Even though it's not really necessary to get by in Thailand, you'll undoubtedly have an easier and more enjoyable experience if you spend some time learning Thai. Most Thais don't expect a foreigner to be able to speak any of their language and will surely appreciate if you make a little effort and can string a few sentences together in Thai.
This web site is created mainly as a personal learning aid, but hopefully it can also be of some use for others trying to learn the Thai language... The use of the built-in Thai support in your browser facilitates using different character sets and, thus, there is no need to install special Thai fonts in order to view these pages.
Thai is the national language of Thailand. It is spoken by the majority of its sixty million residents and understood in Burma, Laos, northern Vietnam and the north-western parts of Cambodia. The spoken language is believed to have originated in the area which is now the border between Vietnam and China. Linguistically, the language is related to languages spoken in eastern Burma, northern Vietnam, Yunnan, Laos and Cambodia.
Like Chinese, Lao and Vietnamese, Thai is a tonal language, which means that the same word can have a completely different meaning depending on its pronounciation. There are 5 tones; mid tone, high tone, low tone, rising tone and falling tone, which can be somewhat challenging to a western ear. A common example of the challenges the tonal system brings, is the word 'mai', whose meanings include 'wood', 'not', 'silk', 'burn', 'new' and 'right?' depending on the tone which is used to pronounce it.
The written Thai Language was introduced by King Ramkamhaeng (1275-1317), who claims to have created an alphabet for Siamese language in 1283, which later developed into the Thai alphabet. The alphabet was probably derived, or at least influenced by, the Khmer alphabet. As with Khmer, the writing system was based on Sanskrit, Pali and ancient Indian concepts. This writing system has undergone little change since its introduction, so inscriptions from the Sukothai era can still be read by modern Thai readers.
Thai consonants (courtesy of thai-language.com):
Thai language links:
thai-language.com - Great guys with an excellent website that provides information for English-speakers with any level of interest in Thailand, its language and culture - from beginners who wish to learn a few phrases before their vacation to advanced students who may want to live or work in Thailand someday. In additon to a free online Internet dictionary they provide a comprehensive and up-to-date online store with special reviews of Thai language items that you won't find anywhere else. Highly Recommended.
Thai Language and Culture Learning Resources - Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University has put together a very useful section about Thai language and culture. Includes Maanii Readers - a story about a Thai girl named Maanii (based on an authentic Thai primer published by the Thai Ministry of Education) with images, sounds and interactive exercises for beginners, and Spoken Thai - listening and speaking lessons adapted from Mary A. Hass' book with the same title
Learning Thai the Easy Way - Free online lessons for learning to read, speak and write Thai.
ThaiARC- A comprehensive resource on Thai language, literature, audio materials and whatnot from Thammasat University.
Omniglot - A guide to the Thai writing system.
Parsit - An experimental English-to-Thai quick-look translation service.
Suphawut's Bilingual Translations - Various English-to-Thai and Thai-to-English translations featuring song lyrics, poems, and technical & miscellaneous texts, as well as the unprecedented Masterpiece Bilingual Translations.