Is it difficult or easy to learn Thai?
Posted On July 6, 2023
Whether you find the Thai language difficult or easy to learn depends largely on your teacher and the teaching methods they adopt. However, there are elements of the language that make it easier to learn than other languages, and there are also aspects that make it a bit more difficult. Within this article, I highlight the key areas that make Thai a difficult language to learn, but end on a high note, pointing out the factors that make it an easy and fun language to learn as well.
Why is it difficult to learn the Thai language?
The problems that most people encounter when learning Thai can be summed up in three main areas, these are:
1. The Thai language is a tonal language. This means that a specific word can mean several completely different things depending on the tone used. In all, there are five tones for students to master; high, medium, low, ascending or descending. For most Western students studying Thai, this can be a big hurdle to overcome. They are used to hearing the tone used to interpret the context and the emotion with which the words are pronounced. A short harsh tone, for example, could mean someone is angry in some Western languages. Therefore, Westerners learning Thai must adjust to the fact that they cannot alter tone to express emotion, as they will end up saying something completely different than what they intended. For a student to master the tones of the Thai language, it is essential that listening comprehension plays an important role in the learning process.
2. The Thai language has its own alphabet consisting of 44 consonants and 36 vowels. It can be daunting to learn a new alphabet, and certainly languages with their own alphabet are harder to learn, especially if you want to be able to read and write. However, the Thai alphabet is much easier to learn than Chinese or Japanese, so don’t be discouraged. There are some fun and effective methods available to help students get familiar with the alphabet quickly and easily, and once they get the hang of it, the alphabet looks beautiful.
3. The third problem many people encounter is that they interpret Thai words from a Western perspective. The culture in Thailand is very different from the West, and it is essential to learn about the culture in order to understand the language correctly. The Thai language is a high-context language, rather than a low-context one, which means a lot is said between the lines. When listening to a Thai person, you should watch the speakers’ expressions and body language, while considering the context of the conversation, to get a clear picture of what is being communicated.
Why is the Thai language easy to learn?
Fortunately, there are some aspects of Thai grammar and vocabulary that make it an easy language to learn:
1. The grammar of the Thai language is extremely easy. There are no conjugations, declensions, inflections, etc. Thai words do not change shape with gender, person, number, or even tense. Yesterday, tomorrow, already, or will be added to sentence structures to indicate time. When learning Thai, you don’t need to know if a word is masculine or feminine, and there are no articles. There are no words for “a”, “a” or “the” and usually if a word is not needed to communicate the meaning then it is omitted, keeping the sentences very simple in structure.
2. Many words are used in compounds to make new words. This makes it possible to understand unfamiliar words just by looking at the parts. For example, you may know that the Thai word for fish is “pla” and the Thai word for water is “naam.” “naam pla” a compound of the two words is fish water, or if you like, fish sauce.
So is the Thai language difficult or easy to learn? The difficult aspects of learning Thai are really a “difference” in nature, rather than a “difficulty” in learning. If you have a good understanding of how the language differs from your own, and you have a teacher who embraces the most effective methods of teaching a language, you should find the language fun and easy to learn.