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If you plan to live in Thailand for the long-term, we would strongly recommend that you learn to speak Thai. As well as learning to speak Thai, we’d also suggest learning to read and write Thai. The Thai language can be a difficult language to learn for Westerners, as it’s a tonal language that Westerners aren’t used to because it is different from English. This difference is why many English-speaking Westerners that move here don’t bother. In the major cities, you can easily get by with English, so why bother? There are numerous reasons that you should make an effort, and here are just the main ones.
Reasons You Should Learn Thai
You’ll Make Friends More Easily
Making friends is a great reason to learn Thai. Not many Thai people can speak English, especially outside the main cities, so if you can’t speak any Thai, your circle of friends is going to be very limited indeed. You’ll have the choice of spending time with other expats or a tiny minority of Thais who can speak English. Imagine what life would be like back in your home country if you couldn’t speak the language. We have to be able to communicate to make friends, but we can’t do that if we don’t speak the same language. If you decide to live in a smaller, more remote Thai town or village, likely, you won’t have any friends at all, as no one may be able to speak English. So for just this reason alone, you should learn at least a little Thai.
You’ll Gain Huge Respect
Not many expats make an effort to learn Thai, so if you do, you stand out as the person who has made an effort. Your effort will gain you a considerable amount of respect (and face) among Thai people, and they will make much more effort to get to know you and involve you. You’ll find that when you even speak a little Thai, they will be impressed enough to want to help you out with all sorts of things. They’ll also want to introduce you to their friends, so that is a double bonus.
You’ll Have an Easier Time Finding a Date
For you guys out there, this should be a no brainer. Probably less than 10% of Thai people can speak English, and those that can are often very limited in their vocabulary. So just think about that for a minute. Out of every ten cute Thai girls that you meet, you won’t be able to communicate at all with nine of them. The other one may or may not be able to speak a reasonable level of English. Why would you want to exclude yourself from being able to talk to all these cute girls? Are you so lazy that you’d rather miss out than put in some effort to learn the language? Thai people value white skin, so plenty of Thai girls would just love to date a Westerner. But most can’t because most Westerners don’t make an effort to learn Thai. Some of the best girls in Thailand are the ones that can only speak Thai.
You will Have an Easier Time Finding a Job
Many expats that come to Thailand need to work, but finding work can sometimes be challenging. If you teach English, then you will get by with just your English skills. But for any other decent job, you are going to have to learn at least a little Thai. There is no point in having a great job if you cannot communicate with 90% of your co-workers. You’ll just feel like an outcast. That you’ve made an effort to learn Thai will also go down well with prospective employers. Just imagine that you’re a Thai employer looking to fill a vacancy. Two people apply for the job, one that has learned some Thai, and one that has not bothered learning any. All other things being equal, which person do you think will get the job?
You’ll Know What Thai People Are Saying About You
We have met many expats who appear to be slightly paranoid because they always think Thai people are talking about them, but have no idea what they are saying. This idea can drive some people crazy. All they need to do to remedy the situation is to learn Thai, and then they’ll know what the Thai people are saying. Even if you are not paranoid about these things, it can be disconcerting not to know what others are discussing. So learn some Thai, and understand what they are saying. At the very least, you’ll get to understand Thai people a little better.
You Will Find Your Way Around More Easily
Not surprisingly, many signs in Thailand are written in Thai. So, learning to read, write, and speak Thai will help you find your way around. And it’s not just the signs. What if you’re lost, and the only people that you can ask for directions speak Thai? How will you find your way? This issue may not be such a problem in large cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai, but it can be a real problem in smaller towns.
You will Understand the Culture A Little Better
The culture in Thailand will be vastly different from back home, and understanding this new culture will be much easier if you can speak Thai. You’ll understand what others are saying, and get small insights into the culture that you just wouldn’t be able to pick up otherwise. I have met expats that have been here for years, but are often still at a bit of a loss as to how the culture works. Those expats that can speak Thai always fit in much more easily and have a vastly superior understanding of the culture.
You’ll Have More Fun
Yes, that’s right, you’ll have fun learning Thai. And who doesn’t want to have fun? If you take a Thai language course here, you’ll meet other people that are also learning Thai, and you’ll also meet lots of Thai people (especially females) that will help you with your Thai in exchange for you helping them with their English. There is nothing more rewarding than learning Thai with a few cute Thai girls. You might even meet the girl of your dreams.
Just to get you started, here are some very basic Thai words that you should know.
At the end of almost every sentence, Thais add the word ka (if they are female) or krap (if they are male). Adding ka or krap to the end of a sentence is just a way of being polite.
So, if you want to say Thank You, you’d say…
Khop Khun Ka (if you are female)
Khop Khun Krap (if you are male)
Here is a word that you should definitely learn. It means Hello, Goodbye, Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Goodnight.
Sawaddi Ka (if you are female)
Sawaddi Krap (if you are male)
So now you already know how to say Hello, Goodbye, and Thank You. See, it wasn’t so difficult was it?
You will hear these words being spoken numerous times during the day, so start using them as soon as you arrive in Thailand. I don’t think there’s any substitute to learning Thai in a more formal setting, but you can easily pick up lots of new words every day. One way to do this is to learn two new words a day, and then keep using them over and over until you remember them. If you just learn two new words every day, that would be over 700 words in a year, and is enough to be able to communicate at a good level with most Thais. I’d start off with the most common words that you’ll use every day, as the repetition of using them will be what makes them easier to remember.
As mentioned earlier, there are regional variations in the language, and the most widely spoken is Central Thai. So, this is what you should learn when you are starting out. If you learn Thai in the Isaan region, where tones are used much more, then Thais in Bangkok may not so easily be able to understand you. But learn Central Thai, and almost everyone will be able to understand you.