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My First Sentence

a. The very beginning

It's easy to get started learning Thai! Simple sentences can consist of one or two words.

Imitate this example: สนุก   /saL nookL/

As you listen and repeat what you hear, pay close attention to the pitch change and vowel duration in the word. Try to imitate the sample as closely as you can. In Thai, both the pitch change—or "tone"—of the syllable and the long or short vowel duration can affect the meaning of the word. This is what is meant when Thai is referred to as a tonal language.

Let's listen again: สนุก   /saL nookL/

Both syllables have a short vowel duration and a low tone. The little superscript 'L's in the phonemic transcription show the tone that must be spoken for each syllable. For now, the important thing is to remember to pay attention to the melodic nature of spoken Thai.

But what are we saying? In Thai, a word like this, which means "fun," can stand alone as a complete sentence. So, you said, this is fun or I'm having fun. See, Thai is easy!


Listen to the following words and see if you can identify the tone as Low, Medium, High, Rising, or Falling.

หมู    เก่ง    ดี    ข้าว 

For more practice with this, you can try Listening for the Tone of One-Syllable Words.

b. Polite Particles and Question Words

In Thai, you can add short words called particles to the end of a sentence to change its meaning. Some of the most common are:

ครับ khrapHused by male speakers at the end of every sentence to convey politeness
ค่ะ khaFused by female speakers at the end of every sentence to convey politeness
คะ khaHused by female speakers at the end of every question to convey politeness

These are sometimes called the "polite particles." Knowing them can get you a long way in Thailand, even if you're only going to be vacationing for a week or two. That's because they can also be used to reply "yes" to a question or indicate agreement with someone as he or she is speaking. Hearing only one side of a man's phone conversation, all you might hear is ครับ... ครับ... ครับ... ครับ...  /khrapH khrapH khrapH khrapH/.

Another particle, ไหม  /maiR/, can be added to turn a statement into a question. Logically enough, such words are called "question particles." Take special care to remember the rising tone for this word, because /mai/ has a different meaning for each of the five lexical tones (You'll learn another two of them soon!).

Let's put together what we've learned so far. Erik is talking to his girlfriend Naiyana:

Erik:   สนุกไหมครับ  /saL nookL maiH khrapH/ Is it fun?
Naiyana:   สนุกค่ะ  /saL nookL khaF/ Yes!

Notice that words for you or I are left out. When you said, สนุก   /saL nookL/ in Lesson 1a, there was no pronoun, so it was assumed that you were talking about yourself. In informal conversation, pronouns can be omitted when the meaning is clear without them. We'll introduce some basic pronouns in Lesson 3.

The next short word to learn in this lesson is ไม่   /maiF/. This word is used to create negative statements. You might think it sounds like ไหม  /maiR/—which we already learned—until you notice that it has a different tone. This one case of the pronunciation of two very common words differing only by tone; it's a good idea to memorize and practice the difference. A trick for remembering that ไหม has a rising tone is to remember that in English we also raise the pitch of our voice at the end of question sentences.

Erik:   สนุกไหมครับ  /saL nookL maiH khrapH/ Is it fun?
Nayana:   ไม่สนุกค่ะ  /maiF saL nookL khaF/ No.
Erik:   หรือ   /reuuR/ Really?
Nayana:   ค่ะ   /khaF/ Yup.

Here we introduced another question particle, so now we have seen two of them, ไหม  /maiR/ and หรือ   /reuuR/. They're similar, so let's compare them:

ไหมmaiR[word which is added to the end of a statement to create a question]
หรือ reuuR[word which is added to the end of a statement to indicate uncertainty or request confirmation]
So ไหม  /maiR/ is used when you really don't know the answer. หรือ   /reuuR/ is softer, or for cases when you expect a positive reply.

This would also be a good time to point out that you'll often hear /r/ pronounced as /l/ in Thailand, especially in the words หรือ   /reuuR/—which becomes /leuuR/—and ครับ   /khrapH/; it's important to remember this since these words are so common. In Bangkok, you will surely hear a wide variety of individualized speech. For example, in ครับ   /khrapH/, you'll very often hear the /r/ omitted entirely, giving คับ   /khapH/. It still means the same thing, maybe just a little less formal.


Here are the words we learned in this lesson:

สนุก saL nookL[is] fun; enjoyable; entertaining; amusing; pleasant
ครับ khrapH[word added by a male speaker to the end of every sentence to convey politeness or] "yes"; "that's right"; "I see."
ค่ะ khaF[word added by a female speaker to the end of every statement to convey politeness]
คะ khaH[word added by a female speaker to the end of every question to convey politeness]
ไหมmaiR[word added at the end of a statement to indicate a question]
หรือ reuuR"Really?"

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