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Thai pronunciation

Thai is an alphabetic language like English, meaning that each sound of the language is represented by a special letter and a word is written down by putting together consonant and vowel letters.

However, Thai uses a special Thai alphabet, which you will learn how to use in this course. To help you out, the Roman transliteration of the Thai text is provided as well, suggesting how each word is pronounced.

Tone

Before learning about Thai consonant and vowel sounds, let’s learn a bit about Thai tones. The Thai language has five tones: a mid, low, falling, high, and rising tone. To make it easier for you, symbols (shown in the table below) are added to Thai words written in Roman transliteration to indicate the tone of each word. These symbols will appear at the end of each word. If no special tone symbol is added, the word is pronounced with a mid tone.

Tone Pronunciation symbol Example
mid tone no symbol kaa (crow, kettle)
low tone ` kaa`
falling tone ˆ kaaˆ
high tone ´ kaa´
rising tone ˇ kaaˇ

Tones are difficult for an English speaker to master. They give each Thai word a special intonation. The best way to learn to distinguish tones is by listening as much as possible to the recordings that come with this course, and to other native speakers. Because the mid tone is not marked, Thai script needs only the four tone marks above to indicate tones.

Words with more than one syllable

Some Thai words have more than one syllable. For example, the word อะไร (a`-rai, what) has two syllables: a` and rai. In this case, a dash (-) is used in the Roman transliteration to show that the two syllables make one word.