Speaking Thai in Thailand

Hi everyone,

It is widely agreed that speaking Thai is essential for a successful integration in Thailand. Do you agree? Share your experience!

Do you speak Thai? If so, where did you learn this language? Where can one attend a language course in Thailand?

If not, how do you cope with daily activities? Is it easy to communicate in a different language with Thais?

Thank you for sharing your experience.


I made my first trip to Thailand in 2001. I was lucky to travel with the Thai relatives of a fried of mine. So I could discover Thailand from another view than «normal» tourists.

I discovered, that most Thai don't speak English. I was fascinated of this country and I got the opportunity to start leaning Thai in Switzerland. I also start leaning reading and writing the Thai language. This is essential for understanding the Thai language. The phonetic transcription is often misleading.

I am living and working n Thailand since 2011. Unfortunately I could not find the time to improve my Thai in local schools. But my daily language is Thai. My Thai wive don't speaks English very well and I have to communicate with my staff in Thai.

Most Thai don't speak English. Some can understand some English. In some cases I use a mix of Thai and English. Most native English people also tend to speak to fast and too complicated. The Thai will politely smile and confirm, that she/he understands - but she/he only with get some 10% of the conversation.

Speaking Thai is very helpful. It opens doors and is appreciated. Knowing at least the numbers, time, daytime, weekdays and some adjectives already helps a lot to manage the daily life in Thailand.

I speak, write and read fluently in Thai, the reason why I got to learn Thai was bcuz my family is Thai, I was to go to a Thai Uni. and finaly bcuz if u dont learn the language of the land the u will have many problems for example when i arrived in LOS the buses only had writen the destinations in Thai! So u can imagine how difficult it would be to get around. For me learning Thai was easy, in 6 months I was able to speak pretty well and read but that was bcuz I speak Mandarin that is also a tonal language and in my opinion is very similar to Thai, for example horse in mandarin 马in thai isม้า and many others. But I have heard from other foreigners that Thai is very difficult and also have known people that have been living in LOS for decades and dont speak a word in Thai.

I first came to Thailand for a years and a half in 1973.  Hardly anyone spoke any English at all.  I came back permanently in 2008.  I went to Thai School briefly and got a few basics.  Now, 9 years-on, I speak Thai well enough to travel anywhere in Thailand and get all my needs met without any difficulties.  Yes, learning Thai is essential for living comfortably in Thailand.  A large percentage of Thais see no benefit or have any motivation to learn English.


Hi, what an interesting topic!   I wish I could, but after one year here, still cannot get to grips with it.

But I have found that Thai people are much more perceptive and savvy than my early experiences in Spain for instance, where I was based for some years. 

So all in all, its its a lovely thing to speak the language of the land where you are living, not to mention polite and courteous to the people whose country us farangs are guests in, but easier to get by in than many countries I can think of, where only their native tongue is acceptable, one of them is on our doorstep across the English channel.

Yes, If you  are less than functional in the Thai language, you cannot integrate and enjoy life here.

Hi dear .  I am sorry  to said I cannot  speak  well Thai  language  I still  learning  Thai language  in.   Language  school  at Bangkok .  It's 1 year course  I just  started  this is my frist  month  in school .  And that is very  helpful  environment.

Speaking Thai has afforded me many opportunities, friendships and experiences which would not have been possible otherwise.

I speak, read and write Thai. Between 1974 to 1977, I was in Peace Corps and learned Thai then. I then came back since 2005. It does help to speak Thai, but people do get along well with limited Thai, as well. I feel it's more important to relate to individuals and have some understanding of the culture.

Yes, l agree, but l have no one to teach me,,,,, anyone available?

Hi I am good at English and Chinese.. I can communicate with Thailand peoples but not so well.Hope see you soon
A Sang

yes i am looking to learn Thai langauge


Speaking fluent Thai is not a must , Basic things like Good Morning , Good Night , Thank You and Greeting is very helpful and easy to learn.
Most Thai People have basic English knowledge and some are fluent especially in The Service Sector.

Most everything is in both English and Thai ,  signs , menues and more.
I'm retiring there this year as my Fiancé is a Thai Citizen I've traveled there 4 times and it's a wonderful place and a great Culture to be emersed in and I'm going to pick up Thai Language Classes , I'm going to give it my best effort  :)

So the main response to your question is it's very easy to adapt there and fluent Thai Language is not a requirement :)

Best Of Luck
Best Regards :)

Where & how did You get My E Mail add? & Name ?  is it From a person pretending to be Looking for a Husband. or Please be Truthfull. Thank You. D J S

After 25 years I do speak fluent Thai, but here's a shortcut a friend of mine used giving him a quick headstart: he booked a homestay with a Thai family in the back of nowhere where no one spoke English, and where sign language was the only means to try and describe your needs or wants. Not wanting to go through these lengthy, yet simplistic charades every time, he was forced to remember the words. It's better than school where you can always fall back on English, and will work for sure, for you have no choice if you want to get, or get across,  what you need or want.

In 1973 I married a lady from Thailand in the US and lived there with her until 2010 when we retired to Thailand. Over the 44 years we have been together I have tried to learn to speak Thai. Right now she is my translator. I speak limited Thai and a lot of English. If I ever lose my translator don't know what  I will do. Living in Samutsongkram where there are no language schools I am out of luck. Have tried books and computer courses but unless I have an instructor have been unable to learn another language like Spanish in high school and German while in college. So, I get by using my wife to speak Thai. Our son an executive speaks decent English, but day to day, THANK GOD FOR MY WIFE!

Hello speaking speaking Thai is not really necessary if you are looking for a job though.... but dealing with the local community, that is where the problem will be especially when you are not working in the big cities. The language is very important to the people because they believe that speaking their language as a foreigner you are one of them in certain aspects and you can not be "cheated".Learning Thai is quite easy though if you are a teacher because your students will speak to you only in Thai in almost everything.The most funniest part will be when you don't have a Thai English teacher that con explain/translate to you in Thai.
Well to cut long story short if you are coming to work in Thailand as an expat in my opinion  understand basic Thai language is very important in many ways.The population that speaks and understand English is still very low even in big cities.I you are an adventurer who wants to know more about the people the the countryside will be a good start.
The people are friendly and welcoming.
There are language centers everywhere to learn Thai .

Hi Priscilla,

I speak a bit of Thai, but I cannot read and write in Thai quite yet. I believe that it is essential to have at least a II language level to be able to communicate with the locals, though you may be able to get away with I language if speaking with new foreigners. I believe that foreigners that have lived here longer have more of a grasp on how things go and in my opinion are more welcome by Thais if they've been here for 5+ years.

I learned Thai from my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. When they are not available, I go to meet-ups that are taught in schools or studios or learn from my Thai friends when I go to a Thai international school. Some of them are willing to teach in exchange for learning English or more about locations outside of Thailand.

For me, it seems to be difficult to break into the mold when i have only been here for a total of three years, though the workers and fruit vendors are always nice to speak too. I guess its because I do  not have fluency in the language. Sometimes, this bothers me because I don't get to hang out with the locals or learn about the history, culture, and tradition of Thailand or get invited to parties or hang out at clubs. It sort of makes me feel like an outcast when I am not able to get beyond the initial meeting. Some have told me its due to my shy, depressed, insecure nature and i feel like people who are chefs, photographers, or famous writers get more of an in than I do--since I am just a regular joe for now.

on another note, I would really like to do those social things listed above and open up to others and make life long relationships but so far no luck. I am not sure if this will change once my shy, depressed, insecure nature changes or not, but I am working towards that and getting over an illness.

Hopefully, I haven't overshared and given people food for thought or started the ball rolling!

Knowing Thai is a massive positive asset - no question about that. My competency is pretty strong and I enjoy the way that makes people I talk to relax and be themselves more easily.

The flip side is that the more you understand as you walk around, hear clips on t.v., radio and such, the more veneer is removed and the lack-lustre banality of daily life is exposed. I struggle with small-talk in any language, and I've begun to wish I could not understand much of what surrounds me...

Hello, I married a Thai women in the US in 1985, we lived there till we reached retirement age of 65, then we move to Thailand to retire. We have been here 4 years, after my culture shock was over, I learned basic Thai, I too have my wife translate for me, but I also go shopping on my own & drive to the Gym. When I am by myself I explain I cannot speak Thai, and usually they come up with some English, we can get by. It is a very hard language  to learn, I have traveled a lot in Europe and was able to pick up French, & Spanish without much problem. But am still trying to learn each day.

Sassybluenet, Its easy to be shy or uncomfortable when you don't speak the native Language, this happens to me also, this is one of the many problems I have to deal with everyday. I know just how you feel, but don't let it get you down. You can always make friends  on the computer, but be careful where you are going. It can be dangerous too.  Don't give up who you are, be yourself and you will find friends.  Don't worry about it, just let things flow.  Good Luck to You.   Patrick

Yes I do speak Thai, have been speaking and learning Thai since 1988 when I first visited this beautiful country. Back than I already wanted to spend my retirement life here, that's why I started interacting with Thai people as and when available. I'm from Singapore and back in those days, there are many Thai construction workers in Singapore. So I started asking them word for word, like a baby learning to walk. Anyway, it's the love for the people and language that will keep you learning and understanding them.

Hello, how do you do

No I don't speak Thai but a little. (I count, some greeting, word and sentences by dint of listening to my wife in whom I trust for ten years. She manages things for me.
I would like to be able to speak Thai but I'm discouraged before starting.

Who speaks Thai around the world? Thailand, Lao, few Thais in China?
The country should very seriously think of learning and teaching English Properly.
whether they want to emerge into the international business world.

Crucial, you said?            English is crucial at the Globalization time.
I had the choice six years ago between learning Thai or English.
I chose English.
In addition already that I write badly my language imagine me drawing Thai alphabet! LOL!
45 sound ! I'd need to go to Pattaya take Thai courses. There is a Thai teacher who teach Thai to the French.
No, it's not worth it!
Furthermore, there were around 600 - 700 million English as a foreign language speakers. So, that's clearly over 1 billion people that could communicate in English to some extent.

Take a look at … ak-english
French is the five or sixth most widely spoken language.

However, I agree with you that as I live in Thailand it'd great to can speak Thai but not crucial for me.
And how many expatriates speak Thai?

have I answered your question satisfactorily?

I hope it helps.
Greetings from nongprue.

Yes, speaking Thai is very helpful but many find it not particularly essential. Unlike Japan, for instance, I find most Thais can transact their essential business in English.

I learned at the Union Language School on Suriwong and the YMCA. I speak Thai all day but do little reading because there is nothing to read. 

Frank Lombard

I learnt Thai from my wife,

i can speak thai nid noi.i stay in pattaya,so as a tourist area it is very easy to communicate..i intend to stay more permanently,shortly,so would like to know the easiest way to learn the thai language...i have met a number of long term expats who have no intention of learning thai-i tnink that is ignorant and most cases they have a thai wife,so she does the communication with the locals..

Hi Priscilla,
Good day. Got your message from my inbox. Sorry, but I cannot speak Thai. I love to but it's very difficult. When I was in Thailand I tried to remember some words like niknoy/ aloi mak mak/ mai pen lai/ chai medai. I'm not sure if the spelling is correct. I've learned also a song by Valunee. Nice to know you. And I love to meet you too. I plan to go to Bangkok next month. Hope I hope we can meet each other. I'ts a pleasure to have you as as an expat friend.

Sincerely yours,

Hello prisilla
My name is Charles, and yes I do speak Thai, I was stationed in Korat camp friendship

I find that if your in Bangkok it helps to speak Thai but you can get by without it.As you go north to Korat,khon Kaen and further north it helps to speak some Thai.I find those language apps help quite A bit.

Sawhadee thrilled
I agree,  as I said I was stationed in Korat, at camp friendship,  you can get by speaking dating,  but I just wanted to learn how to speak Thai, yes the books are good but it's not like learning from the native people that's how I learned

Learning Thai is a personal matter. It is really not necessary for day-to- day chores. If you are serious about learning I insist you find a professional teacher. "Sleeping dictionaries" do not understand tones or aspirated consonants.

Those who are serious should even take a second look. Thailand is a Pop Culture with an Asian twist. The country offers scant literature and a tabloid press. Have you ever caught a Thai reading a book? Women talk about fashion, food and ghosts. For men it is cars, bikes and guns. Join the people I live with.

A caveat, I am serious about, is that if you lack Thai you have no business in a courtroom or even a police station. You might end up there with marriage or divorce difficulties. Courts strictly forbid foreign languages. Translators are available but they can handle only a few lines of a multi-page document. You may see your own lawyer talking to the opposition. All that transpires will be a mystery.

Cops and lawyers are also very weak in English. For example, the lawyer for the Bangkok Post cannot speak English. Prayuth can only handle a few words. Thaksin Shinawatra is very fluent but his grammar is that of a Chicago alley cat.

To date, I speak basic thai but even with that I can do all essential stuff like shopping and ordering food or drinks. Asking for receipts. Just the basic stuff has made me see my errors and I usually feed my errors back to my wife who corrects me and explains things for me. I stopped speaking thai in my wife's presence at places like restaurants. The waiters automatically did not believe I spoke thai to them. I thought I had the pronunciation wrong but my Mrs would not help the waiter. Instead she just tell them I am speaking thai. They got it but I thought best not to do this in future. I have been here 3 years and my wife duped me a little by pretending she knew English very well. We met online and met after some weeks. She translated a lot of what we discussed. The Mrs has never been to any school but she now reads, writes and speaks English better than most thai people I have ever met. We have a son so I'm hoping when he is a bit older than 2 months, he will teach me thai and I will continue to teach him English.

Moderated by Bhavna last year
Reason : Not suitable for the forum
We invite you to read the forum code of conduct
simonkoh65 :

You may see quoting the content you refer to as a means of putting your words into a context.

Rc2702 :

To date, I speak basic thai but even with that I can do all essential stuff like shopping and ordering food or drinks. Asking for receipts. Just the basic stuff has made me see my errors and I usually feed my errors back to my wife who corrects me and explains things for me. I stopped speaking thai in my wife's presence at places like restaurants. The waiters automatically did not believe I spoke thai to them. I thought I had the pronunciation wrong but my Mrs would not help the waiter. Instead she just tell them I am speaking thai. They got it but I thought best not to do this in future. I have been here 3 years and my wife duped me a little by pretending she knew English very well. We met online and met after some weeks. She translated a lot of what we discussed. The Mrs has never been to any school but she now reads, writes and speaks English better than most thai people I have ever met. We have a son so I'm hoping when he is a bit older than 2 months, he will teach me thai and I will continue to teach him English.

We run into something similar in Japan. If I'm a Caucasian, no matter how good my Japanese is, the locals will often turn to the one Asian in the group and assume that's the one who speaks the language even if they can't.

Reminds me of what I ran into in the States a while back. I saw two lovely black women speaking in a strange language. I assumed that they were Brazilian, but that wasn't Portuguese. Turns out they were African expats living in Sweden and they were just visiting the States as tourists.

Personally I don't see anything wrong with making assumptions based on visuals cues. I have been out to dinner with friends from Hawaii who looked Thai and the waiter naturally addressed them first.  There was no way for the staff to know that the Farang was the only Thai speaker at the table.

I kind of enjoy the visual release of tension one sees when the person you are addressing realizes you speak Thai. Granted, there is a small subgroup in Thai society which derides those who speak Thai as being difficult marks but that is understandable in a way and confined to certain areas. 

The only times I experience any language understanding problems are when I assume the person is Thai but they turnout to be from a neighboring country and possess limited understanding of Thai or sometimes with an upcountry individual who only speaks a local variation of Thai.

I wasn't calling it "wrong", it was just an interesting cultural phenomenon. Something to laugh at, and get over.  :)

The thing I run into most often with languages starts with me running off a sentence, say a request for directions, with pretty good pronunciation, and receiving an answer that puts me off the deep end. One phrase I need to learn is: "not so fast, I don't understand that much Thai (or whatever language)!"  :D

I am Thai and not fluent in English. Thai national history has never been a European nation. Unlike other countries surrounding it. This is the reason why Thailand is not good at foreign languages. Thailand has learned basic English since elementary school. Thais only learn but not used regularly. When foreigners are not confident to talk. Finally forgotten the vocabulary learned. Thai people feel that English is difficult as you feel that Thai is difficult.

Most Thai people do not speak English. As a result, foreigners have difficulty in living in Thailand.

Learning Thai even a little. It will benefit foreigners.
You do not need to know the sentence. Just know some words can make Thai people understand.

For example
hungry = หิว (say that - HILL)
rice = ข้าว (say that - cow)

travel = เที่ยว (tyo)
sea = ทะเล (ta-le)

I wish everyone luck and happiness in Thailand. If you need help from Tourist Police we can call 1155 or General Police we can call 191
#I recommend tourist police. ^_^

For many westerners, they have difficulties to speak Thai language because it has 5 tones unlike western language is 1 tone.

Chinese language has 4 main tones and 1 neutral tone so for Chinese to learn Thai is much easier.

To learn a language, needs practicing and get a dictionary to help. Live in a Thai community and you got no choice but to speak Thai. Take notes as you go along.

I learned Thai with dictionary and being street smart. Now I can converse Thai even by doing business presentation. I can survive in daily conversation with staff, suppliers, clients, buying things, travel etc

Keep the fire in you and you shall succeed.

New topic