slice-of-thai.com Thai Language The Consonant Sounds of Thai

The Consonant Sounds of Thai

Table of Contents

Introduction

On this page, we will teach you how to speak and recognize the consonant sounds of Thai, with some particularly detailed sections on the tricker consonants like the pesky triplets of "d"/"t" sounds and "b"/"p" sounds, as well as words that start with "ng."

As we describe each sound of Thai, we'll also teach you how that sound is written using the pronunciation guide system of your choice. Read on...

Support
This Site
More than 1000 hours of work have gone into making this site. Please support my work and ongoing site improvements in one of these ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.

get the best thai-english phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get the best thai-english dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app for iOS, Android, Windows.
get a cool thai-english paper dictionary
Don't leave home without the Thai-English English-Thai Compact Dictionary I co-authored.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guidebook to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get the best chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.

Choose Your Own Thai Font and Size
One of my biggest frustrations when trying to learn or use Thai language on the web is that I can never read the microscopic Thai letters that everyone seems to use on their web pages!

At slice-of-thai.com, we proudly present to you the buttons that every site should have. Choose your Thai font and font size and we will remember your setting and instantly apply it to all pages on slice-of-thai.com.

Font Size:
%
Font:
Sample: คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน

Choose Your Favorite Pronunciation Guide Systems
As you've probably noticed, nearly every book and website uses a different pronunciation guide system (also known as "romanization," "karaoke language," "transliteration," or "phonemic transcription" systems) for helping you learn the pronunciation of native Thai words.

Here at slice-of-thai.com, we let you choose the system(s) you want to see. Check your favorite system(s) below, and we will remember your setting and instantly apply it to all pages on slice-of-thai.com.

Pronunciation guides are a useful crutch, but they have hidden pitfalls which may surprise you: learn more about this, as well as how each system differs, at Pronunciation Guide Systems for Thai. Also, you can click on any system below for more information.

SystemDescriptionExample
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
Paiboon+Used in all recent Paiboon titles[kun-gèp-sʉ̂ʉa-wái-nǎi]
PaiboonBenjawan Poomsan Becker's Thai for Beginners[kun-gèp-sʉ̂a-wái-nǎi]
Easy ThaiSpells out each syllable using simple Thai[คุนM-เก็บL-เซื่อF-ไว้H-ไหฺนR]
TLCFrom the fantastic thai-language.com[khoonM-gepL-seuuaF-waiH-naiR]
TigerThai learning books from Tiger Press[koon-gèp-sûea-wái-nǎi]
HaasMary Haas (adopted by AUA, US Peace Corps)[ˈkhun ˈkèp ˈsʉ̂a ˈwáy ˈnǎy]
IPAInternational Phonetic Alphabet: nerds love it[ˈkʰun ˈkèp ˈsɯ̂ːa ˈwáj ˈnǎj]
ALA-LCALA / US Library of Congress[khunM-kepL-sư̄aF-waiH-naiR]
TYTTeach Yourself Thai by David Smyth[ˈkOOn ˈgèp ˈsêu-a ˈwái ˈnǎi]
LPSystem from the Lonely Planet guidebooks[khun-kèp-sêua-wái-nǎi]
T2EFrom thai2english.com[kun-gèp-sêua-wái-nǎi]
Thai Govt+Lame system used for Thai road signs + tones[khun-kèp-sûea-wái-nǎi]
Example of how it will look: [sʉ̂ʉa, sʉ̂a, เซื่อF, seuuaF, sûea, ˈsʉ̂a, ˈsɯ̂ːa, sư̄aF, ˈsêu-a, sêua, sêua, sûea]

Consonant Sound Chart

Well, let's dive right into it.

Fortunately, most of the consonant sounds in Thai have a direct, one-to-one mapping to familiar consonant sounds in English.

On this chart, we will list all of the consonant sounds of Thai. For each consonant, we give:

More
Details
SoundThai Consonant
Guide
Symbol
English
Example
Start of
Syllable
End of
Syllable
Details-[b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b]boy(no syllables end with this sound)
-[p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph]pet, , , , , , stop
-[bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p]spot(no syllables end with this sound)
Details-[d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d]dog, (no syllables end with this sound)
-[t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th]time, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , stop
-[dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t]stop, (no syllables end with this sound)
Details-[g, g, , g, g, k, k, k, g, k, g, k]sky(no syllables end with this sound)
-[k, k, ข/ค, kh, k, kh, , kh, k, kh, k, kh]kiss, , , , , , , stop
Details-[j, j, , j, j, c, , čh, j, j, j, ch]glass jar(no syllables end with this sound)
-[ch, ch, ฉ/ช, ch, ch, ch, tɕʰ, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch]charm, , (no syllables end with this sound)
-[f, f, ฝ/ฟ, f, f, f, f, f, f, f, f, f]fog, (no syllables end with this sound)
-[h, h, ห/ฮ, h, h, h, h, h, h, h, h, h]have, (no syllables end with this sound)
Details-[l, l, , l, l, l, l, l, l, l, l, l]love, , (no syllables end with this sound)
-[r, r, , r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r]burro (rolled), (no syllables end with this sound)
-[m, m, , m, m, m, m, m, m, m, m, m]mansonorant
-[n, n, , n, n, n, n, n, n, n, n, n]nation, , , , , , sonorant
Details-[ng, ng, , ng, ng, ŋ, ŋ, ng, ng, ng, ng, ng]thingsonorant
-[s, s, ซ/ส, s, s, s, s, s, s, s, s, s]sex, , , (no syllables end with this sound)
Details-[w, w, , w, w, w, w, w, w, w, w, w]walksee vowel sounds
-[y, y, , y, y, y, j, y, y, y, y, y]yes, see vowel sounds
Details-[, , , , , ʔ, ʔ, ʿ, , , , ] art,  eatsee vowel sounds

Note: Thai syllables do not end with these consonants: , , , , , , ,

Spectrograms

In the detail sections below, we will use colorful charts called spectrograms to help explain the sounds of Thai.

To understand how a spectrogram works, first click the little play button below (the triangle at the left end of this player bar) to hear a silly sound:

If you have a slow internet connection, you may have to wait a little bit before the sound plays.

If the player is playing (the seconds are counting up and the little notch is making its way to the right) but you still don't hear any sound, you need to adjust the volume on your computer. You might also need to turn up the volume on the right end of the player bar above. Or, reach under the desk and see that your headphones are actually unplugged :)

A spectrogram plots that silly sound over time like this:

Example Spectrogram

Click the play button of the player below the spectrogram and you will hear the silly sound again. Notice how the vertical position of the colorful curve in the plot follows the pitch of the silly sound. Sounds that are lower in pitch are near the bottom of the chart, and sounds that are higher in pitch are near the top of the chart.

Notice the blue fuzz at the bottom: that is the very low-pitched, wind-like blowing sound you can also hear along with the whistling.

The color of the spectrogram at a given point indicates how much sound with that pitch you were making at that time. The color scale works like this:

So the red parts of the spectrogram represent the most noticeable pitches.

Voice Viewer: See Your Own Spectrogram and Compare!

Here at slice-of-thai.com, we offer:

Voice Viewer
a free software tool you can use to see the spectrogram of your own voice as you speak into a microphone.

We recommend that you get Voice Viewer and use it to compare the sounds of your own voice with the samples on this page!

How do I pronounce "Thaksin" and "Phuket"?

You've probably noticed many Thai words and names that begin with "th" or "ph," such as "Thaksin" or "Phuket," when spelled with some popular pronunciation guide systems. For example, this is true of the government pronunciation guide system that is used on Thai road signs and many Thai newspapers.

As an English speaker, you're probably tempted to pronounce "th" like thin or this. Don't. The Thai language does not have either of these sounds. The reason they put the "h" in there is to distinguish between the three Thai sounds "t", "d", and "th:" we'll give you all the details on this, and show you how to pronounce "th," below.

Fun as it is to make lewd jokes, "ph" never sounds like "f" (as in frog) either. Thai does have an "f" sound, but in every pronunciation guide system I've heard of, the "f" sound is always written with an "f," not a "ph." The mysterious "h" is there because it lets us distinguish between the three Thai sounds "p", "b", and "ph:" we'll give you all the details on this, and show you how to pronounce "ph," below.

This "h" mispronunciation problem is so rampant that some other pronunciation guide systems, such as the Paiboon system, side-stepped the issue altogether by using the symbols [dt], [d], and [t] instead of "t," "d," and "th," and using the symbols [bp], [b], and [p] instead of "p," "b," and "ph."

The Three Tricky "b" and "p" Sounds

Both Thai and English have three consonant sounds [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph], made with the lips. But in English, two of the three sounds are "the same" in that they're never used to distinguish different words. So we English speakers are not trained to make and recognize all three sounds separately.

In Thai, the difference is critical—often you will be saying three different words depending on which of these three sounds you use.

In this section, we will explain what [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] sound like, and how you can learn to recognize and say any of them at will.

To start off, consider the three English words in the left column below. The underlined letters in each word give you an example of each of the three sounds:

English ExampleThai SoundHow You Make ItVoiced?Aspirated?
spot -
[bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p]
Starting all at once, open lips to release air and start your vocal cords voicing. Make sure your vocal cords don't start voicing until your lips are open. The sound will be so sudden and explosive that you may notice a slight "popping" sound, or you may notice your pitch go up momentarily, at the moment your lips open. unvoicedunaspirated
baby -
[b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b]
First, with your lips closed, start your lungs pushing up air and your vocal cords voicing as air builds up inside your mouth. Then, a fraction of a second later, open up your mouth to release air and continue voicing with your vocal cords. voicedunaspirated
pretty -
[p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph]
ผ พ ภ
First, with your vocal cords not voicing, open up your lips to let air flow out, simultaneously constricting your throat a tiny bit so you get the windy "h" sound of a sigh. Then, a fraction of a second later, start your vocal cords voicing. unvoicedaspirated

The "How You Make It" sections above are critical to understanding how to speak and understand these Thai sounds. In particular you need to understand two concepts:

The [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] sounds differ in terms of voicing and aspiration, as you can see on the chart above.

Here's a sonogram and sound clip of the [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] sounds. As you can see, the differences are all in how they start, and that is marked on the sonogram:

[bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p][b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b][p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph]

Listen to the [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] sounds. At first, you probably won't notice any difference between the first two, [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p] and [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], because in English there is no "important" difference. Listen again and look at the sonogram. The [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] sound has a little extra section at the beginning of the syllable, confined to the bottom of the diagram (meaning it consists only of low pitches) where your vocal cords have started voicing and air is building up in your mouth. Here is a very exaggerated example which splits the two parts of a [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] (fill up mouth while voicing, open mouth and continue voicing) then joins them into a [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b]:

fill up mouth +open mouth =[b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b]

The "fill up mouth" part of a [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] is the sound you make when you're joking that you're about to throw up and you're trying to hold it back (or, when you're not joking).

Listen to the [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] sounds again. Notice that the [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] sound is preceeded by that wind-like sighing sound, aspiration. On the sonogram, aspiration (or any noisy, windy sound) appears as a blue fuzz stretching from the bottom of the diagram to the top. Notice how this blue fuzz has no particular pitch: this is because your vocal cords are not voicing, and the sound is simply a wash of noise. Here is an exaggerated example that splits the [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] into its "aspiration" component and its voiced component:

aspire +open mouth =[p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph]

Finally, if you listen very carefully to the [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p] sound in the sound clip at the beginning of this section, or if you look very carefully at the sonogram for [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], you'll see that it starts off very loud compared with [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph], and there's also a minute period of time, right at the beginning of the sound, where the pitch is higher. The pitch shift is so quick and minute that you might even hear it as a pop, click or a chirp.

This volume/pitch shift is a natural consequence of opening your tightly-held-together lips so suddenly: for a brief instant, before you start breathing out and voicing, you create pressure in your mouth and thus create a pop from your lips, your vocal cords, or both. This effect will be even more pronounced in the [dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t] example in the section below. If you listen to Thai native speakers you will often hear these sounds as a clue that they are saying [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p] rather than [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] or [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph]. If you can't hear this initial sound, don't worry about it; you can also listen for the "mouth filling up" sound of [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] and the aspiration of [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph].

The Three Tricky "d" and "t" Sounds

Now that you can speak and recognize [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph], you already know 99% of what you need for [dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t], [d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d], and [t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th]. These consonants follow exactly the same pattern. The only difference is the part of your mouth you use to block air: [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] are made by closing your lips and then opening them. [dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t], [d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d], and [t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th] are made by placing your tongue against your palate and/or front teeth to block the flow of air out of your mouth, and then letting your tongue (and air) go:

English ExampleThai SoundHow You Make ItVoiced?Aspirated?
stop -
[dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t]
ต ฏ
Begin with your tongue against or very near your upper front teeth, and a high pressure in your mouth that is held in by your toungue and throat's air-tight seal. You've probably made the "tsk tsk tsk" sound when someone's been naughty: this is the same tongue position, but with air ready to explode out instead of being sucked in. Now, blasting out all at once, let your tongue go to release the air and also start your vocal cords voicing. Make sure your vocal cords don't start voicing until your tongue has let go. The sound will be so sudden and explosive that you may notice your pitch go up momentarily, at the moment your tongue lets go. unvoicedunaspirated
doll -
[d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d]
ด ฎ
First, with your tongue against your palate to stop air flow, start your lungs pushing up air and your vocal cords voicing as air builds up inside your mouth. Then, a fraction of a second later, let your tongue go to release air and continue voicing with your vocal cords. voicedunaspirated
tender -
[t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th]
ถ ท ธ ฐ ฑ ฒ
First, with your vocal cords not voicing, let your tongue go to let air flow out, simultaneously constricting your throat a tiny bit so you get the windy "h" sound of a sigh. Then, a fraction of a second later, start your vocal cords voicing. unvoicedaspirated

Here's a sonogram and sound clip of [dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t], [d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d], and [t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th]:

[dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t][d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d][t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th]

I won't bother dissassembling [d, d, , d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d, d] and [t, t, ถ/ท, th, t, th, , th, t, th, t, th] like we did for [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph] above because the pattern is exactly the same.

The [dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t] sound can have the same characteristic initial chirp or pitch increase as we explained for [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p] above (but it will not sound like a pop or click as [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p] might). This effect is particularly pronounced in the [dt, dt, , dt, dt, t, t, t, dt, t, dt, t] sound clip above. On the sonogram, especially in the higher harmonics, you can see the pitch jump up at first then return to the normal pitch for the syllable.

Is It "g" or Is It "k"?

Next time you order food, consider these two words:

Pronunciation
Guide
System
ไก่
(chicken)
-
ไข่
(egg)
-
Paiboon+[gài][kài]
Paiboon[gài][kài]
Easy Thai[ไก่L][ไข่L]
TLC[gaiL][khaiL]
Tiger[gài][kài]
Haas[ˈkày][ˈkhày]
IPA[ˈkàj][ˈkʰàj]
ALA-LC[kaiL][khaiL]
TYT[ˈgài][ˈkài]
LP[kài][khài]
T2E[gài][kài]
Thai Govt+[kài][khài]

They have the same tone and vowel, but a different initial consonant. But what is that consonant? Different systems write the consonants as "g," "k," or "kh."

This is a case where all pronunciation guides fail you, because the important distinction between the two sounds is not captured by any English letters that you can write at the beginning of an English word.

Let's untangle this mess and see how we're actually supposed to pronounce these two sounds (regardless of how they're written!).

First of all, in all the various pronunciation guide systems, if you see a "g," it is never the hard "g" like giraffe. For that sound, you will use other symbols such as [j, j, , j, j, c, , čh, j, j, j, ch].

The rest of the answer lies in looking at these three words of English:

English SoundVoiced?Aspirated?Thai Sound
getvoicedunaspirated(not a Thai sound)
skipunvoicedunaspirated[g, g, , g, g, k, k, k, g, k, g, k] as in - ไก่ [gài, gài, ไก่L, gaiL, gài, ˈkày, ˈkàj, kaiL, ˈgài, kài, gài, kài]
kissunvoicedaspirated[k, k, ข/ค, kh, k, kh, , kh, k, kh, k, kh] as in - ไข่ [kài, kài, ไข่L, khaiL, kài, ˈkhày, ˈkʰàj, khaiL, ˈkài, khài, kài, khài]

When you say the word "kiss", notice how you can hear a breathy, windy, sigh-like sound after the "k" but before the "iss." This is called aspiration and it is what makes a Thai person understand that you are saying [k, k, ข/ค, kh, k, kh, , kh, k, kh, k, kh] as in ไข่ [kài, kài, ไข่L, khaiL, kài, ˈkhày, ˈkʰàj, khaiL, ˈkài, khài, kài, khài]:

kiss
kiss

When you say the word "skip," notice how there is no such breathy sound—no aspiration. Without the aspiration, a Thai will hear [g, g, , g, g, k, k, k, g, k, g, k] as in ไก่ [gài, gài, ไก่L, gaiL, gài, ˈkày, ˈkàj, kaiL, ˈgài, kài, gài, kài]:

skip
skip

Aspiration is the key difference and the one you should learn in order to differentiate these Thai sounds. Don't waste too much time worrying about which English letters they use to write the two sounds. Instead, focus on the fact that the "chicken" sound ไก่ [gài, gài, ไก่L, gaiL, gài, ˈkày, ˈkàj, kaiL, ˈgài, kài, gài, kài] does not have aspiration and the "egg" sound ไข่ [kài, kài, ไข่L, khaiL, kài, ˈkhày, ˈkʰàj, khaiL, ˈkài, khài, kài, khài] does have aspiration:

[gài, gài, ไก่L, gaiL, gài, ˈkày, ˈkàj, kaiL, ˈgài, kài, gài, kài]
(chicken)
[kài, kài, ไข่L, khaiL, kài, ˈkhày, ˈkʰàj, khaiL, ˈkài, khài, kài, khài]
(egg)
Chicken and Egg

Aspiration was also a key ingredient in understanding the tricky "b" and "p" and "d" and "t" sounds of Thai above.

When you say "get" in English, you are making a sound that does not exist in Thai. It is similar to the sound in "skip," but your voicing starts (that is, you start making sound from your vocal cords) earlier with "get" than with "skip." Because both of English "get" and "skip" are unaspirated, a Thai will understand them both as the "chicken" sound ไก่ [gài, gài, ไก่L, gaiL, gài, ˈkày, ˈkàj, kaiL, ˈgài, kài, gài, kài], but most Thais will agree that only the "skip" sound is correct.

The designers (and I use that term loosely) of the pronunciation systems used two methods to address this mismatch between English sounds and Thai sounds:

Told you it was a mess!

Is It "j" or Is It "ch"?

Now that you understand how to say and understand "g" and "k," you have almost all of the knowledge you need to say and understand "j" and "ch," which follow the same pattern:

Pronunciation
Guide
System
จาน
(plate)
-
ชาน
(platform)
-
Paiboon+[jaan][chaan]
Paiboon[jaan][chaan]
Easy Thai[จานM][ชานM]
TLC[jaanM][chaanM]
Tiger[jahn][chahn]
Haas[ˈcaan][ˈchaan]
IPA[ˈtɕaːn][ˈtɕʰaːn]
ALA-LC[čhānM][chānM]
TYT[ˈjahn][ˈchahn]
LP[jaan][chaan]
T2E[jaan][chaan]
Thai Govt+[chan][chan]

As with "g" and "k," different pronunciation guide systems write the "j" and "ch" sounds with different letters, and in some sense none of them are right, because the real distinction is not captured by any English letters.

First off, the real Thai sounds follow the same pattern as "g" and "k":

English SoundVoiced?Aspirated?Thai Sound
Jakevoicedunaspirated(not a Thai sound)
glass jarunvoicedunaspirated[j, j, , j, j, c, , čh, j, j, j, ch] as in - จาน [jaan, jaan, จานM, jaanM, jahn, ˈcaan, ˈtɕaːn, čhānM, ˈjahn, jaan, jaan, chan]
(almost)
chainunvoicedaspirated[ch, ch, ฉ/ช, ch, ch, ch, tɕʰ, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch] as in - ชาน [chaan, chaan, ชานM, chaanM, chahn, ˈchaan, ˈtɕʰaːn, chānM, ˈchahn, chaan, chaan, chan]
(almost)

As with "g" and "k," the important difference that you should pay attention to is aspiration (if you haven't already read the section about "g" and "k" above, do it now, otherwise none of this will make sense). In particular:

Here's an example showing the unaspirated [j, j, , j, j, c, , čh, j, j, j, ch] and the aspirated [ch, ch, ฉ/ช, ch, ch, ch, tɕʰ, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch]:

[jaan, jaan, จานM, jaanM, jahn, ˈcaan, ˈtɕaːn, čhānM, ˈjahn, jaan, jaan, chan][chaan, chaan, ชานM, chaanM, chahn, ˈchaan, ˈtɕʰaːn, chānM, ˈchahn, chaan, chaan, chan]

The "j" and "ch" sounds also demonstrate one of the most fundamental flaws with the Thai Government pronuncation guide system: in that system, they're both written with as "ch!"

A Tongue Detail

You probably noticed our little hedge in the table above where we said our English example words for "j" and "ch" are "almost" like the Thai. That is because to say "j" and "ch" correctly, you must understand one more little detail that doesn't apply to "g" and "k:" the [j, j, , j, j, c, , čh, j, j, j, ch] and [ch, ch, ฉ/ช, ch, ch, ch, tɕʰ, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch] sounds of Thai are made with the tongue in a different position than the familiar "j" and "ch" sounds of English.

Say the word "judge" or "church" and feel the way in which your tongue makes contact with the roof of your mouth, just before making the "j" or "ch" sounds. Linguists use the term domed to describe the way in which our tongue "bunches up" against our palate in order to make these sounds. Say "jug" and "tug" a bunch of times and compare what your tongue does. With "jug," your tongue is domed; it feels as if there is a large surface area of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth from your palate back to the back of your mouth. With "tug," your tongue just makes a tap at one little spot, further forward in your mouth towards your front teeth.

In terms of the place where your tongue touches the roof of your mouth, the Thai sounds are more like the English "t" than they are like the English "j" or "ch." The tongue is not domed and it touches the roof of your mouth at one little spot further forward, nearer to where you make a "t" sound. You might say that the Thai sound is more "dainty" or "crisp" or "whispy" than the English sound.

Here is an example that might help you hear the difference. Here is the slang phrase [jing-jíng, jing-jíng, จิงM-จิ๊งH, jingM-jingH, jing-jíng, ˈciŋ ˈcíŋ, ˈtɕiŋ ˈtɕíŋ, čhiŋM-čhiŋH, ˈjing ˈjíng, jing-jíng, jing-jíng, ching-chíng] (meaning I'm Serious!) spoken first with the domed (and voiced) "j" that a native English speaker is likely to use, and then with the unvoiced, non-domed [j, j, , j, j, c, , čh, j, j, j, ch] of Thai:

English-ThaiThai

Thais Really Love Their "r" and "l"

Here I'm going to give you some advice, but it's just going to be between you and me. Thais are very proud of their language and it's darn near impossible to find even one Thai, whether an Isaan country bumpkins or a super-educated Chulalongkorn University graduate, who will admit that most Thais cannot properly say "l" and "r."

Specifically, in some parts of the country such as the North-East, nearly all "l" and "r" sounds have corroded into an "l" sound, leading to endless jokes on expat newsgroups about this-or-that "falang" (non-Asian foreigner)—the word is supposed to be ฝรั่ง [fà~ràng, fà~ràng, ฝะL~หฺรั่งL, faL~rangL, fà~ràng, fà ˈràŋ, fà ˈràŋ, faL~raŋL, fà ˈrùng, fà~ràng, fà~ràng, fà~ràng]—getting in trouble.

But the problem is not just limited to the countryside. You will meet many rich, educated Bangkok Thais who will literally use "l" and "r" in 50%/50% random distribution regardless of the word they are speaking. When you call them on it, they will literally say things like "That's what I said! Law! Raw! Law! Raw!" with a straight face, as if they are making the same sound four times in a row.

What this means practically for the Thai learner is that you must assume any "l" or "r" you hear could be either an "l" or an "r," which surprisingly doesn't turn out to make things that much harder.

There is one case I know of where you can be sure. Officially, the [r, r, , r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r] sound is supposed to be rolled like the spanish "r" in "burro," as opposed to the [l, l, , l, l, l, l, l, l, l, l, l] sound which is not rolled. In practice, few Thais can be bothered to roll their "r"s. In some situations (but by no means all), people might even think a Thai person is snooty or presumptuous if she rolls her "r"s, as if she is trying to pretend she has superior class or education, so that may be another reason why you rarely hear it. But if you do hear the tongue rolling sound, it's certainly an [r, r, , r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r].

One of the reasons why some Thais mess it up is that the first, or most prevalent, language they heard while growing up at home is some dialect of Chinese. Some of these Chinese dialects do have several different "l" and "r"-like sounds, but they differ in a different way than English "l" and "r." So, when the educated Thai tells me that "Law! Raw! Law! Raw!" is the same sound repeated 4 times, she may be correct according to the phonemic rules of her language—she may be using some distinction that I, as a native English speaker, cannot hear. Sadly, that doesn't help me or any of you lucky readers to understand such people, but perhaps a Chinese-fluent reader out there can shed some light on what's going through a Chinese-descended Thai speaker's mind when they utter Thai words with [r, r, , r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r] and [l, l, , l, l, l, l, l, l, l, l, l].

Thais Love to Drop "r" and "l" in Clusters

Here's another very common Thai speech habit that you will definitely notice in Bangkok and many places in the country. When an "r" or "l" appears as the second consonant of an initial consonant cluster, Thais will often drop it completely:

This can be very annoying for a Thai learner because in many cases, the word without the "r" or "l" means something else!

You'll just have to get used to it. If you're talking with a Bangkok cabbie and you hear a word that doesn't seem to make sense in its context, consider that he might have dropped an "r" or "l."

This phenomenon seems to mostly occur in words beginning with [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], however I have heard it with other words like เบรค [brèek, brèek, เบฺรกL, braehkL, bràyk, ˈbrèek, ˈbrèːk, brēkL, ˈbràyk, brèhk, bràyk, brèk] (n. brake) (as on the day when, just as we start down a steep hill, the cab driver informs me: "my [bèek, bèek, เบกL, baehkL, bàyk, ˈbèek, ˈbèːk, bēkL, ˈbàyk, bèhk, bàyk, bèk] no good"). In some cases, like the English loanword แผน [pɛ̌ɛn, pɛ̌ɛn, แผนR, phaaenR, pǎen, ˈphɛ̌ɛn, ˈpʰɛ̌ːn, phǣnR, ˈpǎirn, phǎen, pǎen, phǎen] (n. plan), this second-consonant-dropping has become embedded into the official spelling and pronunciation of the Thai language.

Words Can Begin with "ng"

English speakers are used to making the [ng, ng, , ng, ng, ŋ, ŋ, ng, ng, ng, ng, ng] sound at the end of a word (as in "thing" or "song"), but in Thai it can also occur at the beginning of a word, like - ง่าย [ngâai, ngâai, ง่ายF, ngaaiF, ngâai, ˈŋâay, ˈŋâːj, ngāiF, ˈngâi, ngâi, ngâai, ngâi] (adj. easy), - เงียบ [ngîiap, ngîap, เงียบF, ngiiapF, ngêeap, ˈŋîap, ˈŋîːap, ngīapF, ˈngêe-ap, ngîap, ngîap, ngîap] (adj. quiet), or - เงิน [ngən, ngən, เงินISM, ngernM, ngern, ˈŋən, ˈŋən, ngœnM, ˈngern, ngoen, ngern, ngoen] (n. money).

You can practice making this sound at the beginning of a word by tricking your mouth into saying it. Say the silly English phrase "thingy-yup" a few times. Ignoring the tones for the moment, that phrase you just spoke contains the correct sound for the Thai word เงียบ [ngîiap, ngîap, เงียบF, ngiiapF, ngêeap, ˈŋîap, ˈŋîːap, ngīapF, ˈngêe-ap, ngîap, ngîap, ngîap] (adj. quiet).

Say "thingy-yup" over and over again, and begin to shave off bits of the start of the phrase: "thingy-yup, thingy-yup, ingy-yup, ingy-yup, ngy-yup, ngy-yup..." that's เงียบ [ngîiap, ngîap, เงียบF, ngiiapF, ngêeap, ˈŋîap, ˈŋîːap, ngīapF, ˈngêe-ap, ngîap, ngîap, ngîap]!

As long as what you ended up saying doesn't sound like a plain old "n" ("ni-yup") but instead sounds like the end of "thing" ("ngy-yup"), you've got it. Your natural instinct as an English speaker will be to convert "ng" to "n" just at the instant it starts being at the start of a word, but try to fight back that instinct and instead focus on extracting the เงียบ [ngîiap, ngîap, เงียบF, ngiiapF, ngêeap, ˈŋîap, ˈŋîːap, ngīapF, ˈngêe-ap, ngîap, ngîap, ngîap] sound from the phrase.

Is It "w" or Is It "v"?

Officially, there is no "v" sound in the Thai language, and the [w, w, , w, w, w, w, w, w, w, w, w] sound sounds just like an English "w." However, there are two kinds of confusion which can arise:

The Consonant for No Consonant

Depending on what pronunciation guide system you use, you might be wondering why there is no pronunciation guide symbol listed on the last row of our chart above. For some systems you will just see [] appearing in the first column.

Consider English words like "art" and "edge." They start with a vowel, not a consonant. In Thai, the rule is that every word must start with a consonant, so the Thais invented a consonant called [ɔɔ-àang, ɔɔ-àang, ออM-อ่างL, aawM-aangL, aw-àhng, ˈʔɔɔ ˈʔàaŋ, ˈʔɔː ˈʔàːŋ, ʿǭM-ʿāŋL, ˈor ˈàhng, aw-àang, or-àang, o-àng] that means "there is no consonant at the start of this word." For example, look at the Thai spelling of the two words - มา [maa, maa, มาM, maaM, mah, ˈmaa, ˈmaː, māM, ˈmah, maa, maa, ma] (vi. come) and - อา [aa, aa, อาM, aaM, ah, ˈʔaa, ˈʔaː, ʿāM, ˈah, aa, aa, a] (n. father's younger brother or sister). They have the same tone and vowel; they differ only in their initial consonant: [m, m, , m, m, m, m, m, m, m, m, m] in the case of the first word, and the magical "no consonant" consonant [, , , , , ʔ, ʔ, ʿ, , , , ] in the case of the second word.

In most cases, since the pronunciation guide systems were created to make life easier for native Western language speakers, there is no "no consonant" symbol. We just write [aa, aa, อาM, aaM, ah, ˈʔaa, ˈʔaː, ʿāM, ˈah, aa, aa, a]. But when you start learning to read and write Thai, keep in mind that you must write [ɔɔ-àang, ɔɔ-àang, ออM-อ่างL, aawM-aangL, aw-àhng, ˈʔɔɔ ˈʔàaŋ, ˈʔɔː ˈʔàːŋ, ʿǭM-ʿāŋL, ˈor ˈàhng, aw-àang, or-àang, o-àng].

Actually not all of the pronunciation guide systems leave out [ɔɔ-àang, ɔɔ-àang, ออM-อ่างL, aawM-aangL, aw-àhng, ˈʔɔɔ ˈʔàaŋ, ˈʔɔː ˈʔàːŋ, ʿǭM-ʿāŋL, ˈor ˈàhng, aw-àang, or-àang, o-àng]. The linguists who designed the IPA realized that the sound we make when we say "art" is just as much a consonant as when we say "cart:" with "art," we scrunch up our vocal cords to block the flow of air, ready our lips, tongue and mouth to say "aa," and then release our vocal cords. This action is called a "glottal stop" or "glottal onset" and is symbolized in the IPA system with a funky dotless question mark like this: [ˈʔaː]. Also, Thai is not the only language that writes the glottal onset. Arabic and Hawaiian are two examples where it is sometimes, or always, written. Just a piece of trivia for you.

Don't Spit Out Your Finals!

Say the following English words out loud: "hip," "bark" and "flat." Notice how each of these words ends in a consonant, and how (for most English speakers) a little extra puff of air comes out of your mouth at the end of the word, as if they were spelled "hip-hh," "bark-hh," and "flat-hh." Play this sound to see what I mean:

hip-hhbark-hhflat-hh

In Thai, you never have this extra puff of air on any word (or syllable) that ends with a consonant. When they finish speaking such syllables, Thais will instantly and completely close off the flow of air. This kind of final consonant is said to have no audible release. Here is an example using the three English words above. Notice how it kind of sounds like a caricature of a Thai person speaking English? This is not a coincidence!

hipbarkflat

Thais like to joke that Westerners speaking Thai "spit out" their final consonants, sometimes depositing giant puddles of saliva all over the floor. Generally speaking, if you do spit out your final consonants, a Thai will still understand what you mean, but it will be easier for them to understand (and harder for them to joke about you) if you do not.

As another way to hear this, say the words "nitrate" and "night rate." Compare how you spit out the first "t" in "nitrate" vs. how you have no audible release in the first "t" in "night rate."

A common Thai word where this shows up is มาก [mâak, mâak, มากF, maakF, mâhk, ˈmâak, ˈmâːk, mākF, ˈmâhk, mâak, mâak, mâk] (adv. very). Here is the incorrect spit-out pronunciation "mak-hh":

maak-hh: incorrect

Here is the correct pronunciation with no audible release:

maak: correct

Support
This Site
More than 1000 hours of work have gone into making this site. Please support my work and ongoing site improvements in one of these ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.

get the best thai-english phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get the best thai-english dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app for iOS, Android, Windows.
get a cool thai-english paper dictionary
Don't leave home without the Thai-English English-Thai Compact Dictionary I co-authored.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guidebook to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get the best chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.
See AlsoYou'll probably also like these sites...
allaboutpai.com
A site about Pai, my peaceful home in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
lurkertech: video tech and diversions
Buzzword bingo, bill the borg, MEZ, lurker's guide to video, and Thai, oh my!
mapfling.com: free custom maps with your own labels
Party? Meeting? Request a map, label it yourself, and easily fling it to your friends!
world's stupidest everything
See some of the worst the world has to offer, and add some of your own!

World's Stupidest Holiday and Birthday Presents - stupidest-presents.com
World's Stupidest Wedding Websites - stupidest-wedding-sites.com
World's Stupidest Baby Websites - stupidest-baby-sites.com
World's Stupidest TV, Movie, Music, and Sports Stars - stupidest-stars.com
World's Stupidest Politicians - stupidest-politicians.com
World's Stupidest TV Shows - stupidest-tv-shows.com
World's Stupidest Movies - stupidest-movies.com
World's Stupidest Blogs - stupidest-blogs.com
World's Stupidest Websites - stupidest-websites.com
World's Stupidest Company Websites - stupidest-company-sites.com
thailand your way
Travel with my friend Nang, who is a great nature, birding, and cultural guide.
jeed illustration
My English-fluent Thai friend Jeed is a freelance illustrator who is available for hire.
CopyrightEntire website copyright 1999-2016 Chris Pirazzi unless otherwise indicated.

License for use: