Thailand is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
All visitors and foreign residents will admit that Thai is a relatively difficult language to learn for speakers of Western languages. It is placed at 4/5 on the US State Department list of language difficulty (5 being the hardest.) Vietnamese, Persian, and Hebrew languages are just as tough or tougher.
So, what is it that makes Thai especially difficult?
The Thai language has its roots to the Chinese language in terms of the use of tones which cause significant meaning of words that at first glance may appear the same. For example, In Thai, the phrase “Mai mai mai mai mai” means “New wood doesn’t burn, does it?”—each “mai” is given a different tone when read aloud.
How can we wrap our heads around a five-word sentence wherein each word is the same?
Well, not really. In linguistic terms all languages are tonal, we all stress certain vowels and our own Roman-text languages are packed with rules of grammar that include a plethora of exceptions and tendencies that cause English language learners’ endless confusion.
Thai language is limited in terms of grammar. Verbs have no tense. Every sentence is immediate, polite, and concise. A few simple phrases will go a long way.
Yet, language everywhere is evolving constantly and all languages have evolved to a level simple enough for babies to learn. Most affluent Thais send their children to international schools where they have perhaps one lesson a week in the Thai language. As adults, these students, have to learn Thai if they are to integrate into Thai society.
Thai language is difficult, but it is easier than you might first imagine. For a Westerner, there will be few words that are the same in English, yet, words like “dinner”, “shopping”, “concept” have found their way into the Thai language and the Thai language for foreigner is becoming easier to acquire since mobile phone apps, on and offline courses have appeared and the Thai population has bridged the gap to some degree in terms of their own English language acquisition.
Once you take the plunge and start learning and speaking Thai on a daily basis, you’ll notice that it is much simpler than many other languages.
But is it worth it? Is it worth learning Thai or perhaps Arabic?
All language is the gatekeeper to a society. If one is to cross the threshold of a country the learning of the language is essential. Holiday-makers need not to learn the Thai language, but certainly those who live here long-term limit themselves to outsiders without a basic grasp of the language.
Probably the best approach to learning Thai is to get to grips with the alphabet and writing. Learning is hard work if you approach it as work, But if you approach the task as a leisure activity and an investment your time, endurance, and effort will open up the country for you to truly enjoy.