Language Bricks – My Top Ten Thai Words to Take to Thailand

I think learning a new language is a bit like building a wall. Building a wall around yourself. You start with a few bricks (words) which you place around you and slowly but surely you accumulate more bricks which you use to piece together parts of your wall. There are many gaps, but with time, and enough bricks, you eventually fill those gaps and start to build your wall higher and higher.

My own wall is still full of holes, and the sections I have built are not very high, but the first few bricks I used are the ones I’ll probably never forget, and it’s those first bricks which are the most important in laying the foundations for your language wall. Take ten bricks, lay them around you, and before you know it you’ll have added many more next to and on top of them.

Compiling a list of top ten Thai words to use in Thailand isn’t an easy task. If one thousand different people put together their own list then I’m sure you wouldn’t find two the same. Nonetheless, here’s my choice of ten Thai words which I think are most useful to anyone arriving in Thailand for the first time and having no Thai language skills at all. Some of them are not just words but simple phrases, but ones I consider very useful indeed.

The format used is: Word transliteration Thai spelling.

My Top Ten Thai Words to Take to Thailand

  • Thank you – kòp kun ขอบคุณ
  • Hello, goodbye – sà-wàt-dee สวัสดี
  • Never mind, not a problem, you’re welcome – mai pen rai ไม่เป็นไร
  • Like – chôp ชอบ
  • Hot – rorn ร้อน
  • Beautiful – sǔay สวย
  • Tasty, delicious – a-ròi อร่อย
  • Good – dee ดี
  • Excuse me/apologize – kŏr tôht  ขอโทษ
  • Fun/enjoyable – sà-nùk สนุก

Now a challenge to readers. I’d like you to replace one of my top ten Thai words with one of your own. A word which you think would make a valuable Thai language building brick. There’s no need to replace two or three, just one.

Please leave your thoughts and one Thai language brick in the comment box below. Thank you.

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Martyn

I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

31 Responses

  1. Keith says:

    I don’t know the kŏr tôht so that would be the one I would swap with phom (I). I guess I talk about myself a lot of the time.

    While I was typing this I thought the one thing I am really happy I understand is the numbers. I use the word thao-rai (how much) almost as much as I say I.

  2. Martyn says:

    Keith – I knew kŏr tôht from virtually the start because Thailand’s culture and me were miles apart. I was always apologising for something or other. I’m not too bad nowadays.

    Phom is a very good choice.

  3. MeMock says:

    I’m sorry – I tried but I could not do just one!!

    I think eating real Thai food in Thai settings is the best way to meet locals and build a few more bricks. For most people when you first arrive in Thailand the local food can be quite intimidating. It looks and smells great but you know you cannot stomach the chilli or the pigs blood or the ….. but with just two words you can change all that.

    The two words are mai ไม่ (no) and sai ใส่(put) In other words do not add ****
    Of course you can even just say Mai ไม่ (no) and forget the sai ใส่(put) if you want to as they will still understand.

    You will then need a few more bricks for the words Chilli พริก (Prik) or blood เลือด (luat) or whatever it is that is stopping you from eating great Thai food on the street with the locals.

    Good luck! โชคดี (Chock dee)

  4. Martyn says:

    MeMock – Mai sai is a good Thai language brick. There are so many words you can build around it. Food ones would help build a part of the language wall very quickly. The street is the place in Thailand where you’re going to pick up a lot of language bricks and talking to Thais, or at least trying to, is the best and surest way to get them.

  5. Ray Taylor says:

    I think that one of the first couple of phrases that you must learn are ::
    “Hong Nam ? “…… Where’s the toilet !! and !Mai Pet ” ….Not Spicy.

  6. Martyn says:

    Ray – Hong Nam is another very useful brick. Hong nam yoo tee nai krap (Where is the toilet/washroom?), that’s another few bricks in the wall.

    So far I’m amazed at the rapid response I’ve got to this post. There’s some very useful words coming in.

  7. Snap says:

    Martyn…the crucial rising tone symbol is missing off sǔay, suay = unlucky 🙁 which for a time, was how Stray use to describe me, lol.

  8. Martyn says:

    Snap – Thanks for noticing the incorrect spelling for sǔay. I would never have known. I have now put it right. And thanks for giving me one more Thai language brick. Suay, heaven knows how many beautiful Thai women I’ve told they are unlucky.

  9. Catherine says:

    Martyn, for me it’d have to be the polite particles. Pick one.

    ค่ะ /kâ/ for females
    ครับ /kráp/ for males

    Thank you – kòp kun kâ/kráp ขอบคุณค่ะ/ครับ
    Hello, goodbye – sà-wàt-dee kâ/kráp สวัสดีค่ะ/ครับ
    Excuse me/apologize – kŏr tôht kâ/kráp ขอโทษค่ะ/ครับ
    Yes – kâ/kráp ค่ะ/ครับ

    Many a time I’ve come across a Thai guy talking on his mobile saying just one word over and over: kapkapkapkapkap…

    In Thailand, having a hearty vocabulary falls flat if you don’t pepper your phrases with polite particles.

  10. Martyn says:

    Catherine – I was actually going to include the polite particles as an add on for my ten words but decided against it. I thought with my post being very basic they might over encourage novice Thai language learners to use them after virtually every word. I have always been told not to use them excessively. However they are must have bricks and in hindsight I should have included them. Thanks for your comment and my hunch that you’d come up with excellent input for this post has been proven to be correct.

  11. How says:

    Tough one Martyn, so I am going to give two phrases

    jai yen yen – Take It Easy, Cool Down
    pohm rak khun – I Love You

    Gets me out of the sin box each time.

  12. Martyn says:

    How – I like jai yen yen, but I’m not so sure if Thailand newbies should know the other. Especially those heading to the likes of Pattaya. Those words could cost them a few baht more and a whole lot of trouble.

  13. Catherine says:

    Martyn in the beginning, when it’s known that a westerner doesn’t have a clue about the Thai language, it’s not a bad thing to use polite particles liberally. It’s avoiding the use that jars some Thais.

    Here’s another must do: smile smile smile…

    It’s not a word but along with polite particles, a smile gets milage in Thailand.

  14. Martyn says:

    Catherine – Point taken about polite particles. And smiles.

    Another use of polite particles (krap/kha) that I have noticed, particularly on TV, is that when two people are talking, i.e. an interview, the listener will every now and again say krap/kha. I take it this is like saying ‘yes’ but as a form of acknowledgement.

    Are you having cheddar and chillis tonight?

  15. Lawrence says:

    I think that as a part-time Udon resident you should replace #3 with ‘boh bpen nyang’. And then to emphasise your sincerity you can add ‘flower’ (ดอก)! Adding words like this can really screw up Google Translate.

  16. Lawrence says:

    … if I’ve told you once, …

  17. Martyn says:

    Lawrence – My first thoughts when reading your comments was boh kao jai. Then I pieced the two comments together. Okay I’ll admit I needed help, but this time not from that dear old gal Sticky Wiki. This time I went to Sticky Rice. They’re not related.

    http://stickyrice.wordpress.com/2006/12/17/lao-words-and-sentences/

    Boh bpen nyang (You’re welcome, it doesn’t matter, it’s fine, don’t worry) is a very good phrase for someone hitting Isaan. Excellent.

  18. DanPloy says:

    I think I would choose ‘chai’ (ใช่ – ‘yes’ or ‘it is’) as my word.

    After someone talks to me for a while they will almost certainly question you with ‘chai mai’ (ไช่ ไหฺม – ‘isn’t that right?’) and you just need the word ‘chai’ and you will get an instant smile and maybe a laugh. Being Thai they will continue to espouse their opinion and you can either choose to repeat as necessary, nodding at the same time, or do as I do and fake an old war wound and make your excuses.

    Snap: I once used the wrong tone for ‘suay’ to tell a bride at a wedding how unlucky she was. Looking again at her and then at the groom I am not so sure it was the wrong one.

  19. Martyn says:

    Dan – That’s a lovely wedding story. It makes me feel better about all the times I’ve said ‘suay’ instead of ‘sǔay’. I’m not sure if I can yet say either right.

    Chai is another good one and ‘mai chai’ can also be used to answer something negatively.

  20. DanPloy says:

    Easy to remember, Martin. Rising tone for happy (beautiful), falling tone for unhappy. That seems logical to me. To be sure try and sound slightly demented when you say it, ‘soo waaay!!!’ and you won’t make a mistake. No harm in offending miserable people, they just drag everyone down with them.

  21. Martyn says:

    Dan, the way you explain it as a slightly demented ‘soo waaay! is probably close to how I use it nowadays. I think I must now have it about right. Unfortunately I can’t put all my previous wrongs right. Still that’s what happens when you learn a new language.

    This post is turning out to be quite an active one via the comment box. That’s good and also very educational.

  22. David Garner says:

    Mai Ow -Don’t want

    Useful when pesky vendors come around trying to sell stuff you don’t need or want.

  23. Martyn says:

    David – That is very useful. I remember using it one hell of a lot during my Pattaya days. Mai-ow krap worked 99% of the time.

  24. Catherine says:

    Martyn, funny enough I did have chilis and cheese 🙂

    As you know, I’ve been working on the top 100 Thai words. It’s now turned into a mini-course so if anyone wants to be a guinea pig, I’m taking volunteers.

    Finding 100 top words has been great fun. More fun is combining those 100 to make even more words. Gawd. I love how Thai works!

  25. Martyn says:

    Catherine – I’ve been cutting down on my cholesterol intake and have lost about nine pounds in weight over six or seven weeks. I’m now a lot slimmer than a guinea pig so you’ll have to count me out.

    This post is about ten words but that’s already grown to 15 or 16 via the comments. Learning 100 words and building on them is definitely achievable. Luckily I know quite a few more than that already but it’s the tones I’m very weak on.

    Best of luck with the Top 100 Language Learning international competition and here’s the link for those wishing to vote for Catherine’s top banana Thai language learning site, Women Learning Thai… and some men too.

    http://www.lexiophiles.com/language-lovers-toplist/vote-for-your-favorite-language-learning-blog-2012

  26. I can’t make any sense of the Thai written language. But I’ve figured out Chinese so maybe I might be able to get the hang of Thai some day 🙂

    Nice blog by the way – ladyboys are much more popular than most men will admit!!!

  27. Catherine says:

    Thanks for the mention of the competition Martyn 🙂

    There are a lot of great blogs teaching languages so the competition this year will be tough. There aren’t so many on the subject of Thai though. My hope is that by placing, I can bring Thai more into the public eye. It’s an interesting language to learn really (and I love love love the beauty of the Thai script).

  28. Martyn says:

    Catherine – Good luck with the competition and I’m sure you’ll come out top of the Thai language blogs and get WLT safely into the top ten of all the competition.

    I’ve just checked the voting and English Village is in front. WLT appears to be in the 10-20 positions. Slap that horse and get it going a little faster.

    Here’s where to register your vote for Catherine’s Thai language blog Women Learning Thai:

    http://www.lexiophiles.com/language-lovers-toplist/vote-for-your-favorite-language-learning-blog-2012

  29. Catherine says:

    Martyn, thank you so much for helping out 🙂

    I’ve been (nervously) checking the totals as well as I can (little boxes are difficult to judge) and seems to me I’m around 12th or so. I swear, this contest is taking years off me! Especially as that horse has done been slapped on twitter, FB, and elsewhere.

    I do have a new series launching this week (it’s attached to the contest)… so I’m not a dead dog yet.

    Today is the 20th… there are 8 more days to go… awk.

  30. Martyn says:

    Catherine – How many days can a girl age in eight days…relax you’re sitting in a comfortable position and I’m sure your horse has one last kick in it. Keep promoting and you should nudge yourself inside the top ten. Although you might be there already but it is difficult to tell with those votes bars.

  31. Catherine says:

    Martyn, I guess I’m just made to worry. It’s a gal thing 🙂

    Those vote bars… I wish they’d just give us numbers instead. I’m not a numbers person but the bars are difficult to suss.

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