As a tourist visiting Thailand for the first time or occasionally, you probably won’t feel the need to learn Thai language. But it’s always fun to learn a few basic words and see the Thais’ reaction when you speak!
Speaking English with Thai people
Do Thai people speak English?
We have to admit that the level in English of Thai people is usually quite low. In touristic areas they may be able to speak and understand a few basic words, but they can’t sustain a conversation. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, don’t expect too much. If you speak English with Thai people, whether you are a native English speaker or not, make sure you speak slowly and don’t make elaborate sentences. If you want to be sure to be understood, keep straight to the point and don’t try to convey any complicated ideas.
Don’t take a positive answer for granted
Here again, no offense meant, but Thai people often say “yes” even if they don’t thoroughly understand the question. Either it’s a way not to lose face, or it’s a way to be nice to you, or even sometimes to get rid of you! I saw this kind of scene quite often, an American tourist for instance, talking to a Thai and speaking very fast, with a strong American accent, and the Thai was like “yes, yes, yes…” but he obviously didn’t understand anything. So please be considerate, and in your own interest, speak slowly, with simple words, and repeat several times if you think the person you are talking to doesn’t understand.
A few useful words in Thai
Here are a few useful words in Thai. You will hear them often, and you can try and pronounce them. Thai people are always glad to see foreigners who make the effort to learn a few basic words, so don’t be shy! But don’t be hurt either if they don’t understand you, as Thai language must be pronounced with great accuracy.
Hello, thank you…
Hello is said “sawadee krap” (male speaker) or “sawadee kha” (female speaker). By the way, there is no official system to transcribe Thai, so you can find “sawasdee”, “sawatdi”… The only way to solve the problem is to learn the Thai alphabet (if you are motivated it’s not that difficult), or listen to the pronounciation. We provide sound files on this website, just click on the speaker icon.
Ready to go on? Here are two other words that you can easily use in a conversation. If you are a woman, you can add “kha” after each sentence, it’s a particule for politeness. Men use “krap”.
- For further reading, check our Introduction to Thai language.
Do you need a translation in Thai?
Don’t trust automatic translators! If you need a short translation from Thai to English or English to Thai, please feel free to contact us. You can also use websites like Freelang, or look up words in an online dictionary.