I’m an American. And by that, I mean I am slightly culturally impaired and speak only one language in this world, and that language is American. Not English, English is different. English has a cute accent. English is proper, something a queen would speak. American is my language. It’s the tongue of the frontier, of horse and wagon traveling across great plains. The American language wears a cowboy hat, cooks meals over campfire, and never compromises. And after a long hard day of work, the American language peers out towards the horizon and watches the beautiful sun setting over God’s country.
So while my language abilities may be American through and through, I’ve recently learned that I love to make Thai people smile. And the best way to do this? Speaking a few phrases in Thai. Even if pronounced inaccurately, this is a sure fire way to crack a smile or giggle 99.99% of the time.
So here it is for you, A Short Thai Language Guide That’s Actually Useful. I’ve done all the work for you, just print this out, put it in your back pocket, and hit the streets. Make sure to leave the Postcards from Yonder (PFY) header on the print-out so when someone else sees it, they will be like “WTF is PFY?” and you can be like “It’s this incredible blog that makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me dance dance DANCE!” Thanks for pluggin’ the site.
(for the tech savvy, just screen shot this article on your phone)
A few quick things to know about the language before we begin:
- Thai is very hard to pronounce properly. This is because there are 5 tones: mid, low, falling, high, and rising. This means that the same word can be pronounced 5 different ways, each giving a different meaning. Uhhhhhhh.
- As a non-Thai native, distinguishing the difference between these tones is very difficult. Sometimes you will say it correctly, other times you will think you are saying it correctly but you aren’t. You will know by the reaction you get.
- Thai uses a non-Roman alphabet, obvi. Don’t waste your time trying to learn it. Appreciate its visual beauty, and then focus your efforts on speaking only.
- For each phrase, I’m going to offer some phonetic tricks to properly pronounce each phrase. However, I am not Thai nor do I pretend to be on the internet. Use this guide as a starting point, and always ask Thai people if confused. They love to help, they think it’s cute you are trying.
HELLO (if you are a woman) – Sawadee-Kah
HELLO (if you are a man) – Sawadee-Krap
Sah – Wah – Dee – Kah
(Sah as in “sarong”, then Wah as in “water”, then Dee as in “details”, then Kah as in “costume”)
Sah – Wah – Dee – Krap
(Sah as in “sarong”, then Wah as in “water”, then Dee as in “details”, then Krap as in “crop” or “crap”)
SAH – WAH – DEE – KAH
SAH – WAH – DEE – CRAP
It’s so easy, even adorable Thai babies can say it.
This phrase can be used for both hello and goodbye, any time of day. Generally, just a friendly way to greet people.
Note: Kah and Krap are used at the end of most phrases to show politeness. Kah if you are a woman, and Krap if you are a man. This is weird because in American we address people with politeness depending the gender of whomever is being spoking to, not by the gender of the speaker, as in Thai. Interesting cultural differences make the world go round.
THANK YOU (if you are a woman) – Khop-Koon-Kah
THANK YOU (if you are a man) – Khop-Koon-Krap
Khop – Koon – Kah
(Khop as in “cop”, then Koon as in “raccoon”, then Kah as in “costume”)
Khop – Koon – Krap
(Khop as in “cop”, then Koon as in “raccoon”, then Krap as in “crop” or “crap”)
COP – COON – KAH
COP – COON – CRAP
This lady likes long boring introductions, but pronounces it well (she must be Thai.) Skip to 0:35.
If you want to get super fancy, put your hands together like you’re praying and give a little bow. Shows mad respect.
WHERE IS THE BATHROOM? – Hong-Naam-Yoo-Tee-Nai
Hong – Nam – You – Tee – Nie
(Hong as in “hong”, this is kinda straightforward, then Nam as in “Vietnam”, then Yoo as in “you”, then Tee as in “t-shirt” – then Nie as in “Bill Nye the Science Guy”)
HONG – (viet)NAM – YOU – T(shirt) – NYE(the science guy)
Add a Kah or Krap at the end to make it polite:
HONG – NAM – YOU – TEE – NYE – KAH
HONG – NAM – YOU – TEE – NYE – CRAP
I can’t tell if the lady in this video is real or one of those new virtual girlfriend types. In any case, she would like to know the location of the bathroom.
Note: Memorize this phrase. When you need an answer to this question, you might not have time to get cute and pull out this language guide. Just saying, food is spicy. And since we are on the subject of using the bathroom while on the go in Thailand, a few tips: 1) Learn how to use the bidet hose. Shitty public restrooms won’t have toilet paper (pun intended there); 2) Bring some tissues in your day pack if you can’t make the above suggestion work. You prob want them anyway for drying. Glad we can get real real like this BTW.
ICED COFFEE – Gaa-Fay-Yin
WITHOUT MILK – Mai-Sai-Nom
WITHOUT SUGAR – Mai-Sai-Nam-Dtaan
I like my coffee black and iced. The Thais will put sugar and milk in your coffee by default unless you ask otherwise.
Gaa – Fay – Yin
(Gaa as in “goggles”, Fay as in your Mom’s friend named “Fay”, Yin as in “yin-yang”)
Mai – Sai – Nom
(Mai as in “my”, Sai as in “sigh”, Nom as in a garden “gnome”
(Mai as in “my”, Sai as in “sigh”, Nam as in “Vietnam”, and then Dtaan pronounced like “Tom” but with an “n” at the end instead, so “Ton” – not pronounced like the unit of measurement – also note: the “d” in “Dtaan” is barely audible, maybe even silent)
Note: “Nam-Dtaan” is kind of confusing for me. Ask a Thai person to help with exact pronunciation. It’s a tricky one. I had a masseuse try to help me, she just yelled “Nam-Dtaan” at my face for 5 minutes while crushing my leg muscles. It was weird.
GAA – FAY – YIN
MY – SIGH – GNOME
MY – SIGH – NAM – TON
Iced coffee from a street vendor should cost 40 baht, maybe 50 baht at the most.
THIS IS DELICIOUS – Ni-A-Roi-Djang
The first part of this, “Ni” literally means “this”, so it helps to point at your food or coffee whatever else you are pointing out that is delicious when saying this phrase. You can also drop the “Ni”, in which case you are basically just saying “delicious”
Ni – A – Roi – Djang
(Ni as in “need”, then A as in “ahh”, then Roi as in your Dad’s friend “Roy”, then Djang as in “Kim-Jong-Il”
NEE – AHH – ROY – JONG
Again, add a Kah or Krap at the end to make it polite.
Elie Oops! from Taiwan can help you with this one.
This is my favorite phrase in Thai. I will literally get my coffee from a street vendor, stand there and take a sip while still maintaining eye contact, swallow, and then say this phrase. Gets. A. Big. Laugh. Every. Time.
Ok, so that’s it. Hope you weren’t expecting a big long phrase list. You can find a million of those online. And don’t kid yourself, you wouldn’t remember 90% of that anyway. After all, this is a Short Thai Language Guide That’s Actually Useful.
(In case you didn’t catch on, it’s a pun, cause my last name is Short, and the guide is short. And yes, it’s funny that my last name is Short and I’m actually short. And no, my middle name is not “Is”. Whose fucking middle name is “Is”? What kind of morons do you think my parents would be to give me “Is” for a middle name?)
love ya, Kev
BTS-PS (Behind the Scenes Post-Script): Sometimes when writing these posts, I try different ideas at the beginning which are long-winded and need to be cut so that the article flows and you’re not dragged down a dark hole with a million tangents, like being shrunk in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and then dragged down into an anthill and never being able to find your way out again and wondering why or how you even got there in the first place or wondering why your neighbor’s geeky dad has a child shrinking machine…
Case in point. A massive tangent. No flow. Point of all this is, I wanted to share the story from which the whole “I speak American” thing at the beginning derived…
At my high school in Georgia, my teacher told us about the father of a student, who came to a parent teacher conference one day completely upset that his son had to learn Spanish in class. His argument: “If American is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for my boy.” That man is a real person who exists in the real world. Just let that sink in for a second.
Thanks for listening.