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Handy Words & Phrases

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Thai language isn't easy simply because the rules just don't gel with our own. For starters they've 44 consonants and 23 vowels. However the vowels are split into short and long versions for each. Nueng (the number one) for example is the short version of the UUe vowel, which if you've ever stepped into a pile of dog poop and 'Yeuch!', is roughly how it's pronounced! No spaces between words so they make up for this by using beginning, middle and end consonants. Also a fair few of those we don't have, such as the 'Bp' sound, beginning of my wife's name Bpuk (now that's with a normal 'u' sound though!) and 'Dt' as in Dtao (pronounced Dtow), Turtle.

However, day to day vocabulary is fairly limited, and surprising how little you can get away with! All assume when they hear me rattling away I've an excellent command of the language, not so I'm afraid to say, just know how to ask for the items I require, and pretty basic conversation. Still often thrown by a curve ball! All in all very unlikely indeed you'll be caught anywhere without any of us around for assistance. Hasn't happened yet. Bit of 'Hello', 'Please' and 'Thank you' nice to know though if you're prepared to read on and be undeterred by the incidentals?
Firstly we'd better cover a little pronunciation. Spelt 'r' for inclusion in this text, the Thai version is rolled when correctly pronounced something like the Scots' do. You'll only ever hear this on news/current affairs television programs though. In everyday usage, the Thais will pronounce a shortened roll which ends up as a version of 'l', if at all. Prime example 'Khrap' below. Originally a rolled r, shortened, changed to an l, however used so often nobody even bothers to pronounce that any more, leaving us all with 'Kap'. You also have to change the stress on many words with an English base, invariably putting the stress at the end of the word, last syllable. Example; compUter, stress on the U as we pronounce it becomes computERRRRR in Thai speak. Because it's such a phonetically controlled language you don't stand a chance of being understood if you forget this golden rule. A menu becomes a meenoo etc. They say it as they see it, which leads to some very amusing spelling and pronunciation!

There are also five tones used in words which completely change their meaning. Low, mid, high, rising and falling. We'll stay away from these on the whole as most Thais are smart enough to figure out what you're saying contextually. Even if with a giggle when you walk into the tailor's shop and proudly announce you'd like to purchase four tigers, rather than four shirts! Very tricky indeed as the tones don't normally coincide with our natural western speech patterns. Therefore we'll follow the KISS principle; Keep It Simple, Stupid!

All phrases (not even as far as a sentence) should be followed by 'Khrap' if you're a gent and 'Ka' if you're a lady. Basically a polite affirmation, equivalent to calling somebody Sir or Madam. However, as in many Asian cultures (Japan's 'Hai!' really just mean's "I'm listening", and nothing more), no actual words for 'yes' or 'no', so on its own suffices as a yes, or more effectively, a simple affirmative. Don't worry if you don't add it often enough for etiquette, they'll forgive you and just be pleased you're at least one of those who tries, rather than the classic shouting louder hoping this will aid understanding!!

'Mai' conversely, with a falling tone equals 'not' and is therefore placed before any other word rather than used on its own as a 'no'.

'Mai' with a rising tone implies an enquiry, though still literally translating as 'not?' easiest to remember that one, stick it at the end of the phrase just the same tone as asking a question naturally.
A number of other 'Mai's to be taken into consideration, including long and short versions, very famous Thai phrase utilising them all translates as 'New wood doesn't burn very well, does it?'.

Enough of the difficulties, let's give you a few stock in trade phrases that will get you by out in the sticks. You'll have no difficulties whatsoever in Chiang mai itself. As an aside, the whole language itself is very imprecise indeed compared to our own. Mistakes are very commonly made, even between Thais themselves, requires the whole subject to be discussed for an interminable length of time before agreement is reached! Directions particularly...Beware!!

Addressing; mainly aimed at staff as this will be most of your requirement. Everything based on age here, you wouldn't believe how important age and therefore rank/seniority is established. You'll have a nightmare trying to judge ages at first, they all look about twelve, some with wrinkles! Ladies, please don't be upset if somebody asks your age, with the importance placed on it here it's often almost the first line of questioning in a conversation between two Thais who've never met before, sometimes before enquiring as to name!

Khun...(Formal)...................You/Mr/Mrs/Miss
Nong...(Informal).................Younger sister/brother/staff/friend
Pii....(Informal).................Older sister/brother, etc.
Loong..(Informal).................Much older sister, etc., but with respect!
All to be used with the appropriate Khrap/Ka as follows, here just for basic attention grabbing. Bottom of list if you're unsure of age, probably most situations!
Nong Khrap/Ka!
Pii Khrap/Ka!
Khatoetd (na) Khrap/Ka...Excuse me (please), but also used for I'm sorry, forgive me etc.
Sawasdee khrap/ka................ Good day, Hello!
Taow rai khrap/ka?............... How much is it?
Khawp khun khrap/ka...............Thank you
Ma................................much
Mak...............................very much
Na................................that/so
Khawp khun ma na khrap/ka.........Thankyou so much
Khawp khun mak khrap/ka...........Thankyou very much
Arai?.............................What?
Arai na?..........................What's that?
Tam...............................Do
Dai...............................Can
So, Khun tam dai mai khrap/ka? Can you do?
Mee...............................Have
So, Khun mee...something...mai khrap/ka? Do you have...?
Mai(falling)......................Not
So, Mai mee, don't have.
Chuue.............................Name
So, Khun chuue arai khrap/ka? What's your name?
Deeselle..........................Diesel
Gaow (falling) nueng.............91 Octane fuel
As above + Gasohol ...............91 Palm oil mix
Gaow (falling) haa (falling).....95 Octane fuel
As above + Gasohol................95 Palm oil mix
Allegedly these palm oil mixes aren't as environmentally friendly as we're led to believe, clearing rainforest to grow the palms.
So, Dterm (fuel choice above), dtem tan noi Khrap.....Fill 'er up with (...) please.
Alternatively, instead of dtem tan (full tank), substitute appropriate cash amount
Geaow.............................Glass/Cup/Mug, drinking receptacle
Jaan..............................Plate
Kuuat.............................Bottle
Kapong............................Can
Lek...............................Small
Yai...............................Big
Bier..............................Beer
Bur-rie...........................Cigarettes
Nam prow..........................Water
Nam keng..........................Ice
Nam som...........................Orange juice
Nam manaow........................Lime juice
Nam man...........................Light oil/fluids including petrol
Mam man krueng....................Heavier including engine oils
Hong naam.........................Toilet (Water room)
So, Hong naam, yu ti nai Khrap/Ka...Where's the toilet?
Hong Ngong........................Bedroom (sleep room)
So, Hong ngong yu ti nai Khrap/Ka...Where's my (the) bedroom(s)?
Cafe..............................Coffee
Char..............................Tea
Rawn..............................Hot
Yen...............................Cool (Iced)
Suue(rising, and that dogpoo sound)Buy
Suua(mid-tone)....................Shirt
Suua(rising)......................Tiger
Cow...............................Rice/White
Phad..............................Fried
Gai...............................Chicken
Kai...............................Egg
Muu...............................Pork
Ngua..............................Beef
Plaa..............................Fish
Goong.............................Shrimp/Prawn
Bpuu..............................Crab
Bpet..............................Duck
Pak...............................Vegetables
Ow................................Literally means take, or more usually I'll have a... followed by the item you're after. If you need to point because you don't know there's always;
Ni................................This
Nan...............................That

Mid-lesson practice!
So, you want some American Fried Rice with chicken? Ow cow phad gai, noi Khrap.
What about a coffee? Ow cafe rawn, noi Khrap/Ka (Hot) Ow cafe yen, noi Khrap/Ka (iced) Easy, simply substitute item required. Two cups? Ow cafe rawn, noi Khrap/Ka, sawng geaow Khrap/Ka. Three? Ow cafe rawn, noi Khrap/Ka, saam geaow Khrap/Ka. All beginning to fall into place yes? See what I mean about the Khrap/Ka being at the end of each phrase rather than sentence? Don't panic, what's the worst that can happen if you get it wrong? A good-natured giggle.

Ow.(something).eek............... Another (something)
Noi...............................Tiny, but if placed at the end of the phrase just before your khrap/ka, means 'please'. Handy.
So, ow beer Chang eek noi Khrap/Ka, another Chang beer same size bottle as the last one, please Sir! More beer!!
Bpii..............................Year
Duan..............................Month
Akiidt............................Week
Wan...............................Day
Mong..............................Preceeded by a number (below), hour, therefore time to the nearest hour.
Chemong...........................Preceeded by a number, hour(s) or multiples of as in how long.
Natii.............................Minute, or multiples thereof
One.......Nueng_________________Twenty-two.....Yee-sip-sawng
Two.......Sawng_________________Twenty-three...Yee-sip-sam
Three.....Saam__________________Thirty.........Sam-sip
Four......Sii___________________Forty..........Sii-sip
Five......Haa (falling)_________Fifty.........Haa-sip
Six.......Hok___________________Sixty.........Hok-sip
Seven.....Djet__________________One hundred...Nueng-roy
Eight.....Bpaet (low)___________Two hundred...Song-roy
Nine......Gaow (falling)________Three hundred.Saam-roy
Sip.......Ten___________________One thousand..Nueng-pan
Eleven.........Sip-et___________Two thousand..Song-pan
Twelve.........Sip-song_________Ten thousand..Nueng-meung
Thirteen.......Sip-saam_________Twenty thou...Sawng-meung
Fourteen.......Sip-sii__________100 thousand..Nueng-saen
Twenty.........Yee-sip__________One million, nueng lan, and so forth.
Twenty-one.....Yee-sip-et
Met......................Metres
Kilomet, but often Kilo..Kilometres
Lo.......................Kilogrammes
Laeo sai.................Turn left
Laeo kwaa................Turn right As against kwai/Kwaey below;
Dtrong bai...............Go straight
Bai nai?.................Go where?
Yaak bai.................I want to go to....
Ba!......................Let's go!
Baa......................Crazy (a little strong and insulting)
Ting-tong................Crazy (far more jovial)
Kwai.....................Buffalo, probably the worst insult you can utter, don't do it!
Kwaey....................The famous river and bridge, notice the difference? They get a little upset with our common mis-pronunciation, basically insulting their bridge, all brought around by the film!
All subject to alteration as I consider better ways of transposing their language into ours!