Thai Notes

August 2022

The joy of learning a new language for me is when you progressively recognise words that you have had no idea at all in the past. The realisation of a certain pattern, or from the back of your mind you could match a certain character with the sound/tone. Of course, the best comes when you're cooking a pack of instant noodles and can understand the cooking instructions lol. There are a few "wow" moments so far in learning Thai.


First, the way that Thai spelling works is mind-blowing. Really mind-blowing. For English, alphabets map to pronunciation. "A" = "ei" "B" = "bi" "C" = "ci" so on. There's only one way of pronouncing each alphabet. so when you're spelling a word, eg. Apple, you'll pronounce 5 individual sounds. "ei-pi-pi-el-i". In Thai, if to spell eg "We" (เรา), the pronunciation of the word is simply "Rao", but if spelling it out, it's "Roo Rua" (ร: Consonant) "Sara ao" (เ า: Vowel) (roo-rua-sara-ao) You need to add "sara" as a prefix to any vowel when spelling. so it makes almost all words when spell out sound so much longer than the actual word. For consonant, on top of the pronunciation of the consonant itself, the reference of the consonant must be added as well. For the first consonant in the thai system, "ก" ("Goo") the reference is "chicken" (gai ไก่). So every time when spelling words with ก, this single consonant results in pronouncing "Goo Gai". The reason why this is absolutely necessary is that there are 44 consonants in the Thai system but only 21 sounds, which means there are a lot of consonants that refer to the same sound. The amount of consonants that refers to the sound "Kh" is mind-blowing.

Writing ("Khian")

I swear that it took me ages to find out that ค and ด are two different characters. Thai people must have very good eye-sights. When font size is set to like 16px, you still need a magnifying glass to find out that the little "circle" for ค is curling inwards the centre and ด is curling outwards. But finding your own world of imagination linkage for these characters will do just fine. For me, this is exactly how you put your tongue when pronouncing the different consonants respectively. ค = Khoo (tongue down) ด = Doo (Tongue up). It is such a crazy language.

"Oh I know this word"

I've had many moments like this so far, and the satisfaction is unreal. They don't sound incomprehensible anymore T_T. I have a Thai playlist on Spotify that I once had no idea what the lyrics were at all, then gradually when I pick up more vocabs, suddenly some phrases in those songs are audible! Thai dramas are not all great, but they are definitely great sources of listening practices since most of them have English subtitles.

Those damn tones

Thai is a tonal language, meaning, it is hard. Cantonese is also a tonal language, but since it is our mother tongue, we don't necessarily understand how hard it is. When you speak, eg zung1 zi2 (終止 End)(there're 6 homophones of the same tone already lol), and zung2 zi2 means 種子 (Seed). Excluding the effort of learning how to write Chinese characters, just simply learning to listen and understand Cantonese is hard, it is literally a giant matrix or matrices for the possible combinations. Imagine people learning Cantonese from scratch. Relatively, Thai is an easier tonal language because it relatively has fewer tones :laugh:
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