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Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Review and Free Draw

Cracking Thai Fundamentals

Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Review and Free Draw…

For an extra holiday treat Stu Jay Raj (author of Cracking Thai Fundamentals) has gifted a book to giveaway to the lucky winner. As with previous draws, the rules are simple:

NOTE: Each relevant comment gets counted, so leave as many as you like.

The draw will run from this moment until 31st December (New Years Eve), 6am Thai time. As soon I’m awake(ish) I (or someone else) will throw the numbers into random.org, and then announce the winner.

Good luck all and ho ho ho!

Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Review…

The Cracking Thai Fundamentals course by Stu Jay Raj was put together in 2000 to help members of the FCC (Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand) understand the Thai language. When researching the characteristic problems expats have with learning Thai as a second language, Stu developed an interactive system to kickstart students into learning the Thai language along with Thai culture (they go hand-in-hand).

Stu has since gone on to teach other expats, and has even taught the course in Thai to Thai teachers. I lucked out in my first year in Thailand when I came across CTF in Bangkok. It was such an entertaining eyeopener, I took it twice (as did many others in my class).

As there’s only so much of Stu to go around, to enable a wider audience to take advantage of CTF he created an interactive, online version at stujay.com, a membership site.

So there’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals the on-the-ground course, Cracking Thai Fundamentals the online course, and now Cracking Thai Fundamentals the book. When I asked Stu “why the book” he came back with:

Stu Jay Raj: Yes … I am getting older. The problem with the live course is that I have to choose between giving a brain overload or giving a watered down version. The book gets to go into more detail and can be used over the longterm. The online course was developed for a similar reason.

No matter which flavour you go with, the on-the-ground course, the online course, the course in book form, or even a combo, all are suitable for students of Thai sporting various backgrounds. Those brand spanking new to Thai will benefit by avoiding the many traps students often fall into, and those already deep into studying Thai will notice more than a few “ah ha’s” along their CTF journey.

Before I go any further, I want to point you to the most complete review out there for CTF, the book. It’s by Josh Sager at Let’s Talk Thai: Product Review: Cracking Thai Fundamentals by Stuart Jay Raj.

Josh Sager: An Operating System for the Mind: It’s important to mention right off the bat that this is not a Thai language learning “system” as you are perhaps accustomed to using. Stu himself is adamant in making this point clear. The book does not give you vocabulary lists to memorize, lessons on sentence structure, or quick phrases you can use while visiting Thailand as a tourist. Cracking Thai Fundamentals is a suite of tools designed to ultimately provide you with a deeper understanding of the Thai language; it’s a way to take what you already know, what you are currently learning, and smooth out the rough edges. Think of it like expanding your paint palette from 8 to 128 colors to help you paint more vivid pictures.

Review: Cracking Thai Fundamentals…

As Josh has done a fabulous job reviewing the book I’m going to focus on linking the chapters in the book with Stu’s online course at stujay.com.

For those of you who want to sample the online course before you buy, I’ve marked the FREE sections.

Stu Jay Raj: At a bare minimum I would encourage everyone reading the book to use the free online initial Preparing to Crack section along with the Consonant Compass… both interactive and downloadable versions. Laminate an A3 version of the Constant Compass and have it beside you as you learn.

Section One: Preparing to Crack the Fundamentals (page 30)
Preparing to Crack the Thai Fundamentals – Part 1 (FREE)

Section One is chockfull of tips to help prepare yourself for your Thai journey. It goes from changing your mindset (plenty of “ah ha’s”) to rearranging your actual life on the ground (paper dictionaries to computers).

Section Two: Thinking in Meanings (page 68)
CTF Thinking in Meanings
Thinking in Meanings Part 1
Thinking in Meanings Part 2 – Quizzes and Drills

Section Two is a full body, interactive chapter, where, with a few choice words, you are shown how feel their meanings before learning how to create actual sentences. For beginners, this is a brilliant intro into understanding how the Thai language works.

Section Three: Cracking Indic Based Scripts (page 181)
Cracking Indic Based Scripts – Main Lesson
Indic Consonant Compass (FREE)

Section Three covers the Thai sound system, the Thai writing system, and the system behind the system. Taking you back in time, this is where Stu opens up the magic of Indic based scripts to lay a foundation for reading, writing, and speaking Thai.

Section Four: Cracking the Thai Vowels (page 249)
Cracking the Thai Vowels – Main Lesson

Section Four uses hand signals and dimensions to get the Thai vowels into your head and out your mouth.

Section Five: Cracking the Thai Consonants (page 287)
Cracking Thai Consonants – Main Lesson

Section Five is understandably a large chunk of the book as it takes you through the Thai consonants. To assist your understanding, it goes through Stu’s pronunciation glyphs, the five cardinal points of articulation, and then over to each consonant in turn.

Section Six: Cracking Thai Tones (page 484)
Mastering Tones in Thai Chinese and other Tonal Languages
Conquering Thai Tones – Webinar

Section Six covers the bane of most language learners of Thai, tones. By this section you will already have constants and vowels down, along with an understanding of the map of the human mouth, so with a bit more work you will be able to slot in the tones.

Final: How to Make the Cracking Thai Fundamentals Vision a Reality (page 545)

Stu Jay Raj: Lastly, don’t forget that Thai Cracking Fundamentals is not a complete system to teach you Thai; that it is a system to help lay a new physical and mental operating system that will work hand in hand with all the other methods that you are using to learn Thai.

The final part of the book is a general “where do you go from here” section filled with advice on how to use what you’ve learned.

Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Draw reminder…

As if you’d forget … the draw will run from this moment until 31st December (New Years Eve), 6am Thai time.

Good luck!

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Thai Style: The Rhythm of Thai Language

Thai Style

Sound like a native Thai speaker…

“You sound like you’re from London!” Well, I wish someone said that to me! As a native Thai speaker with English as a second language, it would be my definition of being a native English speaker.

The journey to sound like a native speaker is not an easy journey. It can take years and years of exposure and for most people they may never speak like a native. I think my journey to sound British will take me a lifetime!

When learning a second language, you can be fluent but in order to sound like a native speaker, it is not just about the pronunciation and grammar but it is also about understanding the rhythm of the language. Like me, I consider myself fluent in English. My pronunciation is pretty good but I need to practise the rhythm of speaking like a native English speaker.

The rhythm of languages are different depending on many factors; culture, personality, attitude, mood etc.

Let me explain more about the rhythm of Thai language.

Sound and Tones…

First of all, let me explain about sound. Sound is a vibration that propagates as mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a medium such as air or water. The frequency of the vibration creates different pitches. When the pitch of the sound moves it creates ‘Tones’ which is the combination of pitch, strength and the quality of sound.

Object(s) > Vibration > Medium > Sound > Frequency/Pitch > Tone (Movements of pitch)

There are many ways to communicate with each other, such as; sounds, facial expressions, symbols, etc. The sounds that we create in our mouth is the main method we use to communicate. The combination of sounds create words which we understand the meaning off.

As you know, to make sounds, we use different parts of our mouth to create vibrations and we use the hollow space in our mouth, including our sinuses, as an echo chamber and the sound is carried out from our mouth. Our mouth is just like a musical instrument.

Eighty percent of Thai sounds are created from the the back of the palate and the back of the tongue. Thais speak with their nose. We have many sounds that create nasal sounds (the air passing through the nose) unlike in English, where sounds are made from the front of the mouth and do not have many nasal sounds.

Watch my video about Thai sounds to help you understand in more detail:

Learn Thai Style tone graph As explained above, all sound has a pitch and a tone. To make a tone it is all about the movements in our mouth to change the pitch of the sound. The part that we use to control the frequency of the sounds is the root of our tongue.

If the root of our tongue is in natural position, it creates natural tone or in other words, a mid tone. A high position creates a high tone and a low position creates low tone.

As you probably know, there are five tones in Thai language; mid, low, falling, high and rising.

When making each tone in Thai it is not just about making one pitch or using one position of the root of your tongue. Each tone in Thai language has movement.

Watch my video about Thai tones to help you understand in more detail:


Take my Thai Tone Quiz here.

What are ‘Tones’ used for in Thai language?…

In Thai, tones are used for 2 purposes:

1. Indicating the meanings of sounds in which we call ‘words’.

Watch my video about Comparing Thai Tones to help you understand in more detail:

2. Indicating the forms and moods of exclamations or particles.

(Note: Particles are untranslatable words used at the end of speech to indicate moods or feelings of a speaker)

Watch my video about Tones in Particles & Exclamations to help you understand in more detail:

Note: Elisions and Contractions (Short informal words) are also part of the rhythm of Thai language. When speaking with different moods and feelings, the words we use should compliment each other as one rhythm, mood and feeling.

The Quality & Strength Of Tones…

The quality and strength of the tones depend on the air we produce. As you know, men have a deeper voice than women but it doesn’t mean a women can’t produce a deep voice like men.

The quality and strength of tones in Thai language varies in speech depending on the mood or feeling of the speakers, such as exaggeration, emphasising, etc.

In English language, the quality and strength of tones (stress) is one of many factors in creating different accents. Tones and stress are also used to indicate the rhythm of different types of sentences and the mood or feeling of the speaker. However in Thai language the ways we use tones are slightly different, which creates a different rhythm to English.

Watch my video on Quality & Strength of Tones to help you understand in more detail:

Types Of Sounds…

The rhythm of Thai language is not just about how we pronounce the tones, it is also about the sounds themselves. If you learn to read and write Thai scripts, you probably know that we have live syllables and dead syllables. Do you ever wonder, why do we call them live and dead sounds? Basically, we differentiate sounds from their characters into two types:

LIVE SOUNDS are nice to the ears, soft and gentle.

DEAD SOUNDS are harsh to the ears, hard and abrupt.

Basically, we are able to control the airflow in our mouth for soft and gentle (live) sounds. We cannot control the airflow of hard and abrupt (dead) sounds.

For example, the vowel sound -า / aa is a long sound. If you pronounce this sound, you will find that you can control the air better than the short vowel sound -ะ / a which is a dead sound. The sound is dead because we make a quick movement and stop the sound suddenly before you control it further.

Another example is the consonant sound น /n which is a nasal sound. If you pronounce this sound, you will find that you can control the air through the nose better than the hard and abrupt consonant sound ด / d, which is a dead sound. Again, it is dead because the sound is made from a quick movement and stops suddenly.

How do we use different types of sounds in speaking?…

Different types of sounds can create different feelings in words, for example:

ทาน / taan = to eat (polite word) the two soft sounds า / aa and น / n create a nicer sound than กิน / gin = to eat, to consume (common & informal) which has the hard sound ิ / i. However, กิน / gin (common and informal) sounds nicer than แดก / dàek = to eat, to devour (impolite) because of the combination of two hards sounds ด and ก.

In Thai grammar จ is a hard sound but จ้ะ / jâ or จ๊ะ / já (informal polite particle used by female) produce a slightly more gentle sound than ค่ะ/คะ (formal polite particle used by female). Therefore, จ้ะ / jâ or จ๊ะ / já are used to indicate that one speaks in a soft, gentle and sweet manner other than ค่ะ / kâ or คะ / ká which used to indicate that one is being firm and formal.

When creating a rhyme in music, this is a very important factor that we need to consider. For example, we tend to use the word เธอ / ter (used to mainly address or refer to a woman) as it sounds nicer to the ears than คุณ / kun (formal and polite addressing used to address a person one is talking to). The expressions we use for this are:

รื่นหู / Rûen~Hŏo
= feel refreshing + ear
= pleasant (sound)

ไม่รื่นหู / Mâi Rûen~Hŏo
= no/not + feel refreshing + ear
= unpleasant (sound)

Different people may use different types of words and/or make different quality and strength of a tone to indicate their personality.

This, among others, are some of the factors you need to understand in order to let your speech flow. Listen out and mimic or adapt your speech, the quality of your sounds and tones, in order to suit your own personality and sound like native speaker.

What do you think? Do you sound like you are from Bangkok? Do you sound like your Thai friends? Who do you want to sound like?

To develop fluency you need to find your own personal rhythm. It’s your identity.

โชคดีค่ะ / chôhk dee = Good Luck!

By ครูเจี๊ยบ: Kru Jiab
Thai Style

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Memorize Thai Tones With Five Simple Rules

Memorize Tones With Five Simple Rules

The five simple rules of Thai tones…

I just made big strides with reading tones/ tone markers and would like to share my findings with anyone interested. I’ve been a successful Piano and Music teacher and pride myself on finding how humans learn, and unveiling easier ways to understand concepts. The parallels of learning music and languages are staggering, so I’ve been reworking my approach of learning Thai from my musical practices.

I would first like to say that, initially, I tried to just memorize tone rules from the gate. I found that it got me nowhere fast. What works for me is reading Manee books (which thanks to Kruu Mia – Learn2SpeakThai – she has provided them WITH slow and fast audio… yes, amazing) and just jumped right in. After a few times recognizing a certain consonant with a tone marker (or lacking), it starts becoming ingrained without having to “memorize” any rules. It just becomes intuitive (which seems more along the natural path of how Thais learn it, and quite frankly, being a Piano teacher, is how most students of all ages learn).

So now that I’m revisiting “memorizing” a few of the rules, something really obvious stands out to me. I’m having flashbacks of resentment that I had when I grew up classically trained playing piano, and then found Jazz and Jazz theory. “Why were these extremely simple concepts left out of classical curriculum?” In other words, now that I see tone rules are easy, I am wondering why no one has explained it in any simple manner in all the teachings I find. So here is my attempt at making it easy!

Out of 15 possible scenarios of tone rules, you really only need to memorize only a handful.

High and Rising tone markers will always produce high and rising tones, respectively. So you do NOT need to worry about them, or memorize anything. If you see them, you know the tone no matter what.

So now that leaves only Low and Falling tone markers to worry about. Low and Falling tone markers will always create Low and Falling tones respectively, except when they appear with… LOW CLASS.

I will count this as the first two tone rules you have to memorize, even though you only need to memorize only low class consonants.

[So Low Class with Low Tone Marker creates Falling tone, and Low Class with Falling Marker creates High tone]

Now that we’ve covered the tone markers, it leaves us with what to do in the absence of tone markers.

Live Syllables and Dead Syllables are easy to distinguish. If you assume all dead syllables with no tone markers create a low tone, you then only need to worry about dead syllables with short or long vowels when they’re….You guessed it: LOW CLASS.

[Low Class Dead Short Vowel is high and Low Class Long Vowel is Falling]

So now, with only memorizing LOW CLASS consonants, you have already learned 12 of the 15 tone scenarios.

That leaves us with only Live Syllables with no tone markers. If you assume all Live Syllables with no tone markers create a Mid tone, you’ll probably be correct most of the time. The only rule you need to remember is that High Class Live Syllables create a rising tone.

So with only memorizing Low Class Consonants, and realizing their rules change with Low Tone and Falling Tone Markers, you’ve almost mastered all the rules. Then you just realize that a High Class Live Syllable creates a rising tone, you’ve finished all the rules.

It’s worthy to point out that you never need to memorize Mid Class consonants, as when live, they’re mid, when dead, they’re low and with markers, follow the rules of the names of tone markers.

And you only need to memorize High Class for the purpose of the absence of tone markers.

It’s really the Low Class you need to memorize as Low Tone Marker changes it’s sound to Falling, and Falling Tone Marker changes it to High Tone. And of course with no Tone Marker, Dead Short Vowels are High Tones and Dead Long Vowels are Falling Tones. That’s a total of what? Five rules you need!?

That’s basically only memorizing five things, and (providing you can create the correct tones, with the correct vowel/consonant sounds) you’re on your way to mastering reading/speaking Thai!

With all that said, I encourage reading (especially the Manee books with audio method) and just trying to assimilate these “rules” in actual situations. Then use these simple five rules for reminders and verification.

As you can see, I’m very encouraged and inspired and hope that anything I provided can give you similar inspiration.

Note: My five tone rules were introduced and refined at the Farang Can Learn Thai Facebook Group.

Ryan Hickey
Ryan Hickey Live Music

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Finding the Tone of a Thai Syllable

Finding the Tone of a Thai Syllable

Tones Thai syllables…

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

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

In Thai there are three kinds of consonants:

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

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

In Thai there are two kinds of vowels:

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

In Thai there are two kinds of syllables:

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

In Thai there are four tones marks:

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

The Thai tone rules…

If the syllable has a tone mark:

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

If the syllable doesn’t have a tone mark:

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

Chart of the Thai tone rules…

Thai Tone Chart

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

Kris Willems

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We Have ALL Five Thai Tones in English Too!

Hitting the Second Wall of Learning Thai

Thai tones are in English too…

I’m always running into foreigners learning Thai (or giving excuses on why they can’t learn Thai) who say, “I can’t hear the tones. English doesn’t have tones”.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble or take away yet another excuse about why you can’t learn Thai… BUT…

In English we have ALL of the five tones used in Thai. We just use them for different things. Plain and simple, in Thai the tones are used to delineate words, use a different tone, get a different word. However, in English we use tones to carry emotive value. No one, not even Stephen Hawking (who speaks thru a computer generated voice), speaks English without using tones. It’d be a very robotic and flat language if we did.

Here’s my take on how we use the five Thai tones in our every day spoken English. And we do it totally without thinking.

Mid Tone: This is a normal tone and pitch in spoken English. Not much more needs to be said, other than it’s how we speak most of the time. You would think this might be the easiest tone for non-native speakers to replicate in Thai, seeing as it’s said in the normal tone of your voice. Sadly, this is not the case. Without thinking, native English speakers tend to inflect word endings with subtle changes in tone. Most people hafta really work at saying a mid tone Thai word with a long vowel and a live ending correctly, because in English we automatically change the ending sound.

Low Tone: This tone is used in English typically for non-committal types of single word answers. You wife asks you to take out the garbage while you’re watching football. You answer “sure”, but in a lower tone than your normal voice. It conveys that you got what she said but you’re not gonna jump up and take out the trash this second. This tone is used a lot in English for statements where there’s an understanding of what was being said, but the reply shows no commitment either for or against. In Thai, this is a tone you can pretty much give a pass to as I’ve found it can sound a lot like a middle tone in spoken Thai without loss in understanding.

Falling Tone: This is a tone we use in English to express regret, or sympathy with something that’s said to us. A friend says his dog was hit by a car and the reply is, “Ohhh, is it okay?” That first word, “Ohhh” is said with a falling tone and conveys your sympathy to the speaker in just that single falling toned word. This tone in Thai is a critical one to wrap your head around. You should practice the falling toned Thai words used in daily dialogs.

High Tone: This tone is a little trickier to explain on how we use it in English, but we most definitely do. The reason it’s trickier is that the high tone in Thai starts at a pitch higher than your normal spoken voice and then goes up even higher from there. In English it’s used to express surprise, shock, mild outrage or a degree of incredulity when speaking. Someone says, “hey man your car just got backed into in the parking lot”. Your response is, “what!?” The word starts high and goes even higher on the ending. It’s my experience that this and the low tone are possibly the least critical of the tones to master in Thai, and they can be blurred in spoken Thai with little loss of comprehension.

Rising Tone: This tone is used when asking questions in English. It is especially evident on single word questions, “what?” or “right?”. I’m sure this is why most foreigners don’t have problems replicating this tone when using the question word ไหม seeing as it’s also (by blind luck) a rising tone. You must use this tone correctly when you’re speakin’ Thai to Thais as they exhibit very little forgiveness in foreigners getting this tone wrong. Again, I suggest you go thru words in daily dialogs that use this tone. Work on getting it to sound right. Speaking rising tone Thai words with another tone is something which can send you off script faster than you would even believe possible.

As you can see, just from the few examples I gave – and I’m sure any native English speaker can think up a lot more – we most certainly do routinely replicate ALL five of the Thai tones without much thought.

The huge stumbling block we have as native English speakers tryin’ to speak Thai is that we vary the intonation of Thai words like we do when we speak English. It’s a deal-breaker from word one because you can’t vary how a Thai word is toned and still have it be the same word. That’s the reason Thais have ending particles (I think there’re more than 50). They are the tag words Thais use to add emotive value to what’s being said. They can change the meaning from speculative, interrogative, urging, questioning, etc.

However, ending particles are a horse of another color, and a topic I am not qualified to write about. I use maybe 8-10 out of the 50. I also often use them at the wrong time and place in sentence constructs. If you interested in how ending particles (codaphrases) are used in the Thai language, read the excellent (and in-depth) paper compiled by Don Sena: Codaphrases.

I hope you found this of interest. If it takes another lame excuse away from foreigners who say ,“I can’t learn Thai”, then I’m happy to have helped.

As I have said many times, I am far from the sharpest tool in the shed. If I can speak something which resembles Thai enough for Thais to understand, than ANYONE who puts their mind to it can too.

Good Luck.

Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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Tim Ferris: Thai Sentence Deconstruction

Tim Ferris: Thai Sentence Deconstruction

How to Learn (but not master) any Language in an hour…

Tim Ferris from the 4 Hour Workweek makes bold statements about learning languages. In my early days of learning Thai I came across his post How to Learn (but not master) any Language in an Hour. I loved his idea of deconstructing sentences.

Here’s the reasoning: Before you invest (or waste) hundreds and thousands of hours on a language, you should deconstruct it. During my thesis research at Princeton, which focused on neuroscience and unorthodox acquisition of Japanese by native English speakers, as well as when redesigning curricula for Berlitz, this neglected deconstruction step surfaced as one of the distinguishing habits of the fastest language learners…

He doesn’t say that deconstructing a language on its own is a fast way to learn a language. It’s what he uses to choose the easiest language (for him) to learn.

How is it possible to become conversationally fluent in one of these languages in 2-12 months? It starts with deconstructing them, choosing wisely, and abandoning all but a few of them.

Obviously, I’d already chosen Thai, so Tim’s explanation on how to decide which language stays or goes was a moot point. But if you are curious, please do read his article: How to Learn (but not master) any Language in an Hour.

What did interest me was the exercise of deconstructing Thai. After fiddling with it, showing it to Hugh, then walking through bits with Thai Skype Teacher Khun Narisa, below is the result.

Thai Sentence Deconstruction…

Tip from Khun Narisa: you must first understand the grammar of your own language before you tackle Thai!

What you see here is written Thai. If you want written and spoken Thai side-by-side (and add transliteration if you must), download the pdf: Thai Sentence Deconstruction.

The apple is red.
subject + verb + adjective

แอปเปิ้ล สี แดง
Apple + red colour.
noun + adjective

It is John’s apple.
pron + verb + noun + poss + noun

มัน คือ/เป็น แอปเปิ้ล ของ จอห์น
It + is + apple + of + John.
pron + verb + noun + conj + noun

I give John the apple.
pron + verb + indirect ob + direct ob

ฉัน/ผม เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น
I + take + apple + to give to + John.
pron + verb + direct ob + v + indirect ob

We give him the apple.
pron + verb + indirect ob + direct ob

เรา เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ เขา
We + take + apple + to give to + him.
pron + verb + direct ob + v + indirect ob

He gives it to John.
pron + v + direct ob + conj + indirect ob

เขา เอา มัน ให้ จอห์น
He + take + it + to give + John.
pron + v + direct ob + v + indirect ob

She gives it to him.
pron + v + direct ob + conj + indirect ob

เขา เอา มัน ให้ เขา
She + take + it + to give + him.
pron + v + direct ob + v + indirect ob

I don’t give apples.
pron + negative + v + noun

ฉัน/ผม ไม่ ให้ แอปเปิ้ล
I + not + give + apple      
pron + negative + v + object

They don’t give apples.
pron + negative + verb + noun

(พวก)เขา ไม่ ให้ แอปเปิ้ล
They + not + give + apple
pron + negative + v + object

He doesn’t give apples.
pron + negative + v + noun

เขา ไม่ ให้ แอปเปิ้ล
He + not + give + apple.
pron + negative + v + object

I gave John an apple yesterday.
pron + verb + indirect obj + direct obj + time expression

ฉัน/ผม เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น เมื่อวานนี้
I + take + apple + to give + John + yesterday.
pron + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj + time expression

She gave John an apple last week.
pron + v + indirect obj + direct obj + time expression

เขา เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น อาทิตย์ ที่แล้ว
She + take + apple + to give + John + week + last.
pron + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj + time expression

We’ll give John an apple tomorrow.
pron + aux + verb + indirect obj + direct obj + time expression

(พวก)เรา จะ เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้ จอห์น พรุ่งนี้
We + will + take + apple + to give + John + tomorrow.
pron + aux + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj + time expression

Tomorrow we will give an apple to John.
time exp + pron + aux + v + direct obj + prep + indirect obj

พรุ่งนี้ (พวก)เรา จะ เอา แอปเปิ้ล ให้จอห์น
Tomorrow + we + will + take + apple + to give + John.
time expression + pron + aux + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj

I must give it to him.
pron + aux + v + direct obj + prep + indirect obj

ฉัน/ผม ต้อง เอา มัน ให้ เขา
I + must + take + it + to give + him.
pron + aux + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj

I want to give it to her.
pron + v + v + direct obj + prep + indirect obj

ฉัน/ผม ต้องการ เอา มัน ให้ เขา/เธอ
I + want + to take + it + to give + her.
pron + v + v + direct obj + v + indirect obj

What is Tim looking for? How verbs are conjugated, placement of objects and their pronouns, negatives, tenses, sentence structure (SVO, SOV, etc), possible noun cases, and auxiliary verbs.

With the sentences Tim chose to compare, in Thai you won’t find that much to fuss about. Similar to English, Thai is SVO (subject-verb-object). And verbs? There is no conjugating going on.

The most difficult bits with learning Thai (for me anyway) is keeping up with context, remembering classifiers, getting the tones right, and giving suitable respect to those on the receiving end.

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Thai Language Thai Culture: Some Thoughts on Learning Thai Tones

Thai Language

Some Thoughts on Learning Thai Tones…

After looking through the wonderful compilation that Catherine has put together on Successful Thai Language Learners I realized that my own interview was quite long-winded. Sorry about that. But I did enjoy rereading my thoughts on learning Thai tones (something I feel cannot be stressed enough) and wanted to repeat some of that here in a slightly edited version.

Learning Thai tones…

The great bugaboo in learning to “speak” Thai is of course the tones. By comparing English and Thai it might help us understand how tones fit into both languages.

A while back I was writing some English pronunciation exercises for an upcoming book and I was working on a chapter on English sentence intonation. I was explaining that English, like Thai, also had its tones. The difference is that the English tones are at the sentence level.

If you take the simple sentence “John’s going to the market.” and stress the word “John’s” (sounds a lot like a Thai falling tone) then the sentence answers the question “who’s going to the market?” If you stress the word “market” you answer the question “where is John going?” The sentence takes on additional meaning when the intonation changes.

Both Thai and English are “tone” languages. The tones in English are on the sentence level and the tones in Thai are on the word level. A change in English tones usually adds to the meaning of a sentence. A change in Thai tones changes the meaning of a word.

I call this “the music of the language”. Just like songs, languages have words and music, and you must know them both before you can get it right.

If you have trouble with tones try this. Listen to what the Thai person is saying and then try to hum it back, without using words, just a hum. The words, with their meanings, consonants, and vowels, won’t get in your way. All you will hear is the “music” of Thai. Those are the tones. After humming the sentence next try adding the words. Don’t forget to use the same music as before. This works whether we are learning Thai or English or any language. All languages have their own music.

Note: I discussed language as music a while ago in the post The Do-Be-Do-Be-Do System of Learning Thai Tones.

One of the biggest mistakes learners of Thai have is not to stress the importance of Thai tones. In my opinion, if you get the tones wrong, no matter how much they are smiling at you, no matter how much vocabulary you know, no matter how well you read and write, no matter what context you are speaking in, no one will understand a word you say (I know I’ll have arguments on this statement and cordially invite them).

Let me change that a bit. If you have someone you spend lots of time with, your partner, paramour, maid, golf caddie, they may be able to “decipher” incorrect tones and “guess” what you mean. That becomes more of an idiolect, your own personal language, which can be understood by only a few. That isn’t Thai.

Here is why tones are so important. The sounds of English can be divided into 3 very important parts, consonants, vowels, and intonation or stress. If you get any of these wrong then the person listening will have trouble understanding you. For instance, let’s say we have trouble with our consonants. You want to say “your life is fine,” but you confuse the consonants and come out with “your wife is mine”, only two small consonant changes. But if you say this to the wrong person you will quickly see how important consonants are in English. In this case we say that the change in consonants is “morphemic”, it changes the word’s meaning. I don’t think that anyone would say that it is unimportant to learn the English consonants and vowels. Then why do some people insist that Thai tones are not essential to being able to speak and be understood?

In Thai, tones are just as important as consonants and vowels. Changes in Thai tones cause “morphemic” changes in the words just as changes in consonants and vowels do. They mean something different. If one speaks toneless Thai it is the same as saying all English words using only one consonant. “Your life is fine.” becomes “tour tife is tine”.

And for those who advocate just saying an approximation of the Thai word and letting the Thais figure it out through its context. Don’t expect a Thai to understand a toneless Thai sentence just by using context. Would context help you understand “tour tife is tine”?

No wonder Thais look at us incomprehensibly at times. I’m not saying learning Thai tones is going to be easy. I still get those looks sometimes. And when I do, I don’t blame the listener for not understanding me. I know I just have to work a little harder at getting the tones right.

I have a thought about those who advocate learning Thai tones using the written tone rules. First of all, I have never been able to remember the written tone rules. Maybe I need to tattoo them on my arm or something. I am trying to learn to sight read playing the piano but I can never remember what line on the staff goes with what note. I have to write them down on the sheet music. It also took me until I was in college to get the multiplication tables down. It’s probably the same missing lobe in my brain that keeps me from remembering Thai tone rules.

But the real problem with learning how to say something through reading about it is that they are really two completely different skills. If I know the written tone rule I will know “what” tone a word uses. That doesn’t mean that I will be able to “say” the tone correctly. Just by knowing that a certain note is an “A’ doesn’t mean that we will be able to sing an “A”, except for those few who have perfect pitch that is.

My advice on getting tones right is to listen to how a native speaker of Thai says a word and then repeat it exactly as they say it. It is the difference between people who have perfect pitch and can sight read the music of a song and the rest of us. Some people can sing a song right from the sheet music. But most of us need to hear it banged out on a piano first before singing the notes correctly. So reading is a great way to know what the tone of a word is, but it is not the best way to say a Thai tone correctly. Listening and repeating is how it’s done. That’s exactly how all Thai children learn to speak in tones – long before they learn how to read.

Again, let me stress how important tones are in speaking Thai. In one of my favorite books, Alice in Wonderland, Alice and the March Hare have a discussion as to whether “saying what you mean” is the same as “meaning what you say”. I never could figure out who was right. But I do know that if we don’t use the correct tones when speaking Thai we will always be meaning one thing and saying another.

Warning: Anecdote to follow:

Thais just don’t understand me when I speak Thai. Why is that?…

There is a common complaint here among Expats that feel that Thais just don’t really want to understand them when they speak Thai. Here is a little story that happened to me recently that might put some light on the subject.

I needed to buy some gasoline (petrol) for my lawn mower. It needs to use benzene, 91 octane in order to run correctly. So I went to the gas station and asked for เบนซีนเก้าสิบเอ็ด /​ben-​seen gâao-​sìp èt/ “benzene ninety-one”.

The attendant stared at me as if I were speaking Martian. I repeated myself. This time he did a little shake of the head. One more time, this time saying เก้าสิบเอ็ด /​gâao-​sìp èt/ in a much louder voice. He started to go over and call his manager. Obviously he didn’t understand a word I said. And I had learned Thai numbers the first week of Thai class – about a million years ago. And I write this column.

Well, many people might interpret this as the attendant just refusing to understand my Thai. But, no he didn’t hate Farangs, and he wasn’t pretending not to understand. I was saying it wrong! What I should have said was เบนซีนเก้าหนึ่ง /​ben-​seen gâao nèung/ “benzene nine one” the way it is supposed to be said in Thai.

He didn’t understand me because I wasn’t saying it correctly. And the moral of the story: If a Thai doesn’t understand you when you are speaking Thai, you might not be speaking correctly. Maybe to him you sound like you are making nonsense noises.

The next time I went to that station I asked for เบนซีนเก้าหนึ่ง /​ben-​seen gâao nèung/ and I got exactly what I asked for.

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

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Thai Language Thai Culture: A System of Learning Thai Tones

Thai Language

The Do-Be-Do-Be-Do system of learning Thai tones…

(Apologies to Frank Sinatra)

If language were like a song, then the vocabulary and grammar of the language would be the words. The vowels, consonants, syllable stress and sentence intonation in English, and the tones in Thai would be the music. You really have to sing both the words and the music to get the song across.

The Thai tones (the music of the language) are some of the most difficult things an Expat language learner has to tackle. But although our cultures and languages may be different, every human being, who’s born with normal body parts, can make all the sounds of all the languages of the world. From the mouth torturing French vowel sounds, to the German gutturals, to the Arab and Hebrew throat clearing noises, to the African click sounds, to the sing-song Asian languages, to the rather ridiculous “th” sounds of English, our tongue, mouth, lips, nose, and throat, can make every sound of every language. Our speech apparatuses are all the same. Therefore, we really can produce all the Thai tones correctly. If we can’t produce them then it is not because we can’t physically make them.

What about simply hearing the Thai tones? I have often heard the excuse, “I’m tone deaf. I just can’t hear the tones in Thai.” Well, almost every human being in the world will recognize the tune of “Happy Birthday”. It is the most widely played song in the world. In fact, if someone were to sing Happy Birthday to you with different notes, you would know it immediately. If we can identify the notes of Happy Birthday, then we CAN hear all the sounds of a tonal language like Thai. If we are not hearing the tones, then there is something else getting in the way.

Here is an example of someone who can produce a perfectly good falling tone. The problem is, he should be using a rising tone. I tried to help a long-time Expat when I heard him use the wrong tone for the word meaning “to see”. His Thai listener was having trouble understanding him since he had gotten the tone wrong. He said “hên”, using a falling tone. I corrected him, “no, the word for “see” in Thai is “hĕn”, with a raising tone.” “Oh, I get it”, he said, “hên”. “Try again”, I said, “hĕn.” “Yes, yes, hên”, he said. I knew when I was beat. I said, “not bad.”, and left it at that. Looked like he could produce tones correctly, he just wasn’t listening. I developed a lot of empathy for our Thai teachers.

I think I have found a way to help us to hear, as well as produce Thai tones. It uses our ability to hum. Now different cultures have different ways to hum. In my favorite movie is Casablanca, the one where no one ever said “play it again Sam” even though everyone thinks that is a quote from the movie. Even Woody Allen named a movie of his own after the misquote. It seems that non-listening is not isolated to language learners. In the movie, Ingrid Bergman shows us the way Scandinavians hum.

This is how the dialog really went:

Ingrid BergmanIngrid Bergman (as Ilsa): Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”

Dooley Smith (as Sam): Oh, I can’t remember it, Miss Ilsa. I’m a little rusty on it.

Ingrid Bergman: I’ll hum it for you. Da-dy-da-dy-da-dum, da-dy-da-dee-da-dum…

Dooley Smith: You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss…

Miss Iisa hums differently than I do, but no matter how you hum, “da-dy-da-dy-da-dum” or “do-be-do-be-do”, humming is something that can help you, 1. Identify a tone in Thai, and 2. Learn how to produce it.

Here is how the Do-be-do-be-do system of learning Thai tones works:

Note on the do-be-do-be-do transcriptions below. This is just for illustrative purposes. Each tone, mid, high, low, falling and rising has its own note to hum. I have used upper case for falling tones just as an example. BTW, hum out loud, not in your head. It will give your voice producing organs practice. Don’t worry about which tone it is, just think of what note you are humming.

No matter what level of Thai you are at currently, you will be hearing Thai often. If the words or phrases are new to you, instead of trying to decipher the meaning first, simply hum (or sing) back what you just heard. This works even better if you are working with a teacher. She says something like คุณชื่ออะไร /kun chêu à~rai/, and whether you understand the words or not, you can hum or sing the words right back at her, something like “daaa DA da-da” (please use your own humming system). You can see that the second word has a big stress on it (the falling tone). You can do this first for single words. Later use it for phrases, and then for complete sentences.

By the way, for those of you who are English teachers here in Thailand, you can use this method to teach English word stress (“beautiful” is DA da-da) or English sentence intonation (“you speak Thai very well” is “da da da DA-da da”).

Now you know the music. After you have hummed back the target word or phrase and feel that you have the rhythm and notes correct, just add the consonants and vowels (problems in their own right I am afraid) and you will have both the words and the music. If you speak the words just as you hummed them, then the tones will come out correctly.

kun pôot paa-săa tai gèng mâak
Da DA da-da-da da DA

Hugh’s fun Thai word for the month…

The fun Thai word for this month is ซ่า /sâa/

Normally ซ่า means “tingling” but it has morphed its meaning to describe the bubbles in a carbonated drink. For instance, if you open a bottle of Coke and there are no bubbles and you want to return it to the waitress, you can say ไม่มีซ่า /mâi mee sâa/. It is a fun word to say because with its aspirated “s” and the long “aa” and the falling tone, it is onomatopoetic. It sounds just like what it is. When you pop open a soft drink can or bottle it goes ซ่า /sâa/.

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

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