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Version 3 - August 8th, 2015, Latest update March 20th, 2017 - audio

by Bertil Jansson   



A little bit more about tones

A bit difficult yes, but as most things, we will be able to handle it, it's basically a matter of practice. Swedes, Chinese and Thai all use tones, just get relaxed and loose and make your performance in a loud voice. The neighboors should also be able to hear that you are practicing Thai. Well, what I am making a point of, is that learning a foreign language, and perhaps tones in particular requires that you get your body, the muscles of your vocal apparatus and your senses, your ear to learn and memorize. In that context, whispering, just won't do. You will have to speak up. Don't be shy!


ขาว k-aa-o with a rising tone means white   
ข้าว k-aa-o with a falling tone means rice            


We have already managed to pronounce two out of the five Thai tones, not so hard, was it? Then we have just three tones more left to be learned. They are all level and not so hard to grasp - if you practice.

It is a low tone, a middle-level or neutral tone and finally a high tone:





The word for Hello in Thai Sawat-dee-krup  provides a good illustration. It starts with a low tone SAwat, followed by a middle tone DEE and ending with the high tone KRUP:


                                                                                            ____________ krup

                                                   _____________ dee

____________ sawat


Counting Money

Another way of practising tones is counting money.

Baht is said with a low base tone. Go back to page 1 or just grasp the closest Thai person you got around and ask him or her to help you by saying Baht.

One Baht is n-eu-ng b-ah-t och n-eu-ng is pronounced the same way as Baht, with a low tone, that is. two low base tones one after the other.

Two Baht - s-oo-ng b-ah-t is the rising tone followed by the Baht with a low base tone.

Three Baht - s-ah-m b-ah-t - 'same-same' that is, three in Thai is s-ah-m pronounced with a rising tone followed by the low base tone in Baht.

Four Baht - s-ee b-ah-t same tones as in one Baht, that is, two low base tones, one after the other.

Five Baht - h-ah b-ah-t you start off by pronouncing the h-ah with a falling tone, followed by the base tone Baht.

Six Baht - h-o-k b-ah-t. h-o-k is pronounced with a low base tone.


And to pronounce a number with the high tone will have to use the word for hundred r-aw-y. There is now number prounounced with the neutral tone as the word Thaiไทย t-a-y.

Then we will have to find a lot of examples to practice these tones, but then you would need to learn how to represent the tones in writing. The Thai have made it real easy for themselves. They have their way of using tones put into their text, which makes it all the easier for us foreigners. Languages as Swedish or Chinese there is no clue, you just got to learn by heart. Well, if you have a tone concsious Thai at your side, that is even better. Take a deep breath! .... No, it is to early to start with their way of writing tones. Let's switch to the alphabet instead, not all of it, but some, in order to encourage you.

The Thai language has 21 consonant sounds, just about the same as in English. They have about as many vowel sounds as in English. One of those is tricky, for us in Sweden, but probably not for you English speakers, that is "eu", sounds the "i" sound in the English word 'bird'. The rest of the vowels - no problems.

One thing you got to keep track of is the length of the vowel. K-ah-o is not the same as k-a-o, the first being a long vowel, the second a short vowel, the first in a rising tone meaning "white", the second meaning "he".


When it comes to the Thai way of writing it is, of course, unfortunate, that they have chosen to use Sanskrit instead of Latin as writing tool. But again, it makes it all the more interesting. Laotians, Cambodians, the Punjabs, the Hindi speakers, the Bangla did the same choice. So when you once have learned the Thai way of writing, you can recognize some letters in those other alphabets too.

I am sure that one or two of you raised your eyebrow or objected to the number of consonants - 21 consonant sounds. Yes you are correct there are 44 consonant letters, but they just represent 21 sounds. We will get back to that in depth later. For instance you can write the letter T or the letter S in a number of ways. One good thing about Thai is that they are very limited as to what sounds they use in the end of a word, no matter how they write it. Either it is a vowel or else it ends in m, n, ng, p, k or t, and that's it. Of course, this causes some problems to the Thai when they shall speak our languages.


The Thai Alphabet

The Thai consonants, some of them I have excluded because they are not used or used very seldom. Some of those you need to learn later.

ก ข ค ง       จ ฉ ช ซ    
g-k-k-ng-                j-ch-ch-s    
ด ต ถ ท ธ น บ ป ผ ฝ พ ฟ  
d-dt-t-t-t- n-b-bp- p-f-   p-f  
ภ ม ย       ร ล ว ศ ษ ส    ห อ
p-m-y-                                         r-l-w-    s-s-s-    h-aw


Those of you who already know a bit of Thai perhaps are looking for , the Thai "ah" as in the word "come"
m-ah (neutral tone)
มา  .  "Ah" is a vowel and does not belong in the Thai alphabet which only represents the consonants. The way of writing vowels is a separate thing. Here you can practice the Thai alphabet:  http://www.thai-language.com/ref/consonants

"ng" is pronounced as in "thing" and never with a "g" sound in the end. The Thai word for snake is a bit tricky since it starts of with this consonant งู ng-oo "snake" neutral tone .

The letter that has been transcribed as "aw" is used to write words starting with a vowel. Since vowels normally are small things around the consonant, words starting with a vowel need a silent consonant first. The vowel is used for this purpose. Independently it is prounounced "aw" like in the word ออก aw-g  'exit, way out, go out'.


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