Love Thailand? Speak a few words in Thai.
So you are travelling to Thailand and this time you want to have a go at a few words in Thai. You have been to Thailand a few times before maybe and always made an effort to, at least, say hello in Thai but not much more than that. You were told a few random Thai words in your interactions with local people on your previous trips but cannot really remember any of them now.
This time you want to try a little more real conversation with Thai people; maybe you got to know some of the hotel staff or your tour guide or you met someone special the last time you were there. You have started to really love Thailand for giving you the most relaxing and fun two to three weeks of your year and you can’t wait to go back.
Sounds familiar? So what do you do to pick up a few more words and maybe even a short sentence or two? Maybe even a funny phrase or two to break the ice and the culture barrier on your next trip. Well, you could try buying a Basic Thai coursebook and study before you leave for your trip. (Although I did this, I doubt 99% of you will…after all you do not really want to be a student of Thai and you are busy with your life and work and so on). You could alternatively do some Skype sessions with a Thai teacher but you know already that you are bound to forget everything by the time you get to Thailand. Bottom line, you don’t want to study the language, just pick up a few basics.
So the best option is probably to just pick up a phrasebook at the airport and test out a few phrases. The only slight drawback is often these phrasebooks give you the phrase but not the context or when to and when not to use it or much explanation so it ends up a bit hit and miss. And with a tonal language like Thai, trying to read out a Thai sentence written in English characters is always going to be a challenge.
The good news is there is a book that addresses all of the above and is written just for people like you. A beginner’s book that gives you the absolute basics but also the insight and context to know how to pronounce them, when to use them and how. And a pronunciation guide that gives you the minimum you need at beginner level but not the full and unnecessary guide to the Thai alphabet and tone marks etc. No more blurting out random mispronounced phrases at local people and getting frustrated when they do not respond. And the even better news? It is a pocketbook and does not need you to devote your entire holiday to studying Thai!
And finally, an excerpt from the book on a cultural point before we even get to the Thai words – don’t go around Thailand doing the religious / cultural salute (wâai) to everyone you meet! Yes, that’s right, don’t do it! At least, to be more precise, don’t initiate it.
The wâai is a formal mark of respect when saying hello, goodbye, thank you and sometimes, sorry, from a younger person to an older person and/or from a person in an ‘inferior’ social status to a person with higher status (possibly regardless of age) e.g. a sales assistant to a customer, a student to a teacher or professor, or anyone to a monk. You, as a foreign tourist, are normally a customer or guest in most situations i.e. at hotels, in department stores etc. You therefore should NOT wâai first when you enter a shop or leave it. Wait for the staff to wâai you first and then return the gesture if you are keen to do it but a mini head bow and a smile is also sufficient to be polite.
When you wâai staff first, it is not a faux pas on a grand scale and generally it is received well by Thais who are well accustomed to dealing with tourists and they know you mean well and want to show your gratitude and delight at the service you received. But if you want to behave like Thai people, which presumably you do because you are trying to do a Thai gesture of respect, try to restrain yourself from initiating wâai’s everywhere you go in Thailand. Notice no Thais ever wâai any staff first but they do wâai each other when they meet and it is usually in a semi-formal setting and initiated by the younger person (but not always) i.e. if two middle-aged couples meet for dinner, they will obviously wâai each other, often at the same time. However, young friends rarely wâai each other because it is a formal gesture not required when you are schoolmates or whatever.
Even more important, if you are going to attempt the wâai, at least get it right! The wâai is NOT the same as the Indian gesture so DON’T flare out your elbows like you are about to enter a martial arts contest. I saw Ed Byrne doing this in a BBC documentary on Thailand and I still cringe at the mental image. Not only will you look utterly ridiculous doing this, the Indian / karate salute has the hands too low and could even be seen as disrespectful by Thais.
A proper wâai has the elbows more in than the karate gesture and the height of the hands depends on how much respect is required. A wâai (returned to, not initiated) to someone younger or in a ‘lower’ situational or social status such as a handyman, a sales assistant, a tour guide and pretty much most people you will meet on your trip should be with your hands in front of your chest, your fingertips together and roughly at your chin or lower lip. And your head bow should be just a mini bow.
A wâai to your girlfriend’s parents (where you should definitely be the one initiating it) should be with your fingertips in front of your nose and the head bow should be slightly deeper / longer and more respectful.
A wâai to a monk should have the fingertips reaching your forehead, pointing slightly diagonally away and up from your forehead and you should bow your head for longer and show even more respect and humility.
Got it? Great! Now you are ready to learn some basic Thai words. Enjoy your time in Thailand!
100 Thai words to start speaking Thai by Arun Press – check it out on Amazon. Combines the best aspects of a phrasebook and a basic coursebook to give you all the words you need to make a good impression in Thailand and crucially, leaves out all the Thai that you would never need as a beginner not necessarily looking to study Thai. Allows you to get up to speed, know what you are actually saying but not spend your holiday learning Thai. Quite simply, a guide written for the majority of tourists and beginner learners who want to speak a little Thai but speak it correctly.