Thailands Langauge - "Thai"
The main language spoken in Thailand is Thai. Different parts of Thailand have different dialects and different ways of speaking, so it can be quite difficult to understand Thai speakers from another part of the country. Hill tribes and other ethnic groups have their own languages, for instance there are villages of Chinese settlers in Thailand where little Thai is spoken, or on the islands where sea gypsies have settled.
It is important to learn a bit of the language, at least 'hello' (sawat dii followed by khrap if you are a man or kha for a woman, with the 't' being silent) and 'thank you' (khap khun khrap/kha). The Thais really appreciate it and treat you differently if you make an effort to speak a little of their language. They are much more helpful and friendly if you attempt to speak Thai, even if it is very badly and only a few words. In the north it is important because very few people speak much English. In the tourist areas of Bangkok and the resorts in the south, English is more widely spoken and Thais now learn English at school, so young Thais can speak a little English. Thais are often keen to practise their English. There are meetings with monks arranged in wats so that tourists can meet some monks and the monks can practise their English.
Learning Thai can be difficult for foreigners because the meaning of a word differs according to how you say it, or may not be understood at all. Tones, inflexion and emphasis are important in Thai. For instance, some words should be pronounced with the sound rising at the end, as though you were asking a question in English, so you need to learn to pronounce words correctly. Listen to the way Thais speak and often Thais are prepared to help you learn so ask them to repeat a phrase for you so you can hear how it should be said. Few Westerners learn to speak Thai well so the Thais are quite impressed by an attempt to speak their language.
Language courses are available in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It may be possible to find a private tutor if you don't want to do a course, or there isn't one available. It is worth making some effort to learn Thai if staying in Thailand long-term. For shorter holidays it may be worth buying a phrase book, and asking a friendly Thai for help with pronunciation. Thai phrase books are available in bookshops in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Some Thai language essentials:
Yes - chai
No - mai chai
Thank you - korp-koon