Image via WikipediaI’ve lost count of how many times I’ve left Thailand for a return trip 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 Priceless!
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 offer 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).
WARNING SOME MATERIAL MAY BE CONSIDERED OFFENSIVE so if may be offended .. please do not read.. the comments were intended to show the humour of "such is life" but if you don't think that some rude words can do that then please do not read....
Here are a few interesting foibles of Thai Language. Teaching ... and Thai students ...
Being teenagers, they were obsessed with their looks, and often asked, “Teacher, am I beautiful?“ Whenever a woman asks you this, there’s only one answer - yes. Naturally wanting to be polite you would sat the Thai word for beautiful - suay - but it can be met by horrified stares because you might be saying SUay (falling tone) instead of suAY (rising tone). So .. how it sounded ... Student: Teacher, am I beautiful? Me: Yes, you are cursed.
Below are a few more situations some words that, if said incorrectly, could land you in either a world of trouble or embarrassment, so be careful.
Another situation ... at a restaurant with some female friends, I asked them how to ask for dipping sauce - naam (water) jim (dip). But instead of naam JIM, I 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.
A farang was swimming, and stepped on a sea urchin. He hobbled to the local clinic, blood dripping off his foot, where he told the attendant that he stepped on a hoy (shell) men (porcupine). But instead of saying hoy MEN he 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 chap 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 pronounce Jew as yoo - juu means penis. What they heard: Friend: What religion are you? John: I worship the cock.
Now some of us may say Thai Language is difficult but what about English "awake" and "a wake" .. one means to wake up the other means your dead!
Or if not spoken correctly can you appreciate the outcome of a conversation about a "new career venture" verses a "nuclear venture".... yes it happened ... just like my Thai friend told me she was able to fix the plumber problem because she was a "deviate" instead of an "expert".
"How about we Ride Daddy"
None was so embarrassing as my experience when hosting Thai friends when shopping in Australia ... I took my three (3) Thai friends to a Asia supermarket.
I asked Khun Pair (thai student) what's the thai word for "Trolley" I was pushing the shopping Kart!
She explained the word, but it was disputed by Khun Tong (a ladyboy thai student). We resolved the debate with a ruling from khun Angella (thai visitor and adopted mum of the two students). The conversation moved to disputing the appropriate word for DRIVER. The word in Thai is "cup" for driver of a vehicle as opposed to "Kee" as driver of another thing like Bike or Elephant (something you put your leg over).
After the two (young) students moved to the next aisle Angella and I laughed about the slang of "Kee Por" (thai women ride the husband) so .... I (the foolish one) thought it would be funny and throw this topic at the students and embarrass them...
I BUNGLED IT
I said PaW (raising) instead of Por (middle) so they were mystified???
I had suggested I wanted to "ride my daddy"
Angella burst into tears... of laughter as she retreated trying to conceal the laughter, she could she the look of confusion and disgust on the face of the students as they tried to process my query. They quickly struck up a conversation (in thai) about my fettish and pursued a outcome for a polite outcome to my confession.
I had no idea why .. they were so serious when the topic was so funny?
I was quite embarrassed when Angella explained the students were now concerned about my sexual
tendencies and it took some a good deal for time to convince them I was joking...