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
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
Both syllables have a short vowel duration and a low tone. The little superscript 'L's in
the phonemic transcription
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
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 ||khrapH||used by male speakers at the end of every sentence to convey politeness|
|ค่ะ ||khaF||used by female speakers at the end of every sentence to convey politeness|
|คะ ||khaH||used 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...
Another particle, ไหม
/, 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:
/ Is it fun?
Notice that words for you
are left out. When you said, สนุก
/ 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
/. This word is used to create negative
statements. You might think it sounds like ไหม
/—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.
/ Is it fun?
Here we introduced another question particle, so now we have seen two of them, ไหม
/ and หรือ
/. They're similar, so let's compare them:
|ไหม||maiR||[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]|
/ is used when you really don't know the answer. หรือ
/ 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
/—which becomes /leuuR
/; 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
/, you'll very often hear the /r/ omitted entirely, giving
/. 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]|
|ไหม||maiR||[word added at the end of a statement to indicate a question]|