Thailand Country Guide



Thai Language
Thai is the official language of Thailand. Thai is a tonal language, which can make it tricky for Westerners to learn quickly. Despite this, Thais appreciate any attempt by foreign visitors to speak a few Thai words or phrases. Therefore, don't hesitate to learn a few Thai words or use a phrase book when in the country. Thai is a language with many dialects and the Bangkok dialect (known as Central Thai) is used as the standard and taught in all schools.

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Kohsan Road in Bangkok by Mr Bullitt

Other Languages
In the Muslim-dominated south, dialects of Malay (largely incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay or Indonesian) are spoken. Various dialects of Chinese are spoken by Thailand's ethnic Chinese with Teochew being the dominant dialect in Bangkok's Chinatown. Cantonese speakers also form a sizable minority among the Chinese community in Bangkok. Down south in Hat Yai, the Hokkien dialect is widely understood due to the large number of Malaysian Chinese tourists arriving from Penang. The eastern Isaan dialects are closely related to Lao and there are dozens of small language groups in the tribal areas of the north, some so remote that Thai speakers are few and far between.

Bangkok's Chinatown by Hdamm

Public signage is generally bilingual, written in both Thai and English. Where there is English, it is usually fairly phonetic - for example 'Sawatdee' (meaning hello) is pronounced just as it reads i.e. sa-wat-dee. There is no universal standard on transcribing Thai letters that do not have English equivalents. Therefore 'Khao San' Road is also spelled Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Khao San, Koh Saan and Khaosan. Maps with names in both Thai and English make it easier for locals to try and help you.

Most Thais learn English in school, therefore many young people have a basic grasp of English but few are fluent. Thais dealing in the travel industry or often in contact with foreigners speak at least enough English to communicate and many are fluent. Some may also speak other languages such as Chinese, Japanese, German besides English.

Many Thais have trouble pronouncing the consonant clusters of the English language. Many Thais often pronounce 'twenty' as 'teh-wen-ty', sounding like if they are saying 'seventy'. Therefore it is a good idea to make use of calculators  the street vendors to avoid confusion about prices offered when shopping.

Country Guide
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