Yesterday I set myself the challenge of asking for a price in Thai and listening to the answer. I didn’t succeed as the shop keeper was too quick for me. She told me the English cost before I could wrap my head around asking the cost in Thai. However, I did repeat back the cost in Thai and have her nod and smile. I’m happy with that.
Everything I read on Thai keeps talking about the tones. I still hadn’t come across anything telling me how to figure them out, so decided it was about time to try.
My goodness is it complicated!
The Thai alphabet song
I was going to put this section at the end, but honestly, if you’re not planning to learn Thai it’s a lot more interesting than my grammar notes!
As you may have seen if you watched the featured video (sorry about that, by the way 😉 ), there is a Thai alphabet song.
And here’s the thai-language.com transcription of the alphabet song. It has tonal values and sound recordings for each word. I found it massively helpful in getting my tongue around the tones.
If you’re interested here’s what I’ve been learning about Thai grammar:
Every word in Thai has one of 5 tones: low, mid, high, falling rising
Mid – normal voice
Low/high – as you’d expect. You speak either low or high.
Falling – start high and modulate your voice to lower as you’re speaking
Rising – start low and modulate your voice to raise as you’re speaking
Consonants have 3 values: low, mid, high
These do not translate directly to the tones. You have to learn rules around how letters are put together to determine the tone of the whole syllable.
Personally I don’t think of them as low, mid and high. It’s not remotely useful. They’re actually grouped according to sound.
‘High’ – aspirated (let out air as you say it)
’Mid’ – not aspirated
‘Low’ – either aspirated or sonorant (hummable)
When you come to figuring out the tones it’s all about how words will sound. So I think it’s much more useful to think about consonants in terms of their sound from the beginning, rather than labelling them with an arbitrary low/mid/high.
Words can have tone markers: low, falling, high, rising
Even these do not translate directly to the tones. If the ‘falling’ tone marker is coupled with a ‘low’ class initial consonant, then the resulting word will be in the ‘high’ tone. No wonder foreigners find Thai hard!
Here’s a useful table from thai-language.com that shows how it all works:
Learn Thai in 2 weeks – progress