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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): Returning to Gor Gai (ก ไก่)

Andrew Biggs

This week I completed a circle that has taken me 23 years. I returned to my roots. I returned to GOR GAI (ก ไก่).

That’s the first letter of the Thai alphabet, and if you’re unhappy about all those capital letters jumping out at you on Sunday morning, be thankful you’ve even got that.

I have a great respect for anybody teaching Thai to foreigners, but you can’t speak Thai via the Roman alphabet. There are too many minefields obstructing your path to fluency.

First, the official way of rendering Thai in English has been devised to deliberately confuse any sensible foreigner. The Bangkok district that is written as “Praves” (ประเวศ), for example, should rhyme with “graves” but it fact it’s something like “Bra-wet”. And what person of normal intelligence would ever think “Phuket” (ภูเก็ต) was really “Poo-get”?!

Second, any “karaoke” (คาราโอเกะ) transliteration dispenses with the tone attached to that word, as integral to Thai as tenses are to English. How do you pronounce song when it can mean number two (สอง – rising tone), envelope (ซอง – middle), send (ส่ง – low) — or even a seedy brothel (ซ่อง – falling)?

(What if I wanted to say: “Send these two envelopes to the brothel!” It’d be written like this: “Song song song song pai song” (ส่ง สอง ซอง ส่งไป ซ่อง). Those two envelopes might end up at some karaoke bar!)

Some clever educators get around this by adding little bumps and squiggles on the transliterated words. If you’re going to invest time in learning bumps and squiggles – why not just sit down and learn the real Thai letters for god’s sake?

That was my thinking 23 years ago when I wandered into a Khon Kaen bookshop and asked: “Have you got a book that teaches me Thai letters?”

What transpired was not a happy time. If my life were a Hallmark movie you’d see me seated by an open bedroom window, happily tracing Thai letters, the sounds of traditional Thai music tinkling out of my transistor radio.

Stuff and nonsense. That first year was a nightmare.

The very first letter in the Thai alphabet is that GOR GAI, or the sound of G as in the first letter of the Thai word for “cock” … as in “cock-a-doodle-doo”, dear reader. Where is your mind on this Sabbath?

I traced GOR GAI over and over on page one of that textbook designed for primary school students. Once finished I had this tremendous sense of elation; I knew my very first letter of the Thai alphabet.

I had come out of the linguistic closet — I was bilingual and proud!

I crashed back down to earth when I snuck a look ahead and saw there were 44 letters to learn. Even at three a day, it would take me a little over two weeks to learn them all – an eternity when you’re backpacking in your twenties.

I employed a Thai teacher to help me. I heard from a mutual friend she became a Buddhist nun in 2002. My only surprise was it took so long between teaching me and donning the white cloth.

“Your language has too many letters. I’m only learning the first half,” I pronounced the first time we met. When I came to my senses and learned them all, she then revealed that two of the letters were obsolete. They remain in the Thai alphabet but nobody uses them anymore.

“You … mean … I … wasted … two-thirds of a day … learning letters … I’ll never use!?!?” I asked, as incredulous as I was menacing.

I also hit the roof when I learned there were three ways of writing a “T”; imagine how my teacher must have dreaded revealing there were FIVE ways to write an “S”.

Language reflects culture. At least I was starting to understand why it took seven Robinson staff to ring up my purchase of a pair of socks, or why there are 650 politicians in Parliament when really only 30 are ever attending, let alone doing any work.

When I got to the end of the 44, my ajarn (อาจารย์) dropped another bombshell.

“Now for the vowels.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, throwing down my pen. “In the English alphabet we incorporate the vowels into the alphabet. We don’t separate them!”

“You’re not learning English,” she replied crisply. That shut me up.

Well look on the bright side, I thought. English has five letters that act as vowels. At least there wouldn’t be so many to learn.

Thirty-friggin’-two of ‘em!

My teacher tried to smooth over things by explaining there were actually “only” 18 along with compounds and such. Oh well that makes life easier, doesn’t it? Excuse me while I go rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I was three months into my Thai experience, and quickly becoming a finalist in the Mr Boring Farang pageant of 1990.

While all my western friends were out gallivanting around Silom, calling me from the phone box outside Pussy Galore, I stayed at home and learnt yet another way of writing the vowel sound of “AH”.

When I finally memorized all 76 sounds and letters, I looked contented. Not so my ajarn. She had nothing but foreboding on her face, like a villager whose hut is right next to an active volcano.

“And now,” she said. “… the tones.”

We had to return to those 44 consonants. You see in Thai, some of those consonants are high class. Some are the hapless middle class, but the vast majority are dirty low class consonants. These classes govern the tones.

Spotting the class differences in consonants was nowhere near as easy as spotting it in the Thais themselves. There is no khunying hairstyle or “Na Ayutthaya” (ณ.อยุธยา) tacked onto the end of the letter to make it high class. I had to go back and learn ‘em all over again.

On day one, when I learned GOR GAI, I thought I knew it all. At this stage, the more I delved into Thai, the more I realized I was out of my depth. I knew absolutely nothing.

You would think that this overload of information would build until I exploded like some Khaosan Road backpacker trying to get directions from a tuk-tuk (ตุ๊ก ๆ) driver.

No. Incredibly, the opposite happened.

It all started to gel.

I began being able to reading Thai words. I could hear the nuances in the tones as people spoke. Sentences started to poke out of the cacophony of sound.

After six months there was an epiphany, and my hard work started to pay dividends.

It is now 23 years later, and to this day, I still learn a new Thai word every day. I make mistakes and mix up the tones, especially if it’s the morning after a particularly long session chewing the fat with dear Uncle Smirnoff.

That 23-year-old circle closed this week as I started a new TV show on cable (MCOT World, Channel 99) teaching Thai. It’s called Tongue Thai’d, a title I proudly thought up myself until I found out half the Thai restaurants in the world have that name, not to mention Catherine Wentworth’s wonderful website www.womenlearnThai.com which is a mine of linguistic information.

I must say I felt a tingle of nostalgia as I kicked off episode one, explaining the letter GOR GAI, and returning me to where I started off. Only now I was the teacher, not the student.

What a great thing I did all those years ago. And who would have thought a mere 44 consonants and 32 vowels would open up a new world that I remain in to this day. I got through with a little perseverance, plus the knowledge that if 65 million Thais can speak the language, why can’t I?

And you … dear reader?

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Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): The Boat Sinks in the Mouth of the Bay

Andrew Biggs

There is a billboard that caught my attention this week while sitting in a taxi flitting in and out of four lanes of traffic on the three-lane city expressway.

It depicts a young man and woman sitting back to back desolately on a bed. It was clear they were desolate by the hang-dog expression on the man’s face, and the ankle-clutching stance of the woman.

It’s not often we see desolation on inner-city billboards. I’m far more used to billboards featuring the lily-white happy complexions of Thailand’s young actors and actors pushing collagen drinks or bird nest soups or any other of the myriad charlatan products out there.

What also grabbed my attention was the Thai writing next to the unhappy couple.

Reua lom bahk ao.

The boat sinks in the mouth of the bay.

What a curious headline!

“What does that mean?” I asked my taxi driver, a happy middle-aged fellow who had been enjoying practicing his English on me until I feigned a cell phone call to shut him up.

Reua lom bahk ao?” he asked back. He broke into a great middle-aged Thai smile. “Oh! You know? You know?” He paused and flashed me a leering smile. “You know?”

“No, I don’t; that’s why I’m asking you.”

“You and lady same-same but you no good. You go first but you very fart. No good, you know?”

I have been in Thailand too long; I understood exactly what he was talking about.

Premature ejaculation.

If ever there was an example of my theory that language doesn’t get much more vivid and descriptive than Thai, then there it was.

I’ve spent 25 years in this country and here was yet another colorful idiomatic phrase that completely passed me by. Nobody had ever said it to me before. And thank God for that, judging by its meaning.

No wonder the couple on the billboard looked so dejected! No wonder the woman was clutching her sturdy ankles; that’s about the only sturdy thing she was going to be clutching that evening for any satisfactory length of time.

(And if you’re new in town, the taxi driver wasn’t that bad in English. You just have to know that ‘same-same’ has the added meaning of ‘sex’ here, while ‘fart’ is in reality ‘fast’ since Thais have difficulty with consonant clusters consisting of S and T.)

How clever of the Thai language to equate premature ejaculation with the sinking of a boat just as it was to enter a harbor. When I got to my office I googled the phrase and sure enough, there it was, hundreds and thousands of times over on the internet.

I did get it the wrong way around. The boat is leaving the harbor, not entering it, as my School Director and Senior Sales Manager, both females, pointed out to me over lunch that day.

“It sinks before it even sets out on the journey,” my School Director explained as she popped a serendipitous Isarn sausage into her mouth.

“I thought it to be more like the train entering the tunnel,” I said. “It’s the boat entering the mouth of the harbor. You know?” Curse that taxi driver! He’s got me saying it now!

“Or the sparrow,” chimed my mannish Senior Sales Manager. She was enjoying a lunch of fried oysters, as was her wont. “When the sparrow has a drink of water.”

I gazed at her intently, expecting her to continue, but it appeared she was finished with her explanation.

“And?” I asked.

“That’s all,” she said. “The sparrow drinks water. That’s what we say in Thai. Nok krajok jib nam.”

“Yes,” said my Director, eyeing a second sausage. “The sparrow takes a sip of water.”

I don’t know, dear reader, but perhaps I’m just a little slower than the rest of humanity. How on earth does a drinking sparrow relate to premature ejaculation?

Being the boss, I was able to demand an explanation.

“Have you ever seen a sparrow drink water?” my Sales Manager asked. Before I could answer, she was making mannish pecking movements with her right hand towards her plate of fried oysters, accompanied by a very vocal: “Jib! Jib! Jib! Jib!”

“It’s the same as the boat in the harbor,” added my Director, winking, and I fell further down into the Stupid Hole.

It took them five minutes to pull me out.

The idea is that the sparrow’s pecking at water is a very short, spasmodic movement, not unlike a man who finishes quickly during sex. I find that metaphor a little tenuous and not as imaginative as the boat one, but still, how great is the Thai language!

The conversation didn’t stop there.

“What about the one about the dove?” asked Director to Sales Manager. “In Thai we say: nok khao mai khan, or ‘The dove does not sing’.”

“You can use that when you feel excited for sex but there is no change – down there,” said my Sales Manager, motioning towards my crutch. Despite every conceivable attempt not to, I reddened ever so slightly.

“Speaking of birds, what about the idiom ‘washing the face of the chicken’?” asked my Director.

“Stop right there,” I said. “I’m eating.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Oh what the hell; tell me,” I said and they explained, in polite Thai, how it referred to the erect state of a male upon awakening, if indeed such things can be explained in polite Thai.

“That one is not considered a negative phrase,” said the Sales Manager. “Nothing is stronger than the boat sinking.”

Later that day I was back on the freeway and noticed that the billboard in question wasn’t on its own. It was part of three big signs, the first being the sad couple. The second explained in large letters that NEARLY ONE IN THREE MEN SUFFER FROM PREMATURE EJACULATION and there was a website to visit.

The last one revealed the boat had been dredged up out of the harbor, because in that one the couple were now smiling in each other’s arms, as if their love would last forever, which is a relief since it appeared to have lasted three seconds at the most in the first one.

I have a very old book of common Thai proverbs and sayings that are so entertaining, and not just of a sexual nature.

In Thai, for example, if you “make a sculpture out of water” you are telling lies, since this phrase dates back to an era before we could freeze water into ice-cubes. Yet you still hear it today.

If you “build a house over a tree stump”, you are committing bigamy. A jack of all trades is somebody who “knows things like a duck” … whatever that means.

If you “find a good tree after your axe is broken”, you fall in love with a beautiful woman after you’re already married. A “jar of pickled garlic on legs” is a short fat girl.

When you look at all those, a boat sinking in the mouth of the harbor isn’t so out of place.

I have only one reservation. Why is the man in the billboard a farang while the woman is Thai? Would it have been too close to the bone to have used a Thai male? Just sayin’.

Our story should end there, but it has an interesting footnote.

Remember my casual google of reua lom bahk ao? That was three days ago.

Ever since, I have been bombarded with ads for every erectile dysfunction clinic in town, and believe me there are lots of them. In these modern times Big Brother is not only watching me — he is waiting for my boat to sink.

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Thai Slang You Might Need to Know: Free Audio and Spreadsheet Downloads Included

Benjawan Poomsan Becker

Benjawan Poomsan Becker (of Paiboon Publishing fame) has a Thai and Lao Interpreters’ Study Group ล่ามไทย ນາຍພາສາລາວ on Facebook where they share tips and secrets of the trade.

While Benjawan hasn’t lived in Thailand for years she’s passionate about keeping up with new additions to the Thai language. And whenever she comes across new Thai slang, she adds it to the exceptional Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook.

Interpreters and translators will obviously be aware of homegrown slang but they need to have the translations at the tips of their tongues. Understanding Thai slang is also a great way for students to learn more about the language as well.

Just recently Benjawan shared her shortlist of Thai slang with the Interpreters’ Study Group.

With permission from Benjawan (thanks!) below is her list. The notes in the parenthesis are mine (not set in stone) so if you have suggestions, please, don’t be shy (contact me).

At the bottom of this post you’ll find two files to download: audio and spreadsheet (English, Thai script, and transliteration included). Of course, audio files for each of the words (recorded by Benjawan) can also be found in the dictionary. Have fun! I sure did.

กรอบ /gròp/ dirt poor
กร่อย /gròi/ boring
กระตั๊ก /grà dták/ abundant
กระต่ายตื่นตูม /grà-dtàai dtèun dtoom/ chicken little and the sky is falling (rabbit frightened of noise)
กิ๊ก /gík/ boyfriend, girlfriend, lover in a non-serious relationship
เกิด /gèrt/ have a chance to shine
แก้มือ /gâe meu/ try to do better when given a second chance (to fix a new hand)
ไก่อ่อน /gài òn/ inexperienced person (innocent chicken)
ขาประจำ /kăa bprà-jam/ regular customer
ขี้เต่า /kêe dtào/ armpit
ขี้เลื่อย /kêe lêuay/ dull minded (sawdust)
ขึ้นกล้อง /kêun glông/ photogenic (rise in the camera)
เขี้ยวลากดิน /kîeow lâak din/ tough, not easily give in (long in the fang)
ควาย /kwaai/ stupid person (buffalo)
ค่าโสหุ้ย /kâa sŏh-hûi/ overhead (cost / expense – Chinese origin?)
คุณไสย /kun-săi/ black magic
เครื่องร้อน /krêuang rón/ act immediately with enthusiasm (hot engine)
งก /ngók/ stingy
งงเต็ก /ngong dtèk/ confused
งูๆปลาๆ /ngoo ngoo bplaa bplaa/ knowing very little about something (snake snake fish fish)
จ๋อย /jŏi/ be sad and dejected (to be pale)
จับกบ /jàp gòp/ stumble and fall (to catch a frog)
จ๊าบ /jáap/ cool (Onomatopoeic word?)
จิ๊ก /jík/ steal little things (the sound of pecking something?)
เจ๊ /jáy/ older sister (Chinese word)
เจ๊ง /jéng/ going out of business (collapse)
เจ๋ง /jĕng/ cool, great!
เจาะลึก /jòr léuk/ investigate thoroughly (to drill deep)
แจ๋ว /jăew/ wonderful! (Onomatopoeic word?)
แฉ /chăe/ reveal (possibly from English ‘share’)
ชวด /chûat/ miss, lose out on (rat, animal of the Thai zodiac)
ชะนี /chá-nee/ “woman” used by gay men (gibbons sound like ผัว /pŭa/, husband)
ช้างน้ำ /cháang náam/ big, fat person (hippo)
เช้งกะเด๊ะ /cháyng gà dé/ beautiful and sexy woman (Onomatopoeic word?)
เชย /choie/ old-fashioned
เชียร์แขก /chia kàek/ try to get customers to buy (English loanword: ‘cheer’ on guests)
ซวย /suay/ unlucky
ซา /saa/ subside
ซ่า /sâa/ showy
ซิ่ง /sîng/ brave and hip in expressing oneself (shortened from ‘racing’)
เซ้ง /sáyng/ lease (Chinese origin?)
เซ็ง /seng/ dull
ดอกฟ้า /dòk fáa/ high-ranking woman of rich and powerful family (sky flower)
ดองงาน /dong ngaan/ procrastinate on one’s work (pickling the job)
ดำน้ำ /dam náam/ guess (diving without knowing what you’ll hit)
ดีแตก /dee dtàek/ turning out to be not so good (broken goodness)
ดูไม่จืด /doo mâi jèut/ not looking good (look not bland?)
เด็กกะโปโล /dèk gà-bpoh-loh/ dirty, uncivilized and innocent child (childish child)
เด็กแนว /dèk naew/ young person that follows all the new trends (stylish kids)
เดิ้น /dêrn/ stylish and modern, go-go (shortened from ‘modern’)
เดี้ยง /dîang/ dead, out of order, broken
ไดโนเสาร์ /dai-noh-săo/ old-fashioned (dinosaur, English loanword)
ตกม้าตาย /dtòk máa dtaai/ fail before reaching success (fall down from horse and die)
ตงฉิน /dtong-chĭn/ work honestly (Chinese origin?)
ต้ม /dtôm/ bamboozle, trick, deceive (to boil)
ต่อยหอย /dtòi hŏi/ very talkative (to keep punching a shell to break it)
ตัวซวย /dtua suay/ jinx (unlucky person)
ตาถั่ว /dtaa tùa/ be careless (peanut eyes)
ติ๊งต๊อง /dtíng-dtóng/ wacky (Onomatopoeic word?)
ติดดิน /dtìt din/ down-to-earth, earthy (to stick to the ground)
ตีนแมว /dteen maew/ burglar (cat feet – cats walk softly, soundless)
เตะฝุ่น /dtè fùn/ unemployed (to kick the dust)
เต่าล้านปี /dtào láan bpee/ very old-fashioned person (million year old turtle)
แต๊ะอั๋ง /dtáe-ăng/ grope or touch sexually (Chinese origin?)
ทึ่ง /têung/ amazed (Onomatopoeic word?)
ทุเรศ /tú-râyt/ obscene, shabby (ugly)
นกเขา /nók kăo/ cock, penis (dove)
นกต่อ /nók dtòr/ informant (bird decoy)
นั่งนก /nâng nók/ sleep while sitting (sitting bird)
น้ำเน่า /nám nâo/ soap operas (drains are not filled with good water)
นิ้ง /níng/ superb (Onomatopoeic word?)
เนี้ยบ /níap/ perfect, smart
บอกผ่าน /bòk pàan/ inflate the price of something
บ๊อง บ๊องๆ /bóng · bóng bóng/ crazy (Onomatopoeic word?)
บ้าๆบอๆ /bâa bâa bor bor/ crazy (Onomatopoeic word?)
ปล่อยไก่ /bplòi gài/ embarrassed, make silly or careless mistakes (to release chickens)
ปอดแหก /bpòt hàek/ chicken-hearted (broken lungs)
ปั้นเรื่อง /bpân rêuang/ make up a story (to mold a story)
ปากหอยปากปู /bpàak hŏi bpàak bpoo/ someone who gossips and causes damage to others (shell mouth, crab mouth)
ปิ๊ง /bpíng/ click – between lovers (Onomatopoeic word?)
แป๊บ /bpáep/ one little moment (Onomatopoeic word?)
ผีเสื้อสมุทร /pĕe sêua sà-mùt/ big ugly woman (character from Thai literature)
เผา /păo/ gossip about, talk behind one’s back (to burn someone)
ฝรั่งจ๋า /fà-ràng jăa/ Western idolizer
ฝอย /fŏi/ chat, brag
เพื่อนซี้ /pêuan sée/ very close friend
แพะรับบาป /páe ráp bàap/ scapegoat (goat sin)
ภาษาดอกไม้ /paa-săa dòk máai/ language of love (flower language)
ม้ามืด /máa mêut/ dark horse (unexpected winner)
มีกะตังค์ /mee gà dtang/ rich (to have coins – gà dtang comes from satang สตางค์ which means coins/money)
มือขึ้น /meu kêun/ having good luck (hand up)
มือตก /meu dtòk/ having bad luck (hand down)
เมาท์ /mao/ speak with friends for fun, chat (shortened from ‘mouth’)
แมงดา /maeng-daa/ pimp (insect, giant waterbug)
ไม่ใจ /mâi jai/ coward (no heart)
ไม่เป็นสับปะรด /mâi bpen sàp-bpà-rót/ bad tasting or low quality (not a pineapple)
ยาบ้า /yaa bâa/ methamphetamine, meth, amphetamine, speed (crazy medicine)
ร้อนตับแตก /rón dtàp dtàek/ darn hot (row of dried nipa palm leaves used as a roof – doesn’t break but feels like it)
รู้อย่างเป็ด /róo yàang bpèt/ jack of all trades, master of none (to know like a duck)
เรื่องขี้ผง /rêuang kêe pŏng/ easy matter or trivial (story dust)
ลองของ /long kŏng/ try something usually bad
ลักไก่ /lák gài/ cheat in a game (to steal a chicken)
ลูกมือ /lôok meu/ helper or assistant (small hand)
วาบหวาม /wâap wăam/ provoking sensation or sexually explicit (Onomatopoeic word?)
เวอร์ /wer/ too much (shortened from ‘over’).
สวิงเด้ง /sà-wĭng dâyng/ scream with excitement
สะเออะ /sà-ùh/ meddle
สันดาน /săn daan/ trait
ไส้แห้ง /sâi hâeng/ destitute (dry intestines – to be starving)
หน้าโหล /nâa lŏh/ common looking face (a dozen faces – everything the same)
หมดตูด /mòt dtòot/ dead broke (finished pooping)
หมวย /mŭay/ young Chinese woman (Chinese origin?)
หมาวัด /măa wát/ poor man (temple dog)
หมาหมู่ /măa mòo/ group of dangerous men (a group of dogs)
หมู /mŏo/ easy (pig)
หยวน /yŭan/ give in reluctantly
หลุดโลก /lùt lôhk/ eccentric or quirky (out of this world)
หวย /hŭay/ lottery, lotto
ห่วย /hùay/ bad, no good
ห่วยแตก /hùay dtàek/ crap! (bad broken)
ห้องกง /hông gong/ jail (cell room – hông gong rhymes with Hong Kong)
หายต๋อม /hăai-dtŏm/ disappear for a long time (disappear + the sound of throwing something into the water)
แห้ว /hâew/ lose one’s opportunity, to blow it (chestnut)
เฮง /hayng/ fortunate, lucky (Chinese origin?)
เฮี้ยน /hían/ manifesting the power of an evil spirit
ไฮโซ /hai soh/ high-class (shortened from ‘high society’)


Speak Like a Thai 1&2…

Many of the words (with phrases) in this list can be found in Benjawan’s Speak Like a Thai series.

Speak Like a Thai Volume 1
Speak Like a Thai Volume 2

Smartphone Apps: Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook…

There is no better Thai dictionary with audio and phrases than the Talking Thai-Eng-Thai Dictionary by Paiboon Publishing and Word in the Hand. It’s an amazing resource that keeps on getting better. Most of the slang used in this post will be in the dictionary.

iOS app: Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook
Android: Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook

Thai slang download files…

Spreadsheet Download (zip): Thai Slang To know – 498kb
Spreadsheet Download (pdf): Thai Slang To know – 80kb
Audio Download (zip): Thai Slang To know – 1.9mg zip

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place them on other websites).

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Bab.la’s New (Community Driven) Online Thai-English Dictionary

Bab.la's Dictionary

Congrats to Bab.la! They’ve now added Thai-English to their massive collection of crowdsourced online dictionaries, making the Thai language number 42.

Just check it out!: Bab.la’s new online Thai-English Dictionary

About bab.la: bab.la is a language project by Andreas Schroeter and Patrick Uecker.

The idea has been on Andreas’ mind for quite some time. During his high school and university years he lived in Canada, France, Sweden and the USA. He noticed that just knowing the exact translation often doesn’t really help. You really need to “live” the language to come up with the right word.

Andreas has been collecting dictionaries from different languages for a long time. Putting the things together was just a natural step: Starting a portal where language lovers can meet and exchange their ideas and learn languages from each other.

Who is a better teacher than a native speaker who likes to share his knowledge?

Side note: To support the foreign language community, Bab.la hosts the amazing Top 100 Language Lovers Competition each year. It’s a huge effort (kudos to their team).

Whether your goal is to get your head around some basic Thai survival phrases for your travels around the country, or if you plan to stay in the longer term and need a more in-depth understanding, the bab.la Thai-English dictionary will come in handy.

Did you know that you can contribute to bab.la’s dictionaries? By joining the bab.la community, you can suggest new words and verify words contributed by others. You can also ask for grammar, translation, spelling or pronunciation help in babla’s forum.

For fun, be sure to check out bab.la’s infographic sharing interesting facts about the Thai language and the Thai culture.

Again, congrats to bab.la! I’ve been patiently waiting for this to happen :)

Twitter: @babla
Website: en.bab.la
Blog: lexiophiles.com
Facebook: babla.languages
Dictionary: Thai-English Dictionary

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Thai Style: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad

Thai Style

Feeling Like a Thai Introduction…

You may have read my first post, Be Happy, in my Feeling Like A Thai Series and it may have made you feel a bit downhearted when seeing so many different feeling words to learn in order to express yourself naturally in Thai. When you think you can express yourself quite well sometimes you may be misunderstood by native speakers and/or do not understand why they react in such a way when you feel differently.

To elaborate, to feel like a Thai I mean to understand how Thais would think and feel towards different situations. In my opinion, you probably would never be able to feel like native Thais unless you have been living, working and socialising with Thais for decades and/or have Thai family since in order to understand how natives think and feel, you should understand Thai culture, customs, beliefs, personality, attitudes and the ways Thais express themselves. To understand these aspects can take a life time. Moreover, words can not always be translated directly into another languages. To understand a word you need to understand the elaborated meanings of that word.

For example, if you were looking in a phrase book or in a dictionary for a Thai translation of the word ‘sorry’, most of the time you probably translate the meaning as ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôd/ however, did you know that this is only used when you would like to make an apology to someone and not when you feel sorry when you hear sad news, in which case we would use the word เสียใจ /sĕar-jai/. For that reason, you should also learn to look up the definition; a statement of the exact meaning of a word, not just a direct translation. Personally, I believe a good language book or good dictionary should include comprehensive definitions, usage explanations and example sentences to help you correctly understand the meaning of new words.

There are many factors, as stated above, that may effect how and when to use different feeling words. Therefore, in this series, I write a list of different types of feelings to help you to use correct words to indicate your feeling in Thai language as well as explanations on how and when to use them. There are six posts in total; ‘Be happy’, ‘Don’t be sad’, ‘Oh no! A Thai is angry!’, ‘So scary!’, ‘I’m confused. What have I done wrong?’ and lastly, ‘Wheel of Feelings’.

For those who haven’t read my first post, I suggest you to have a read before learning the vocabulary in this post. There are principles and grammar points that you need to understand to help you correctly construct a sentence to express your feelings. After reading that, you are ready to continue with this one. Good luck and don’t feel discouraged!

Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad…

Grammar point: In language, there is not always a direct feeling verb that can be used to indicate one’s feeling. We sometimes use other types of words, e.g. modifier (adjective or adverbs) or nouns, to try to describe our feelings as best as we can and there are certain grammar rules you should know. The following are different ways to construct a sentence to indicate one’s feeling.

Direct verb / Direct form of verb (Active Voice)…

เขาเสียใจ /kăo sĕar-jai/ = He/She is sad.

เสียใจ /sĕar-jai/ is a direct feeling verb which can be used after a subject to clarify the subject’s feeling.

More examples:

เขาเศร้าใจ /kăo săo-jai/ = He/She is sorrowful.
เขาเหนื่อยใจ /kăo nùeay-jai/ = He/She is drained.
เขาอับอาย /kăo ub-aai = He/She is disgraced.

Note:

1) Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun e.g. เขาไม่เสียใจ /kăo mâi sĕar-jai/ = He/She is not sad.

2) Negative in grammar & logic (of a word, clause, or proposition) is to express denial, negation, or refutation; stating or asserting that something is not the case.

Expressing one’s feeling by using quality modifiers (adjective or adverb)…

เขารู้สึกแย่ /kăo rûu-sùek yâe/ = He/she feels bad/terrible.

Feeling verb รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/ = to feel.

แย่ /yâe/ is a quality modifier (adjective or adverb) meaning be bad, be terrible and is not a direct feeling verb. Therefore you need to use the word รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/, meaning to feel, which is a direct feeling verb used after a subject to clarify that the subject feels as in the stated quality modifier.

More Examples:

เขารู้สึกล้มเหลว /kăo rûu-sùek /ó’m-lăew/ = He/She feels defeated.
เขารู้สึกไร้ค่า /kăo rûu-sùek rái-kâa/ = He/She feels worthless.
เขารู้สึกต่ำต้อย /kăo rûu-sùek dtùm-dtôi/ = He/She feels humbled.

Note: Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun e.g. เขาไม่รู้สึกแย่ /kăo mâi rûu-sùek yâe/ = He/she does not feel bad/terrible.

Expressing one’s feeling by using a state noun…

1) เขารู้สึกทุกข์ /kăo rûu-sùek tóok/ = He/She feels miserable.
2) เขาเป็นทุกข์ /kăo bpe’n tóok/ = He/She is in misery.
3) เขามีทุกข์ /kăo mee tóok/ = He/She has miserableness.

All three = He/She are unhappy, distressed or in misery.

1) Feeling verb รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/ = to feel
ทุกข์ /tóok/ is a state noun meaning adversity, misery, hardship, suffering and is not a direct feeling verb. Therefore you need to use the word รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/, meaning to feel, which is a direct feeling verb used after a subject to clarify that subject feels something as sentence 1 above.

2) Status / state of being verb เป็น /bpe’n/ = to be, is/am/are (used in front of a noun). We can also describe that a person be in the state of having adversity as sentence 2 above.

3) Existence verb มี /mee/ = to have/has/had, to own, to possess, there is/are/was/were, consist of, contain of (used in from of a noun), to undergo. Or we describe that a person has or undergo adversity in ones mind as sentence 3 above.

More examples:

เขาเป็นแผลในใจ /kăo bpe’n plăe nai jai/ = He/She be in the state of having a wound in the heart (feels wounded).

เขามีแผลในใจ /kăo mee plăe nai jai/ = He/She has a wound in the heart (feels wounded).

เขาไม่มีความสุข /kăo mâi mee kwaam+sóok/ = He/She doesn’t have happiness. He/she is not content. He/she is unhappy with life.

Note: Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun. Therefore we would not say ‘เขารู้สึกไม่ทุกข์ /kăo rûu-sùek mâi tóok/’.

Expressing one’s feeling by using an abstract noun…

(existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence)

1) เขา(รู้สึก)มีภาระหนักหน่วง /kăo (rûu-sùek) mee paa-rá nùk-nùang/ = He/She feels having a heavy burden. He/She feels undergoing a heavy burden.

2a) เขา(รู้สึก)มีความทุกข์ /kăo (rûu-sùek) mee kwaam+tóok/ = He/She feels having adversity. He/She feels undergoing adversity.

2b) รู้สึกมี /rûu-sùek mee/ = to feel having/undergoing or มี /mee/ = (see explanation above).

1) ภาระ /paa-rá/ is an abstract noun meaning burden and is not a direct feeling verb therefore you need to use the word (รู้สึก)มี /(rûu-sùek) mee/ after a subject to clarify that subject feels or have/undergo something.

2) ความทุกข์ /kwaam+tóok/ is an abstract noun meaning adversity, misery, hardship, suffering and is not a direct feeling verb therefore you need to use the word (รู้สึก)มี /(rûu-sùek) mee/ after a subject to clarify that subject feels or have/undergo something.

Note:

1) You do not need to say รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/ with abstract noun if the explanation obviously exhibits one’s feeling.

2) We cannot say เขารู้สึกภาระ /kăo rûu-sùek paa-rá/, as it would mean ‘He/She feels burden’ which is weird to say.

3) We also cannot say เขาเป็นภาระ /kăo bpe’n paa-rá/ as it would mean ‘He/She is a burden’ not ‘‘He/She feel/is burdened’.

4) Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun. Therefore we can either say: ‘เขารู้สึกไม่มีภาระหนักหน่วง /kăo rûu-sùek mâi mee paa-rá/ = He/She feels not having a burden. He/She feels not undergoing a burden’ or ‘เขาไม่รู้สึกมีภาระหนักหน่วง /kăo mâi rûu-sùek mee paa-rá/ = He/She does not feel having a burden. He/She does not feel undergoing a burden.’

Although, the two sentences above have subtle different meanings they can exhibit the same feeling.

Downloads: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad…

Same as with the previous post, Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy, this resource is enormous, making it impossible to include everything here. Instead, the 25 pages filled with examples and audio files are in downloads for you to enjoy.

Pdf: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad: 402kb
Audio: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad: 9.8mg

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place on other websites).

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Thai Time: Using Pronouns Like a Pro (Part 1: How to Say ‘I’ in Thai)

Bingo Lingo

Using pronouns like a pro…

“I” for males is ผม /pǒm/ and for females is ดิฉัน /dichán/, “you” is คุณ /kun/, and “he” and “she” are เค้า /káo/. Every student knows that. Every student uses these. That’s how the Thais do it. Or do they?

One of the blessings of the English language is the ease of the choice of pronouns. It is generally agreed that there are 7: I, we, you, he, she, it and they (we’ll put vernacular variations such as “one”, “y’all”, “youse” aside). There are only 3 factors that govern the choice of these pronouns: person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), number (singular or plural) and sex (masculine, feminine, or non-human neuter).

And that’s it. “I” will always be “I” no matter who “I” am. “You” will always be “you” whether “you” are a president or a beggar. However, if you have even a little bit of knowledge of the Thai language, you must have at least heard that there are OODLES more pronouns than just 7. If a learner asks “How do you translate the pronoun XXX into Thai?”, they will get something like this as a result:

Bingo Lingo

The tabulated mess above is caused by the Thai pronoun system which reflects the interconnected relationships amongst Thai people. Thai people’s choice of pronouns is NEVER absolute; they will choose a pronoun that suits the situation and the relationship between them and the person they’re speaking to. They can refer to themselves and others in many different ways.

Bingo LingoAt this point, you would probably think, “Yeah, it’s all well and lovely that Thai language is so profound, I get it, but please just give me one word for each English pronoun to use, just one word!” After doing some quick look-up on your favourite phrasebook, your wish is granted:

And I think that these equivalents are a good place to start. When you start learning a language, no one wants to have the entire grammar book shoved down their throat. You tear off each page, chew, swallow, and digest. These words are perfectly functional and will get the job done. However, learners will benefit greatly from the ability to shuffle between different pronouns appropriately, as the ability to do so is another milestone that will move you up a few steps from “poot Thai daai nit noi”, and you will convince Thai people you have an understanding not only of their language but of Thailand’s social structure, which encourages Thais to speak to you in Thai. If you sound natural then Thais will think you ‘get’ them.

But before we go into each individual word, let’s look at some of the factors that influence the choice of pronouns.

Factors that govern the choice of Thai pronouns…

This is a deep, hard, complex subject to touch upon. I do not dare to claim I have it all figured out and certainly cannot provide you the perfect formulae for the choice of pronouns. It seems there are countless variables at work when it comes to this, but I can give you what I think of as the most important for determining your relationship with whomever you’re conversing with. So here goes:

Person: This factor is universal for all languages, not just Thai. The 1st person is the speaker (or yourself in this case), the 2nd person is the person you are speaking to, and the 3rd person is the person you mention while speaking to the 2nd person.

Sex: Obviously. Some pronouns can tell you the gender of the person being referred to. Everyone knows ผม /pǒm/ is for male and ดิฉัน /dichán/ is for female. However, a lot of Thai pronouns can be used to refer to either sex, such as เขา /káo/ which can either refer to the male or female 3rd person.

Formality: The situation or circumstance people are in restricts the way in which they refer to one other. You might call your friend such obscene nicknames in private, but when you refer to him during a formal quarterly meeting—for whatever reason—you will most definitely have to refer to him as ‘Mr. (followed by surname)’. Formality also comes from your audience. Rude nicknames that you give to your friend can’t be used when both of you are talking to your university professor. A respected individual brings about a formal air wherever they go, so take that into account.

Respect: In Thailand, you would want to express your modesty to people who are ranked high in the social hierarchy, be it through age, authority, or other criteria. This can be done in two ways: address the listener or the mentioned individual with a respectful pronoun and/or refer to yourself with a humble pronoun. Beware however, as excessive reverence can be seen as sarcasm.

Politeness: A lot of people seem to mix this one up with the respect factor. Being polite means that you’re following social norms because you want to show the world that you’re good-mannered and educated, while being respectful means that you want to display some kind of reverence to a particular individual because society dictates that they deserve it. Politeness is more about ‘expressing your virtue’ but respect is more about ‘expressing your subservience’.

Familiarity: You wouldn’t call a guy you just met ‘Toby Boo Boo’. That would be such an egregious violation of personal space. This factor is not really apparent in English, but in Romance languages there are pronouns designated for different levels of intimacy: tu-vous in French, tú-usted in Spanish, and so on (for reference: “T-V distinction” by Brown & Gilman, 1960). In Thai, there are also pronouns you reserve for people you don’t know well and pronouns you exclusively use with those you are close to.

Please note that I’m missing the ‘Number’ factor from this article, because most pronouns in Thai can be used to refer to a single person or a group of people. If you must express that you’re referring to more than just 1 person, you can stick the พวก /pûak-/ prefix in front of that pronoun. However, the reality is that Thai people do not use it that much and I imagine if you’re here reading this, you want to speak like a native speaker, not the Thai language that follows English’s grammatical rules (the only exception being เรา /rao/ which I’ll talk about in the pronoun list).

There is also another important factor: ‘Moods & attitudes’. Our state of mind and our attitude towards people or things are reflected in our speech. This is how humans can read each other; through their rhetoric. You know your Mum is in a good mood when you’re referred to as ‘Ben honey’ and you know her wrath is about to rain down upon you when that turns to ‘Benjamin’. However, we’re not going to talk much about it in this article because of its complicated nature. For instance, some forms of moods can change the speaker’s intention entirely. To give you an example, while the word คุณ /kun/ shows politeness [+polite], it implies that you and the person you’re speaking to are not that close [-intimate]. However, if it’s meant as a sarcasm or irony towards your friend (like when you’re being extra polite to your best friend as a joke), suddenly it is not polite [-polite] but very familiar [+intimate]. As you can see, this is going to be problematic for our simplistic, box-ticking method, so I’ll leave it out until someone cares enough to do a proper analysis on it.

How to say ‘I’ in Thai…

With the factors explained above combined, you can read through this list to see what attributes each pronoun has. I’ll also give a short description and concrete examples of interpersonal and situational context where the pronoun may be deemed appropriate. If that factor has blank (-) at any pronoun, it means that that factor isn’t really relevant and the pronoun can be used in either situation.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the 1st person pronouns first.

Some 1st person pronouns also have a counterpart which is normally used in the 2nd person as its pair. I’ll note which word each pronoun is paired with, if any.

Let’s start!

ผม /pŏm/
Person: 1st
Sex: Male
Formality: Yes
Respectful: Yes
Polite: Yes
Familiar: No

If you’re a guy, you’ve probably used this word hundreds of time by now. This very convenient male pronoun for men can be used with pretty much everyone and will never offend anyone. However, keep in mind that ผม /pǒm/ carries an air of formality, so while it is a nice little polite word, it can also sound stuffy when using with friends.

  • When to use: Pretty much with everyone e.g. teacher, older people, younger people that you don’t know well, in a (mature) relationship, strangers, acquaintances, etc.
  • When not to use: Probably with close friends or with friends you want to get close to.
  • Paired pronoun: คุณ /kun/

ดิฉัน /dichán/
Person: 1st
Sex: Female
Formality: VERY
Respectful: Yes
Polite: Yes
Familiar: HELL NO

I can’t think of many pronouns that are more official-sounding than ดิฉัน /dichán/. While it is true that it’s polite and you’ll never offend anyone with it, it sounds frighteningly distant and is rarely used among people who have any kind of relationship of any degree of familiarity with each other rather than professional. Thai teachers use it a lot in Thai classrooms because it’s easy to teach, but in reality you’ll only hear this word from Thai females in situations which they consider formal, such as in meetings with clients, in interviews, making a speech. Some female friends of mine say they have never even used this word in their lives!

For female learners who want to sound natural, I suggest you find another strategy, such as referring to yourself by name (I know, some of you think it’s silly, but hey, that’s what we do).

  • When to use: Dealing with Thai officials, people you have a professional relationship with, being interviewed, with strangers, etc.
  • When not to use: In any situation that requires solidarity. Not with your friends, partner, partner’s family, colleagues, bosses, or anyone you wish to love you.
  • Paired pronoun: คุณ /kun/

ฉัน /chán/
Person: 1st
Sex: Mostly female
Formality: –
Respectful: Sometimes no
Polite: –
Familiar: Yes

ฉัน /chán/ is a funny one—it is considered a default ‘I’ pronoun, this is why you’ll hear this word used a lot in songs and literature. In real life, it is commonly used by females in informal situations, but can also be used by men as well, especially when talking to females of equal or lower status. Many male learners think this word is exclusively feminine and are reluctant to use it. It’s a fun word to use with female friends who you are close to!

Another myth I want to debunk, there is nothing polite about the word ฉัน /chán/. If anything, with a sharp tone of voice and a wrong attitude, it makes you sound arrogant! It’s not impolite, it’s just not polite either.

  • When to use: Talking to friends of the opposite sex, people who do not mind you being a bit cheeky to them.
  • When not to use: When you need to be extremely polite. Certainly not with people of higher status, such as doctor, monks, university professors. Probably not even with your Thai teachers, unless they don’t mind. (Chances are they won’t, because they’re the one teaching this word to you!)
  • Paired pronoun: เธอ /ter/

เรา /rao/
Person: 1st
Sex: Both
Formality: –
Respectful: No
Polite: –
Familiar: Somewhat

If you look up a dictionary you’ll see เรา /rao/ being translated as ‘we’ in English, but in fact this word is often used as singular. (Think of the royal singular ‘we’, it’s not the same but you get the point.) This nice little word is very versatile—both male and female speakers can use it with almost everyone around the same age or younger, as long as the circumstance doesn’t require you to be formal.

  • When to use: Talking to friends or acquaintances of the same age. Pretty much with anyone who isn’t older or who doesn’t have a higher social status.
  • When not to use: With older people or people you should be showing respect to.

หนู /nǔu/
Person: 1st
Sex: Mostly female
Formality: –
Respectful: Yes Polite: Yes
Familiar: Somewhat

The literal meaning of หนู /nǔu/ is ‘rat, mouse’. The metaphorical use of this word as a pronoun expresses deference towards the listener who is of a higher status or deserves respect; calling yourself a rat surely makes anyone feel small! It is normally used by females when talking to their parents, older relatives, teachers, bosses or more senior colleagues, although some small boys may use this word when talking to their parents as well. (In which case they generally drop this use when they’re older—or not, I know a few male adult ‘rats’!)

This word is a good word to show respect to older Thais while sounding friendly as well. At first they might be surprised when female foreigners try to use this word. I say keep at it, if you want to win over their heart.

  • When to use: You’re female and you want to show respect and win favour from older Thais.
  • When not to use: You’re male. (unless you want people to second-guess your sexual orientation.)

กู /guu/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: HELL NO
Respectful: HELL NO
Polite: HELL NO
Familiar: VERY
*VULGAR*

Years ago before the polite pronouns had been invented, กู /guu/ used to be the default pronoun for ‘I’. Everybody used it, including kings. Nowadays it is considered a profanity. The only context in which this would be acceptable to use is with your really close friends to express intimacy, and even then you mustn’t use it in the presence of a respected audience; you can call yourself กู /guu/ with a friend who doesn’t mind that, but if your professor is there too then their presence will automatically create an environment where only polite language is allowed. Violate this and prepare to be scolded, or at least judged!

Also, if you try and use this word with people you’re not close to, it will immediately be interpreted as a provocation. For a nation that avoids confrontation at all cost, provocation is a serious issue for Thais! No matter how angry you are with anyone, do not attempt to use กู /guu/ and มึง /mueng/ with them unless you’re prepared to handle the ramifications that may follow… it can turn pretty ugly, in my experience.

I say avoid using this word until your Thai proficiency is right up there first. Don’t run before you can walk, don’t swear before you can talk.

On a side note, males tend to use this word more than females but it is not really an uncommon thing to hear Thai females using it any more, if they feel comfortable enough with their company.

  • When to use: Very limited use. With close friends (only when they initiate it, and only when respected individuals are not around).
  • When not to use: When you’re not sure you can get out of it alive.
  • Paired pronoun: มึง /mueng/

ข้า /kâa/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: No
Respectful: No
Polite: No
Familiar: VERY
*VULGAR*

Similar to กู /guu/ above, this one is also considered vulgar, although it is nowhere near as vulgar as กู /guu/. However ข้า /kâa/ sounds quite archaic for the 21st century. Its implication is that the speaker is of an older generation or that he or she comes from quite a remote part of Thailand. You’ll see this word a lot in old literature or in stories set in the past. Granted, there are people still using this word, but it’s not really a fashionable word people use today. It’d be an odd choice of pronoun for non-native speakers, dost thou not agree?

  • When to use: Never? Unless you’re writing a Thai epic novel.
  • When not to use: When you’re not writing a Thai epic novel.
  • Paired pronoun: เอ็ง /eng/

ข้าพเจ้า /kâapajâao/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: VERY
Respectful: –
Polite: Yes
Familiar: HELL NO
*FROZEN REGISTER*

The use of ข้าพเจ้า /kâapajâao/ is restricted only to the ‘frozen register’—the level of language that is highly ceremonial and unchanging, often in one-directional communication style, such as formal speeches, pledges, contracts or declarations, etc. Therefore, normally you’ll only see it written, not said.

  • When to use: Drafting a speech or a housing lease.
  • When not to use: In general two-way communication.

อั๊ว /úa’/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: No
Respectful: No
Polite: No
Familiar: Yes
*CHINESE ORIGIN*

This word comes from the Teochew word我 [ua˥˨] (I). This word is used mainly by people of Teochew ancestry who migrated to Siam/Thailand throughout its history. As the influence of the Chinese-Thai grew, ethnic Thais also started picking up Chinese words to use in their speech as well.

In Chinese-Thai families where the Chinese identity is still strong, code-mixing between Thai and Chinese is very common and it is perfectly fine and inoffensive, but when spoken by Thai people (who have no Teochew background) this word can be off-putting because it has a harsh, angry tone to it. This is not to mention it might also confuse your listener, because why would you use a word of Teochew Chinese origin when speaking Thai?

  • When to use: When you’re Chinese-Thai.
  • When not to use: When you’re not Chinese-Thai.
  • Paired pronoun: ลื้อ /lúe/

เค้า /káo/
Person: 1st
Sex: Mostly female
Formality: No
Respectful: –
Polite: –
Familiar: Yes
*LOVERSPEAK*

Confused? You should be. Me too. This word is originally a 3rd person pronoun, but you might have witnessed overt Thai lovebirds referring to themselves by this word. เค้า /káo/ as a 1st person pronoun is largely used by Thai females who have a ‘sweet girl’ personality. You know, lovely and cute and naive. They won’t just use it with anyone either, it has to be their close friends, boyfriend or husband. This pronoun, used in this way, expresses the speaker’s affection towards the listener, albeit a little nauseating. So it’s a good thing! I guess…

  • When to use: Should you use this word? No. At least save it for when talking to your boyfriend/girlfriend only.
  • When not to use: Need I say more?
  • Paired pronoun: ตัวเอง /dtua-eeng/

…And that was just the words for “I”! In my next post, Thai time: Using pronouns like a pro (Part 2: What should I call ‘you’), in addition to the factors we’ve learnt in this post we’ll also explore the crucial concept of ‘social status’ and how to apply that to addressing Thai people appropriately. It’s not as straightforward as in English, but at least I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Until next time!

(Bingo) Arthit Juyaso
Principal of Duke Language School
My book on reading Thai fast: Read Thai in 10 Days

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Thai Time: Thai Sentence Expansion Drills

Bingo Lingo

Thai Sentence Expansion Drills…

The idea for this brief post came from Aaron Myers’ handy Language Learning Tip: Sentence Expansion Drills (see his post for further explanation). For sure, it’s a quick way to increase your Thai skills!

How It Works: You can do sentence expansion drills in a lot of different ways. The simplest is to just have these sorts of conversations with yourself about the things you see around you. You could also do this drill on paper. Another great way to do these sorts of drills is to do them with a native speaker.

Using this method, below are sample sentences. Added words have been underlined.

–>> And please don’t panic. Pdf files with and without transliteration are in the downloads below. Audio downloads are included.

ฉันไปโรงเรียน
I go to school.


ฉันชอบไปโรงเรียน
I like going to school.


ฉันชอบไปเรียนที่โรงเรียน
I like going to study at school.


ฉันชอบไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียน
I like going to study Thai at school


ฉันชอบขี่จักรยานไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียน
I like riding a bicycle to go to study Thai at school.


ฉันกับเพื่อนชอบขี่จักรยานไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียน
My friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school.


ฉันกับเพื่อนคนจีนชอบขี่จักรยานไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียน
My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school.


ฉันกับเพื่อนคนจีนชอบขี่จักรยานไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียนทุกเช้า
My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every morning.


ฉันกับเพื่อนคนจีนชอบขี่จักรยานไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียนทุกเช้าวันเสาร์อาทิตย์
My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every Saturday and Sunday morning.


ฉันกับเพื่อนคนจีนไม่ชอบขี่จักรยานไปเรียนภาษาไทยที่โรงเรียนทุกเช้าวันเสาร์อาทิตย์
My Chinese friend and I don’t like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every Saturday and Sunday morning


 

Tips and rules…

1. Thai is an SVO language; the word order is subject-verb-object.

2. In Thai, adjectives come after nouns, e.g. เพื่อนคนจีน (friend human-China) “a Chinese friend”.

3. When using multiple verbs in one sentence, you can often just “stack” them up without using any connector, e.g. ฉันชอบไปเรียน (I like go study) “I like to go to study”.

4. When doing sentence expansion drill in Thai, it’s easier start from the core components first (nouns & verbs) and then use descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs (time, place & manner) to expand sentences.

Downloads: Thai Sentence Expansion Drills…

Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (pdf with transliteration): 174kb
Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (pdf without transliteration): 170kb
Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (audio): 796kb

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place them on other websites).

Until next time!

(Bingo) Arthit Juyaso
Principal of Duke Language School
My book on reading Thai fast: Read Thai in 10 Days

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Translating Thai Song Lyrics: How I Do It, and You Can Too!

Translating Thai Song Lyrics

Translating Thai Song Lyrics: How I Do It, and You Can Too!…

Hi, It’s Ann Norman of CarabaoinEnglish.com. I’ve made it a project to translate as many Carabao คาราบาว and Aed Carabao แอ๊ด คาราบาว songs into English as I can before I die or get bored, whichever comes first.

I’ve finished about 150 songs out 1,000+ existing songs (more are being written each week). I’m having lots of fun and I’ve decided to share my translating secrets with you, so you can have just as much fun translating your favorite Thai songs into English.

Step 1A: Google for lyrics and plug everything into Thai2English.com…

Note: please download the T2E Software (a wonderful resource) if you have Windows.

Goggle for lyrics using the song title and name of the band, which you have copied and pasted from a YouTube + “เนื้อเพลง” (lyrics). The band I follow is famous, and the lyrics are almost always online.

Next plug your lyrics into Thai2English. This word-by-word translation program is WONDERFUL and the only reason I can do any of this. It is also very glitchy.

Read the output and be prepared to mentally override half of what comes out, especially homonyms. For instance, my Thai2English guesses that each instance of ตา (“dtaa”) probably means “grandmother.” (In song lyrics, it almost always means “eye.”) The program is also easily confused by the word ได้ /dai/ when it does not mean “get or receive” but instead plays a grammatical role in the sentence–as it so often does.

So plug in your lyrics and read the Thai2English output with your brain in gear, combining their huge hints with your existing knowledge of the language.

Step 1B: Re-divide the words in the Thai2English box…

When output is nonsensical, help the program by breaking up the words yourself, and try again. Run the words through in different groups.

Words that sound alliterative probably go together. If you have a combined word that sounds like “bliap-blong” (a made-up example) it’s a good bet that the “blong” part just adds flavor to the meaning of “bliap,” and vice versa. The meaning of “bliap-blong” will be probably be similar to the meaning of the two one-syllable words separately. (The word เปรียบเทียบ /bpriap-tiap/ is a real life example. Each part means “compare” and so does the whole word.)

Unfortunately it can also work the other way. Two words you totally understand as separate words can go together to make a new word or meaning that you don’t know. Just recently, I discovered that ก็ /gor/ and ตาม /dtaam/ (“also” and “follow”) go together (ก็ตาม) to mean “no matter.” Thai2English will make wild guesses about which sets of words go together. Redivide the words into different sets and see if that gets you a more sensible answer from Thai2English.

And watch out for tricky divisions like “mai bliap mai blong” used to mean “mai bliapblong” (I am using my made-up word in this example). Below are some examples of this pattern from actual song lyrics:

สักวี่สักวัน /sak wee sak wan/ = สักวี่วัน sak weewan (even one day)
ตามเหตุตามผล /dtam hayt dtaam pon/ = ตามเหตุผล (dtaam hayt-pon) (according to the reasons)
ไม่อดไม่ทน /mai ot mai ton/ = ไม่อดทน (not bear up [under pressure])

Throughout, keep in mind this is POETRY; the songwriter will be playing with words—to make a joke, to be alliterative, to surprise.

Step 2: Google Translate…

Google translate is notoriously horrible at translating Thai sentences. However, it is actually REALLY good at translating individual words and sometimes phrases of up to 3 words. Take your problem words and phrases to google translate, and look at the suggestions there.

Step throughout: Decipher any English loanwords…

A long word that doesn’t sound very Thai probably isn’t. And it might be English. Close your eyes and relax; the answer might come to you. My favorite example: In a song titled “Santana Carabao” (referring to the bands Santana and Carabao): I had the mystery line:

ฮูสสต๊อกได้บอกเล่าเรื่องราว ถนนสายดนตรี ฮิปปี้ร๊อคแอนด์โรล
hoo satook dâai bòk lâo rêuang raao tà-nŏn săai don-dtree híp-bpêe rók aen rohn.

The English loan words “hippie” and “rock and roll” were easy to hear, and I quickly got: “Hoo-satook” told the story of the path of music: Hippie, rock and roll.

But who or what is “hoo-satook”? The answer came to me days later as I watched a tribute to Carlos Santana on a music awards show. I learned that he had achieved stardom playing at the famous music festival … (I’ve written it here backwards): “kcotsdooW”.

Step 3: Use Google images…

Translating Thai Song LyricsThis is a really slick TRICK. Take your mystery words and phrases to google images and see hundreds of pictures of what your string of letters might mean. And prepare yourself for anything. Because maybe Thai2English hid the meaning of these words from you for a reason. I have unwittingly requested images of “shot in the head,” “trampled,” and “crotch itch” in the process of translating Carabao songs.

And yes, the word “crotch itch” (สังคัง /sang-kang/) appears in several Carabao songs, probably because it is alliterative with the word “society” (สังคม /sang-kom/). So these words can be paired to good effect in a protest song: “อนาถหนาสังคมสังคัง” “Pitiful diseased society!” (Or something . . . I am open to suggestions!)

Googling images is the only way to go when your song mentions an exotic tree, flower, or food that English speakers have no name for. Even if you can’t explain your findings to the next person, at least you will know that that tree in this song has bright orange flowers, or that the snacks Aed Carabao is singing about his mother making are those Chinese kanom with mung beans in the middle.

Google images is the only way to match proper names to faces or brand names to products.

My favorite google image translation story: I was translating the lyrics of a brand new, song—a gorgeous melody with just voice and piano, called “Yaak Daiyin” ([What Words Would You] Like to Hear?]:

The verse was falling out beautifully:

“We have mountains, rivers, and oceans. We have all kinds of animals sharing the habitat. There are humans, there is you and me. Here is paradise: the one and only world right here. They say that our world is equal to the tip of the mustache of a shelled slug . . . . “

YIKES! It seemed all the poetry had come to a screeching halt with the mention of the mustached slug. But, then I thought, “He says ‘They say . . .” so it’s a saying. There WILL be pictures.” I googled “tip of the mustache of a shelled slug”: ปลายหนวดหอยทาก.

AND TA DA!!!

LOOK AT THOSE little translucent balls on the tip of the antennae of the snail! And, no, they are not really antennae. A mouth is in the middle, so why not call it a mustache? And so, like magic, the rest of the verse falls out:

“They say that our world amounts to the tip of the antennae of a snail, that life is cheaply tossed away like a cigarette butt. We must learn about our hearts and minds; release the spirit to cross the bridge to freedom.”

Step 4: Google the meaning of a word IN THAI and read the answer in Thai..

Note: if necessary, use Thai2English.

Plug your word into google search. My untranslatable word is “แว่บ”. When I plug that into google search, the helpful search suggestions includes “แว่บ แปลว่า” (“’weip’ translates as”). Other suggestions may be “BLANK คืออะไร” (“What is BLANK?”) or “BLANK หมายถึงอะไร” (“What does BLANK mean?”) click on one of those.

In this case the Thai dictionary online says: “ปรากฏให้เห็นชั่วประเดี๋ยวหนึ่งก็หายไป เช่น แสงไฟจากรถดับเพลิงแวบเข้าตามาเดี๋ยวเดียวแว็บไปแล้ว. ว. อาการที่ปรากฏให้เห็นชั่วประเดี๋ยวหนึ่ง เช่น ไปแวบเดียวกลับมาแล้ว เพิ่งมาได้แว็บเดียวจะกลับแล้วหรือ.” Running that through Thai2English (and my brain), we get: “To appear for just a moment and then disappear, for instance the light from a fire engine ‘waep’s’ into the eye for just a moment and then ‘waep’s’ away.”

There! Aren’t you glad we did this like a Thai, and got the full definition? (And if you are really ambitious, search Thai Wikipedia for whole articles relating to your song or its theme.)

Step 5: Beg help from your friends…

Be humble. You are never going to get to the end of this foreign language learning. This is especially the case with proverbs and sayings. There is too much context and history that you are missing out on. There are random-sounding expressions that come to mean a thing for reasons no one can remember. Why does “putting on airs” mean “pretending to be higher class” in English? I don’t know and it’s my language. So go check your translation with the experts, and be prepared for the possibility that your best guess was wrong. And don’t feel bad. It is already very satisfying to just get 85% or 90% of the way to understanding the songwriter’s intentions.

Step 6: Your mystery word might not mean anything, and the odd metaphor is open to interpretation…

A Thai friend recently told me, “In your translating, you might see that many words you can’t find because they are just put in without meaning, but it makes a beautiful sentence!” This is music, this is poetry. There are pretty-sounding words thrown in. There are vocalizations: the ooo’s and ahh’s and la, la, la’s.

Ponder the metaphors but don’t get frustrated with not knowing. Neil Young was searching for a “Heart of Gold.” Aed Carabao famously loves that song. In a recent concert at Khun Aed’s home in Chaing Mai, in the patter between songs, he mentions that although he is a big admirer of Neil Young, he never got to meet him. And if he were to meet him, he’d love to ask him one question: “’Heart of Gold,’ is the meaning like a person is searching for the value of the heart, or something like this?”*

(No, I don’t think it is . . .)

Then he launches into a perfect cover of “Heart of Gold.” When I first watched the concert DVD, I was stunned: Did pondering this question provide Khun Aed inspiration for his even better song “ทะเลใจ” /Telay Jai/ (Ocean Heart), which IS about a person coming to terms with their own heart so they can be happy?!

At that moment I decided never again to apologize for only halfway understanding a song.

In turn, I’m not sure I completely understand Aed Carabao when he sings about the little bird drifting and bobbing, blown by the wind, till it unfortunately falls into the center of the ทะเลใจ.” But I LOVE IT!

Step 7: Stop fussing!…

You are close enough. Don’t overanalyze. Play the song. Listen closely, hum, bounce, and sing along, and let the movie play out inside you.

*The concert is “วันวานไม่มีเขา” /Waan Wan Mai Mi Kow/, the Exclusive Concert at Aed Carabao’s home in Chiang mai. You can listen for yourself at 1:16:4 of this video:

Ann Norman
CarabaoinEnglish.com

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Thai Style: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy

Thai Style

Feeling Like a Thai…

A month ago, Catherine asked how would I feel writing a post about a list of emotion/feeling words. She got the idea from a post at Mental Floss, Improve Your Vocabulary With the “Wheel of Feelings”.

I said to her ‘Great! I am willing to do it and I feel excited and enthusiastic to complete it.’

When I learnt English I used a similar system to help me understand English emotion/feeling words so I can see how it would benefit Thai learners as well. I was confident and determined to finish the post within a week or two, however, when I started the work I realised this is going to be a long project.

Not only do we, Thais, have our own perceptions about emotion and feeling, but the language we use to indicate emotions/feelings is also so different to English both grammatically and in meaning. Therefore I decided to create a series of posts called ‘Feeling like a Thai’. There are going to be six posts in total; ‘Be happy’, ‘Don’t be Sad’, ‘Oh no! A Thai is angry!’, ‘So scary!’, ‘I’m confused. What have I done wrong?’ and lastly, ‘Wheel of Feelings’.

These posts will help you to use correct words to indicate your feeling in Thai language as well as explanations on how and when to use them.

Today, I proudly present to you the first post ‘Be Happy’. I would love to hear how this post helps you. Please provide some feedback describing how you feel about the post. Are you happy with it? Do you feel encouraged to try it out with your Thai friends? Are you more confident to how to express feelings in Thai? I would be grateful if you could take a moment to write a comment below.

Now, I feel relieved and relaxed that my first post of this series is done as well as feeling gratified that this post is going to help Thai learners. I am so happy! :)

Note to beginners: Transliteration along with Thai script is in the explanation of the pdf download at the end of the post (tables are Thai only).

Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy…

Before learning the emotion/feeling words, let’s learn about the grammar as it is very important for you to construct a sentence correctly in order to indicate your emotion/feeling in Thai language.

First of all, I would like us to understand the definitions of ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’.

emotion
[definition] a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

feeling
[definition]
1. an emotional state or reaction.
2. senses detecting what you feel through your 11 inputs; Hearing, Taste, Sight, Smell, Heat, Cool, Pain, Pleasure, Sense of balance (vestibular), Pressure, Motion (kinaesthetic).

As you can see, emotion and feeling, although different, have a very similar definition and are often interchangeable. In my series, I am writing about feelings as ‘an emotional state or reaction’ and I would like to explain in detail how to construct a sentence to indicate our feelings.

When indicating emotion or feeling in Thai the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel (mentally and physically)’, is used as a verb, yet the word ‘รู้สึก to feel’, is commonly omitted from a sentence if the explanation word that comes after is an emotion/feeling word.

In Thai, we view emotions as they happen in our heart, so the word ‘ใจ [Noun] heart [Noun] mind ; disposition ; spirit’ is used to make up many compound words to denote different types of emotions/feelings. For example, ดีใจ [feeling verb] feel delight / be delighted / be happy, is a compound word combined from the word ‘ดี means [quality modifier] be good, be nice’ and the word ‘ใจ’.

Some modifier (adjective/adverb) words can also be used after the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel’ to describe someone’s emotion or feeling. For example, กระชุ่มกระชวย is [modifier] be hale and hearty, be full of vitality, be energetic, and รู้สึกกระชุ่มกระชวย is feel energised.

Sentence structure:

Subject + (รู้สึก, to feel) + feeling word/explanation.

For example:

ผมรู้สึกดีใจ
I feel delight/happy.

ผมดีใจ
I am delighted/happy.

ผมรู้สึกดี
I feel good.

‘ดี means [quality modifier] be good, be nice’ which is not a feeling word therefore when you are not using the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel’ before the word ‘ดี’, without context the sentence ‘ผมดี would be interpreted as ‘I am nice.’

When you want to connect the emotion/feeling with the causes, you should use the link word ‘ที่, [relative pronoun] … that …’

Sentence structure:

Subject 1 + (รู้สึก, to feel) + Feeling word/Explanation + ที่ + (Subject 1) or Subject 2 + Explanation.

For example:

ผม(รู้สึก)ดีใจที่(ผม)ได้รับรางวัล
I feel delight/happy that I receive the reward. / I feel delight/happy to have received the reward.

ผม(รู้สึก)ดีใจที่แม่มาหาผม
I feel delight/happy that mum comes to see me.

When someone makes or causes someone to feel something, we use the word ‘ทำให้’.

Sentence structure:

Subject 1 + ทำให้ + Subject 2 + (รู้สึก to feel) + Feeling word/Explanation.

For example:

แม่ทำให้ผม(รู้สึก)ดีใจ
Mum makes me feel happy.

The prefix ‘ความ’ is an element placed at the beginning of a verb or adjective to adjust or qualify the verb’s or adjective’s function and meaning to an abstract noun.

Examples: ดี [quality modifier] be good/nice, ความดี [noun] goodness, รัก [feeling verb] to love, ความรัก [noun] love, จริง [quality modifier] true, real, ความจริง [noun] truth, สบาย [feeling verb/modifier] be comfortable, be relax, be cozy, ความสบาย [noun] comfortableness.

Example sentences:

ฉันรักเขาจริงๆ
I truly love him.

ฉันอยากรู้ความจริง
I would like to know the truth.

เขานั่งสบาย
He is comfortably sitting (the place, space and time is comfortable for him).

เขาชอบความสบาย
He likes comfortableness.

The prefix ‘อย่าง+’ is an element placed in front of a modifier (adverb or adjective) or a noun to adjust or qualify the modifier’s function to an adverb and the meaning to ‘having a particular quality’, ‘… in that type of quality’, ‘… in the way of …’. It is similar to the use of the suffix -ly in English e.g. brotherly, quickly.

Examples: ดี [quality modifier] be good/nice, อย่างดี [adverb] nicely, สบาย [feeling verb/modifier] be comfortable, be relax, be cozy, ความสบาย [adverb] comfortably, เร็ว [speed modifier] be quick, อย่างเร็ว = [adverb] quickly.

Example sentences:

ฉันทำงานอย่างดี
I do the work nicely.

เขานั่งลงอย่างสบาย
He is comfortably sitting down (he bends down and sits in a comfortable way).

เขานั่งลงอย่างเร็ว
He is quickly sitting down (he bends down and sits quickly).

Note:

  1. Words in brackets can be omitted.
  2. The level of intensity of the English feeling words is copied from a research article. I tried my best to explain the intensity of Thai feeling words within the descriptions however I still feel every feeling is unique and words cannot describe our feelings exactly as well as the intensity can be subjective.

Downloads: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy…

As this resource is enormous (20+ pages filled with examples and tables, plus audio files to boot) we’ve created downloads for you. Enjoy!

Pdf: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy: 269kb
Audio: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy: 5.2mg

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place on other websites).

By ครูเจี๊ยบ: Kru Jiab
Thai Style

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Picnicly: These Foreigners Love Thai (Language)

Picnicly

These foreigners love Thai…

After studying languages on and off for the majority of my life, I’ve started to develop some theories as to what works and what doesn’t work. Thing is, I’m not an education expect, so it’s really all just guesses as to what’s best. A sample size of one doesn’t make a full research project.

Last week I got together three friends who all speak Thai fluently and asked them about their own tricks and techniques. It really interested me to find out that they all have different approaches, different ways to get to the same destination. The only thing I really found in common was an initial total immersion period of around a year where they didn’t socialize with people from their own country. Where they forced themselves to speak only Thai.

One other common factor is that everyone was motivated to learn Thai, they all really wanted to understand their adoptive homes through its language as much as possible.

After watching, I’d love to hear what you all think. My “research” still has a very small sample size, so let me know what works for you and what doesn’t.

Thanks!
Luke Cassady-Dorion
Picnicly

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