Thai is not at all an easy language to learn, despite its simple grammar and small vocabulary, due to its tricky tones. It's a language where the sentence 'mai mai mai mai' consist of four completely different words: 'new wood doesn't burn'. The Thai word 'cow' has eleven different meanings: 'he', 'him', 'her', 'she', 'mountain', 'horn', 'news, 'rice', 'knee', 'white' and 'enter'. The reader may have heard that Thai has five different tones, but actually there are ten different ways to pronounce a word, because all five of the tones can be long or short. So I'm not too ashamed to admit that, in common with most foreigners living here, my progress so far has been pretty pitiful.
I recently went to meet my girlfriend's grandmother who, I was informed, was in the habit of asking people she met the same two questions: "where do you come from?" and "how old are you?". Before meeting the lady I rehearsed my answers till I knew I had them off-pat. Unfortunately on the occasion we met she changed her second question to "how many children do you have?" She and everybody else fell about the place when I answered "48".
Thai Linguistic Oddities - Six of the best
1. The word 'gligh' means 'near' and also 'far', depending on how you pronounce it. A nightmare when you've had one too many, your tones are somewhat slurred and you are trying to find your way back to your hotel.
2. People will call you 'kay', rhyming with the English word 'hay', meaning old, even if you are not. Don't confuse this with the word 'gay', which means the same as in English and which you may also be called, even if you are not, if you do something unmanly. Confusingly, the list of unmanly things to do doesn't include wearing pink head-bands, like one of my macho Isaan builders did, in order to keep the sweat out of his eyes. People will not, however, call you 'gay kay', meaning 'old gay', unless you really are one.
The difference here, in one of the world's most tolerant but at the same time conservative countries, is that there will be no malice in calling you so.
3. If someone refers to you by using the pronoun 'kay' ('old') instead of your name then it either means they hold you in high esteem or that they think you look ancient and decrepit. If someone refers to you by using the word 'man' instead of your name then it either means they really like you, or really loathe you (the Thai word 'man' means 'it' in English and is used as the pronoun to refer to animals).
4. When a Thai woman tells a man she loves him, she can either say 'chan rack kun', which transliterates as 'I love you', or, somewhat peculiarly, she can say 'cow rack doah-eng' - which transliterates as 'she loves herself'. Odd.
5. There are several different types of land title in Thailand. The general Thai word for a land title deed is a 'chanote' with a lower-case 'c'. However, the best type of land title deed is called a 'Chanote' with a capital 'c'. So occasionally foreigners end up buying a piece of land, thinking it bears the best type of deed, when it doesn't. They then, like other people who have come here to just take rather than to give too, go about denigrating Thai people. This thankfully doesn't generally last too long, as they often leave soon afterwards.
6. Three Thai given names are 'We', 'I' and 'You'. So if you hear somebody saying "We is not going with I or You" then no, it's not the Queen of England or Ali G speaking, just a Thai person speaking perfect English.
Click here for vacation Thailand