10 Lessons in reading the Thai Language

Lesson 1 - The Class System

Thai consonant classes play a major part in determining the tone of each syllable in a word. There are three classes: mid class, high class and low class. Low class has 2 groups LC1 and LC2. All consonants are pronounced with an -อ [-or] vowel sound as their name, for example the character น is called [nor].

Low Class Consonants (Group 1)
ng m n r l y w
      n n i o

Long vowels are pronounced with longer duration than their short counterparts. 'sheep' is a long 'ee' and 'ship' is a short 'i'. The dash symbol (-) in each vowel designates the place the initial consonants go.

Long Vowels
−า −ี −ู เ− โ− -อ
--aa -ee -oo -ay -air, -a- -oh -or

There are no spaces between words in Thai. Space only acts like a full stop or comma to show where a sentence ends or pauses. Certain consonants change their sound at the end of a syllable. ร and ล sound like [-n], ย sounds like [-i] and ว sounds like [-o].

Lesson 2 - Live and dead syllables

Here is the second group of low class consonants:

Low Class Consonants (Group 2)
k t ch s p f h
    t t   p  

In English when you pronounce words like 'lunch', 'cliff' or 'pick', there's a little puff of noise 'chhh','fff' or 'kuh' at the end of the word. But in Thai "final consonants" are "unreleased" meaning you don't release these little puffs so sometimes it sounds like we don't pronounce final consonants at all.

As a result of not releasing final consonants it makes some final consonants sound EXACTLY the same, both ผ and ฝ sound like [-p] and the consonants ท,ช and ซ all sound like [-t]!

Note that ห will never occur at the end of a Syllable.

Here are some more Long vowels. These vowels are special because they don't take a final consonant, meaning that if you see them in words, they will mark the end of a syllable and no final consonant will follow.

Long Vowels
−ำ ไ- ใ- เ-า เ-ย
-am -ai -ai -ao -eui, -eeuy

Lesson 3 - Short Vowels

Here are the mid class consonants:

Mid Class Consonants
g j d dt b bp  
k t t t p p  

Placeholder "อ" We have previously seen the character "-อ" as a vowel [or] before, but it can also server as a consonant where it does not make a sound and serves as a placeholder for consonants that start with a vowel sound.

You can even have two ออ's if the consonant starts with [or] with the first อ being the placeholder and the second อ being the vowel itself.

Vowels need at least one consonant to hold onto.

Short Vowels
-ะ ◌ั ◌ิ ◌ึ ◌ุ
-a -u- -i -ue -oo

A syllable is dead if it ends with a short vowel, because you can't elongate short vowels (otherwise they wouldn't be short, right?).

ฮะ "Ha" vs. ฮา "Haaaaaa"

The first two vowel forms -ะ and ◌ั are both pronounced [a]

but -ะ is only used in words that end in a vowel sound

and ◌ั is used for vowels that end with a final consonant.

Camouflaged Vowels- 2 Letters
Quite often you will come across syllables with 2 consonants but no vowels and they are pronounced as if there is a short vowel [-o-] between them

This is true unless the final consonant is "ร" and then the consonant ending is pronounced [-orn]