How to say I can’t speak Thai

by | Oct 30, 2020 | Tips, Thai

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In this article, you will learn a few common ways to say I can’t speak Thai, some common mistakes, and also advanced tips on how to speak like a real Thai. Let’s take a look at them together.

How to say I can't speak Thai

pôot paa-săa tai mâi dâai พูดภาษาไทยไม่ได้

The exact/literal translation of “I can’t speak Thai” (and the one you probably have learned) is pôot paa-săa tai mâi dâai. พูด (pôot) means to speak, ภาษาไทย (paa-săa tai) means Thai language, and ไม่ได้ (mâi dâai) means cannot.

The problem with this phrase is that ไม่ได้ (mâi dâai) is used when a person or a situation doesn’t allow you to do something.

For example:

  • I can’t swim today because I feel sick.
    ผมว่ายน้ำไม่ได้เพราะวันนี้รู้สึกป่วย
    pŏm wâai náam mâi dâai prór wan née róo sèuk bpùay

  • I cannot walk because I hurt my leg.
    ผมเดินไม่ได้เพราะเจ็บขา
    pŏm dern mâi dâai prór jèp kăa

Just like in in English it can turn into I can’t speak at this moment because of some reason. Maybe because I made a promise to myself not to speak Thai instead of because I don’t have the ability to speak. A correct use of ไม่ได้ (mâi dâai) would be like in the following example:

  • I can’t speak Thai because at school they don’t let you talk.
    ผมพูดภาษาไทยไม่ได้เพราะที่โรงเรียนไม่ให้พูด
    pŏm pôot paa-săa tai mâi dâai prór têe rohng rian mâi hâi pôot

Therefore the best way to avoid confusion is to say…

ฉัน/ผมพูดภาษาไทยไม่เป็น chăn · pŏm pôot paa-săa tai mâi bpen

ไม่เป็น (mâi bpen) means don’t know how to do something because you haven’t yet learned the knowledge. This is the word to use in situations like these when you don’t know how to speak Thai, or aren’t good enough. To make it clear, here are a few examples of when to appropriately use mâi bpen:

  • I don’t know how to swim.
    ผมว่ายน้ำไม่เป็น
    pŏm wâai náam mâi bpen
  • I don’t know how to play chess.
    ผมเล่นหมากรุกไม่เป็น
    pŏm lâyn màak rúk mâi bpen

✅ To get a better understand on the differences between เป็น (bpen) and ได้ (dâai), please read our article.

Good alternative to say I don’t know Thai

Having said this, one of the big mistakes that foreigners make is saying พูดภาษาไทยไม่ได้/ ไม่เป็น (pŏm pôot paa-săa tai mâi dâai/mâi bpen) too often.

Usually, if you can say this phrase that already means that you know some Thai. Saying “I don’t know Thai” makes people shut down and feel afraid to connect with you. Also if they know some English they will switch to English right away. (These are all scenarios that we don’t want to happen to Thai learners).

Let me give you some better alternatives:

  • I don’t speak Thai that well.
    พูดภาษาไทยไม่ค่อยเก่ง (Literally: Speak Thai not that great)
    pôot paa-săa tai mâi kôi gàyng

  • I understand somewhat well but I don’t speak well.
    เข้าใจค่อนข้างดี แต่พูดไม่เก่ง (literally: Understand somewhat good but speak not great).
    kâo jai kôn kâang dee · dtàe pôot mâi gàyng

  • I listen and understand but I don’t really get to practice speaking)
    ฟังเข้าใจแต่ไม่ค่อยได้ฝึกพูด (Literally: Listen understand but don’t really get practice speak)
    fang kâo jai dtàe mâi kôi dâai fèuk pôot

  • I can speak some but not that great.
    พูดได้บ้างแต่ไม่เก่งเท่าไร (Literally: speak can some but not great that much)
    pôot dâai bâang dtàe mâi gàyng tâo rai

  • I don’t speak Thai that good.
    พูดภาษาไทยไม่เก่งขนาดนั้น (Literally: speak Thai not well that much)
    pôot paa-săa tai mâi gàyng kà-nàat nán

I have given you a much better native-like alternatives for “I can’t speak Thai”. Go out and use them!

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