I have formally studied six languages to fluency, taught myself another and am now learning Thai and Thai is hard enough for me! I perfectly understand how difficult pronunciation must be for most other students of it.
However, I hear it every day, which should make it easier – trying to learn Thai and the correct pronunciation of it abroad a few hours a week would be impossible.
People will often say something to me in English, but it makes no sense or I get it wrong and this is often because people try to translate their own language word for word.
So Thais miss a lot of words out that we in the West are looking for to complete the sense: like: the verb ‘to be’, and personal pronouns like I, we, he etc.
A tip is to assume they are talking about themselves and their own first, in the present tense.
So ‘Love Mum’ becomes ‘I love my Mum’
‘Go town’ becomes ‘I am going into town later on today’.
‘Go home’ (bpai bahn) usually means ‘Let’s go home’ unless it’s spoken angrily 🙂
Further complications in Thai pronunciation are that Thai words can only end with one of six sounds (so ‘football’ becomes ‘footbon’) and they don’t aspirate the last letter (a bit like the French), they swallow them. So, ‘house’ becomes ‘hou’; screen becomes skee; bike becomes buy, whereas English-speakers tend to explode the ending of words (to mark their ending, like the German glottal stop).
If you listen really closely you can hear them say the last letters, but it was very hard for me and I’m not deaf.
A man asked me what ‘funtock’ was in English the other day, I said ‘rain’.
‘Ray’ he kept repeating to himself.
‘No,’ I corrected ‘Rainnneh’
He pronounced it with such a heavy ‘N’ that no-one would ever understand him whichever version of the word he used.
However, he has a rotten memory, so it doesn’t matter. He’s been asking me words for ten years and has never remembered one of them.
Neem just told me that it’s ‘Buy Mum Day’.
‘What?’ I asked not so incredulously as I would have done ten years ago suspecting the pronunciation.
‘Buy for Mum Day,’ she said trying to be helpful.
‘It was Mothers’ Day on the 12th,’ I reminded her, knowing that I was missing something.
‘No, keep fit, Bicycle for Mums’ Day. Can I borrow your bike?’
How can you possibly guess that from the words ‘Buy Mum Day’?
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All the best,
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