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Thai Language - oh what a mess
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I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve left Thailand upon arrival back home, only to have someone ask me, “So how much Taiwanese do you speak?”

When I tell them that I don’t speak a single word, the quizzical look I get is almost worth the explanation I have to give. Thais, of course, speak
Thai, of which the spoken part is a branch of the Tai-Kadai language, which originated in Southern China. The written part of Thai is based on Khmer, which is based on Indic, which is based on ancient Sanskrit. So, as you can see, it’s quite confusing - and we haven’t even talked about writing or speaking yet. To many foreigners, speaking Thai is hugely challenging to do - even more difficult to do well (unless you’re a super-talented polyglot freak like Andrew Biggs, well known in Thailand for his ease with speaking Thai). This is mainly because Thai is tonal, which means that the same word means different things depending on how you say it. I want to go over a few instances and examples that will give you an idea of how much trouble you can get into if you say PEee (older person, used with respect) instead of peEE (ghost).

My first experience with the foibles of Thai came from a friend .. he was teaching at an all-girl’s high school (in and of itself an interesting experience). Being teenagers, they were of course obsessed with their looks, and often ask, “Teacher, am I beautiful?“ Whenever a woman asks you this, there’s only one answer - yes. I tried to fit in by saying the Thai word for beautiful - suay - but was often met by horrified stares. It was only later that I learned I was saying SUay (falling tone) instead of suAY (rising tone). How it sounded - Student: Teacher, am I beautiful? Me: Yes, you are cursed.

Below are a few more situations that I’ve have experienced or read about, and some words that, if said incorrectly, could land you in either a world of trouble or embarrassment, so be careful.

Another time, while at a restaurant with some friends.. My friend asked some female friends, how to ask for dipping sauce - naam (water) jim (dip). But instead of naam JIM, he said naam jiIM (with a rising tone, as I was asking a question). How it sounded - Me: Excuse me, can I have some vagina water?
My friends nearly spit out their drinks and the waitress looked terrified.

Another example happened when I was swimming, and stepped on a
sea urchin. I hobbled my way to the local clinic, blood dripping off my foot, where I told the attendant that I had stepped on a hoy (shell) men (porcupine). But instead of saying hoy MEN I said hoy meN (another rising tone). How it sounded - Attendant: What happened? Me: I stepped on a smelly pussy.
He eventually helped me - after he stopped laughing.
Here are a few more words and phrases which have alternate meanings if you say them incorrectly:
Sawng (2) can also mean whorehouse
kaw toht (excuse me) can also mean may I fart?
man (engaged) can also mean sterile
Canada mee hee maa mak mak (Canada has lots of snow) can also mean Canada has lots of dog vagina
kon khai dtua (ticket vendors) can also mean prostitute
glai (near) can also mean far
sai nom (with milk) can also mean shake your boobs

And last but not least, a Jewish friend John, who is well into practicing Thai with anyone who will listen, was proud to say sasana pben juu when someone asked what religion he was. It took him a while to figure out that Thais pronouce Jew as yoo - juu means penis. What they heard: Friend: What religion are you? John: I worship the ****.

I'm sure many other people have had similar embarrassing experiences...  ceainly atthe time it can be quite intimadating or embarrasssing but in time when you look back it makes for a good story and with experience how can we learn.

happy travels.....
 


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