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Learning a new language is hard enough at the best of times and Thai is so different from English and the Romance languages that for a farang (Westerner), learning Thai can seem a little overwhelming. Anyone wanting to stay in the country for more than a few months however would be wise to pick up a few words, as mime and gesture can only get you so far – I once needed popcorn kernels, and it was near impossible to mime this without looking as if I was having a fit.
The best way to learn Thai is to practise it and use it whenever possible by chatting to new Thai friends and ordering in restaurants – you’ll know when the food arrives if you got it right. But, as the structure of Thai is so different to English, a beginners’ course from a reputable language school is a great idea in order to understand how the grammar differs as well as master pronunciation. There are sounds in the Thai language that don’t exist in English, such as words starting with the ‘ng’ sound. Thai is also a tonal language, meaning that the same word said in different tones could have a completely different meaning. For instance sowai said with a rising tone means beautiful; say it with a low tone, and it means unlucky. Maa has several different meanings including dog, horse and come. There are five tones: low, mid, high, rising and falling.
Thai grammar differs from English in quite a few ways. For instance:
* In English the verb changes according to tense – eat, ate, eaten; in Thai the verb remains the same no matter the tense, but other words are added to imply when something occurred.
* The verb ‘to be’ — am, is, are, was, were — isn’t used with adjectives. In English we say, ‘She IS beautiful.’ In Thai, ‘She beautiful.’ In English, ‘I AM hungry.’ In Thai, ‘I hungry.’
* The English articles a, an and the don’t exist in Thai.
* In English, the adjectives usually come before the noun – red car. In Thai, the adjective follows the noun – car red.
* In Thai, there is no plural form of a noun. So it would be one pen, two pen, three pen and so on.
You can see that Thai in some ways is far simpler from a grammar perspective (at least at the start), but it’s still difficult for Westerners because of the tones and pronunciation.
If this all seems a little intimidating, an introductory Thai language course will help. Most Thai cities have language schools, offering courses in 30-50 hour packages, with lessons twice a week. Pick a school that offers small classes, when one gets almost as much personal attention as with private lessons, but with the camaraderie of fellow students. Sometimes just conversational Thai can be studied, or you can attempt the artistic curly script with reading and writing.
Some language schools offer education visas, which allow its students to stay in the country for a year at a time without having to do border runs. Be sure to pick a reputable school registered with the Thai Ministry of Education, and be sure to attend class.
On Ko Samui, Thai Language Solutions is located along the Ring Road, just before Big C supermarket when coming from Bophut. They offer small classes or private lessons, with a new beginners’ class starting each month. A 50-hour course costs around 8,500 baht, and will take three months to complete, with classes twice a week, for two hours at a time. They offer the education visa option, and also have branches in Bangkok.
Another school that’s been on the island for several years and has a good reputation is Mind Your Language, located in the Old Monkey Theatre Road, between Big C and Macro.
Now, to hit those books…
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 9th March, 2015.