6 Mistakes Farangs Make When Speaking Thai

Have ever said something in Thai that made Thai people laugh at you?

Fret not, you’re not the only one.

Thai people often find it cute and funny when foreigners speak broken Thai.

But if you’re struggling to learn the language, it could be somewhat embarrassing and not very encouraging.

That said, here are the most common mistakes we hear from students and how you could correct them:


1.  “I’m at home” – ผมที่บ้าน [phǒm thîi bâan]

Correct version: ผมอยู่ที่บ้าน [phǒm yùu thîi bâan]

The word ที่ [thîi] means something like “at” in English, in which you can drop, but when talking about location you can never drop the word อยู่ [yùu] “to be (somewhere)”. So you can say ผมอยู่บ้าน [phǒm yùu bâan] but not ผมที่บ้าน [phǒm thîi bâan].

2.  “I want to eat tom yum soup” – เอากินต้มยำ [ao kin tôm yam]

Correct version: อยากกินต้มยำ [yàak kin tôm yum]

The word เอา [ao] is often translated as “to want” because it is used the same way, but in fact it literally means “to take”. So when you want to do something, you wouldn’t say “I take eat”. Actually the word for “to want” is อยาก [yàak], so “want to eat” is อยากกิน [yàak kin] in Thai.

3.  “I speak a little bit of Thai” – ผมพูดนิดหน่อยไทย [phǒm phûut nítnɔ̀i thai]

Correct version: ผมพูดไทยนิดหน่อย [phǒm phûut thai nítnɔ̀i]

In Thai, describing words like adjectives and adverbs always follow the thing they describe. In this case, นิดหน่อย [nítnɔ̀i] is an adverb describing your ability to speak Thai, so it must come after พูดไทย [phûut thai].

4.  “I watched a film yesterday” – เมื่อวานฉันดูหนังแล้ว [mʉ̂awaan chán duu nǎŋ lɛ́ɛo]

Correct version: เมื่อวานฉันดูหนัง [mʉ̂awaan chán duu nǎŋ]

Tense does not really exist in Thai; Thais express time by using time-related words such as “now”, “yesterday”, “next month”, etc. On the other hand, the word แล้ว [lɛ́ɛo] “already”. Partly because แล้ว [lɛ́ɛo] doesn’t really express past tense, it expresses “completion” such as something being done already. In this case, the word เมื่อวาน [mʉ̂awaan] makes it clear already that it happened yesterday. Don’t worry so much about expressing time when speaking Thai, Thai people don’t.

5.  “It doesn’t rain” – ไม่ฝนตก [mâi fǒn tòk]

Correct version: ฝนไม่ตก [fǒn mâi tòk]

ฝนตก [fǒn tòk] is in fact two words – ฝน [fǒn] “rain (as a noun)” ตก [tòk] “to fall”. In Thai, you only negate the information that isn’t true. Rain does exist (of course!) but it just isn’t “falling” at the point of speaking. Therefore, you can’t deny the existence of rain: ไม่ฝนตก [mâi fǒn tòk] (literally, not-rain-fall), you should say instead that: ฝนไม่ตก [fǒn mâi tòk] (rain-not-fall).

And last but not least…

6.  “I have two children” – ฉันมีสองลูก [chán mii sɔ̌ɔŋ lûuk]

Correct version: ฉันมีลูกสองคน [chán mii lûuk sɔ̌ɔŋ khon]

Don’t ever say this unless you want to tell Thai people that you have 2 balls!  If you don’t already know, “ลูก” (lûuk) also refers to balls or spherical objects.  How you use it in a sentence will determine whether you’re talking about children or balls!

Every noun in Thai has its own “classifier”; a counting word for things. When you talk numbers, like having “two children”, you can’t directly replace the English words with Thai words and say สองลูก [sɔ̌ɔŋ lûuk]. You need to say ลูกสองคน [lûuk sɔ̌ɔŋ khon] (literally, child-2-persons) in this order. You have to count the classifier, not the noun.

Why you only know how to speak Thai like a “farang”…

Have you ever wondered why you still sound like a “farang” after taking months and months of Thai classes?

Have you ever had any problems not being understood by Thai people, or perhaps not understanding a word they say when they talk among themselves?

No, Thai people aren’t speaking too fast.

Just like how you wouldn’t want to speak English to them at 5 words per minute, you shouldn’t expect them to speak Thai to you the same way.

Thai people aren’t using fancy vocabulary or complex grammar either.  Most of them are just speaking naturally like how they would among themselves.

But why aren’t you able to understand them and still speaking like a “farang”?

Check out what we talked about at the Thai Bites – Road To Fluency seminar by Stuart Jay Raj to find out why:

Since there wasn’t enough time to finish our presentation and we had to skip a few slides, here’s what we had to say about Journey (our new textbook) and the art of teaching natural Thai:

Journey will teach you the realistic way that Thai people speak to each other, not Thai for “farangs” that no native speaker actually uses.

For example, Journey will approach the complex system of Thai personal pronouns by teaching you when to use formal pronouns like Phom, Dichan, Khun, and when you can just casually call yourself or others by name.

Journey will not be afraid to take you through the mysterious territory of final particles, words that cannot be directly translated but convey the moods, expectations, and intentions of the speaker.

Screenshot 2014-09-02 17.33.56

“Lâ” for example, is used like a spotlight.  When you put “lâ” at the end of a sentence, you shift the focus of that conversation.  If someone asks you “sābāai dīi máy?”, the topic of the conversation is “you”.  When you answer “sābāai dīi, lɛɛ́o khūn lâ?”, you’ve just changed the topic of the conversation from you to the person who asked you the question.  Just like a spotlight shifting the focus from you to him or her instead.


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