The Thai language is incredibly simple to my surprise. The difficulties come in tone and a non-Latin alphabet. There are 44 consonants, 32 vowels and five tones – mid, low, falling, high and rising. If you fail to get the tone right, you have changed the context and meaning of the word.
Other aspects to Thai are:
- There are no variant or plural forms for adjectives and nouns.
- Adjectives follow the noun. Instead of “red car” Thais say “car red.”
- There are no verb conjugations (thank god!)
- There are no articles (a, an, the)
- There is no verb “to be.” “He is hot” is simply “He hot.”
- Did I mention Thai is tonal? Mess up the tone and you will not be understood. Or worse, you will say something offensive.
In a five-day crash course, I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. I can ask simple questions, explain a little bit about myself (name, where I’m from, my age, what I’m doing here). I can ask how much things cost, ask directions to the bathroom, explain that I only speak a little Thai and count to 1,000. Reading and writing is another chapter unto itself.
Having so many vowels is sheer frustration. After an hour or two, my brain hurts and the vowels are causing havoc in my head. Words are very similar so it’s easy to mess up. Here’s a small sampling:
university: ma haa witta yaa lai
restaurant: raan aa haan
airport: sa naam bin
ice: naam keng
orange juice: naam som
You see what I mean with the vowels? Thankfully my tutor has been really patient with me especially when I stare stupidly at her and admit that I can’t remember or I simply don’t know. I’m not gonna lie, there were days I wanted to stand up and walk out. But I didn’t let her onto that. She was too delightful and I am eager to learn. Patience is something I’ve never had a lot of, but when learning Thai, you have to cultivate it. After all, if you speaka the language, you getta better view int0 the culture. My mantra: I can learn Thai. Yes, I can. Slow and steady, baby.