I first heard about the Chiang mai language exchange group back in 2015 from Daniel Styles. Since then Daniel relocated (but still shows up on occasion), the group was taken over by his mate Maik Cook, and they all shifted to CUBE7 after the closure of their former meeting place, FOCUS.
People from all over the world come to Language Exchange meetings every Wednesday and Saturday. The four most spoken languages are English, Thai, Chinese, and German but many more are represented at the group. Many people at Language Exchange are now friends, but everyone became friends the same way – after meeting and talking with people in the group.
The meetups are a perfect size, anywhere from 10 to 25 people each time. And while they welcome visitors who show up from elsewhere to practice their chosen languages, the meetings mostly consist of intermediate and advanced learners who live, work, or study in Chiang Mai.
The group meets all year around except for during Songkran and the Loy Krathong festival. And on top of their regular language meetups, there’s now a ‘Language Exchange Karaoke Night’ was well as a ‘Language Exchange Food Night’. Sounds like fun!
Their Language Exchange Chiang Mai Facebook group presently has around 2,760 members, comprised of those living in Chiang mai and those planning a holiday around a visit to the language exchange.
If you live in Chiang mai or will be there anytime soon, perhaps stop by?
If you want to learn to speak Thai, finding native Thai speakers is a must.
And they’re quite easy to find, if you know where to look.
In this post, I’ll share with you the absolute best places to find Thai language partners. As a bonus, I’ll even throw in a strategy that will allow to get more practice time out of your partners.
Let’s dive right in.
We’re going to see two types of resources for finding Thai language partners: Online and offline resources. We’ll focus on the former since they are generally more accessible.
These online resources are language exchange websites/apps, dating websites and games, among other things.
Language Exchange Websites and Apps…
Language exchange websites and apps are probably the most obvious places to find language partners, if you don’t live in Thailand. There are a few language exchange platforms which offer a wealth of native Thai speakers who will willingly teach you Thai as long as you agree to teach them English in return.
I recently tested several websites and apps and there were only a handful that I found worth using. And note that these are more than sufficient for finding Thai language partners.
Here they are:
HelloTalk is by far the best of all language exchange platforms. It has a great number of Thai speaking members who want to learn English, which makes it really easy to find partners.
This app is available to both iOS and android devices. The chat platform looks a lot like the one on Viber and Whatsapp, if you know what these here.
On HelloTalk, you’re limited to sending messages to no more than 15 people per day. Trust me, though, 15 persons per day is enough.
At least in my case, most of them replied to a simple “Hi, how are you?”. You also have the option to write a detailed description of yourself, so don’t miss out on doing so to increase your success rate.
As far as websites are concerned, I found no other that matched Italki in terms of the quantity of members who speak Thai. Here’s the result I got, a day after I sent about 15 messages:
I have sent messages to about 40 different people in 5 minutes on Italki and I have not been limited.
A third language exchange resource should not be needed, but if you’re looking for an extra one, Conversation Exchange fares decently.
Conversation Exchange’s limit is around 10 people per day, which is largely sufficient. As with HelloTalk and Italki, most replied to my initial message. You can also put a description of yourself in your profile.
The downside of Conversation Exchange, though, is that you cannot upload a profile picture (you can only use one of the avatars they offer), so it’s not as personal. Also, the website looks old, which makes it less appealing to use. I was surprised to see that several Thais still used it despite its looks.
Before I go into my review of dating websites, know this: Dating websites do not have to be used to find love. A lot of their members are open to friendship. Do you see where I’m getting at with this?
That’s right, dating websites are a gold mine for finding Thai language partners. And the big upside is that they won’t necessarily want to practice English with you. So you can end up practicing Thai 100% of the times, which is awesome.
Here they are:
One of the best free dating websites out there to find Thai partners is ThaiFriendly. It has a huge number of people you can talk with, and of course, you can do so in Thai.
ThaiFriendly is all you should need, but if you’re looking to try a different dating site, Badoo isn’t too bad. The big downside is that you’re limited in terms of the number of people you can message every day, unless you purchase “Super Powers”. Despite the limitations, I’ve had great success with it in the past, especially playing the “Encounters”.
Regardless of the dating website you choose to use, make sure you state it in your profile that you’re looking for friendship (if that’s all you’re looking for), so that you don’t lead anyone on.
Here’s a sample profile that you can adapt to your own needs:
Hi everyone, I’m Marc, a 30 year old Canadian man who loves to travel. I’ve been to Thailand a few times, also to Europe and South America. Traveling is my passion and the only thing in life that truly gives me happiness. I’m currently working as an English teacher, which allows me to travel a lot. I love to talk with Thai ladies, which is the main reason why I joined this website. I’m very much open to friendship and I would like to meet new people.Feel free to send me a message and we can go from there.
If you can write it in Thai, that’s even better.
Nowadays, there’s a great range of games that have chat and/or microphone features. In some of these games, you can play on a server located in Thailand, where you’ll have the chance to practice with countless potential practice partners.
Here are a couple of games where you can play on a Thai server, but note that there are way more such games that exist:
If that’s the case, I may have you covered. If you live outside of Thailand, you still might be able to find Thais with whom to practice in person.
Where can you do this might you ask?
By getting involved in the Thai communities outside of Thailand.
As it turns out, in some large urban areas, there are established communities of Thais. An easy way to find them is to do a search on Facebook. Type the word “Thai community” and then type the name of the city where you live.
Let me give you an example. If you live in Dallas, you’d proceed as follows:
Now that you know where to find Thai language partners, let me give you some useful information about practicing with them.
Useful Info about Practicing with Thai People…
When you practice with Thais, be mindful of their time zone. If you sleep at night, here are the best times to get a hold of them:
On the USA’s east coast: early morning and possibly late in the evening.
Europe: Morning and afternoon.
Australia: Afternoon and evening.
The Line App
Line is very popular in Thailand. It’s an app/program that serves as a platform that can be used to communicate by chat, audio and video. You might be asked for your Line ID when talking to Thai partners, so I suggest you make one.
A Quick Word about Thai People
There’s one thing that stands out about Thais and it’s that they’re an extremely humble and polite people, which, to experience it for me in person was simply priceless, such a contrast to the people I’m used to in my home country. IF you do get the chance to experience the land of smiles one day, you’ll see what I mean.
Strategy for Maximizing Your Practice Time with Language Partners…
Over the years, I’ve had countless language partners and still today, I have a handful of them that are highly reliable. I can practice with them and get explanations about grammar, whenever I need it.
I’m now going to show you how you can get this level of reliability in some partners as well.
First, as I quickly mentioned earlier, start by making a neat profile on the app/website. If possible, write your description in Thai as this will entice more people to reply or even send you a message on their own.
Secondly, send a very short message such as “Hi, how are you?” to as many potential partners as you can, whether on language exchange or dating platforms.
Then, DO NOT jump to language exchange right away. That is a common mistake that people often make. When I did that, I noticed that the language exchange took place for a week at most, and then died down tremendously.
Why does this happen?
Well, it’s hard to say, but my best guess is that teaching someone else a language or learning it can feel like work, and some of us already have our hands full with that.
Fortunately, there is a better approach.
The trick I found is to focus on friendship. That’s right, make this person your friend by having interesting conversations on common interests and you’ll gain someone who is more dependable and who’ll genuinely want to help you with your Thai.
Also, try to take the conversation elsewhere, like on Skype or on Line, as early in the process as possible. You’ll have more freedom like sharing files, making audio/video calls, which you may not get on language exchange and dating websites/apps.
This is what concludes this guide on finding Thai language partners. Follow it and you’ll surely succeed in the same way that I did.
A lot of Thai language learners and natives of Thailand who live outside of Thailand would love to have access to Thai media, but are limited to inconsistent YouTube videos and other inconsistent, unstable, and unreliable sources. Live Thai television channel streams may buffer; videos are in very poor quality; or video series are missing parts. Well, I have come across something that may remedy that.
Malimar Technology Inc., is a technology company based out of the US. They provide access to content from Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos to people from anywhere in the world on either a monthly or yearly subscription. Quality of content range from standard definition to high definition. Types of content range from movies to live television channels from Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. Language of contents are Khmer, Laos, Thai, and Hmong. There is also a section that contains all of their movies that are subtitled in English along with subtitles in Thai. I’m a subscriber myself, and love it.
Here is a little breakdown on what you get:
First, you must register and select a subscription plan. You can access via the web with your PC, Mac, Tablet, or phone or via Roku. They have a thirty-day trial that will allow you to dabble in it and see if you like it or not. They also have some free content, and will let you watch the first two episodes of any drama series for free. When you log on to their website, you will see options for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Hmong. Let’s say you click on Thailand, – you will see the following: Thai Live Premium, Drama (Onair), World Drama (Onair), News, Sitcoms, Full Thai Dramas, Variety Shows, Food & Travel, Game Shows, Sports, Local Theater, Music, E-Learning, Drama (World), Other Menus, and Live Radio.
Thai Live Premium has live Television channels from Thailand. Channels as ThaiPBS in Hd, channels 3 and 8, Voice Tv, Sabaydee Tv, and other channels. These channels are very stable and reliable. They don’t buffer very often, and if they do buffer, they don’t buffer for very long. The free section has channels as GMM Gold and Thai channels from the USA.
Drama (Onair) gives you instant access to drama episodes after they air on tv. It’s like how Hulu airs tv episodes one day after they air on tv. If you are a fan of Thai drama, this will ensure you don’t miss a single episode of any drama that is airing and you can also catch up by viewing previous episodes. These episodes are full episodes and play straight through. They’re not segmented like how they are if you were to watch them on YouTube. That means, you can watch the episode straight through with no interruptions. World Drama (Onair) is the same thing. Just the dramas are Korean and other dramas dubbed in Thai.
The News section has full episodes of news programs from various channels from current day episodes all the way to the first episodes of the programs from the beginning of the year. It is the same with the Sitcoms, Full Thai Dramas, Variety Shows, Food & Travel, Game Shows, and Sports sections. Full Thai Dramas contain full episodes of dramas from current year and dramas from previous years all the way back to 2008. The Variety Shows Section contains full episodes of shows from reality shows to documentary series along with shows like “Thailand’s Got Talent” and “The Voice: Thailand.” The episodes are from current year.
Local Theater has traditional performances as traditional plays performed at local theaters in Thailand. These are unsegmented as well. The Music section contains full episodes of Thai music shows with artist performances. E-Learning has videos of language and culture education from Korean to Chinese language and cooking. Drama (World) has full episodes of dramas from around the world, dubbed in Thai from current year and from previous years. There is also a Movies On Demand section within this section. Here, you will find Thai movies along with movies from around the world dubbed in Thai. You will also find English and Thai subtitled movies here.
The Other Menus section contains full concert videos, full news, sitcom, and variety shows from previous years, and an adult section for mature audiences. These are rated R Thai movies along with rated R movies from around the world dubbed in Thai. There is also a Special section with full episodes of shows like “Bike For Mom.” The Live Radio section is, well, live radio stations from Thailand.
I like this content provider because I can be connected back home to Cambodia by the live and archived media it provides. After I came to the US, I had no access to Khmer radio or television. With Malimar Tv Network, I don’t have anymore excuses. I also like its Thai contents for they are a lot more engaging than Khmer programs, and the contents help with my Thai language skills; especially listening. Now, I can also watch Thai dramas and Thai movies in Thai vs having to deal with the Khmer dubs. Oh, so horrible! I’m currently watching บางระจัน, a historical ละคร based on classical literature about a defense camp during the time of Ayutthaya, and battles between the Thais and the Burmese.
There’s a lot of content, but you have to explore and find these treasures yourself. Contents are of course updated and added and everything on there works. If something is down, it will be back up no later than the next day. I haven’t had any problems; so have not experience how their customer service is like. The website is very accessible with Voice Over; so a user who is blind may navigate the site and enjoy its content. I mostly access MaliMar via an add-on from a media center on my Mac which is also accessible with Voice Over. I haven’t access the site with a PC, so I don’t know if it is accessible with MicroSoft Narrator, JAWS, or any other types of screen reader software for WINDOWS. If you want to check it out, go to MaliMar Tv. The web subscription is about three dollars cheaper than a Roku subscription.
Update: Android just came out with an app (iOS in the wings) MaliMar Tv
When I started researching on the Internet for Thai learning resources, I found more than a few sites with broken links. So instead of collecting sites with resources, I created a page of my own and called it Learn Thai for FREE.
After all these years it continues to be a work in process, but the point is that I can lay my hands on links I found ages ago.
Awhile back I came across So you want to learn a language, a treasure trove of language learning links. I have most (but not all) of the Thai resources covered on WLT.
For Thai, go straight to >> Specific languages >> Thai.
The rest (like Italian) are going to take me a good long while to wade through.
Jonas Anderson’s new song, กวางขาวอยู่กลางเขา, is a hilarious hit. The lyrics tell a story about a western English teacher who falls in love with a Thai lass and asks her to check his Thai. And what Thai it is! The song is a mix of tongue-twisters and nonsense verse, and in places, sung at high-speed.
Note: For this song I won’t add transliteration – there’s enough distraction as is. Those who prefer transliteration can just drag the Thai script into Thai2English.com.
Lyrics and English translation: กวางขาวอยู่กลางเขา…
So before I post my review, please take the time to read Chris’ valuable insights into sentence samples found in Thai dictionaries.
Chris Pirazzi on Sample Sentences in Thai Dictionaries…
I’m really glad you mentioned sample sentences. We may indeed add sample sentences at some point, but sample sentences are an area where there is a LOT of misunderstanding and mis-set customer expectations, and you could really help a lot of people in your review by helping to head off these mis-set expectations before the customer gets disappointed.
First of all, customers should be aware that the quality of sample sentences varies wildly between apps, so customers should be sure to look at more than just quantity. Most apps actually get their sample sentences by having a computer program crawl through huge, freely available, error-ridden bilingual datasets available on the internet with no human intervention or editing. In many cases, the sample sentences contain errors, or even more often, they do not even demonstrate the meaning of the word being defined at all. For example, an entry for “หก” with the English translation “The number 6” may contain many sample sentences for the other meaning of หก, “to spill (a liquid).” The sample sentences in these cases are at best confusing and possibly misleading. With some apps (and I never could figure out why) you will even see sample sentences for a Thai word that don’t even contain the Thai word! Typically, if an app boasts a huge number of sample sentences (like, tens of thousands or more), that is a major red flag that the sentences are crap. Doing sample sentences properly requires humans to edit the sentences of each entry for relevance, and that takes almost as much work as creating the dictionary dataset in the first place. Almost no vendor is willing to take this time for editing.
Secondly, and even more importantly, challenge your reader to ask why they want sample sentences. There may be other ways of getting what they want that are simpler and more direct. Let me explain.
Sample sentences are a little like transcription: at first, when looking for Thai learning materials, Thai learners always ask for a transcription system that is as “English-Like” as possible, and they may even choose their app by that criterion. It isn’t until much later that they realize that due to the unavoidable reality of Thai language and how its sounds differ from English, the goal of being “English-like” is not only impossible but it may actually damage their ability to learn Thai sounds properly (e.g., transcription systems which over-simplify Thai sounds so that ส้ม and ซ่อม are written the same way, or เป็ด and เผ็ด are written the same way), or at the very least the goal of being “English-Like” may actually make the transcription system more complicated and make it more hard for them to learn Thai than they could with other systems. I talk about that at length in Slice of Thai: Pronunciation Guide Systems for Thai.
At first, customers also ask for sample sentences, but sample sentences can lead the customer to a similar dilemma. When we were beginning our multi-year dictionary production process, we asked ourselves why it is that people ask for sample sentences. The answer is that it helps give more information about a given translation, for example:
for a given translation from language 1 to language 2, which SENSE of the word is being translated? For example, if there is an English entry for “glass” that shows a Thai word, then is that the Thai word for “drinking glass” or the word for “pane of glass?”
what prepositions and other linking words need to be used along with a given word? For example, when I want to say “wait for him”, I can see that there is a Thai word “รอ,” but what (if any) preposition should I put in in place of “for”?
what level of formality (e.g. slang, formal) does the word have?
what are the word’s classifiers, if it is a noun?
Typically, bilingual dictionaries will try to answer these questions by providing sample sentences.
But even if the sample sentences are carefully hand-crafted and hand-edited by humans (and so far I have never seen an iOS/Android app where they are), sample sentences are a very poor way to answer the questions above, because the reader has to read the sentence, understand its parts, and then think backwards to get the answer to the original question they really wanted answered.
We decided that it’s much better to spend our effort answering the important questions for the user directly. We are the only Thai-English English-Thai dictionary that we are aware of that was designed from the ground up to help English speakers who are learning Thai in this way.
When giving definitions, we provide glosses to clarify shades of meaning (e.g. “glass (drinking)” vs. “glass (pane)”), as shown on our website at Designed for English Speakers.
We have specifically designed our headwords to solve the preposition/extra word problem. For example, we include a transitive verb entry “wait for” that translates to “รอ,” and this is a specific, explicit cue to the user that they do not need to insert a Thai word corresponding to “for” when using the Thai verb รอ. We talk more about how this works in our application Help under “Speaking and Listening” then “Verbs, Objects, and Prepositions.”
We specifically notate the register (slang, formal, …) of each word using symbols, rather than trying to make the user guess from sample sentences. You can click on “Word Register” in our app Help to get the details.
And of course we explicitly notate classifiers too.
There are still cases where sample sentences can be handy, but we feel we’ve delivered a much, much greater bang for the buck by spending our finite development time by going right for the information that Thai learners need. We may still add sample sentences as well. No matter what, we will continue to listen to our customers’ requests for what information they want in each entry and provide that in the most direct and useful form we can.
Thailand, like the majority of SE Asia, has a deeply embedded culture of employing house help. Housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, nannies and drivers are a normal part of the daily fabric of life out here.
My cherished Filipina amah in Borneo even had a maid back home. And why not?
When expats move to this region they get the opportunity to hand their cleaning chores to others. Some wobble in alarm at the wickedness of it all while others embrace the concept with broad smiles.
If you are the embracing kind who now needs to give instructions to a Thai housekeeper or cleaner, then this basic lesson on Thai cleaning phrases is for you.
In this post I bounce from charades to hand waggling while using two Thai words and more (but not in that order). All have their uses.
What washing, cleaning verbs to use with what…
The Thai language has a sort of generic word for cleaning, ทำความสะอาด /tam-kwaam-sa-àat/ (to do, make cleanliness). But beware. When a chore needs to be done a certain way, in order to avoid confusing your housekeeper you’ll either need different verbs to communicate the type of cleaning or be really good at hand waggling.
[V] Clean ทำความสะอาด /tam-kwaam-sa-àat/
Generic, not suitable for everything you’ll need.
For Thai cleaning instructions to be understood we need to declare the how, what, and sometimes the where and when. This is the ‘hand waving in the general direction’ part of the lesson. Next comes the how and what.
To see how it works, take the sample sentence above and replace house (บ้าน /bâan/) with the nouns below. Sound files and pdf’s for download are at the end of this post. And yes, the sample sentence structures shown in this post can be used for a lot more than cleaning a house!
house บ้าน /bâan/
office ที่ทำงาน /têe-tam-ngaan/
living room ห้องรับแขก /hông-ráp-kàek/
kitchen ห้องครัว /hông-krua/
bedroom ห้องนอน /hông-non/
bathroom ห้องน้ำ /hông-náam/
car รถ /rót/
You can instruct your housekeeper to “clean the house” or “clean the kitchen” but it leaves the finer details, the how and what, up to her. If you have a maid who can read your mind, fine. But then you wouldn’t need this post.
As above, play around with the sample sentences, verbs, and nouns listed below. But beware, some are interchangeable, some not. For instance, instructing your cleaner to wash your computer in water might not be the best of ideas (don’t laugh… it happens).
[V] Clean ล้าง /láang/
To wash with water, liquids (often by hand).
Note: Not all washing verbs are for the home:
wash (body) อาบ /àap/
wash (hair on head) สระ /sà/
On to even more cleaning verbs…
Now that we’ve gotten the washing out of the way let’s get to the rest of the chores. Some anyway. Not all are listed (the series will deal with those later) but I’ve included enough to get you started.
Today วันนี้ /wan-née/
Everyday ทุกวัน /túk-wan/
Now ตอนนี้ /dton-née/
Once a week อาทิตย์ ละ ครั้ง /aa-tít lá kráng/
Once a month เดือน ละ ครั้ง /deuan lá kráng/
First ก่อน /gòn/
Later ทีหลัง /tee-lăng/
Using today, everyday, and now in front of a sentence puts the emphasis on the time. Today, everyday, and now, shown in first grouping above, can be used both at the front and the end of a sentence. The second grouping cannot be used in the front of a sentence without changing the meaning.
Without knowing a lick of Thai you can communicate by using a combination of charades and cleaning materials. I know because I did a lot of arm waving before introducing McDonalds into the equation (a long story and one I might get to later).
What you do is physically take the maid and the needed cleaning materials to the item needing cleaning, and then go through the motions. If she is still perplexed (or overcome by the giggles even) you might want/need to show how the actual chore is done.
The next step up from charades uses just two words of Thai. You say “clean this” while pointing at the item. They might become confused and maybe not.
Going that route leaves the method up to personal interpretation (a potential disaster), so even better is waggling the cleaning materials towards your maid (Windex, mop, whatever) with one hand while pointing to the item you need cleaned (windows, floors, whatever) with the other as you attempt those magic two words. Good luck.
If you know the right verb but you don’t know the name of what you want cleaned, you can resort to pointing at the item while saying the verb plus นี่ /nêe/ (this).
In the case of giving instructions, softening direct orders with kindness is just a sweet way to go. Please note that I’m not saying to do this every time but peppering demands with niceties does give a polite Thai touch.
When you need to get the attention of your housekeeper begin conversations with ขอโทษ ค่ะ /kŏr-tôht kâ/ (excuse me) if you are a female, and ขอโทษ ครับ /kŏr-tôht kráp/ if male.
Adding a ขอบคุณ /kòp-kun/ when a thank you is due is no different than in the west.
Again with the peppering (no need to grovel by overkill), to soften instructions end sentences with นะคะ /na-ká/ if you are female and นะครับ /na-kráp/ if you are male.
Excuse me ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/
Thank you ขอบคุณ /kòp kun/
Polite particle female ค่ะ /kâ/
Polite particle male ครับ /kráp/
Conformation particle female นะคะ /na-ká/
Conformation particle male นะครับ /na-kráp/
I just love the sound นะคะ /na-ká/ makes tripping off the tongue. Don’t you? Oh, and while I have you here. No, you do not ไหว้ /wâi/ your Thai maid.
Downloads: Basic Thai cleaning instructions…
The below downloads include the Thai script, transliteration, and sound files to the phrases and vocabulary in this post. Newly added are Excel spreadsheets for Flashcards Deluxe. The spreadsheets should also work for Anki.
Disclaimer: When compiling the HouseTalk posts I run the Thai phrases and vocabulary through Thai Skype teacher Khun Narisa. But when I code the posts I often tweak a little. So what I’m saying is that snafus are all mine and will be dealt with as such.
Kinship terms for Thai housekeepers, nannies, drivers, and more…
In the last post, What Do You Call Your Thai Housekeeper?, we learned about alternative names for maids in Thailand. During the research, Sarawan (The Parent Vine – no longer online) and I engaged in a discussion about the different terms used for not only housekeepers but drivers, cooks, and nannies.
Sarawan, whose mother is Thai, is raising an Australian-American-Thai baby in Bangkok. And because she grew up with an extended Thai family, Sarawan is familiar with who gets named what in the modern Thai world.
But being American raised, Sarawan continues to come across nuances important for understanding Thai relationships. And when Sarawan pointed out a peculiarity (below), we both set out to discover more.
I asked my mother how she would refer to household staff at my grandmother’s house and she confirmed what Rikker and Kaewmala said about สาวใช้ /săao-chái/ and คนใช้ /kon-chái/. She said she would call them เด็กที่บ้าน /dèk-têe-bâan/ – child of the house, but then sternly told me not to try that myself – this is reserved for older people (say, over 50) when referring to younger staff (say, under 30).
I asked if it was patronizing to call them เด็ก /dèk/. After thinking about it, she told me that it was just neutral, like saying “the people at our house”, but older people get referred to specifically by title.
Here are a few she mentioned:
คนเลี้ยงเด็ก /kon-líang-dèk/ is an alternative to พี่เลี้ยง /pêe-líang/ (nanny).
A cook is แม่ครัว /mâe-krua/ (mother of the kitchen) or พ่อครัว /pôr-krua/ (father of the kitchen).
A driver is คนขับรถ /kon-kàp-rót/ (person who drives the car).
When addressing someone in person, I always used to fall back on using kinship terms like พี่ /pêe/ (older person), น้า /náa/ (aunt) and ลุง /lung/ (uncle) etc., to refer to maids, taxi drivers, etc.
It was recently explained me that we always use kinship terms from the mother’s family (I had never thought about it before). So in our apartment building, my daughter refers to her พี่เลี้ยง /pêe-líang/ as พี่จ๊ะ /pêe-já/, to older maids in the building as ป้า /bpâa/, and one who’s quite a bit older, as ยาย ทูม /yaai toom/ Grandmother Toom (Toom is her name). Or rather – since my daughter is not really talking yet – this is how the various maids and housekeepers have decided amongst themselves that she should refer to them.
The handymen and guards in the building are all called ลุง /lung/ (Older Uncle) since they’re mostly older than me (or at least they want to flatter me by claiming to be).
As someone with a more farang mindset, I always preferred addressing people like this myself, because it is familiar yet adds respect. I remember the shock I felt when I hired my current maid (now nanny), and started to call her พี่ /pêe/, and then realized that she probably WASN’T my พี่ /pêe/. I really didn’t know where to go from there. I now use คุณ /khun/, even though I know that most Thais wouldn’t necessarily do the same. It feels formal and wrong to me though, and I miss having a more casual but correct way to address her. But I think I just have to flounder through this awkward stage until I am granny-aged and can basically call anyone whatever I want.
Anyhow, I find it fascinating how kinship terms soften the social stratification, while at the same time preserving distinctions. And I find it fascinating that it’s the mother’s family terminology that is used, not the father’s.
Why Thais use the mother’s terminology in the household…
In the English language, terms for grandfather, grandmother, uncle and aunt are interchangeable on both sides of the family. But most (not all) Thai kinship terms denote what side of the family the person is on (mother or father), as well as age (older or younger).
When Sarawan brought up the curious use of the mother’s terminology when naming servants, I asked Skype teacher Khun Narisa to please explain it to me.
Khun Narisa took the opportunity to teach me an old Thai saying:
คนไทย แต่ง เข้า, คนจีน แต่ง ออก
kon-tai dtàeng kâo, kon jeen dtàeng òok
Thai people marry, entre. Chinese people marry, exit.
Note: แต่ง /dtàeng/ is the shortened version of แต่งงาน /dtàeng ngaan/, to get married.
And to understand the cloudy (to me) point being made, Khun Narisa enlarged on the subject by sharing several more sentences with the same meaning:
Thai people marry, entre: When Thai people get married they want the son-in-law to move in.
คนไทย แต่ง เข้า – คนไทย แต่งงาน แล้ว เอา ลูกเขย เข้า บ้าน
kon-tai dtàeng kâo – kon tai dtàeng-ngaan láew ao lôok-kŏie kâo bâan
Thai people marry, then have the son-in-law move in.
คนไทย แต่ง แล้ว ให้ ลูกเขย เข้า บ้าน
kon-tai dtàeng láew hâi lôok-kŏie kâo bâan
Chinese people marry, exit: When Chinese marry they must have their daughters out of the house.
คนจีน แต่ง ออก – คนจีน ถ้า ลูกสาว แต่งงาน แล้ว ต้อง ออกจาก บ้าน
kon jeen dtàeng òk – kon-jeen tâa lôok-săao dtàeng-ngaan láew dtông òk-jàak bâan
Chinese people marry, then have the daughter move out.
คนจีน แต่ง แล้ว ให้ ลูกสาว ออกจาก บ้าน
kon-jeen dtàeng láew hâi lôok-săao òk-jàak bâan
The logic here is that Thai people feel the need for the son-in-law to move in because he can then help on the farm (it also assures that he does not beat their daughter). But the Chinese people want the daughter-in-law to move in to take care of the housekeeping and help in the family business.
Traditionally in Thailand, living with multiple generations in one household is common. So in a typical Thai household it’s quite possible to have the newlyweds, the brides’ mother and father, the brides’ grandparents and even great grandparents, the brides’ sisters with their kids and husbands, and sometimes the brides’ unmarried uncles.
And with the son-in-law moving into his wife’s family home, Thai family units are/were often had a high concentration of the female side of the family. And even though the traditional ways of Thai life are being replaced by modern living, using family terms from the mother’s side is upheld even today.
So there you have it – the reason for the use of female kinship terms for Thai servants.
But I’m not done yet… in my research I came across a theory that is quiet fun. I’m not sure how true it is (Khun Narisa says that Thai newlyweds were not commonly given such a choice), but here we go:
Paraphrasing: If Thai a bridegroom moves his new wife in with his mother there will be fights and disharmony between the two women. But if he moves in with his new mother-in-law she’ll spoil him like she does her own son. Sweet!
Thai vocabulary: Terms for your Thai house help…
Housekeeper (house mother)
คน ช่วย ทำงานบ้าน /kon chûay tam-ngaan-bâan/
Person who helps with housework
Nanny or au pair
Nanny or au pair
Uncle (mother’s elder brother)
Uncle (mother’s younger brother)
Aunt (mother’s older sister)
Aunt (mother’s younger sister)
Used when talking to someone older
Used when talking to someone younger
So, what are your thoughts on Thai kinship terms?
Downloads: Kinship terms for Thai housekeepers, nannies, drivers…
The below downloads include the Thai script, transliteration, and sound files to the above vocabulary. Sound files for the male kinship terms are there too.
Please note: The materials are for your own personal use only.
The Thai HouseTalk series…
Next we are going to launch into the meat of the series with the basic cleaning instructions needed to communicate with your Thai maid (housekeeper, cleaner, mâe-bâan, Khun Gung, whatever you’ve finally decided).
When I lived in Japan I was just a short bit of stuff. It was too long ago to remember what our maid was called so I asked someone who would know: Tony Joh from thai-faq.com. Tony informed me that maid in Japanese is either ote or kaseifu. Nice to know.
Then when I moved back to a western country the person who cleaned my house was called a maid and a cleaner took care of the office. Similar duties, different titles.
I’ve long since moved from the west and in that time a politically correct society has emerged. Garbage collectors became sanitation engineers (or has that changed) and maids also went for a name change.
So maid was turfed out and housekeeper (executive housekeeper even), house help, domestic help, and cleaner were brought in as the PC words to use. It’s a pity really, because maid is shorter (and I personally hold no ill will towards the title).
So what do you call your Thai maid?…
Now that I’m living in Thailand discovering what to call a Thai maid was needed so I asked Kaewmala (Thai Women Talks) and Rikker (Thai 101). Kaewmala ran me through the possibilities, both former and present. The former goes first:
Girl who is used
Person who is used
In Kaewmala’s mindset both are pejorative (contemptuous). Rikker agreed, stating that คนใช้ /kon-chái/ and สาวใช้ /săao-chái/ are now comparable to ‘servant’ vs ‘domestic worker’ in English.
Rikker went on to say that while the meanings haven’t really changed, the connotations have. They both imply a lack of free will. Not slavery, but not too far from it.
Paraphrasing Rikker: ‘used’ has more negative connotations in English than in Thai but the verb ใช้ /chái/ (used) is still common. For example, ใช้ ไป ซื้อ /chái bpai séu/ means ‘to send to buy’ (something) and sending someone to the market to buy something doesn’t imply negative intentions. The verb ‘to serve’ is รับใช้ /ráp-chái/. And true or not, a politician often announces that he serves the public: รับใช้ ประชา ชน /ráp-chái bprà-chaa chon/.
ใช้ ไป ซื้อ /chái bpai séu/
To send (someone) to buy
Getting back to labeling your Thai maid…
Kaewmala brought up that คน ช่วย ทำงานบ้าน /kon chûay tam-ngaan-bâan/ (the person who helps with the housework) is the proper description but it’s much too much whereas แม่บ้าน /mâe-bâan/ (house mother) is just right. And both mâe-bâan and Ahma hark back to our mothers. Makes sense.
คน ช่วย ทำงานบ้าน /kon chûay tam-ngaan-bâan/
Person who helps with the housework
Housekeeper (house mother)
Rikker ended by saying that the English pronunciation of ‘maid’ is also used in Thailand. It’s spelt เมด /mâyt/ but pronounced เหมด. So… do we still get to use maid?
In Thailand, what you call your maid is a family matter…
The above terms are mostly used to refer to the jobs people do, not the actual names you’d call your housekeeper/maid. For instance, even though it’s formal I pair my housekeeper’s nickname with คุณ /kun/ to get คุณกุ้ง /kun gûng/.
That’s right. If you are familiar with Thailand then you’ll already know that in polite Thai you use คุณ /kun/. It’s sort of like saying Mr or Mrs (and I’m just courteous that way).
It’s also common to use kinship terms in reference to the hired and sometimes inherited help.
Rikker’s domestic is called a พี่เลี้ยง /pêe-líang/ but that’s because she insists on the title of nanny. In reality, she does more housework than childcare so perhaps she feels that a แม่บ้าน /mâe-bâan/ has lower status than a พี่เลี้ยง /pêe-líang/? Does anyone know who holds the higher rank on the Thai homefront?
Rikker’s young daughter calls her nanny น้า /náa/ but if the nanny were of the older persuasion she just might be called ป้า /bpâa/ instead.
Mother’s younger sister
Aunt, elder sister of parents
So go ahead and tell me. Please. Are you even mildly confused yet?
Downloads: What do you call your Thai housekeeper…
As I mentioned in the introduction post, Miscommunicating with Your Thai Housekeeper, the HouseTalk series will include downloads. Amongst the files will be sounds, Thai script and transliteration. The sound folder will include sound files only, and when I can keep the files to a reasonable size the pdfs will have the sounds linked in.
Please note: The materials are for your own personal use only.
The Thai HouseTalk series…
Before we launch into Thai phrases we’ll visit even more kinship terms used with the household staff in Thailand. It’s quite the interesting subject and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did researching, writing, and discussing it.