Everything starts with a why.
Whether making pancakes for breakfast or trying to learn a language, we're constantly acting on desires and making choices. It's not hard to imagine why someone might make pancakes: they're delicious and everybody has to eat.
Why do you want to study Thai?
Hopefully you have a reason – but if not, here are some fun facts about Thailand to get you started.
1) Colors of the Day
In Thailand, each day of the week corresponds to a certain color. Children in elementary school often wear a differently colored uniform each day of the week. To give another example, the color yellow is used to represent the royal family because the previous king was born on a Monday.
Below is a chart that lists each day of the week and its color:
2) Honorific Forms (Krap vs. Kha)
In the Thai language, honorifics are used at the end of sentences. Furthermore, there are different forms for men and women. Men end sentences with ครับ (krap /kʰrap̚˦˥/), and women say ค่ะ (kha /kʰaʔ/).
These honorific particles are usually used in more formal settings or when the speaker needs to be polite. As honorifics do not change the meaning of a sentence, but just make the speaker sound more polite, they are often dropped when speaking with peers or when in a more informal environment.
3) The ไหว้ (wai)
Thai people put their hands together and bow their heads as a form of greeting. You might have seen it if you've ever had a layover in Thailand, and if you leave the airport, you'll see it everywhere! Even Ronald McDonald stands in front of McDonald's to greet customers with a "wai" in Thailand.
One fun fact is that the position of your hands when doing the "wai" can show varying degrees of respect. The higher the hands, the greater the respect.
Here is a video about the "wai" and how to greet people in Thailand:
4) Bangkok’s Full Name
The capital of Thailand, Bangkok, is a bustling metropolitan city located in the heart of the country. About 15% of Thailand's entire population lives in this city, and its influence touches everything from business, finance and politics to fashion and entertainment.
Bangkok plays a huge role in Thailand's economy, which relies heavily on tourism. The city is famous around the globe for its modern entertainment venues and red light districts. If you are looking for more cultural tourist attractions, Bangkok has those as well, with famous temples like Wat Arun and Wat Pho. According to CNN Travel, Bangkok was the world's most visited city in 2018 and the second most visited city in 2019.
If you plan to visit Bangkok on your next vacation, you'll have more fun if you learn some Thai, first. Even a little bit goes a long way, and it's easy to get started!
Actually saying Bangkok in Thai, however, is a bit more difficult. While commonly referred to by locals as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (กรุงเทพมหานคร krūŋ tʰêːp mahǎː nákʰɔ̄ːn) or simply Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ krūŋ tʰêːp), the city's official ceremonial name is much longer.
“Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit”
กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบูรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์
Click here to hear that read aloud.
The name is written with root words from two ancient Indian languages, Pali and Sanskrit. The translation of the name is:
“City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra's behest.”
Bangkok's full name is so long that the Thai rock band Asanee–Wasan wrote a song about it in 1989. The lyrics simply consist of the city's ceremonial name being repeated over and over again.
5) Different Character, Same Pronunciation???
When foreigners try to learn Thai, one of the biggest challenges they face is the alphabet. Thai has a unique writing system with letters not used by any other language, though it may look similar to some other writing systems used across India and Southeast Asia that were also derived from Brahmic scripts. The Thai language has 44 consonant letters, 16 vowel letters that can be combined to form a grand total of 32 vowels, and 4 tone diacritics.
Most people begin the process of learning how to read and write Thai by learning the consonants. Unfortunately, that's also where the troubles begin: There are five characters that all represent the same sound!
The second through sixth consonant symbols in the Thai alphabet, ข, ฃ, ค, ฅ, and ฆ, all have the exact same pronunciation (an aspirated “k” sound [kʰ], as in “collar”). While they sound the same, they are not interchangeable. You just have to remember which one is used in which words.
Here are some examples:
- ไข่ (khai /kʰaj˨˩/): egg
- ขวด (khuat /kʰùːat/): bottle
- ควาย (khwai /kʰwaːj/): buffalo
- คน (khon /kʰon/): person
- ระฆัง (ra-khang /ráʔ kʰaŋ/): bell
These five words all feature a "kh" sound, and that "kh" sound is represented by three different consonant symbols. If you look closely, you'll also notice that neither ฃ or ฅ were used in any of the spellings. While these two characters are still included in the alphabet, there are no longer any words that contain them (according to most official Thai dictionaries).
This phenomenon is similar to how “k” and “c” occasionally sound the same in English, as we can see with the words "king" and "cane."
If you would like more information about the Thai alphabet, here is a video of the Thai alphabet song to get you started:
If singing kids' songs isn't quite your thing, here's another video that goes through the Thai consonants in a more serious manner:
Each letter in these videos is presented alongside an example word, just as you might say "A for apple" in English. For example, the first letter in Thai's alphabet is ก, and its name is กอ (ko). First we see this letter, and then the sample vocabulary word ไก่ (kai), which means chicken.
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