So you got your ticket to the Land of Smiles, but you don't speak the Thai language? Are you worried? Should you be?
In a word: No.
While I can understand a few words (very, very few words) in the Thai Language, I am by no means a student of the Thai language. Hell, some might say that I can barely speak my native language of English.
To me, the Thai language is spoken too fast for me to comprehend what's said.
Thai Language Basics
Not to mention, that even the slightest change in tone can have a totally different meaning or even a different word! The language is made up of short, long, high and low tones to describe a word, for instance:
- the word “ma” has many meanings, depending on the tone you use.
- “kao” can mean: knee, nine, rice, come in, news – all depending on the tone you use.
- For gender-specific wording, a male will say “krap” at the end of a sentence, and a female will say “ka”
Thankfully, being fluent in the language is not required when visiting (or living in) Thailand, as most of the people you will come in contact with generally have a fairly decent grasp of English.
For the others, the ones that have no clue what you're saying, that's the cool thing about Thailand – everybody (well, almost everybody) is usually very helpful.
However, I would still use common sense – because, just like in any country – there are people that thrive on taking advantage of the unsuspecting fool that can't understand the language.
Also, when you start to get off the beaten path, i.e., up north out of the tourist areas like Nong Khai and Udon Thani, English speakers are few and far between. If you stick with the major tourist hotspots like Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya, you'll never have any issues.
Thai Language in Fight Camps and Markets
99% of the fight camps in Thailand are extremely tourist-friendly and have English-speaking staff, and some even have access to tour guides and interpreters for those that need it.
Most of the training centers, particularly those that are frequented by farang (foreigners), have all-inclusive accommodations and you wouldn't really need to venture out – except to party and sight-see.
With that said, it's not really necessary to know – but it sure is helpful.
Of course, there are always exceptions – and knowing Thai would definitely help you with vendors at the markets located around the country. In most places, especially in the more touristy locations, vendors have a double-price-standard when it comes to their goods.
They may have a Thai price and a Farang price. Being able to listen to the Thai native before you in line would definitely give you an advantage when negotiating a price.
Learning the Thai Language
For those that are interested – the very best way to learn the language is to practice with the locals in the markets and any other populated place. For beginner conversational skills, you can also hire a Thai tutor (either in-person or via Skype) that can help you learn the language if that's your goal.
If not, you can hire a translator or fend for yourself.
Its also fairly easy to find some of the more common Thai words and phrases so you can make a print-out and carry with you on your next trip to the Land of Smiles.
There are also audio dumps for those that need a little help with the pronunciation and tones of phrases in the Thai language.