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Thai is, of course, spoken in Thailand but also in parts of Cambodia and Laos. In total approximately 60 million people in the world speak this language. However, it is one of the most difficult languages to learn for Westerners, particularly because the alphabet is so different from the one we are used to.
The alphabet is derived from the ancient Khmer Empire of Southeast Asian. As far as we know, the language was created in 1283 by King Ramkhamhaeng. To get a basic notion of Thai we need to note that the language consists of five vocal tones: high, medium, low, rising and falling. Those who speak Western languages may be unfamiliar with the importance of such tones, but in Thailand they are essential. Depending on how you say a word determines its meaning. One commonly cited example of this is the word “suea,” which can mean either shirt or tiger depending on the tone that is used.
The Thai alphabet itself consists of 44 consonants, 32 vowels and 6 diphthongs. Due to these complexities, for those who want to learn the language, it is considered best to start learning to speak it, rather than trying to write or read it. Another oddity with Thai is that there are no spaces between words. The words, letters and sentences are all joined up in one continuous stream.
Furthermore, there are several dialects of the language in the country. Northern Thai, for example, is a language spoken in northern areas as well as in parts of neighbouring Laos. Phu Thai is a dialect of the Isaan language in the North East of the country. Each region also has its own slang which undoubtedly enriches the country's culture but complicates the task of the learner.
Despite being the main language spoken in Thailand, English is also widely spoken in urban centers such as Bangkok. However, in less touristic areas and smaller cities, communication will be a little more complicated though not impossible.
Thailand is a beautiful country, with a fascinating culture, rich traditions, and an abundance of interesting history to learn. Discovering its language is part and parcel of any travel experience and will further enrich your stay in this beautiful Kingdom.
We try and promote Thai culture here at Hippie-Pants and support local communities by producing our handmade pants in rural areas of the country. Follow us on Facebook or on Pinterest if you share our passion for Thailand and Thai culture.