force you to violate others.
  6. Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
  7. Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of one’s mental state and bodily health and feelings.
  8. Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest level of enlightenment.

And this is how the Noble Eightfold Path is presented in Thai. From the translations we can see why different listings in English of The Eightfold Path can be slightly different.

อริยมรรคแปด: The Noble Eightfold Path
อริยะ: sanctified
มรรค: Buddhist path
แปด: eight

The terms สัมมา before the noun, and ถูกต้อง after the noun mean “correct” or “right”.

  1. สัมมาทิฐิ: Right Understanding
    ความเข้าใจ: understanding
  2. สัมมาสังกัปปะ: Right Thought
    ความใฝ่ใจ: taking an interest
  3. สัมมาวาจา: Right speech
    การพูดจา: speaking
  4. สัมมากัมมันตะ: Right Action
    การกระทำ: action
  5. สัมมาอาชีวะ: Right livelihood
    การดำรงชีพ: earning a living
  6. สัมมาวายามะ: Right Effort
    ความพากเพียร: perseverance
  7. สัมมาสติ: Right mindfulness
    การระลึกประจำใจ: recall
  8. สัมมาสมาธิ: Right concentration
    การตั้งใจมั่น: intention

Five (The Five Precepts)…

The Five Precepts are sometimes defined as “commandments” like the “10 Commandments”. But instead of “Thou shalt not …” these are seen more like something we should strive to abstain or refrain from doing. More like “Thou shalt try not to …”

Commandments and precepts are different and even though the Thai word for precept is sometimes translated as “commandment” they are quite different in purpose. The breaking of the commandments is a sin, against God. The breaking of a precept will cause you or others suffering, therefore it is something we should avoid doing. So this is a list of things to abstain from in order to limit our own suffering and our possibly causing suffering in others.

The Five Precepts are:

  1. Abstain from killing.
  2. Abstain from taking what is not given.
  3. Avoid sensual misconduct.
  4. Abstain from false speech.
  5. Abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

ศีลห้า: The Five Precepts
ศีล: precept (moral precepts)
ห้า: five

The term เว้นจาก is used in front of each of the precepts.
เว้น: abstain
จาก: from

Instead of เว้นจาก we could just as easily said ห้าม (prohibit).

  1. เว้นจากทำลายชีวิต: Abstain from the destruction of life.
    ทำลาย: destroy
    ชีวิต: life
  2. เว้นจากถือเอาของที่เขามิได้ให้
    Abstain from taking things that were not given.
    ถือเอา: assume
    ของ: things
    ที่: that
    เขา: he, she, etc.
    มิได้: not
    ให้: give, offer
  3. เว้นจากประพฤติผิดในกาม: Sexual misconduct
    ประพฤติผิด: misbehave
    ใน: in
    กาม: sexual desire
  4. เว้นจากพูดเท็จ: Telling a falsehood
    พูด: speak
    เท็จ: lie, falsehood
  5. เว้นจากของเมา
    ของเมา: liquor, that which makes you intoxicated

To finish…

Thai Language

This was a simple vocabulary lesson, not an invitation to become a Buddhist. I believe that we are all ultimately responsible in finding what works for us. The Buddha’s last remarks summarize all of his teaching and basically say that it is now all up to you.

“Behold, O monks, this is my advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.”

Reference: I have found that the best on-line dictionary source for Buddhist vocabulary is thai2english.com. Other dictionaries bypass most of the religious words. Someone at thai2english.com must be into this topic. I made liberal use of this dictionary in this post and would like to thank thai2english.com for their hard work.

Post Script: I don’t drink alcohol. This is not because of any religious belief. But when I go out with Thai friends and I tell them I don’t drink they are usually taken aback. That is until I tell them in Thai ฉันถือศีลห้า “I observe the 5 (Buddhist) precepts”, one of which of course is abstaining from alcohol. They usually all shake their heads knowingly and say ไม่เป็นไร, “No Problem”.

PDF Download (includes transliteration): Thai Buddhist Vocabulary by the Numbers

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
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eBooks in Thailand
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Breathing in Chiang Mai

Thai Language

Breathing in Chiang Mai…

If you live anywhere in or near northern Thailand you probably can’t get the smog out of your head – both physically and figuratively. I live about ½ kilometer from the base of Doi Pui – Doi Suthep National park. Today I can’t see the mountains less than 500 meters away. This week four airplanes were diverted from Chiang Mai International Airport because of limited visibility.

And now I’ve had my first head cold here in almost 10 years. Is it a co-inky-dink that it has happened just as the smog rolled in?

I don’t go into town much unless I have some business to take care of. Yesterday we did the paperwork to get our tax refund for the last three years. That’s the good news. The bad news is I was thinking too much about the bad visibility as I was driving that I missed my turn to the bank.

The air pollution is as bad as I have seen it in many years (three times beyond the safety limits in nearby Chiang rai). It has me almost thinking about a move to Beijing.

Thai Language

With all this going on we thought it might be a good time to work on Thai vocabulary to describe the current situation. After, we’ll construct Thai dialogs using the vocabulary, just in case you want to talk with a Thai friend and you are like me and it is the main topic on your mind.

Thai vocabulary for breathing (or not) in Chiang mai…

มลพิษ /mon-​lá-​pít/ (พิษ = poison)
มลภาวะเป็นพิษ /mon-​paa-​wá-​bpen-​pít/ (ภาวะ = a condition of being poisoned)

Air pollution
มลพิษทางอากาศ /mon-​pít taang aa-gàat/ (อากาศ = air)

Water pollution
มลพิษทางน้ำ /mon-​pít taang náam/ (น้ำ = water)

หมอกควัน /mòk-​kwan/ (หมอก = fog, mist; ควัน = smoke)
ควันพิษ /kwan-​pít/ (poison smoke)

The English word “smog” is a combination of “smoke” and “fog”. Thai does something similar.

Mask (nowadays ubiquitous)
หน้ากาก /nâa-​gàak/
หน้ากากอนามัย /nâa-​gàak à-​naa-​mai/ (อนามัย = hygiene)

ปอด /bpòt/

Lung disease
โรคปอด /rôhk bpòt/

โรคหอบหืด /rôhk-​hòp-​hèut/
หืด /hèut/

โรคภูมิแพ้ /rôhk-​poom-​páe/ (to have an allergy)
แพ้ /​páe/ (to be allergic to something)

ไอ /ai/

เสลด /sà-​lèet/
เสมหะ /săym-hà/

เผาผลาญ /păo-plăan/
เผา /păo/

ขยะ /kà-​yà/

To burn garbage
เผาขยะ /păo kà-​yà/

Fields (rice)
ทุ่งนา /tûng-​naa/

To burn the rice fields.
เผาทุ่งนา /păo tûng-​naa/

ป่า /bpàa/

To burn the forest.
เผาป่า /păo bpàa/

And here’s some phrases for burning in Chiang mai…

Let’s use what we have learned. At least it will be somewhat cathartic.

A: How’s the weather today in Chiang Mai?
wan née aa-gàat chiang-mài bpen yang ngai

B: The smog is really bad.
mòk kwan mâi dee jing jing

A: What causes all that smog?
mòk kwan mee săa-hàyt a-rai bâang

B: They are burning the fields, and garbage, and the forests.
พวกเขาเผาทุ่งนา เผาขยะ และ เผาป่า
pûak-kăo-păo-tûng-naa păo-kà-yà láe păo bpàa

A: Are people getting sick from the pollution?
mon-pít tam hâi kon mâi sà-baai rĕu

B: Yes, especially people with lung disease, asthma, and allergies.
ครับ โดยเฉพาะคนที่เป็น โรคปอด โรคหอบหืด และ โรคภูมิแพ้
kráp doi chà-pór kon têe bpen rôhk-bpòt rôhk hòp hèut láe rôhk poom páe

They will cough and have phlegm in their lungs. It’s best to wear a mask.
เขาจะไอ และ มี เสมหะ ในปอด ใส่หน้ากากดีกว่า
kăo jà ai láe mee săym-hà nai bpòt sài nâa gàak dee gwàa

There’s too much burning in Chiang mai!…

So here is my plan. I’m thinking of taking that tax return that we just got and buying two tickets to Bali and then taking one really, really deep breath. And pray for rain.

But before I go, here’s an iOS app by Thailand’s Pollution Control Department: Air4Thai. And if you are like me and don’t use apps, here’s a useful website: City Hall, Chiangmai Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI).

Breathing in Chiang mai audo download: 1.2mg zip
Note: The audio files are for personal use only.

Hugh Leong
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eBooks in Thailand
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Lounge Lizard Foreign Language Speaking Exercises

Thai Language

Lounge Lizard foreign language speaking exercises…

It is probably because I am a bit obsessive compulsive that I still spend some time every day studying Thai. But that means that I have to constantly find new and interesting ways to work on my language studies. Writing these posts on WLT forces me to think about Thai, and a new blog I have been working on, Thai Vocabulary in the News, is also a great exercise for me. Now I think I have found a new learning method.

To the chagrin of my neighbors and my long suffering wife, I have been learning to play the piano and fantasize about becoming a lounge-lizard singer of popular songs. The other day, while banging away and belting out a new song I had one of those “Ah ha” moments. Why not try translating this song into Thai as a language learning exercise?

The more I thought about it the more I realized that every time we attempt to speak a foreign language we are usually translating into it. And usually when we are listening to a foreign language we are translating back.

Except for the advanced language learner most people don’t have that switch in our heads that allows us to start thinking in the target language until it just flows, without having to translate first. So learning all the ins and outs of translating into a foreign language would be great meaningful practice. And songs are fun to work with.

When I sat down to do my first song translation I realized how fascinating and multi-faceted translating into a foreign language can be. You don’t have to be an advanced student of Thai to try this method. Just choose a song that corresponds to your language level.

Songs are a really good challenge for a translator. They are quite often idiomatic. In our native language we often think idiomatically. This becomes a problem when we try to render what is in our heads in our native language into a target language since one thing we should never do is try to translate an idiom word-for-word.

Taking a song and trying to render it into a foreign language is great training for us because it forces us to break down our native language idioms into what they really mean in normal standardized language. If we are lucky sometimes there is even a corresponding idiom in the target language. This makes translating songs really good training for real world foreign language speaking.

Below I have some examples of songs I have attempted to translate, and the challenges we face when we try this.

Note to native Thai speakers: I’ll be trying my translations here. If you come up with something different please share it with us. It would be great to see how you would say it.

Let’s start with an easy song.

Mary Had a Little Lamb…

Mary Had a Little Lamb, little lamb, little lamb
Mary Had a Little Lamb
His fleece was white as snow.

First things first. Translate the title “Mary had a little lamb”.

Mary is “Mary”. That was easy.

We can translate the verb “had” as มี /mee/ or for the past tense เคยมี /koie-​mee/. A lamb is a baby sheep. Sheep is แกะ ​/gàe/; lamb ลูกแกะ /lôok-​gàe/. One word for “little” is น้อย /nói/ but since this is an animal we can use ตัวน้อย /dtua nói/.

“Mary had a little lamb” = Mary เคยมีลูกแกะตัวน้อย

But there is something missing here. Really the English word “had” in this case has a little more meaning behind it. It really means that Mary was “raising” the little fella. She was feeding him and taking care of him.

Let’s translate “had” to contain these subtleties. I think it should be เลี้ยง /líang/ “to raise”. A “domesticated animal”, or a “pet” of which this little lamb is one, is สัตว์เลี้ยง /sàt líang/ “animal that we raise”. Note: it sounds better without the past indicator of เคย /koie/, so we’ll just drop the past tense which isn’t required in Thai.

Putting all that together the title becomes Mary เลี้ยงลูกแกะตัวน้อย “Mary raised a little lamb”.

The rest of the song repeats the title and then adds:

“His fleece was white as snow.”

“Fleece” is ขนแกะ /kŏn-gàe/, or the hair or fur of a sheep. Since we know we are talking about a sheep let’s just drop แกะ /gàe/ and just keep ขน /kŏn/. “White” is ขาว /kăao/. “Snow” is หิมะ /hì-​má/. “As” really means “to be like” or “the same as” which in Thai would be เหมือน /mĕuan/.

“His fleece was white as snow” = ขนขาวเหมือนหิมะ

But this sort of lacks a certain flow. Let’s add a few words to make it flow better.

Instead of “his” fleece, Thai needs to use “its” fleece. That would be ขนมัน /kŏn man/. And although it isn’t required we really could use a “be” verb somewhere, like คือ /keu/.

And since the term “white as snow” means “really white”, and the term “as snow” is an English intensifier of the word white, we can use the Thai intensifier จ๊วก juak (specific for the word ขาว /kăao/) as in ขาวจวก /kăao jùak/ “really white”. This puts a little more emphasis on the word “white”. That gives us ขนมันคือขาวจวกเหมือนหิมะ “Its fleece was very white, like snow” which flows much better.

Here is my translation of “Mary had a Little Lamb”:

Mary เลี้ยงลูกแกะตัวน้อย

Mary เลี้ยงลูกแกะตัวน้อย ตัวน้อย ตัวน้อย
Mary เลี้ยงลูกแกะตัวน้อย

Now for the song that I was belting away when I had the “Ah ha” moment. It’s one of the shortest, and one of my favorite Beatles’ songs.

I Will…

Who knows how long I’ve loved you
You know I love you still.
Will I wait a lonely lifetime
If you want me to I will.

The title “I Will”.

If we translate this we get ฉันจะ /chăn jà/. But you can’t do that in Thai. The word จะ /jà/, which translates to “will” or “shall” isn’t a stand-alone word. It is simply a future indicator. It needs to be followed by a verb. So we need to think about what Paul is going to do.

And from the song it is obvious that he is going to “wait for” the person he is singing to. We can then add the words คอย /koi/ “wait for” and คุณ /kun/ “you”. And “I Will” becomes ฉันจะ(คอย คุณ) “I will (Wait for You)”, parentheses added to keep the original in mind.

“Who knows how long I’ve loved you”

“Who” would be ใคร /krai/ but I don’t really feel that in the song this is a question. I think it is more like “No one knows” so I came up with ไม่มีใครรู้ /mâi mee krai róo/. “How long” = นานแค่ไหน /naan kâe năi/. “I’ve love you” = ฉันรักคุณ /chăn rák kun/. No need for the present perfect to be translated. Giving us ไม่มีใครรู้ฉันรักคุณนานแค่ไหน “No one knows how long I have loved you”.

You know I love you still.

“Know” is รู้ /rúu/ or ทราบ /sâap/. ทราบ seems more formal so I’ll stick with รู้. But คุณรู้ /kun róo/ by itself sounds a little hard so I like คุณรู้แล้ว /kun róo láew/ which means “you already know” and doesn’t change the meaning but softens it a bit. “I love you still” in normal speak is “I still love you” which would be ฉันยังรักคุณ /chăn yang rák kun/. “You know I love you still” becomes คุณรู้แล้วฉันยังรักคุณ “You already know that I still love you”

“Will I wait a lonely lifetime”

“Will”. From my thinking about this song I don’t think this is a simple future tense word. It seems to have the meaning that he is asking if she is going to make him wait for a lifetime before she responds to him. That would be something like “Are you going to make me …?” which would be คุณจะทำให้ฉันต้อง… /Kun jà tam hâi chăn dtông …/

“Wait is รอ /ror/ or คอย /koi/ even better to use the Thai double verb of รอคอย /ror-​koi/. “Lifetime” is made up of “life” ชีวิต /chee-wít/ and “all of” ตลอด /dtà-lòt/ as in “all of my life” ตลอดชีวิต /dtà-lòt chee-wít/

“Lonely” is เหงา /ngăo/ And instead of describing “lifetime” as being lonely we describe our “waiting” as being lonely. So we need to put this after the verb รอคอย /ror-​koi/ as in รอคอยเหงา /ror-​koi /ngăo/ “wait alone”. And this is a question so we tag on the question word หรือ /rĕu/ at the end. Giving us “Will I wait a lonely lifetime” = คุณจะทำให้ฉันต้องรอคอยเหงาตลอดชีวิตหรือ “Are you going to make me wait lonely for my whole life?”

“If you want me to I will”

If = หาก /hàak/
“Want me to”, “Want” = ต้องการ /dtông-​gaan/. When you are using this in the case of she wanting me to do something you get ต้องการให้ฉัน /dtông-​gaan hâi chăn/. The song just says “want me to …” and leaves the verb unspoken. But in the translation into Thai we kind of need to say it. What is it she wants him to do? “Wait”. So we get คุณต้องการให้ฉันรอคอย. And then we are back to “I will” but that would be repetitive. How about we say something like “Well. If you want me to wait I’ll go along with that.” So we can say something like ฉันก็ยอม /chăn gôr yom/. The word ยอม /yom/ meaning “to be compliant”.

“If you want me to I will” becomes หากคุณต้องการให้ฉันรอคอยฉันก็ยอม “If you want me to wait then I’ll go along with that.”

And my complete translation of the first verse is:

ฉันจะ(คอย คุณ)


You can see that when translating a song we first have to think about what the song means, what all the idioms and left-out-words are trying to say. Then we can render it into the target language. This is why I like the term “interpret” rather than “translate” since we really can’t do a word-for-word code switch. The mental exercise becomes more like Step 1, “native language words”; Step 2, “meaning of the native language words”; Step 3, “target language words”.

And in fact, these are the same steps we need to take whenever we attempt communicating in a foreign language – that is until we get to the level where we can eliminate the first 2 steps and simply think in the target language.

Hopefully, we are all on the road to getting there.

Try interpreting your own favorite song. You can just start with song titles. How about this one from Jackson Browne for a starter, “Running on Empty”? or how about this from the Eagles, “I’m going down the road trying to loosen my load I got seven women on my mind.” I have my answers and will share them with you but want to hear what you come up with first. Drop us a comment with your answers. I’m looking forward to reading them. I’ll bet we get lots of different ones.

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Hugh Leong
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Learning Thai Medical Terms: Breaking Down and Building Up

Thai Language

Learning Thai medical terms: Breaking down and building up…

As a follow up to our previous post here on WLT, a reader has asked us to translate a list of medical terms that are important to her. But instead of simply giving a one-to-one English/Thai translation I thought it would be better to show how we can go about breaking down the English term and seeing if we can build a Thai term that can be used to discuss these medical conditions.

Many Thai technical terms and vocabulary that describe complicated ideas are made up of a compound of simpler Thai words. The list we have here contains terms in English but they are basically concepts. We start with breaking down the concept first, then finding the Thai word for each constituent part, and then reconstructing the concept in Thai. This technique can be used with most complex concepts to understand, read, and finally produce Thai compound words.

Note that the terms we come up with will be polite, and/or technical terms that would be appropriate to discuss with a doctor or professional but would be understood by any Thai speaker.

List of medical terms: Abdominal pain, stomach ache, gastritis
 bleeding from the digestive tract,
 cancers of the stomach or esophagus
, chronic heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion
, diagnosis and removal of stomach polyps, 
dilatation of esophageal strictures, 
trouble swallowing, 
ulcers of the esophagus, stomach duodenum, unexplained chest pain.

Note: Many of these conditions in Thai can be prefixed with โรค /rôhk/ = disease, or อาการ /aa-​gaan/ = symptom. We’ll drop most of these for brevity.

Abdominal pain (stomach ache, gastritis)…

Ache, Pain: ปวด /bpùat/

The following words can be used to refer to the stomach and abdomen:

กระเพาะ /grà-pór/ (stomach, abdomen)
กระเพาะอาหาร /grà-pór aa-hăan/ (กระเพาะ = stomach, abdomen; อาหาร = food)
ท้อง /tóng/ (stomach, abdomen)
พุง /pung/ (this is more like “belly”; พุงใหญ่ = big belly, beer belly)
ช่องท้อง /chông-​tóng/ (usually referring to the abdomen); ช่อง = cavity


Abdominal pain: ปวดช่องท้อง, ปวดกระเพาะ

Stomach ache: ปวดท้อง

Gastritis: โรคกระเพาะ

Bleeding of the digestive tract…

To digest: ย่อยอาหาร /yôi aa-hăan/ (ย่อย = digest, อาหาร = food)
Tube: ท่อ /tôr/; หลอด /lòt/
Track, walkway: ทางเดิน /taang-​dern/
Esophagus (digestive tract, pathway of the food): ท่อทางเดินอาหาร /tôr taang dern aa-hăan/; หลอดอาหาร /lòt aa-hăan/
To bleed: เลือดไหล /lêuat-lăi/; เลือดออก /lêuat-​òk/ (เลือด = blood, ไหล = to flow, ออก = come out)


Bleeding in the esophagus.
เลือดไหล (เลือดออก) ใน ท่อทางเดินอาหาร
เลือดไหล (เลือดออก) ใน หลอดอาหาร

Bleeding in the digestive tract (includes the stomach).
เลือดไหล (เลือดออก) ใน ท่อทางเดินย่อยอาหาร

Cancer of the stomach or esophagus…

Cancer: มะเร็ง /má-reng/; โรคมะเร็ง /rôhk má-reng/


Cancer of the stomach.

Cancer of the esophagus

Chronic heartburn…

Burning sensation: แสบร้อน /sàep rón/ (แสบ = to sting, burn; ร้อน = hot)
Breast: ทรวง /suang/
Chest: อก /òk/
Chronic illness: โรคเรื้อรัง /rôhk réua-rang/


Heart burn

Chronic heartburn
โรคเรื้อรัง แสบร้อนในทรวงอก
โรคเรื้อรัง จุกเสียดท้อง

Acid reflux…

Acid: กรด /gròt/
Flow: ไหล /lăi/
To return: ย้อน /yón/
Reflux (meaning to flow back or return): ไหลย้อน /lăi yón/


Acid reflux


Inability to digest food: อาหารไม่ย่อย /aa hăan mâi yôi/

Diagnosis and removal of stomach polyps:


To diagnose: วินิจฉัย ​/wí-nít-chăi/
To remove: ลบ ออก /lóp-​òk/
Polyp: โพลิป /poh-​líp/ (English loan word); ติ่ง /dtìng/


Diagnosis stomach polyps

Remove stomach polyps

Dilatation of esophageal strictures…

To dilate (enlarge): ขยาย /kà-yăai/; ทำให้ กว้างขึ้น /tam-​hâi ​yài-​kêun/
Strictures (a narrowing or constriction): แคบ /kâep/


Dilatation of esophageal strictures
ทำให้ หลอดอาหารแคบ กว้างขึ้น

Trouble swallowing…

Trouble: ปัญหา /bpan-hăa/
To swallow: กลืน /gleun/


Trouble swallowing

Ulcers of the esophagus, stomach, duodenum…

Ulcer: แผลเปื่อย /plăe-bpèuay/ (แผล = wound; เปื่อย – decayed)
Bowel, intestine: ลำไส้ /lam-​sâi/
Small: เล็ก /lék/
Part: ส่วน /sùan/
Beginning (part): ต้น /dtôn/
Duodenum: ลำไส้เล็กส่วนต้น /lam sâi lék sùan dtôn/ (literally: beginning of the small intestines)


Ulcers of the esophagus

Ulcers of the stomach

Ulcers of the duodenum

Unexplained chest pain…

Pain: เจ็บ /jèp/; (ปวด /bpùat/ is more like an ache)
Chest: หน้าอก /nâa-​òk/ (Aside: อกหัก /òk-​hàk/ literally means broken chest but it is the translation of the English “heartbroken” or “broken heart”)
Unknown: ไม่รู้ /mâi-​róo/
Cause: สาเหตุ /săa-hàyt/


Unexplained chest pain

The secret to learning Thai complex vocabulary…

Whether technical or not, Thai complex vocabulary very often tells the story of exactly what it is. If you know the individual words that make up the story you are pretty much on your way to knowing the meaning of a complex word that you have never seen before. This is not so easy in English.

Example: The English sentence “She had plastic surgery” tells us that a woman had an operation but unless we had heard the term before we really don’t know what kind. The Thai term is ศัลยกรรมตกแต่ง. It’s a big word, made of ศัลยกรรม = “surgery” and ตกแต่ง = “to beautify” or “to embellish”.

So the English word is “surgery using plastic”; not very descriptive and in fact misleading. The Thai word is “surgery to beautify or embellish”. If you know the constituent Thai words then you will know the meaning of the complex word without ever having seen it before.

Hugh Leong
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Helpful Thai Medical Vocabulary for Men

Thai Language

Medical vocabulary for men, and some women…

Some of you may know that besides contributing to Women Learn Thai I also write a blog on retiring to Thailand. My latest post is one about increasing awareness of a problem many older men have; problems with our prostate.

I wrote that post because I thought that awareness of this problem is quite important for men, and women who have men in their lives. This post on WLT is a companion piece to What We Men Don’t Like to Think About. If you have time, take a look at my post. It is full of info and web links about this condition that most of us men find difficult to talk about even in our own native language.

Since I needed to go to the hospital for certain procedures I came into contact with lots of doctors and nurses. My doctors’ English was usually quite good but the nurses’ English was limited. Luckily I could ask and answer their questions in Thai. It made everything flow quite smoothly and I was treated very well. I am sure that my knowledge of Thai contributed to this positive experience.

Because many men may have to go through exactly what I did I thought maybe I might help with a listing of the Thai words I used during my hospital visit. Here are some useful Thai vocabulary words that may come in handy.

My Visit to the Hospital…

As many men in their 60s, I have been having trouble with my prostate.

Prostate: ต่อมลูกหมาก /dtòm-​lôok-​màak/
– ต่อม /dtòm/ gland
– ลูกหมาก /lôok-​màak/ betel nut, a walnut sized nut that used to be used throughout SE Asia staining the user’s teeth red.

For many years I have been taking medication for an enlarged prostate.

Take Medication: กินยา /gin-​yaa/

Enlarged prostate: ต่อมลูกหมากโต /dtòm-​lôok-​màak dtoh/
– โต /dtoh/ large

I had been to the emergency room a number of times because of not being able to urinate (a symptom of an enlarged prostate).

Emergency Room (ER): ห้องฉุกเฉิน /hông chùk-chĕrn/
– ห้อง /hông/ room
– ฉุกเฉิน ​/chùk-chĕrn/ emergency

Urinate: ถ่ายปัสสาวะ /tàai bpàt-săa-wá/
– ปัสสาวะ /bpàt-săa-wá/ urine; This is the polite word used with doctors and nurses.

Symptom: อาการ /aa-​gaan/

I also had a number of infections in my urethra, called urinary tract infections or UTI.

Infection: อักเสบ /àk-​sàyp/

Urethra: ท่อปัสสาวะ /tôr bpàt-săa-wá/
– ท่อ /tôr/ tube

Urinary Tract: ทางเดินปัสสาวะ /taang dern bpàt-săa-wá/
– ทางเดิน /taang-​dern/ path

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): อักเสบทางเดินปัสสาวะ /àk-sàyp taang dern bpàt-săa-wá/

We did a blood test to check my PSA levels.

Blood Test: การตรวจเลือด /gaan-​dtrùat-​lêuat/
– ตรวจ ​/dtrùat/ examine, test
– เลือด /lêuat/ blood

Since my PSA levels were quite high my doctor, a urologist, was concerned about cancer.

Urologist: แพทย์ที่เชี่ยวชาญด้านระบบปัสสาวะ /pâet têe chîeow-chaan dâan rá-bòp bpàt-săa-wá/
– แพทย์ /pâet/ doctor
– เชี่ยวชาญ /​​chîeow-​chaan/ expert
– ระบบ ​/rá~​bòp/ system

U-ro: We also use the English loan word หมอ U-ro /mŏr URO/

Cancer: มะเร็ง /má-reng/

First we did an ultrasound of the prostate.

Ultrasound: อุลตราซาวด์ /un-​dtrâa-​saao/ (English loanword)

Then my doctor recommended a biopsy.

Biopsy: การตัดเนื้อเยื่อไปตรวจ /gaan-​dtàt-​néua-​yêua-​bpai-​dtrùat/
– ตัด /dtàt/ cut
– เนื้อเยื่อ /néua-​yêua/ tissue)
– They also use the loanword “bi-op-sy”

Since I would be under general anesthesia, before the biopsy I needed to fast.

Anesthesia: ยาสลบ /yaa-​sà-lòp/
– ยา /yaa/ medicine
– สลบ /​sà-lòp/ unconscious

Fast: อดอาหาร /òt aa-hăan/
– อด /òt/ abstain from
– อาหาร ​/aa-hăan/ food

For the procedure I needed to have an IV inserted.

(IV) Intravenous: การฉีดเข้าเส้นเลือด /gaan-​chèet-​kâo-​sên-​lêuat/
– ฉีด ​/chèet/ inject medicine
– เส้นเลือด /sên-​lêuat/ blood vessel

Later I woke up in the recovery room.

Recovery Room: ห้องพักฟื้น /hông-​pák féun/
– ห้อง /hông/ room
– พัก /pák/ rest
– ฟื้น /féun/ regain consciousness

I’ll have to take antibiotics for a few days.

Antibiotics: ยาฆ่าเชื้อ /yaa-​kâa-​chéua/
– ยา /yaa/ medicine
– ฆ่า /kâa/ kill
– เชื้อ /chéua/ germ

The doctor gave me the good news that I am cancer free.

Cancer free: ไร้มะเร็ง /rái má~​reng/
– ไร้ /rái/ without

May you all be healthy and happy during this holiday season.

Hugh Leong
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Using a Patriotic Song for Thai Vocabulary Building

Thai Language

A patriotic song for vocabulary building…

This patriotic song that we hear on the radio and TV every day is said to have been written by General Prayuth. A translation in the subtitles on TV and an official translation can be found on the Internet. The people are used to patriotic songs after a coup, but being written by the coup leader himself, this one is a little different.

The song is written in very simple, everyday Thai. And whatever you think about patriotic songs, I thought it would be a good vocabulary learning tool.

The translations here are a little different from the official one, mainly for vocabulary learning purposes. The gist of it is the same though.

I have used the first person pronoun in the translation as these are the thoughts of the song writer. The translation isn’t perfect but the vocabulary should give a pretty good idea of what is going on.

The important vocabulary words have been underlined with dots and translated.

คืน ความสุข ให้ ประเทศไทย
Return happiness to Thailand

ความสุข – happiness
ประเทศไทย – Thailand

วันที่ ชาติ และ องค์ราชา มวลประชา อยู่มาพ้น ภัย
When the nation, the King, and the people are in danger.

ชาติ – nation
องค์ราชา – King
มวลประชา – people
ภัย – danger

ขอ ดูแล คุ้มครอง ด้วยใจ 
Let me take care and protect you with all my heart.

ดูแล – take care
คุ้มครอง – protect

นี่คือคำ สัญญา
This is my promise.

สัญญา – promise

วันนี้ ชาติ เผชิญ พาลภัย 
Today our nation faces danger.

เผชิญ – faces
พาลภัย – danger

ไฟ ลุก โชนขึ้นมา ทุกครา
A fire is spreading everywhere.

ไฟ – fire
โชนขึ้นมา – spreading
ทุกครา – everywhere

ขอเป็นคนที่ เดินเข้ามา ไม่อาจให้ สายไป
Let me be the one to walk up before it is too late.

เดินเข้ามา –  to walk up
สายไป – too late    

เพื่อ นำรักกลับมา ต้อง ใช้เวลาเท่าไร
How long will it take to bring love back?

นำรักกลับมา – bring love back
ใช้เวลาเท่าไร – How long

โปรด จงรอ ได้ไหม 
Can you wait

จงรอ – wait

จะ ข้ามผ่าน ความ บาดหมาง
for us to overcome our disagreements?

ข้ามผ่าน – overcome
บาดหมาง – disagreements

เราจะ ทำตาม สัญญา 
We will keep our promises.

ทำตาม – keep

ขอ เวลาอีกไม่นาน
Please give us a little time.

เวลาอีกไม่นาน – a little time

แล้ว แผ่นดิน ที่ งดงาม จะ คืนกลับมา
And our land will return to beauty.

แผ่นดิน – land
งดงาม – beauty
คืนกลับมา – return

เราจะทำอย่าง ซื่อตรง 
We’ll be honest.

ซื่อตรง – honest

ขอแค่เธอ จงไว้ใจ และ ศรัทธา
Just trust and have faith in us.

จงไว้ใจ – trust
ศรัทธา – have faith

แผ่นดิน จะดี ในไม่ช้า 
In no time the land will be good (again).

แผ่นดิน – land
ในไม่ช้า – In no time

ขอ คืน ความสุข ให้เธอ ประชาชน
We will return happiness to the people.

คืน – return
ความสุข – happiness
ประชาชน – the people

วันนี้ต้อง เหน็ดเหนื่อย ก็รู้ 
We know today we are wearyสู้ กับ อันตราย
But we will battle danger.

สู้ – battle
อันตราย – danger

ชาติ ทหาร ไม่ยอมแพ้พ่าย นี่คือคำสัญญา
Our nation’s soldiers will not surrender. This is a promise.

ทหาร – soldiers
ไม่ยอมแพ้พ่าย – surrender

Today our nation faces troubles

A fire is spreading everywhere

ขอเป็นคนที่เดินเข้ามา ไม่อาจให้สายไป
Let me be the one to walk up before it is too late      
In no time the land will be good (again)

Happiness will return to Thailand

Hugh Leong
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Thai Language Thai Culture: Thai Fluency Practice Through Symbols

Thai Language

Thai Language Thai Culture: Language as Symbols…

We start with an idea in our heads. In order to get this idea into another person’s head we use the magic of language. When we use language we turn the idea in our heads into a symbol, a symbolic noise that our mouths make that we usually call “words”. The other person catches these “words” with their ears at which point their brains interpret them. If they are using the same set of audio symbols as we use (i.e. the same language) then the idea which was in our heads, or at least an approximation of it, is now in the listening person’s head. I have always thought that was pretty magical.

With this idea of language being symbols I wanted to try and use symbols in teaching my English conversation classes at Chiang Mai University. It worked quite well and I later turned the idea into a formal paper that was presented at the 1980 International TESOL Convention called “Symbol Stories”.

When the questions recently started coming up on the Facebook group “Farang Learn Thai” about developing fluency in Thai I thought about how using symbols is a great way to practice getting an idea from our heads, using vocabulary and grammar we already know, and turning it into a fluent utterance.

The following are a few examples of how a teacher of Thai, or even someone learning Thai on their own, can use symbols to help create complete sentences from ideas that are in the learners’ heads.

There will be no “listen and repeat” here and no grammar lessons. All the language that you will be creating will come from your own heads. This will be just a way to put stuff you already know into fluently spoken words and sentences.

The symbol stories method is not used to teach new vocabulary (although you may look stuff up that you would like to say) nor is it for teaching grammar, word order, or sentence structure. That should be done with a teacher and/or in a classroom. Symbols will allow you to combine all the stuff you already know and help you to put it all together into fluent coherent Thai.

Note that this method can be used with learners at any level, whether you have a vocabulary of only a few dozen words, or you are an advanced learner.

Defining our symbols…

Let’s start with the symbol below.

Thai Language

I’ll ask you to give me a word (in reality an audio symbol) for what you see. In this case, the symbol looks like a person to me. People words are nouns. Since we are talking about the Thai language, all the nouns we come up with should be in Thai.

Look at the symbol and think of a Thai word (not a word in your native language). This should get you started thinking in the target language.

I’ll start with some Thai words that I think of when I see the above symbol.

คน /kon/ – person
ผู้ชาย /pûu-​chaai/ – man, boy
ผู้หญิง /pôo yĭng/ – woman, girl
ฉัน /chăn/ – I
ดิฉัน /dì-chăn/ – I
ผม /pŏm/ – I

Then we can get fancier.

มนุษย์ /má-nút/ – human
ครู /kruu/ – teacher
ตำรวจ /dtam-​rùuat/ – policeman
คุณพ่อ /kun-​pôr/ – father
คุณแม่ /kun-​mâe/ – mother

And of course the symbol below could be the plural of all the above.

Thai Language

เพื่อน /pêuan/ – friend, friends
นักเรียน /nák-​rian/ – student, students

At this point the learner can come up with more words depending on his/her Thai vocabulary. If you have an idea in your head, and you know the Thai word for it, then it will work.

If you have an idea and don’t know the Thai word for it, use that magic of a dictionary to find one that works for you. For instance, you have the idea that the symbol represents “President Obama”. This will be a great opportunity to add the word “president” to your vocabulary in a meaningful way.

ประธานาธิบดี Obama /bprà-taa-​naa-​tí-​bor-​dee Obama/ – President Obama

Thai LanguageNow that we have a noun, let’s try adding a verb.

What comes into your mind seeing this symbol? Here are a few I think of.

ไป /bpai/ – go
เดิน (ไป) /dern (bpai)/ – walk
วิ่ง (ไป) /wîng (bpai)/ – run
เดินทาง (ไป) /dern-​taang (bpai) / – travelled (to)
กลับ (จาก) /glàp (jàak)/ – return (from)

Turning symbols for verbs into Thai is easier than with other languages since we don’t need to worry about tense or person.


ไป /bpai/ – go, went, will go, has gone


ไป /bpai/ – go, goes, has gone, have gone

I am sure you can come up with some more.

Now for a destination symbol.

Thai Language

What do you see? Here is what I see.
บ้าน /bâan/ – house, home
โรงเรียน /rohng-​rian/ – school
ตลาด /dtà-làat/ – market

Or something more fancy.

บ้านเพื่อน /bâan pêuan / – my friend’s house
ตลาดนัด /dtà-làat nát/ – farmers’ market
ทำเนียบขาว /tam-nîap kăao/ – The White House

Forming Sentences…

Thai LanguageNow let’s put this together into a more complete idea. Look at the symbols below and tell me in Thai what ideas come into your head. Use the symbol meanings we have listed above to build your Thai sentence. Then try some new ideas from symbol meanings that you come up with on your own.

Here are a few examples using the above Thai words.

คน ไป ตลาด
kon bpai dtà-làat
The person went to the market.

ครู วิ่งไป บ้านเพื่อน
kroo wing bpai bâan pêuan
The teacher ran to her friend’s house.

ประธานาธิบดี Obama เดินทางไป ทำเนียบขาว
/bprà-taa-naa-tí-bor-dee Obama dern taang bpai tam-nîap kăao/
President Obama travelled to the White House.

And depending on your level of Thai you can expand the sentences.

ผม กลับ บ้าน
pŏm glàp bâan
I returned home.

ผม จะ กลับ บ้าน
pŏm jà glàp bâan
I will return home.

ผม กลับ บ้าน แล้ว
pŏm glàp bâan láew
I have already returned home.

Asking Questions…

Thai LanguageMost of our time spent studying a language is used making statements. Less time is usually spent in learning to ask questions. If we look at a statement as basically an answer to a question then we can use our symbols to help us produce questions.

All we have to do is add a symbol we are all familiar with to our set. Use the question patterns that you are already familiar with.

Now we can generate questions from our symbols.

kun-mâe bpai năi
Where did Mom go? or Where are you going, Mom?

kun-mâe bpai dtà-làat máai
Did Mom go to the market? or Mom, do you want to go to the market?

kun-mâe gulp jàak dtà-làat rĕu yang
Did Mom return from the market yet? or Has Mom returned from the market yet?

And the final step in fluency is to develop both parts of a question and answer dialog.

A: คุณแม่ไปไหน
kun-mâe bpai năi
Where did Mom go?

B: คุณแม่ไปตลาด
kun-mâe bpai dtà-làat
Mom went to the market.

A: คุณแม่กลับจากตลาดหรือยัง
kun-mâe glàp jàak dtà-làat rĕu yang
Did Mom return from the market yet?

B: คุณแม่กลับจากตลาดแล้ว
kun-mâe glàp jàak dtà-làat láew
Mom returned from the market already.

Now let’s see what you come up with.

I think you will find that at the end of this exercise if you have used the Thai you already know you will have created a number of Thai sentences rather fluently, and mostly without errors.

Create your own Symbol Stories…

Thai LanguageHere are three more symbol sentences. See what you can come up with. If you want to have a bit more fun leave a comment with your results (in written Thai or phonetic transcription).

And when you have done that then try adding the final symbol.

Hugh Leong
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Thai Vocabulary in the News

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Thai Language Thai Culture: Speaking Thai in Tenses

Thai Language

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).
เขาไม่เล่นฟุตบอล (บ่อย)
kăo mâi lên fút-​bon (bòi)

I (usually) eat rice.
(โดยปกติ) ฉันทานข้าว
(doi-​bpà-gà-dtì) chăn taan kâao

I (usually) don’t eat rice.
(โดยปกติ) ฉันไม่ทานข้าว
(doi-​bpà-gà-dtì) chăn mâi taan kâao

We visit our friends (every day).

พวกเราไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน (ทุกวัน)
pûuak-rao bpai yîiam pêuan (túk-wan)

We don’t visit our friends (every day).

พวกเราไม่ไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน (ทุกวัน)
pûuak-rao mâi bpai yîiam pêuan (túk-wan)

Present Continuous tense…

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).
เขากำลังเล่นฟุตบอล (ตอนนี้)
kăo gam-lang lên fút bon (dton-née)

I am eating (right now).
ฉันกำลังทานข้าว (เดี๋ยวนี้)
chăn gam-lang taan kâao (dĭeow née)

We are visiting our friends (at this time).
(เวลานี้) พวกเรากำลังเยี่ยมเพื่อน
(wee-laa-níi) pûuak-rao gam-lang yîiam pêuan

Past tense…

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:

ได้ /dâai/
แล้ว /láew/
ยัง /yang/
เคย /koie/

He played football.
kăo lên fút-​bon

He didn’t play football.
kăo mâi dâai lên fút bon

I (already) ate.
ฉันได้ทานข้าว (แล้ว)
chăn dâai taan kâao (láew)

I didn’t eat (yet).
ฉัน (ยัง) ไม่ได้ทานข้าว
chăn (yang) mâi dâai taan kâao

We visited our friend (this morning).
พวกเราไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน (เมื่อเช้านี้)
pûuak-rao bai yîiam pêuan (mêua cháao-née)

We didn’t visit our friend (this morning).
(เมื่อเช้านี้) พวกเราไม่ได้ไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน
(mêua cháao-née) pûuak-rao mâi dâai bai yîiam pêuan

She used to study English.
kăo koie rian paa-săa ang-grìt

She never studied English.
kăo mâi koie rian paa-săa ang-grìt


For the future we will usually add a word or two to narrow the time down more accurately. Again, there are lots of words for the future. Ones we use here are:

When the sun shines
mêua dàet-​òk

Tomorrow morning
prûng-née cháao

Next week

Special tense word: จะ /jà/

He will play football (when the sun shines).

เขาจะเล่นฟุตบอล (เมื่อแดดออก)
kăo jà lên fút bon (mêua dàet òk)

He won’t play football (when the sun shines).
เขาจะไม่เล่นฟุตบอล (เมื่อแดดออก)
kăo jà mâi lên fút bon (mêua dàet òk)

I will eat (tomorrow morning).
ฉันจะทานข้าว (พรุ่งนี้เช้า)
chăn jà taan kâao (prûng-née cháao)

I won’t eat (tomorrow morning).
ฉันจะไม่ทานข้าว (พรุ่งนี้เช้า)
chăn jà mâi taan kâao (prûng-née cháao)

We will visit our friend (next week).

พวกเราจะไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน (สัปดาห์หน้า)
pûuak-rao jà bai yîiam pêuan (sàp-daa-nâa)

We won’t visit our friend (next week).
พวกเราจะไม่ไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน (สัปดาห์หน้า)
pûuak-rao jà mâi bai yîiam pêuan (sàp-daa-nâa)

Future continuous…

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:

Many times
bòi kráng

Already today
วันนี้… แล้ว
wan-née … láew

Throughout the week
dtàlòt sàp-daa

For … years
… ปีแล้ว
… bpii láew

This week

Special tense words:

ได้ /dâai/
เคย /koie/
แล้ว /láew/
ยัง /yang/

He has played football (many times).
เขาเล่นฟุตบอล (บ่อยครั้ง)
kăo lên fút bon (bòr-yá-kráng)

He has never played football.
kăo mâi koie lên fút-​bol

I have eaten (already) today.
วันนี้ฉันทานข้าว (แล้ว)
wan-née chăn taan kâao (láew)

I haven’t eaten (yet) today.
วันนี้ฉัน (ยัง) ไม่ได้ทานข้าว
wan-née chăn (yang) mâi dâai taan kâao

We have visited our friends (throughout the week).
พวกเราไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน (ตลอดสัปดาห์)
pûuak-rao bai yîiam pêuan (dtàlòt sàp-daa)

(This week) we haven’t visited our friends.
(อาทิตย์นี้) พวกเราไม่ได้ไปเยี่ยมเพื่อน
(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
gòn wîng

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

Special tense words:

เคย /koie/
แล้ว /láew/
ก่อน /gòn/
หลังจาก /lăng jàak/

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)
ฉันทานข้าว (แล้วเราเจอกัน)
chăn taan kâao (láew rao jəə-gan)

We had already visited our friend (when he became ill).

หลังจากพวกเราเยี่ยมเพื่อนแล้ว (เขาเริ่มไม่สบาย)
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)

Passive Voice…

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:

ถูก /tùuk/
โดน /dohn/

The ball was kicked.
lôok bon tùuk dtè

The ball wasn’t kicked.
lôok bon mâi tùuk dtè

He was struck (by the ball).
เขาโดนกระแทก (โดยลูกบอล)
kăo dohn grà-tâek (doi lôok bon)

He wasn’t struck (by the ball).
เขาไม่โดนกระแทก (โดยลูกบอล)
kăo mâi dohn grà-tâek (doi lôok bon)

Tenses simplified…

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.

I eat (every day)
ผมทานข้าว (ทุกวัน)
pŏm taan kâao (túk wan)

I don’t eat (every day)
ผมไม่ทานข้าว (ทุกวัน)
pŏm mâi taan kâao (túk-wan)

I ate (yesterday)
ผมทานข้าว (เมื่อวานนี้)
pŏm taan kâao (mêua waan née)

I didn’t eat (yesterday)
ผมไม่ทานข้าว (เมื่อวานนี้)
pŏm mâi taan kâao (mêua-waan-née)

I will eat (tomorrow).
ผมทานข้าว (พรุ่งนี้)
pŏm taan kâao (prûng-níi)

I won’t eat (tomorrow).
ผมไม่ทานข้าว (พรุ่งนี้)
pŏm mâi taan kâao (prûng-níi)

I’ve already eaten.
ผมทานข้าว (แล้ว)
pŏm taan kâao (láew)

I haven’t eaten (yet).
ผม (ยัง) ไม่ทานข้าว
pŏm (yang) mâi taan kâao (láew)

So the next time someone says to you that Thai has no tenses, you might beg to differ.

This was written by Hugh Leong.
nêe kĭan doi Hugh Leong

And hopefully you’ve read it.
láe wăng wâa kun dâai àan láew

Addendum (more ways to express tenses in Thai)…

After posting the above I have been listening to what people say and I came up with some more ideas.

Another way to speak Thai in tenses is to use the time words “in the present’, “in the past”, and “in the future”. With these time words we will need to use the Thai helping word “in” ใน /nài/.

Here are some examples:


Presently (right now, in the present, at this time) he plays football.
nai bpàt-jù-ban kăo lên fút-bon


In the past (formerly) he played (used to play) football.
ในอดีตเขา (เคย) เล่นฟุตบอล
nai à-dèet kăo (koie) lên fút-bon


(In the future) He will play football.

ในอนาคตเขา (จะ) เล่นฟุตบอล
nai à-naa-kót kăo (jà) lên fút-bon

I’d like to thank Ajarn Mia (Learn2SpeakThai) who checked the Thai for accuracy and Khun Pairoj who recorded the audio.

Hugh Leong
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Thai Language Thai Culture: The Why? Series

Thai Language

Book Review – The Why? Series…

To many people, the search for the holy grail of learning to read Thai is finding a book that fulfils a number of requirements.

  • It is at the appropriate reading level for the learner.
  • It is written in straight forward language, and if possible, more spoken Thai than literary or newspaper Thai.
  • Has clear print.
  • Hold ones interest and is age appropriate.

Some really good learning material, such as the Manee Books are very good for the person just beginning to learn to read Thai. But they are basically children’s books and one can keep ones interests in the comings and goings of little children for just so long. The same goes for the “Two Language” books (สองภาษา) you can find in the children’s section of your local Thai book store.

What’s an old codger to do to find good Thai reading material past the beginner’s level that will not only hold my interest but also help me to learn how to read this fairly impossible-to-read language?

I was with a friend the other day who had just retired to Thailand. In his younger days he had spent quite a few years here and his Thai became fluent enough so the he had passed the Prathom 4 exam – something that I would probably have a hard time doing even now.

We were at a bookstore and he came across some books that he knew well. He said that they had helped him when he was first learning to read Thai.

And just like that, I had found the Holy Grail.

This was the Why” series, or in Thai สารานุกรมความรู้วิทยาศาสตร์ ฉบับการ์ตูน (Science Knowledge Encyclopedia, Cartoon Edition), Published by Nanmeebooks. The books were first written in Korean and then translated into Thai. The series contains dozens of titles such as Birds, Fish, Reptiles, Electricity, Space, Transportation, and many more.

I chose the one on birds (นก) to take for a test drive.

Thai LanguageIt’s by Nam, Choon-Ja, illustrated by Choi, Ik-Kyu, and translated into Thai by Chontichaa Pothong. Nanmeebooks. Baht 180.

Most of the books in the Why? Series have basically the same format. There are a couple of inquisitive children who ask lots of questions and an expert or two who are there to answer them. When they get down to specific descriptions there are really good drawings or photographs to help illustrate the point.

In The “Why?” Bird Book, Robin and Eagle have a long holiday weekend and are given the homework to go bird watching. And from there we learn everything and more about birds.

I chose this book because I have been an avid birdwatcher for many years so I thought that it would hold my interest. And that it did.

This book covers everything from bird behavior and bird anatomy to their feeding and nesting habits – all in colloquial Thai. It ends with information on conservation and ecology. These are not fairy tales and stories of little children’s adventures, but topics that will hold an adult’s interest.

For my vocabulary level I knew most of the words but ran into lots of new ones. When I encountered a new word I usually underlined it and then tried to decipher it in context. Then for good measure I did a dictionary lookup.

Thai Language

The above conversation goes something like this:

Let’s go see the migrating birds.
Migrating birds?
Migrate means the birds move their home during certain seasons.
They migrate to where there is food to eat.

In this case I underlined the word ถิ่นฐาน and looked up the meaning (homeland). Other interesting words were อพยพ (migrate) and ฤดูกาล (season). So you can see that even though there are children doing the talking and it is in cartoon form the vocabulary and the topic being discussed here is definitely at the level that an adult would appreciate.

Some of the really nice features of this series are:

  • The drawings and photos are clear and really help to illustrate the topic.
  • The print in the balloons is very readable.
  • The Thai in the balloons is conversational and in everyday speech.
  • There are many side bars with discussions in more technical Thai.

Thai Language

The illustration above is titled “The Many Shapes of Bird Beaks”. Here I found the word หอก (javelin, spear), and the word จะงอย was a new to me and turned out to be the very bird-specific Thai word for “beak”. The word ปาก (mouth) and จะงอย (beak) were used interchangeably which is really good for helping us to guess a word in context.

The series is written for students (Korean and later Thai) to help them increase their scientific knowledge. They probably never guessed that it could help an adult foreigner learn to read a foreign language.

If you are in search of Thai reading material that will not only help you with reading flow and vocabulary building but will also give you lots of examples of regular conversational Thai, go on down to you local Thai bookstore and take a look at the Why? series. The cover says that over 50 million have already been sold, so I think you’ll be able to find something that will peak your interest.

Since I have raised turtles and helped to keep them off the Thai dinner tables and return them to the wild, I’m think going to go back to get a copy of the Reptile Why? book.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

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