Thai English

The assumption of many Thais is that all Westerners will speak English and not Thai.  They are generally right, and many of those who do try to speak Thai mess it up spectacularly.  What the Thais very often don’t recognise though, is that although their English might be better than any foreigner’s Thai, they are not necessarily easy to understand.

In Thai there are a limited number of ways a syllable can end.  Any vowel sound is fine, but there are only a limited number of consonants that can come at the end.  Even though the word may be spelled with a letter that would normally make an S, or D sound, when in a final position the sound will be like T.  What’s more, although the T is formed with the mouth it isn’t actually spoken.  Such things happen regularly in French for example, but they are rare in English.  Nevertheless, the Thais think the same rules should apply so the ends of English words or syllables are often ignored.

For some reason Thais find the R sound hard to make.  Goodness knows why, it’s not that they don’t have lots of words with an R in them.  There are plenty and in theory the R should be rolled in the way the northern Scots do.  But even educated Thais, if they are not trying to make a good impression or reading the news on TV, will substitute an L sound or ignore it completely.

There are only a few consonants that can appear together in Thai.  GR is found, though it will generally be said GL given the above dislike of R.  But if the letter of S in Thai (of which there are four) and the letter for L appear together then they will automatically insert a short unwritten vowel.  So naturally enough they thing the same should apply in English.  So ‘slowly’ will be pronounced ‘sa-lowly’.

Today, as I was packing my bag in my room I got a call from reception.  “Execute me, when will be checking out of your loom?”  now the service wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t so bad I’d want to kill someone.   I walked to the local metro station, went a couple of stops and then joined the train to the airport.  The second train was quite busy and a few stops along the driver asked over the speakers “Please move in the train so passengers can get in.  Thank you for your copulation.”  I’m not sure the young chap with the his nose already in my armpit wanted to get that close.

Inside Bangkok’s Suvanabhumi Airport

I was typing this sitting at Bangkok’s Suvanabhumi airport. (An inspiring building as airports go.) A young Thai woman approached me asking if I had time to complete a survey for the Thai Tourist Board and I agreed.  Her first question was “Are you here on holiday?” and I said no, not really, it was a study trip.  “Ah, mean holiday?”  OK, here goes I thought, so I tried “mai chai krap, mah sip ha wahn laew rian nuat thai krap.”  Which was my attempt at saying that I’d been here 15 days to study Thai massage.  She thought I’d said neua (meat) rather than nuat (massage) but once that misunderstanding was corrected she looked at me blankly and walked away without saying anything else.  So much for Thailand being the land of smiles!  Maybe I accidentally thanked her for her copulation.

Two uneventful flights, another hasty dash across Muscat airport and some uninspiring airline food later and I’m home in Tonbridge with my bag mostly unpacked.  A great trip but if feels wonderful to be home with Lovely Husband again.

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4 Responses to Thai English

  1. globie says:

    Hi Mike, made me laugh, I suppose we can’t complain as English people’s foreign language skills are mostly lacking. The tonal languages like Thai seem impossible for us to master without either giving offence or inducing hilarity.

    Enjoyed your post from your trip, welcome home

    • Mike Evans says:

      Thanks for following along. Yes – the tones are a nightmare for me. It’s so hard not to use tone the way we do in English to make a sentence sound nice. Of course the risk in doing that is that the meaning can change completely. An example of that happened when talking to BP, the Swiss manager of the guest house. He said he and his wife had visited an area in the south called “ow manaow” I laughed because that means “I want a lemon” It was only later I realised that if pronounced correctly with a long vowel and low tone on the initial “ow” it means “Bay of Lemons.”

      • I will have to watch that one, my wife is Thai, speaks pretty good English for self taught. We have Manaow on the farm in Yasothan, Eastern Thailand. I would have interpreted the phrase “ow manaow” same as you did. But we are a long way from the sea so maybe it won’t come up too often…lol

      • Mike Evans says:

        Maybe you will holiday at the Bay of Lemons one day. Yasothan is probably lovely though, tucked in corner by Laos and Cambodia. I’ve never been to that area.

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