Watch the video for some tips not found in this article. Download the Thai transcript for the video here.
I have many friends who have learned Thai and speak fluently. However, they don’t sound exactly like native Thai speakers.
This is not to bring down their accomplishments because it’s already super impressive to speak Thai.
Reasons you might not sound like a native Thai
The reasons you might not sound like a native can be due to many factors. Some include:
- Not spending enough time in Thailand to get a grasp on how Thais speak in everyday conversations,
- Learning mostly from language learning material and not enough time consuming real-life materials,
- The plain difficulty of understanding the nuances of the Thai language. Such as understanding when to use particles.
How to sound more Thai
The following is advice to sound more like a native Thai speaker (not in any particular order). It is things I noticed my foreigner friends who speak Thai are lacking in or don’t focus much on now that they can communicate well.
1. Replace “r” sounds with “l” sounds or drop the “r” sound altogether
Thai people mostly never use the “r” sound. For example, the word ครับ (krap). Thais will usually either pronounce it as “klap” – replacing the “r” sound with an “l” sound. Or they pronounce it as “kap” – removing the “r” sound altogether.
Another example is the word for love รัก (rak). Since “r” is the first letter here, you can’t drop the sound altogether but most Thais will say “lak”. Of course, this can confuse you at first since “lak” has its own meaning but over time and with context you will get used to it and it will no longer be a problem.
2. Yip instead of yiisip
When saying the numbers 21-29, you are probably used to say ยี่สิบ… (yêe sìp…). However, many Thais will shorten it and just say ยี่บ… yêep…
For example, 25 becomes ยี่บห้า (yêep hâa). 26 becomes ยี่บหก (yêep hòk), etc.
Please keep in mind, 20 by itself is still just yii sip.
This one is not a big deal but it is a little thing that can really make you sound more native.
3. “a” particles like arai-a tamai-a
When talking to Thais, you might notice they like to use a lot of particles in everyday speech. Particles such as na, rok, etc. You can check out all the articles I make regarding Thai particles here.
But one that I notice a lot of non-native speakers don’t use, that can really help them, is adding “a” at the end of words. A good example is question words such as อะไร (à-rai), ทำไม (tam-mai) would become อะไรอะ (a-rai a) and ทำไมอะ (tammai a).
The อะ (a) doesn’t mean anything. It just makes the words sound softer.
4. Don’t say “Bangkok”
Thai people never say “Bangkok”. Thai people say Krung Thep กรุงเทพ (grung tâyp) which comes from กรุงเทพมหานคร Krung Thep Maha Nakhon.
5. Muang thai
Another simple thing you can quickly change to sound more Thai is to call Thailand เมืองไทย (meuang tai).
ประเทศไทย (bprà-tâyt tai) is not incorrect, but most people say เมืองไทย (meuang tai).
6. Perfect tones
This one is a big one. Even if you know every vocabulary, if you are using incorrect tones you will never sound like a true Thai.
Many foreigners sound a bit too monotone or don’t quite hit the tones correctly.
I recommend reading my article on Thai tones to perfect your Thai tones.
7. Don’t use kun
The most common way to say “you” in Thai is คุณ (kun). However, there are a lot of other ways to say you.
Depending on who you are talking to, you shouldn’t always just use คุณ.
For example, you can use the persons name, you can use เธอ (ter), พี่ (pêe), น้อง (nóng), etc.
8. Don’t use Pom or Chan
This is another big one that foreigners always get wrong. Many times foreigners always say either ฉัน (chăn), ผม (chăn).
I recommend using your name instead, เรา (rao), พี่ (pêe), น้อง (nóng), etc, depending on the situation.
9. Say yes and no appropriately
Another big one to avoid is to stop saying ใช่ (Châi) and ไม่ (Mâi) every time you want to say yes and no respectively.
There are more accurate ways of confirming or denying something. Please see my article on yes and no for more information.
For example, if someone asks you “do you want to go? อยากไปไหม“. Don’t say ใช่ (Châi) for yes, instead say อยาก yàak Or to say no don’t say ไม่ (Mâi), instead say ไม่อยาก (Mâi yàak). This way it sounds more natural.
10. Learn to tell time like a Thai
Something I noticed a lot of foreigners haven’t mastered is telling time the way that Thais tell the time.
They say the time like they normally do. For example, for 7 pm they say เจ็ดโมง (jèt mohng). The correct way would be หนึ่งทุ่ม (nèung tûm).
To learn how to tell time like a Thai, check out my article.
I hope these tips help you sound a bit more like a native Thai! Don’t worry about it too much. Work on it little by little.