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Thai Language Thai Culture: I’m Not Fine, Thank You

Thai Language

I’m not rine, thank you very much…

From my years of teaching English I have learned that there is a two-line dialog that is ingrained in every student of English, probably in the world. It goes like this:

Hello, how are you?
Fine thank you, and you?

As native speakers of English, we know that there are lots of other ways to answer the question in the first line of the dialog. But “fine, thank you” is about as far as the lesson usually goes. What if you aren’t fine?

Well, we have almost the exact same problem when we study Thai. I am going to bet that you have heard this dialog before.

สวัสดีค่ะ สบายดีหรือ
sà~wàt-dee kâ sà~baai-dee rěu
Hello, how are you?

สบายดีค่ะ
sà~baai-dee kâ
Fine.

Now usually we don’t really want to discuss our major medical problems with everyone we meet. That is why a “how are you?” is rarely answered with a list of our physical complaints. “Fine thank you” is much easier. The same goes for สบายดีหรือ /sà~baai-dee rěu/. You may occasionally hear a ฉันไม่สบายค่ะ /chăn mâi sà~baai kâ/ (I’m not well). But more likely they will tell you they are just fine, thank you.

But what if your doctor is the person you are talking to? And let’s say you do want to discuss your medical situation with him/her. First of all, your doctor would probably not ask สบายดีหรือ /sà~baai-dee rěu/. The question would more probably be เป็นยังไง /bpen yang-ngai/, literally “How are you?” but here it is more the equivalent of “what’s up?” or “What brings you here today?”

In English we usually answer this question with “I feel…” (I feel sick), “I have…” (I have a bad cold.), “I am…” (I’m depressed.), or using a body part (my feet are killing me). Likewise, when we talk about our health in Thai we can also break our complaints into various compartments. Remember that talking about our health is a pretty popular past time and there are lots of variations. These are just some of the basics. Let’s look at a few below.

Feeling…

The Thai word for “feel” is รู้สึก /róo-sèuk/. It is used with certain symptoms just as the word “feel” is in English. As with many forms, the word รู้สึก /róo-sèuk/ can often be dropped without changing the meaning.

ฉัน (รู้สึก) ไม่สบาย
chăn (róo-sèuk) mâi sà~baai
I (feel) sick.

ฉัน (รู้สึก) เวียนหัว
chăn (róo-sèuk) wian hŭa
I (feel) dizzy.

ฉัน (รู้สึก) อ่อนเพลีย
chăn (róo-sèuk) òn plia
I (feel) weak.

ฉัน (รู้สึก) กังวล
chăn (róo-sèuk) gang-won
I (feel) anxious.

ฉัน (รู้สึก) เหนื่อย
chăn (róo-sèuk) nèuay
I (feel) tired.

To BE sick or to HAVE an illness…

English uses “be” and “have” with lots of symptoms and diseases. Thai also uses a “be’ word with some of these but note that the Thai word for “have” มี /mee/ is not used with symptoms and diseases (except pregnancy).

To have a cold: เป็นหวัด /bpen-wàt/
To have a fever: เป็นไข้ /bpen-kâi/
To have the flu: เป็นไข้หวัดใหญ่ /bpen- kâi wàt yài/
To have an infection: เป็นอักเสบ /bpen-àk-sàyp/
To be faint, to pass out: เป็นลม /bpen-lom/
To have a disease: เป็นโรค /bpen-rôhk/
To have cancer: เป็นมะเร็ง /bpen-má-reng/
To be barren, sterile: เป็นหมัน /bpen-mǎn/
To be paralyzed: เป็นอัมพาต /bpen-am-má~pâat/
To have AIDS: เป็นเอดส์ /bpen-AIDS/
To have HIV: เป็น เอช ไอ วี /bpen-H-I-V/
To have diabetes/be diabetic: เป็นเบาหวาน /bpen-bao-wǎan/

Hurts and Aches…

Then there is the difference between เจ็บ /jèp/ and ปวด /bpùat/. These two are not used in the same way just as the English words “hurt” and “ache” are used differently. They are usually used with body parts.

Hurt (pain: short-term, acute): เจ็บ /jèp/
Ache (suffer a continuous dull pain): ปวด /bpùat/

Examples:

ฉันเจ็บหัว
chăn jèp hǔa
Someone kicked you in the head and it hurts.

ฉันปวดหัว
chăn bpùat hǔa
You have a headache.

ฉันเจ็บขา
chăn jèp kǎa
You were playing football and twisted your leg and it hurts.

ฉันปวดขา
chăn bpùat kǎa
You have arthritis and your leg aches from it.

ฉันเจ็บตา
chăn jèp dtaa
You were poked in the eye with a stick and it hurts.

ฉันปวดตา
chăn bpùat dtaa
You have an infection in your eye and it aches.

ฉันเจ็บหู
chăn jèp hǒo
You are listening to loud music and your ears hurt.

ฉันปวดหู
chăn bpùat hǒo
You have an earache.

Miscellaneous words used with body parts…

Blind: ตาบอด /dtaa-bòt/
Broken arm: แขนหัก /kǎen hàk/
Deaf: หูหนวก /hǒo-nùak/
Diarrhea: ท้องเดิน /tóng dern/
Heart attack: หัวใจวาย /hǔa-jai-waai/
Itchy eyes: คันตา /kan dtaa/
Numb hands: มือชา /meu chaa/
Pregnant: (มี)ท้อง /(mee) tóng/
Sore throat: เจ็บคอ /jèp kor/
Stomach ache: ปวดท้อง /bpùat tóng/
Swollen foot: เท้าบวม /táao buam/
Toothache: ปวดฟัน /bpùat-fan/

Hopefully you’ll be fine. In that case, when everything is great and you have no problems to report you can use this great English loan word that is quite popular in Thailand.

To be fit, in good shape: ฟิต /fít/

When your doctor asks:

คุณเป็นยังไง
kun bpen yang-ngai
How are you doing?

You can answer:

ฉันไม่เป็นอะไร ฉันฟิตมาก
chăn mâi bpen à~rai chăn fít mâak
No problem. I’m fit as a fiddle.

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

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Hugh Leong loves explaining things. And during his 40 plus years of trying to learn Thai and its culture, he learned to love the cross-cultural aspect of living in a foreign country and speaking its language. His series, Thai Language Thai Culture, covers various aspects of learning Thai, and how the Thai culture influences how we say things.

2 Comments

  1. Catherine I’ve just printed this post as I think it’s an excellent one for my Thai language folder. It might also be handy to staple to the back of my travel insurance policy, a very good guide indeed.

    Talking about one’s health is a topic I hadn’t considered before (touchwood I’m fairly healthy) but Wilai gets the odd cold and sniffles plus aches and pains from working in the garden, and so your guide will come in very useful.

    I do suffer with kan dtaa a bit but never tóng dern and I do get bpùat hǒo listening to her mother sometimes.

    Great post and like I said a very useful one for my suitcase. My printing is complete.

    Best wishes from a gloriously sunny but somewhat expensive land blessed with the name England. And boy are we going to whip those Germans on Sunday.

  2. Hi Martyn. Being able to discuss aches and pains with friends would come in handy. I don’t get sick that much with new illnesses (just the same ‘ole same ‘ole) so I haven’t had the pleasure of trying out my Thai on a doctor yet. Also, I don’t do docs… Presently I’m suffering from a ปวดท้อง, so I could hit my Thai teacher with that one.

    Hey, good luck to English. MAYBE they will whip Germany’s butt on Sunday. At least they have a chance this year…

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