slice-of-thai.com Thai Language Pronunciation Guide Systems for Thai

Pronunciation Guide Systems for Thai

Table of Contents

Introduction

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.

For example, the Thai word เหมือนกัน (adj. same as each other) can be written in different systems as:

This page introduces you to several of these systems, including some of their hidden pitfalls—and some of the inherent limitations of any such system—that may surprise you.

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Which System Is Best?

This is everyone's favorite question, so let's get it out of the way now:

Q: Which pronunciation guide system is best?

A: The one you learned first, of course!

We will be pointing out advantages and disadvantages of each system in the sections below, but practically speaking, the pronunciation guide systems are all crutches, and if you will be in Thailand for more than a quick vacation, the crutch analogy is really spot-on:

If you are just starting your study of Thai and haven't learned any pronunciation system yet, we can give you this advice: all the systems are pretty close in their completeness and suitability for a Thai learner, except for the Thai Government system. So as long as you avoid that, you'll be fine. This won't be a practical issue for you, as any Thai learning website you visit, or book you purchase, will use one of the modern, complete systems. We include the Thai Government system here just for comparison, since it is used for road signs and other government publications.

We offer a pretty useful transition system called Easy Thai that spells out Thai words using a smaller, simpler subset of Thai. That could be a great way for you to make a step up from your old pronunciation guide system towards reading real Thai. You can even enable both "Easy Thai" and your old system at the same time! Just check the box for "Easy Thai" below.

Also, since you'll eventually need to learn Thai script, why not print out a set of our free Thai consonant and vowel flashcards and start learning them today!

We Let You Choose

Choose Your Favorite Pronunciation Guide Systems
Here at slice-of-thai.com, we let you choose the pronunciation guide 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.

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]

Choose Your Own Thai Font and Size
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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.

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Sample: คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน

The Basic Goal, and What to Expect

What are pronunciation guide systems for and what should you expect from them?

Helps You With Sound, Not Spelling

The basic goal of a pronunciation guide system is to make it easier for you, the foreigner studying Thai, to learn how a Thai word is pronounced, without having to know full Thai script. This then allows you to say that word so that Thai people understand you, and it allows you to correctly recognize and distinguish that word from other similar words which you hear Thai people say.

Pronunciation guides are specifically not designed to tell you how a Thai word is spelled in Thai script (with a few small exceptions we will give for each system below).

For example, in Thai script there are 4 different consonant letters that sound like "s" (just as in English, "c," "s," and "ps" can all sound like an "s"). A pronunciation guide purposely simplifies this down to just one symbol (say, "s") so you can focus on the sound. This goes for vowels, too. In Thai script, there are at least 4 ways to write the sound "ai." A pronunciation guide system typically folds this down into just one symbol (say, "ai").

Transliteration or Transcription?

Various books and websites will call their pronunciation guide systems "transliteration" or "transcription" systems.

By definition, a transliteration system seeks to preserve all of the spelling distinctions of the original language, and so it would never glom the 4 "s" sounds of Thai into one.

A transcription system, on the other hand, seeks only to represent the sounds of the original language.

So, the pronunciation guide systems described here are all primarily transcription systems (although in a few cases, they do indicate some additional details about the spelling of the original word).

Don't be thrown off by the fuzzy industry usage. For any modern book or website about Thai, you can be sure that the primary goal of its pronunciation system is to encode sound, not spelling.

Romanization

Since most pronunciation guide systems primarily use familiar roman letters, in order to make learning easier for native English speakers, they're also called romanization systems. Again the primary goal is to encode sound, not spelling.

How Much Detail Is Needed?

The goal of a pronunciation guide system is not to record the exact sound of each word down to the last excruciating detail (in linguist parlance, it is not meant to be a complete phonetic system).

For example, pronunciation guide systems will not tell you how a given word is pronounced in different dialects. Consider how differently a Brit, a Bostonian, and a Californian pronounce the phrase "Harvard Yard." When we look up "Harvard Yard" in an English dictionary, we don't see three separate pronunciation entries corresponding to each dialect, and we don't want to be overloaded with dialect details in a basic Thai dictionary or learning book either.

Phonemes: The Absolute Minimum Detail

A pronunciation guide must at least point out the sound differences that are actually important for distinguishing one word from another (in linguist parlance, it must at least be a phonemic system).

For example, a pronunciation guide system for English must have a separate way to write [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b] and [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph], otherwise we could never teach people to tell between "bot" and "pot."

The same thing applies in Thai, but you need to be aware that the sounds of Thai don't always map one-to-one with sounds of English. For example, in Thai there are actually three different "b"/"p"-like sounds, [b, b, , b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b, b], [p, p, ผ/พ, ph, p, ph, , ph, p, ph, p, ph], and [bp, bp, , bp, pb, p, p, p, bp, p, bp, p], and you need to learn to speak and recognize the three sounds separately in order to be functional in Thai. We'll tell you all about these cases in our page on the consonant sounds of Thai.

Same thing applies for Thai vowels. For example, In English, if you say "man" or you draw out the vowel like "maaaaaaaaaan," you're nearly always saying the same word. But in Thai, many vowels have two versions: one that has a short duration and one that has a long duration. You need to use the right one, otherwise you will say the wrong word. For example, the words มัน [man, man, มันM, manM, man, ˈman, ˈman, manM, ˈmun, man, man, man] (n. it, fat, oil) and มาร [maan, maan, มานM, maanM, mahn, ˈmaan, ˈmaːn, mānM, ˈmahn, maan, maan, man] (n. devil; supreme spirit of evil) differ only in the length of the vowel. We'll tell you all about these cases in our page about the vowel sounds of Thai.

Finally, there are the tones. As you are probably aware, Thai is a tonal language, meaning that a word may have 5 different meanings depending on how the pitch of your voice changes as you say it. In order to be useful to language learners, a pronunciation guide system must indicate the tones. Most systems do it with funny marks over the vowels. You can find out all about the tones—what each of them sounds like, how they are written in pronunciation guides, how to say them, and how to recognize them— on our page about the five tones of Thai.

Some Systems Fail At This Level

Sadly, some of the pronunciation guide systems—notably the Thai Government system that is used on road signs in Thailand—fail to meet this basic requirement.

The Thai government system does not indicate tones at all (we have added them on this website in an attempt to salvage some usefulness from the system), it gloms together several consonants which distinguish many common words, it gloms together all long and short versions of vowels, and it inexplicably gloms together two completely different vowels, [oo, oo, โอM, o:hM, oh, ˈʔoo, ˈʔoː, ʿōM, ˈoh, oh, oh, o] and [ɔɔ, ɔɔ, ออM, aawM, aw, ˈʔɔɔ, ˈʔɔː, ʿǭM, ˈor, aw, or, o], which distinguish vast numbers of words in Thai. The result is something that is nearly useless for learning Thai.

Some Give You More Phonetic Information

Fortunately, most modern pronunciation guide systems, and nearly all the systems you'll find in Thai learning textbooks or websites, represent the complete palette of Thai sounds (phonemes) with unique letters or letter combinations.

Some pronunciation guide systems go a little beyond that too. Because you are a non-native trying to learn a new language, they provide you with some (but not too much) additional phonetic information that will help you pronounce words.

This is especially relevant when you consider that, in both Thai and English, some phonemes sound different depending on where they appear in a word. To understand this, consider the English word "potato." Notice how the two "t" sounds in "potato" sound different (for most English speakers). The first "t" has this extra "breathiness" (aspiration) after it that does not occur after the second "t." This is something we don't write in most English dictionaries (their pronunciation guides just say "po-tay-toe" or something similar, where we use the same "t" symbol in each case), because "it's just obvious" to native English speakers that they should aspirate the first "t" and not the second one. Now consider a foreign person learning English. They have no idea that they should aspirate the first "t" and not the second one. Eventually, that person will learn to aspirate the "t," either by example or by someone teaching them the rules for when "t" gets aspirated, but while they are learning, they would benefit from a dictionary that made it explicit how they should pronounce the "t"s.

This same idea can be usefully applied to Thai.

Some of the pronunciation guide systems provide a teeny bit of extra phonetic information that is not strictly needed to distinguish words. For example,

Does Everyone Agree on the Phonemes?

The set of phonemes in Thai (including consonants, vowels, and tones) is pretty well agreed-upon, but it's not completely set in stone. Occasionally phonemes will split when people discover important examples of word pairs. For example, Rikker Dockum of Thai 101 points out that word pairs like นะ and have the same consonant sound, vowel sound, and tone (and therefore have the same pronunciation guide in most systems, e.g., [ná] for the Paiboon+ system), but in real Thai speech they are distinguished by the presence or absence of a final glottal stop (that is, whether or not you cut off the sound abruptly at the end using your vocal cords) and so they are really different phonemes. Currently IPA is the only pronunciation guide system that even has the equipment to represent this distinction.

If enough people agree, they will "declare" new phonemes and slowly revise the various pronunciation guides to reflect the new conventions.

What Is a "Complete" System?

We define a pronunciation guide system as "complete" if both of the following are true:

Note this is a purely linguistic definition which is completely divorced from the context in which or purpose for which the system is used.

What Is an "Effective" System?

This term is quite different. A system cannot be "effective" or "ineffective" by itself. It must be effective or ineffective for some stated purpose.

Two systems can only be compared as to their effectiveness if you are comparing them for the same purpose.

For example, the Thai Govt+ system is fairly effective as a way for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians on the Thai road system to tell where they're going without reading Thai script, but it is highly ineffective as a tool for teaching us to speak and understand Thai speech beyond a handful of basic phrases. In combination with Thai script (that is, if you are also familiar with the consonant, vowel, and tone symbols present in the Thai script), the Thai Govt+ system can be a fairly effective way to predict how the Thai word sounds, though sometimes it still does not provide all the hints needed for this purpose.

A system doesn't have to be complete in order to be effective. For example, the short list of common Thai phrases that you tend to find in high-end guidebooks (e.g. Fodor's) or package tour itineraries is designed to teach the traveler a few phrases like "hello" and "where's the bathroom?" and not really intended to teach the traveler to understand any Thai responses beyond numerical prices, "yes," and "no." In this context, it may be counter-productive to indicate tones and/or vowel length, or try to explain how to pronounce the Thai vowel sounds that do not exist in English, because under no circumstances will the target audience take the time to learn the details. So a very incomplete system may be more effective in some contexts.

As you ride the gamut from that through, say, pocket phrasebooks for backpacker travellers, beginning learning texts on Thai, beginner dictionaries, advanced Thai learning texts, and desktop dictionaries, you have an increasing need for completeness in order to be effective for the target audience.

What is an "Intuitive" System?

Pronunciation guide systems are often touted as to how "intuitive" they are. But what does this mean?

There is a valid and useful meaning of "intuitive" for pronunciation guide systems, but 99% of the time, people assume (and unscrupulous book vendors slyly hope they will assume) the following entirely incorrect and unrealistic definition:

The beginning student of Thai is likely to interpret "an intuitive system" to mean "a system where a complete novice can just read the guide as if it were English and he or she will make the correct Thai sound."

The Harsh Reality of Thai

If you are even moderately experienced at Thai, the above sentence should send chills up your spine, because you have already learned the harsh reality of Thai:

It is fundamentally impossible for any Thai pronunciation system based on English letters to be "intuitively correct" for all English speakers, or even any particular English speaker, because:

  • speakers will pronounce the same guide differently, according to their particular dialect of English, and

  • there are many sounds in Thai which cannot be represented by any English spelling for any dialect of English.

I cannot overemphasize how many Thai learners have been led astray by the notion that if they could just chain together the right sequence of English letters ("muEeUaueunng Thai"), and pronounce it as English, they would make the correct Thai sound, and somehow learning Thai would then be a piece of cake.

Sorry. There's no magic silver bullet. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.

Let's look at each of the points in more detail:

Are Those British Letters or American Letters?

Even the best possible "intuitive," "what you see is what you say" pronunciation guide system could only "work intuitively" for learners whose English dialect matches the system.

One rather amusing area where this comes up is the spelling "porn." A huge number of (otherwise respectable) place and person names in Thai have an English spelling of "porn," such as "Rattanaporn" or "Porn Ping Palace" or "Pornthip."

Why on earth, Americans ask themselves, whould Thais ever call themselves or their business "porn?"

The answer is that the foreigners whom they asked for advice, when deciding how to spell their names, were British! When you pronounce "porn" with most British dialects, you get pretty much the right sound (as good as you can get with British dialects). The embarrassing English connotation is thus somewhat justified by the fact that you get correct sound, slightly reducing the snicker level. However it's a complete loss with American speakers, who botch the sound and also end up rolling on the floor in laughter.

This problem is not limited to differences between countries, either. Californians are likely to pronounce "man" differently from Bostonians or midwesterners, and huge UK, Austrailian, and New Zealand dialect differences abound as well.

This example should immediately convince you to stop trusting, and stop obsessing over, the English spelling of pronunciation guide systems.

If you're still not convinced, just look at this:

Amongst the books and websites which claim an "intuitive" pronunciation guide system based on purely English letters, the honest ones do actually say that their system is targeted at a user with a particular dialect. For example, the creator of the TLC system from thai-language.com makes this amusing statement:

In keeping with the tradition of proliferating transliteration methodologies, this website uses the system described above. It seems reasonably accurate to me and has the advantage of being internally consistent and well documented. You may wish to note that I was raised on America's east coast, so my decisions reflect this regional pronounciation.

Sometimes, No English Letters Work

Even if you assume a limited audience whose dialect exactly matches that of the system, there are still fundamental problems preventing any English-letter-based system from being "intuitively correct:"

So, no matter what symbols a pronunciation guide uses (English letters or non-English letters), additional explanations will always be needed in order for people to function in Thai at any level beyond "hello" and "where is the bathroom?" You will never be able to just look at a pronunciation guide and "intuitively" get the sound right, without studying a bit first.

They're Symbols: Don't Obsesss over the English Spelling

To learn Thai much more easily and avoid the time-wasting pitfalls that have hampered so many, my advice is this:

Think of each sequence of English letters in any given pronunciation guide system as a symbol, nothing more than that. Even though it says "bp" or "U," it might as well be or or the Prince symbol for that matter.

Each symbol stands for a sound. Your task, as a student, is to work with a Thai person to learn to recognize and say each sound. You can also click on the sound links on slice-of-thai.com to hear each sound.

Don't obsess over the English spelling of any given symbol.

Eventually, you will learn a new set of symbols for those sounds anyway, when you continue on to learning Thai script.

Is There Much Room for Intuitiveness?

Hopefully we have now disaffected you of the notion that any pronunciation guide system based on English letters can be "intuitively correct."

There's still some room for a useful kind of intuitiveness, though less than most people imagine. In the cases where we have:

then an "intuitive" system will tend to pick that spelling for that sound.

In particuar, systems like TLC and Tiger use English-like sequences of letters for all vowels. The idea here is that:

The potential downside of this "intuitive" approach, of course, is that the learner may never dig deeper. Some people argue that by presenting (and, in a few cases, exaggerating) the illusion of being "intuitive" and "what you see is what you say," some pronunciation guide systems might be doing you a disfavor by fooling you into thinking that if you pronounce the English letters using your native dialect, it will sound right. The fear is that for every Thai learner they help (whose dialect matches that of the system), there are a larger number of Thai learners who they have hurt (by misleading them into mispronouncing Thai without even knowing it).

Let's look at some examples of applying the "intuitive" approach:

Consider the consonant sound [f, f, ฝ/ฟ, f, f, f, f, f, f, f, f, f] as in the word "frog." It's obviously more intuitive to use the symbol "f" for this than, say, "X" or some obscure squiggly symbol. It's also more intuitive to use "f" than "ph" because a lot more people will guess the wrong sound if they see "ph."

Consider the vowel sound in the word "play." It's probably more intuitive to use the symbol "ay" for this sound rather than, say, "e," "ee," "aeh," or "ei," because it happens that most English words that are spelled with "ay" have the desired sound (e.g. "day," "payload") and those words don't tend to vary in pronunciation across different dialects of English. So most Thai learners who see "ay" will guess the right basic sound without having to look up "ay" in a chart.

But even this is only a partial victory for intuitiveness: don't forget that Thai has vowel length, and many pairs of Thai words differ only by vowel length. So the Thai learner will still need to know whether the symbol "ay" represents a long vowel or a short vowel in Thai. The English spelling "ay" certainly does not convey this "intuitively." Eventually, the learner will be forced to look up "ay" in the pronunciation guide system's vowel chart in order to see if it is long or short. So the "intuitive" choice of English spelling "ay" has helped the learner a bit, but it has not saved her a trip to the chart and the gory details, as many people imagine it might. As we said above, pronunciation guide systems cannot offer any magic bullet that suddenly lets the learner skip over the tough details of learning Thai. Anyone who tells you they can is selling you snake oil.

There are surprisingly few vowels in English that have nice unambiguous pronunciation, like "ay." Most sequences of one or more "a, e, i, o, u, y" in English can be read in more than one way in English (even within one dialect) depending on the word. For "i" we have pit and spite and ping. For "o" we have note and not. For "ia" we have dial and piano. For "oo" we have boot and poor and brooch. For "ui" we have quick and build and suing. Even for our shining example "ay," there are counterexamples like aye and quay. So there are not that many opportunities for picking "intuitive" English spellings to use for the Thai vowels. Most English spellings that you might put together are ambigious and therefore not (or at least less) "intuitive."

Furthermore, there are certain Thai vowel sounds that are present in English, but for which no series of English letters is convincingly "intuitive." This is particularly true of the very common dipthong sound in "try" and "site" and "blind." You can't use the single letters "y" or "i" as a symbol for this sound, because those letters have so many other possible pronunciations in English. As a result, nearly every pronunciation guide system, even the ones which call themselves "intuitive" systems, use the sequence "ai" (or something similar) for this sound. But how can this be intuitive when the only English words using "ai," such as "main" and "sail," have a different sound?

These are just some examples of how the great quest for "intuitiveness" in pronunciation guide systems yields a lot less benefit than you might think. This kind of intuitiveness is still useful, for sure, but we need to be realistic about how much it helps the learner. In particular, it is no substitute for the hard work of learning about Thai vowel length, the [ʉ, ʉ, −ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌, eu, eu, ʉ, ɯ, , eu, eu, eu, ue] vowel, and the many other aspects of Thai that cannot be represented with English spelling.

"Intuitive" Systems Get Complicated!

There's another, surprising problem with systems that attempt to choose "intuitive" sequences of English letters, particularly for vowels, such as "ay" and "iaao" and "ooy:" because there's so many Thai vowels they have to represent (short and long versions of more than twenty vowel combinations), and because there's so few vowel letters in the English alphabet (just "a," "e," "i," "o," "u," and "y"), the systems get really complicated!

To see what I mean, scan down the TLC or Tiger columns of this complete chart of vowel sounds:

Vowel Sounds
Paiboon+PaiboonEasy ThaiTLCTigerHaasIPAALA-LCTYTLPT2EThai Govt+
[aa][aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌][aa][ah][aa][][][ah][aa][aa][a]
[a][a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌][a][a][a][a][a][a/u−][a][a][a]
[aai][aai][−าย◌าย][aai*][aai][aay][aːj][āi][ai][ai][aai][ai]
[ai][ai][ไ−ไ◌][ai*][ai][ay][aj][ai][ai][ai][ai][ai]
[aao][aao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌][aao][ao][aaw][aːw][āo][ao][ao][aao][ao]
[ao][ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S][ao][ow][aw][aw][ao][ao][ao][ao][ao]
[ee][ee][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌][aeh][ay][ee][][][ay][eh][ay][e]
[e][e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌][eh/e−*][e][e][e][e][e][e][e][e]
[eeo][eeo][เ−วเ◌ว][aayo][ayo][eew][eːw][ēo][ay-o][ehw][eo][eo]
[eo][eo][เ−วSเ◌วS][eo][eo][ew][ew][eo][eo][ehw][eo][eo]
[ɛɛ][ɛɛ][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌][aae][ae][ɛɛ][ɛː][ǣ][air][ae][ae][ae]
[ɛ][ɛ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌][ae][ae][ɛ][ɛ][æ][air][ae][ae][ae]
[ɛɛo][ɛɛo][แ−วแ◌ว][aaeo][aeo][ɛɛw][ɛːw][ǣo][air-o][aew][aew][aeo]
[ɛo][ɛo][แ−วSแ◌วS][aeo][aeo][ɛw][ɛw][æo][air-o][aew][aew][aeo]
[əə][əə][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌][uuhr/eer−][er][əə][əː][œ̄][er][oe][er][oe]
[ə][ə][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S][uh/er−][er][ə][ə][œ][er][oe][uh/er−][oe]
[əəi][əəi][เ−ยเ◌ย][eeuy][eeuy][əəy][əːj][œ̄i][er-ee][oei][oie][oei]
[əi][əi][เ−ยSเ◌ยS][eeuy][eeuy][əəy][əj][œi][er-ee][oei][oie][oei]
[əəo][əəo][เ−อวเ◌อว][uaaw][eeuow][əw][əaw][œ̄o][er-o][oeaw][ero][oeaw]
[ii][ii][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌][ee*][ee][ii][][][ee][ii][ee][i]
[i][i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌][i*][i][i][i][i][i][i][i][i]
[iu][iu][−ิวิว][iu][ew][iw][iu][iu][ee-oo][iu][iw][io]
[iia][ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌][iia][eea][ia][iːa][īa][ee-a][ia][ia][ia]
[ia][ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S][ia][ia][ia][ia][ia][ee-a][ia][ia][ia]
[iiao][iao][เ−ียวเียว][iaao][eeo][iaw][iaw][īeo][ee-ao][iaw][ieow][iao]
[oo][oo][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌][o:h][oh][oo][][][oh][oh][oh][o]
[o][o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌][o/oh−][o][o][o][o][o][o][o][o]
[ooi][ooi][โ−ยโ◌ย][ooy][oy][ooy][oːj][ōi][oi][oy][oi][oi]
[ɔɔ][ɔɔ][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌][aaw][aw][ɔɔ][ɔː][ǭ][or][aw][or/o−][o]
[ɔ][ɔ][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌][aw][aw][ɔ][ɔ][][or][aw][or/o−][o]
[ɔɔi][ɔɔi][−อย◌อย][aawy][awy][ɔɔy][ɔːj][ǭi][oi][awy][oi][oi]
[ɔi][ɔi][−อยS◌อยS][awy][awy][ɔy][ɔj][ǫi][oi][awy][oi][oi]
[uu][uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌][uu][oo][uu][][][oo][uu][oo][u]
[u][u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌][oo][oo][u][u][u][OO][u][u][u]
[uui][ui][−ูยูย][uuay][ooi][uy][uːj][ūi][oo-ee][ui][ui][ui]
[ui][ui][−ุยุย][uy][ooi][uy][uj][ui][oo-ee][ui][ui][ui]
[uua][ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌][uaa][ooa][ua][uːa][ūa][oo-a][ua][ua][ua]
[ua][ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S][ua][ua][ua][ua][ua][oo-a][ua][ua][ua]
[uuai][uai][−วย◌วย][uay][ooay][uay][uːaj][ūai][oo-ai][uay][uay][uai]
[uai][uai][−วยS◌วยS][uay][uay][uay][uaj][uai][oo-ai][uay][uay][uai]
[ʉʉ][ʉʉ][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌][euu][ue][ʉʉ][ɯː][ư̄][eu][eu][eu][ue]
[ʉ][ʉ][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌][eu][eu][ʉ][ɯ][][eu][eu][eu][ue]
[ʉʉa][ʉa][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌][euua][uea][ʉa][ɯːa][ư̄a][eu-a][eua][eua][uea]
[ʉa][ʉa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S][eua][eua][ʉa][ɯa][ưa][eu-a][eua][eua][uea]
[ʉʉai][ʉai][เ−ือยเือย][euuay][ueay][ʉay][ɯaj][ư̄ai][eu-ai][euay][euay][ueai]
[ʉi][ʉi][−ึยึย][euy][uei][ʉy][ɯj][ưi][eu-ee][eui][euy][uei]

If you just look at isolated groups of vowels, there seem to be patterns that make the system easy to learn. But when you try to memorize the system as a whole, you see it gets really complicated and full of exceptions. For example, whenever possible, TLC uses single letters for short vowels and double letters for long vowels. But sometimes, TLC is forced by the paucity of English letters to re-use letters with different meanings. For example "ae" and "aae" are short and long versions of the same vowel ([ɛ, ɛ, แอะIM, aeM, ae, ˈʔɛ, ˈʔɛ, ʿæM, ˈair, ae, ae, ae]) but "aeh" is for a different basic vowel sound ([ee, ee, เอM, aehM, ay, ˈʔee, ˈʔeː, ʿēM, ˈay, eh, ay, e]), which itself can also appear as "eh" or "e." In one case, TLC even resorts to using punctuation ("o:h" for long [oo, oo, โอM, o:hM, oh, ˈʔoo, ˈʔoː, ʿōM, ˈoh, oh, oh, o] vs "oh" or "o" for short [o, o, โอะIM, oM, o, ˈʔo, ˈʔo, ʿoM, ˈo, o, o, o]). The net result is that it's hard to guess if a written vowel is long or short, what basic vowel sounds it has, and therefore (unless your "intuitive" guess matches the target dialect of the system) what it sounds like.

Simpler Way: One Letter Per Basic Sound, with "Funny Letters"

There's an alternative approach. Instead of starting with the question "how can we make our system look like as much like English as possible?" (the presumed question for the so-called "intuitive" systems), we ask: "what is the simplest possible system that we can use to represent the Thai sounds so that we can learn to speak and understand Thai correctly?"

We then design our system directly around this new question. Take the Thai vowels for example. As we saw in our page about Thai vowel sounds, Thai has 9 basic vowel sounds which combine into forty-some vowel sounds. In order to learn to speak and understand Thai, we need to know the following two things about each vowel sound that we study:

The simplest possible way to represent this information is:

and this is exactly the founding principle behind systems like Paiboon+.

The catch comes in step 1. English only has 5 vowel letters, "a," "e," "i," "o," and "u." Since Thai has 9 basic sounds, these systems must choose 4 additional funny letters that do not appear in the English language. Different systems use different funny letters, but generally borrow symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the case of Paiboon+, the 9 letters are:

[a] [e] [ɛ] [ə] [i] [o] [ɔ] [u] [ʉ]
Each letter has a simple basic vowel sound and you can learn the sounds in a few minutes by clicking on our sound samples. All Thai vowels are simply combinations of these basic sounds. For example, the vowel [uai] consists of three basic sounds in a row. If a vowel starts with a double letter, that means it's long, as in [uuai].

Because there are only 9 basic sounds, there are only 9 things for the Thai learner to memorize, in contrast with the "intuitive" system where you must often end up memorizing thirty or more strings of English letters in order to keep track of which ones are long or short, and which ones have which sound. You have traded off "intuitiveness" for simplicity.

These "funny letters" can scare off or annoy the Thai learner at first. The disadvantage, and the benefit, is that they force the Thai learner to actually dig a little bit into the book/website, or even better talk to a Thai person, to find out how the funny letter is pronounced. The Thai learner doesn't get to enjoy any "instant gratification grace period" when they stumble along by reading the pronunciation guide "intuitively."

Put another way, the "funny-letter" systems like Paiboon+ purposely use non-roman letters for sounds such as [ʉʉ] that do not exist in any dialect of English, and for some sounds like [ɔɔ] for which any "intuitive" English spelling (e.g. "or," "aw," "ough") would have huge misinterpretation in different dialects of English.

A criticism of the "funny-letter" systems, often cited by those who like "intuitive" systems, is that the single-letter basic vowels chosen for these systems don't "sound like themselves." For example, the sound represented by "i" is more often spelled as "ee" in English (e.g. "peel"), the sound represented by "u" is more often spelled as "oo" in English (e.g. "boot"), the sound represented by "e" is more often spelled "ay" in English (e.g. "play"), etc. Essentially the criticism is that the non-funny letters chosen are very "unintuitive."

This is a valid criticism. The sound of "a," "e," "i," "o," and "u" in these systems comes directly from the International Phonetic Alphabet (the IPA). The IPA was created by a world-wide body of language experts who chose these letters because that's how they sound in nearly every European language except for English! English spelling has always been way out of whack with other languages of the world that use similar alphabets. Think about "The Sound of Music" and Julie Andrews singing the Latin/Italian "do re mi fa so la ti do" and you will understand where the motivation for these IPA letters comes from. But the criticism also misses the main point: these systems are trying to represent the Thai sounds in a way that is as simple as possible, by writing each basic sound with just one letter, not two. Because there are only 9 letters, it's not hard for the learner to memorize them. So it's not really that important what letters we choose; in return we can build all the complicated vowels of Thai using just 9 symbols.

This desire to represent everything with one letter even motivated famous linguists to tweak the system. For example, in the introduction to her famous 1964 Thai-English Student Dictionary, still used today, Mary Haas points out that the best IPA symbol to use for the Thai vowel [แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌] is actually æ, but that it is so typographically ugly to repeat the symbol twice to indicate long vowel length (e.g. ææ) that she decided to choose the symbol ɛ instead. Thai linguists and Thai language learning materials to this day continue to follow suit.

"Intuitive Mess" vs. "Funny Letters"

The "intuitive" camp and the "funny letter" camp will probably never come to agreement. It seems like people can spend hours, days, and months arguing about different pronunciation guide systems, when they should just be learning Thai.

From your perspective as a Thai learner, just pick one system and move on. The differences are not all that important. Plus you'll be moving on to Thai script eventually and tossing all those systems behind.

In reality, every system is a balance of "funny letters" (even TLC has special superscript formatting for tones, and underlining for one vowel) and "intuitive" (even Paiboon+ uses symbols like "a" and "o" that were chosen for their "intuitive value," albeit not for English). It's just a question of focus.

For a phrasebook or quick Thai intro website targeted at casual tourists, who might speak 10-20 phrases for their whole 2 week trip to Thailand, the "intuitive" systems are probably best. Casual, short-term tourists wouldn't bother to read a language introduction and are willing to stumble along with whatever low percentage of their attempts at speaking will actually be understood. So "funny letters" just distract them and don't help them.

For those staying in Thailand longer, who need to use Thai every day and really be understood, I think "intuitive mess" vs. "funny letters" is a wash. The "funny letter" systems teach us a valuable, and possibly painful, lesson about the true nature of Thai sounds early on, whereas the "intuitive" systems offer us some instant gratification before we experience the pain slowly later!

What is an "Accurate" System?

People often promote a pronunciation guide system as being "accurate." But what does this mean?

Sadly, by itself, "accurate" means nothing at all.

"Accurate" could mean "complete," as we have defined it above.

"Accurate" could mean "effective," for some purpose which must also be stated, as we have defined it above.

"Accurate" could have the same unrealistic meaning that we mentioned for "intuitive" above.

Or, more likely, "accurate" could be meaningless marketing mumble designed to impress you.

You should avoid this term completely in discussions of pronunciation guide systems, or if you use it, carefully define your particular meaning, so as to avoid endless circular discussions with others who use the term differently.

To Learn Thai, Sit with a Thai and Learn the Real Sounds

In reality, you don't need to fret and fuss over which pronunciation guide system is best for you.

There is a simple way you can learn real Thai.

What you should do is spend 30 minutes with a Thai person, early in your study of Thai, and go over all of the consonant sounds, vowel sounds, and tones of Thai. There really aren't that many.

You can use our website or any book on Thai to present the list to them. Have them make each sound for you, and listen to and correct your attempts to make those sounds.

Once you have learned the true sounds of Thai by ear, then later as you learn a pronunciation guide system and eventually Thai script, you can map those written "symbols" (and you really should just think of them as "symbols"—don't try to assign deep meaning to their spelling, cuz there isn't any) to the true Thai sounds you have learned.

This simple advice can save you years of pain and confusion!

How Do I Type Pronunciation Guides on the Computer?

At some point, you'll probably want to type a pronunciation guide into your computer, when creating your own study sheets or flaschards, or discussing Thai language on the internet. This can be tricky since many of the systems use tone marks and funny letters that don't appear on your keyboard. Fortunately, we have a separate page devoted to just this topic.

Comparing All Systems, Side-by-Side

Sample Sentence

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]

Consonant Sounds

Initial Consonant Sounds

Here's how each system notates consonant sounds when they appear at the beginning of a syllable. For more information about these sounds, see our page on the consonant sounds of Thai:

Initial Consonant Sounds
Paiboon+PaiboonEasy ThaiTLCTigerHaasIPAALA-LCTYTLPT2EThai Govt+
[b][b][][b][b][b][b][b][b][b][b][b]
[p][p][ผ/พ][ph][p][ph][][ph][p][ph][p][ph]
[bp][bp][][bp][pb][p][p][p][bp][p][bp][p]
[d][d][][d][d][d][d][d][d][d][d][d]
[t][t][ถ/ท][th][t][th][][th][t][th][t][th]
[dt][dt][][dt][dt][t][t][t][dt][t][dt][t]
[g][g][][g][g][k][k][k][g][k][g][k]
[k][k][ข/ค][kh][k][kh][][kh][k][kh][k][kh]
[j][j][][j][j][c][][čh][j][j][j][ch]
[ch][ch][ฉ/ช][ch][ch][ch][tɕʰ][ch][ch][ch][ch][ch]
[f][f][ฝ/ฟ][f][f][f][f][f][f][f][f][f]
[h][h][ห/ฮ][h][h][h][h][h][h][h][h][h]
[l][l][][l][l][l][l][l][l][l][l][l]
[r][r][][r][r][r][r][r][r][r][r][r]
[m][m][][m][m][m][m][m][m][m][m][m]
[n][n][][n][n][n][n][n][n][n][n][n]
[ng][ng][][ng][ng][ŋ][ŋ][ng][ng][ng][ng][ng]
[s][s][ซ/ส][s][s][s][s][s][s][s][s][s]
[w][w][][w][w][w][w][w][w][w][w][w]
[y][y][][y][y][y][j][y][y][y][y][y]
[][][][][][ʔ][ʔ][ʿ][][][][]

Final Consonant Sounds

Here's how each system notates consonant sounds when they appear at the end of a syllable. For more information about these sounds, see our page on the consonant sounds of Thai.

Final Consonant Sounds
Paiboon+PaiboonEasy ThaiTLCTigerHaasIPAALA-LCTYTLPT2EThai Govt+
[m][m][][m][m][m][m][m][m][m][m][m]
[n][n][][n][n][n][n][n][n][n][n][n]
[ng][ng][][ng][ng][ŋ][ŋ][ŋ][ng][ng][ng][ng]
[p][p][][p][p][p][p][p][p][p][p][p]
[k][k][][k][k][k][k][k][k][k][k][k]
[t][t][][t][t][t][t][t][t][t][t][t]

Many Thai speakers, especially younger ones, are beginning to adopt two new distinctly non-Thai final consonant sounds "s" and "x" when pronouncing English loanwords like "ass" and "sex" (thanks, Baywatch). While these are certainly not yet part of standard Thai, I suspect that someday Thais may start creating words which differ from other Thai words only by the presence or absence of these final sounds, making them full phonemes and requiring language learning sites to notate them separately too. While there is no standard for how to write these finals in the various pronunciation guide systems, the most common usage seems to be:

Final Consonant Sounds
Paiboon+PaiboonEasy ThaiTLCTigerHaasIPAALA-LCTYTLPT2EThai Govt+
[s][s][][s][s][s][s][s][s][s][s][s]
[ks][ks][คส][ks][ks][ks][ks][ks][ks][ks][ks][ks]

Vowel Sounds

Here's how each system notates the vowel sounds of Thai. For more information about these sounds, see our page on the vowel sounds of Thai:

Vowel Sounds
Paiboon+PaiboonEasy ThaiTLCTigerHaasIPAALA-LCTYTLPT2EThai Govt+
[aa][aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌][aa][ah][aa][][][ah][aa][aa][a]
[a][a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌][a][a][a][a][a][a/u−][a][a][a]
[aai][aai][−าย◌าย][aai*][aai][aay][aːj][āi][ai][ai][aai][ai]
[ai][ai][ไ−ไ◌][ai*][ai][ay][aj][ai][ai][ai][ai][ai]
[aao][aao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌][aao][ao][aaw][aːw][āo][ao][ao][aao][ao]
[ao][ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S][ao][ow][aw][aw][ao][ao][ao][ao][ao]
[ee][ee][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌][aeh][ay][ee][][][ay][eh][ay][e]
[e][e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌][eh/e−*][e][e][e][e][e][e][e][e]
[eeo][eeo][เ−วเ◌ว][aayo][ayo][eew][eːw][ēo][ay-o][ehw][eo][eo]
[eo][eo][เ−วSเ◌วS][eo][eo][ew][ew][eo][eo][ehw][eo][eo]
[ɛɛ][ɛɛ][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌][aae][ae][ɛɛ][ɛː][ǣ][air][ae][ae][ae]
[ɛ][ɛ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌][ae][ae][ɛ][ɛ][æ][air][ae][ae][ae]
[ɛɛo][ɛɛo][แ−วแ◌ว][aaeo][aeo][ɛɛw][ɛːw][ǣo][air-o][aew][aew][aeo]
[ɛo][ɛo][แ−วSแ◌วS][aeo][aeo][ɛw][ɛw][æo][air-o][aew][aew][aeo]
[əə][əə][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌][uuhr/eer−][er][əə][əː][œ̄][er][oe][er][oe]
[ə][ə][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S][uh/er−][er][ə][ə][œ][er][oe][uh/er−][oe]
[əəi][əəi][เ−ยเ◌ย][eeuy][eeuy][əəy][əːj][œ̄i][er-ee][oei][oie][oei]
[əi][əi][เ−ยSเ◌ยS][eeuy][eeuy][əəy][əj][œi][er-ee][oei][oie][oei]
[əəo][əəo][เ−อวเ◌อว][uaaw][eeuow][əw][əaw][œ̄o][er-o][oeaw][ero][oeaw]
[ii][ii][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌][ee*][ee][ii][][][ee][ii][ee][i]
[i][i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌][i*][i][i][i][i][i][i][i][i]
[iu][iu][−ิวิว][iu][ew][iw][iu][iu][ee-oo][iu][iw][io]
[iia][ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌][iia][eea][ia][iːa][īa][ee-a][ia][ia][ia]
[ia][ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S][ia][ia][ia][ia][ia][ee-a][ia][ia][ia]
[iiao][iao][เ−ียวเียว][iaao][eeo][iaw][iaw][īeo][ee-ao][iaw][ieow][iao]
[oo][oo][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌][o:h][oh][oo][][][oh][oh][oh][o]
[o][o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌][o/oh−][o][o][o][o][o][o][o][o]
[ooi][ooi][โ−ยโ◌ย][ooy][oy][ooy][oːj][ōi][oi][oy][oi][oi]
[ɔɔ][ɔɔ][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌][aaw][aw][ɔɔ][ɔː][ǭ][or][aw][or/o−][o]
[ɔ][ɔ][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌][aw][aw][ɔ][ɔ][][or][aw][or/o−][o]
[ɔɔi][ɔɔi][−อย◌อย][aawy][awy][ɔɔy][ɔːj][ǭi][oi][awy][oi][oi]
[ɔi][ɔi][−อยS◌อยS][awy][awy][ɔy][ɔj][ǫi][oi][awy][oi][oi]
[uu][uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌][uu][oo][uu][][][oo][uu][oo][u]
[u][u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌][oo][oo][u][u][u][OO][u][u][u]
[uui][ui][−ูยูย][uuay][ooi][uy][uːj][ūi][oo-ee][ui][ui][ui]
[ui][ui][−ุยุย][uy][ooi][uy][uj][ui][oo-ee][ui][ui][ui]
[uua][ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌][uaa][ooa][ua][uːa][ūa][oo-a][ua][ua][ua]
[ua][ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S][ua][ua][ua][ua][ua][oo-a][ua][ua][ua]
[uuai][uai][−วย◌วย][uay][ooay][uay][uːaj][ūai][oo-ai][uay][uay][uai]
[uai][uai][−วยS◌วยS][uay][uay][uay][uaj][uai][oo-ai][uay][uay][uai]
[ʉʉ][ʉʉ][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌][euu][ue][ʉʉ][ɯː][ư̄][eu][eu][eu][ue]
[ʉ][ʉ][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌][eu][eu][ʉ][ɯ][][eu][eu][eu][ue]
[ʉʉa][ʉa][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌][euua][uea][ʉa][ɯːa][ư̄a][eu-a][eua][eua][uea]
[ʉa][ʉa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S][eua][eua][ʉa][ɯa][ưa][eu-a][eua][eua][uea]
[ʉʉai][ʉai][เ−ือยเือย][euuay][ueay][ʉay][ɯaj][ư̄ai][eu-ai][euay][euay][ueai]
[ʉi][ʉi][−ึยึย][euy][uei][ʉy][ɯj][ưi][eu-ee][eui][euy][uei]

Tones

Here's how each system notates the tone sounds of Thai. For more information about these sounds, see our page on the five tones of Thai:

TonePaiboon+PaiboonEasy ThaiTLCTigerHaasIPAALA-LCTYTLPT2EThai Govt+
mid[aa][aa][อาM][aaM][ah][ˈʔaa][ˈʔaː][ʿāM][ˈah][aa][aa][a]
low[àa][àa][อ่าL][aaL][àh][ˈʔàa][ˈʔàː][ʿāL][ˈàh][àa][àa][]
falling[âa][âa][อ้าF][aaF][âh][ˈʔâa][ˈʔâː][ʿāF][ˈâh][âa][âa][]
high[áa][áa][อ๊าH][aaH][áh][ˈʔáa][ˈʔáː][ʿāH][ˈáh][áa][áa][]
rising[ǎa][ǎa][อ๋าR][aaR][ǎh][ˈʔǎa][ˈʔǎː][ʿāR][ˈǎh][ǎa][ǎa][]

The Paiboon+ System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[kun-gèp-sʉ̂ʉa-wái-nǎi]

Paiboon+ is the standard system used in all recent titles from Paiboon Publishing, including the Three-Way Thai–English, English–Thai Compact Dictionary released in February 2009, and the Three-Way Thai-English English-Thai Talking Dictionary for Windows PCs released in March 2010.

As seen on the comparison charts above, the Paiboon system uses some "funny letters" for certain vowels. These are the vowels that do not exist at all in English, or which would cause misinterpretation no matter how they were spelled in English. For a full discussion on "funny letters" issue, and why the alternative is not the silver bullet you might think it is, see this section.

The "funny letters" should render correctly on all modern browsers on all modern Windows (XP and beyond) and Macintosh (OSX) systems without any special effort, but if you have any trouble, see our separate page devoted to typing and displaying pronunciation guides on computer.

The Paiboon system is sometimes referred to as an "IPA" system because the four funny letters that it uses come from the International Phonetic Alphabet, but in fact Paiboon+ is a much simpler system than full IPA.

Differences from Paiboon

Paiboon+ offers some minor but useful enhancements over the original Paiboon system that is found in the older titles, such as Benjawan Poomsan Becker's Thai For Beginners 1st edition. It is likely that all these titles will be revised in the future to use Paiboon+.

These enhancements are an example of the phenomenon we described above where a pronunciation guide system can provide a little extra information beyond strictly just the phonemes of the language.

Short and Long Versions of Some Vowels

The Paiboon system has just one symbol to represent each of [ia], [ua], and [ʉa]. When Thais actually speak these sounds, they sometimes say them with a short duration (rare, but it happens) and sometimes say them with a long duration (common), depending on the word. There is even a separate Thai vowel (in Thai script) for the short and long versions.

The Paiboon+ system has a short and long version of each:

So you know how to say it.

Consistent Naming for Short and Long Vowels

In the Paiboon+ system, all long vowels start with a double letter (e.g. [aa], [iia], [eeo]) and all short vowels start with a single letter (e.g. [aa], [ia], [eo]). When reading the system, you can tell immediately whether a sound is long or short.

The original Paiboon system almost achieved this, except for the two long vowels [ʉai] and [iao], which we write in the Paiboon+ system as [ʉʉai] and [iiao] respectively.

Syllable Stress

Paiboon Publishing's older books, which use the old Paiboon system, do not indicate syllable stress. But Paiboon's newer dictionary uses Paiboon+ and gives you syllable stress information using - and ~, as explained here.

Here on slice-of-thai.com, we actually give you syllable stress information for all the pronunciation guide systems, as explained here.

Older Treatment of "e" and "i"

An older version of Paiboon+, present only on slice-of-thai.com between Feb 2008-Feb 2009, and never printed in any Paiboon book, separated the sound for short [e] into two symbols, reflecting the fact that this basic vowel makes two different sounds ("e" for pale and "e" for pet), and also separated the sound for short [i] into two symbols, since this vowel also makes two different sounds ("i" for beet and "ɪ" for bit). The two sounds are predictable from context and no two words differ by only these sounds, so this was just extra phonetic information.

We have now removed this distinction from slice-of-thai.com in order to make the Paiboon+ here exactly match the system used in Paiboon's dictionary released in Feb 2009.

Paiboon+ Initial Consonants

The Paiboon+ system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[p]pet
-[bp] spot
-[d]dog
-[t]time
-[dt] stop
-[g] sky
-[k]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

Paiboon+ Final Consonants

The Paiboon+ system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

Paiboon+ Vowels

The Paiboon+ system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[aao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[ee][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[eeo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ɛɛ][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ɛ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[ɛɛo][แ−วแ◌ว]-[ɛo][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[əə][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[ə][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[əəi][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[əi][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[əəo][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ii][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iu][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[iia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iiao][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oo][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[ooi][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[ɔɔ][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[ɔ][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[ɔɔi][−อย◌อย]-[ɔi][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[uui][−ูยูย]-[ui][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[uua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uuai][−วย◌วย]-[uai][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ʉʉ][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[ʉ][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[ʉʉa][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[ʉa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ʉʉai][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[ʉi][−ึยึย]

Paiboon+ Tones

The Paiboon+ system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[bpaa] mid tone - [maa] มา (vi. come)
-[bpàa] low tone - [kàa] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[bpâa] falling tone - [kâa] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[bpáa] high tone - [táai] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[bpǎa] rising tone - [mǎa] หมา (n. dog)

Paiboon+ Syllable Stress

In the Paiboon+ system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má~hǎa-wít-tá~yaa-lai]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The Paiboon System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[kun-gèp-sʉ̂a-wái-nǎi]

This system comes from the original Thai language learning books and software from Paiboon Publishing, such as Benjawan Poomsan Becker's Thai For Beginners 1st edition.

The books in this picture all use the Paiboon system:

but will likely be revised in the future to use Paiboon+ instead.

The more recent titles, such as the Three-Way Thai–English, English–Thai Compact Dictionary released in February 2009, and the Three-Way Thai-English English-Thai Talking Dictionary for Windows PCs released in March 2010, use Paiboon+.

The original Paiboon system does not indicate syllable stress, but here on slice-of-thai.com we have added stress information using the same - and ~ symbols as Paiboon+, as explained here.

Paiboon Initial Consonants

The Paiboon system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[p]pet
-[bp] spot
-[d]dog
-[t]time
-[dt] stop
-[g] sky
-[k]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

Paiboon Final Consonants

The Paiboon system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

Paiboon Vowels

The Paiboon system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[aao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[ee][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[eeo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ɛɛ][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ɛ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[ɛɛo][แ−วแ◌ว]-[ɛo][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[əə][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[ə][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[əəi][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[əi][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[əəo][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ii][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iu][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iao][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oo][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[ooi][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[ɔɔ][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[ɔ][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[ɔɔi][−อย◌อย]-[ɔi][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[ui][−ูยูย]-[ui][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uai][−วย◌วย]-[uai][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ʉʉ][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[ʉ][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[ʉa][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[ʉa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ʉai][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[ʉi][−ึยึย]

Paiboon Tones

The Paiboon system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[bpaa] mid tone - [maa] มา (vi. come)
-[bpàa] low tone - [kàa] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[bpâa] falling tone - [kâa] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[bpáa] high tone - [táai] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[bpǎa] rising tone - [mǎa] หมา (n. dog)

Paiboon Syllable Stress

In the Paiboon system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má~hǎa-wít-tá~yaa-lai]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The Easy Thai System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[คุนM-เก็บL-เซื่อF-ไว้H-ไหฺนR]

Easy Thai is a useful transition system that spells out Thai words using a smaller, simpler subset of Thai.

For example, the Easy Thai rendering of the Thai word เศรษฐี (n. millionaire) is [เสดL-ถีR], undoing all of the horrific spelling irregularities of that word.

It can be a great way for you to make a step up from your old pronunciation guide system towards reading real Thai. You can even enable both "Easy Thai" and your old system at the same time! Just check the box for it above.

Easy Thai divides up each syllable of a Thai word explicitly and it uses a much more limited set of consonants and vowel forms.

Also, Easy Thai tells you the tone of every syllable using MLFHR (Mid, Low, Falling, High, Rising), in case you haven't yet tackled the somewhat complex tone rules needed to predict the tone of a Thai syllable.

There's a Catch

You knew there had to be one, right?

There are some sounds that Thai has, but that Thai script itself cannot represent write! Strange, huh? When we run into a syllable like this, we use a handful of extra western letters to fill in the missing information:

Details: Exactly How is Easy Thai Easier?

This section describes Easy Thai in detail.

We will explain how Easy Thai differs from Real Thai, and we will show examples of Easy Thai alongside the other pronunciation guide system(s) you have chosen above. To get the most out of this section, we recommend that you uncheck Easy Thai above (since the Easy Thai examples in this section will show regardless of what you have checked above) and check one of the other pronunciation guide systems that you are familiar with, for comparison.

Easy Thai Initial Consonants

The Easy Thai system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[]boy
-[ผ/พ]pet
-[] spot
-[]dog
-[ถ/ท]time
-[] stop
-[] sky
-[ข/ค]kiss
-[] glass jar
-[ฉ/ช]charm
-[ฝ/ฟ]fog
-[ห/ฮ]have
-[]love
-[] burro (rolled)
-[]man
-[]nation
-[] thing
-[ซ/ส]sex
-[]walk
-[]yes

Easy Thai Final Consonants

The Easy Thai system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[] tim
-[] tin
-[] ting
-[] job, with no audible release
-[] jock, with no audible release
-[] jot, with no audible release

Easy Thai Vowels

The Easy Thai system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[−าย◌าย][−าย◌าย]-[ไ−ไ◌][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[เ−วเ◌ว][เ−วเ◌ว]-[เ−วSเ◌วS][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[แ−วแ◌ว][แ−วแ◌ว]-[แ−วSแ◌วS][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[เ−ยเ◌ย][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[เ−ยSเ◌ยS][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[เ−อวเ◌อว][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[−ิวิว][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[เ−ียวเียว][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[โ−ยโ◌ย][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[−อย◌อย][−อย◌อย]-[−อยS◌อยS][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[−ูยูย][−ูยูย]-[−ุยุย][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[−วย◌วย][−วย◌วย]-[−วยS◌วยS][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[เ−ือยเือย][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[−ึยึย][−ึยึย]

Easy Thai Tones

The Easy Thai system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[ปาM] mid tone - [มาM] มา (vi. come)
-[ป่าL] low tone - [ข่าL] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[ป้าF] falling tone - [ค่าF] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[ป๊าH] high tone - [ท้ายH] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[ป๋าR] rising tone - [หฺมาR] หมา (n. dog)

Easy Thai Syllable Stress

In the Easy Thai system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[มะH~หาR-วิดH-ทะH~ยาM-ไลM]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The TLC System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[khoonM-gepL-seuuaF-waiH-naiR]

This is the system used on the truly amazing thai-language.com website:

The TLC system doesn't use any funny letters. It attempts to be intuitive for an east-coast American and it uses the letters M, L, F, H, and R to mark the mid, low, falling, high, and rising tones of Thai.

Below we will show all the symbols that TLC uses. You can also consult the original, authoritative system description from thai-language.com.

You can type TLC directly on a computer keyboard if you ignore the fact that the tones are superscript. But anyway the system was designed for display, not for input.

The TLC system is one of the most complete and well-documented systems, and many thanks are due to TLC's author for the huge amount of work he has put into the system and the site. Even the footnotes of his pronunciation guide charts are a rich source of information about Thai.

Here on slice-of-thai.com, we have added syllable stress information to this pronunciation guide system by using - and ~ betweeen syllables, as explained here. Normally, TLC has spaces between syllables and does not indicate stress.

Slight Ambiguity with i/ee

There is one small ambiguity with TLC vowels that may cause a little confusion when reading TLC or our website.

For almost all words, the symbol "i" stands for a short sound and the symbol "ee" stands for a long sound. However, there are a few words like หิมะ [hiL-maH] (n. snow) where TLC decided to use "ee" for a short sound. So, if you see "ee," it's probably long, but you can't be 100% sure without reading the Thai text. Fortunately, there is some meaning consistently conveyed: in all cases, "i" sounds like bit and "ee" sounds like beet. More on this below.

Slight Deviations: Our Fault

Here on slice-of-thai.com, we attempt to get as close as we can to the TLC system, but there are a few cases where the TLC pronunciation guide on our website will not correspond with the real thing. These are fairly minor, but we want to let you know to avoid confusion. In every case, thai-language.com is right and we are wrong! We are not attempting to "correct" or "improve" TLC!

With additonal work we will eventually be able to correct some of these limitations ourselves, but some of them exist because our website is not based on thai-language.com's giant database of words, but rather attempts to derive the TLC guide from other information.

TLC Sometimes Represents Spelling

It happens that most of deviations occur in cases where the real TLC system is trying to represent part of the spelling of the original Thai word in Thai script, in addition to its sound. For example, as TLC explains here, words which contain the "gaaran" silencer mark can have some extra letters in square brackets in the TLC pronunciation guide, as in การันต์ whose guide is gaaM ran[d]M. This is an option that TLC offers in its "site settings" control panel, although this option is now off by default and you have to enable it). On slice-of-thai.com, we will never include those extra letters in square brackets.

There are other cases where TLC attempts to represent the spelling of the original word, for example the use of "-o-" when the short vowel [o, o, โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌, o/oh−, o, o, o, o, o, o, o, o] is unwritten, and the use of "-oh" when the short vowel [o, o, โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌, o/oh−, o, o, o, o, o, o, o, o] is written, and we do correctly output these distinctions on slice-of-thai.com.

Short "i" Pronunciation Tip

The TLC system explicitly points out the cases where the short [i*] vowel sounds like the "ee" in "beet", as in the word หิมะ [hiL-maH] (n. snow), and when it sounds like the "i" in "bit," as in ปิด [bpitL] (vt. close, turn off). The TLC text produced by our website will nearly always match that produced by the real thai-language.com, but there may be a few words where we differ.

For example, we will write มิถุนายน [miH-thooL-naaM-yohnM] (n. June) whereas the real TLC writes miH thooL naaM yohnM, the idea being that Thai people use the "i" in "bit" to pronounce this word rather than the "ee" in "beet." Because our system here at slice-of-thai.com is not based on TLC's word database, we will miss a few subtleties like this.

Thoughts on "i" Sound

Actually, in cases like มิถุนายน, I'm not 100% convinced that there really is a "most common" way that Thais pronounce it: in my experience I seem to hear about half "bit" and half "beet." TLC says as much in their footnote which says:

Some words using [−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌] are pronounced with short -ee. For example, หิมะ /heeL maH/. In fact, even in cases where our transcription is /-i/ (as in the English word 'hit'), the sound is better approximated as somewhere between /-i/ and /-ee/.
Furthermore, if we assume for the moment that มิถุนายน sounds like "bit," I do not think it is necessary for TLC to write it the way they do. I think TLC could just as correcly analyze the word as mitH thooL naaM yohnM.

More generally, one could say that Thai speakers who use the sound from "bit" are thinking that the first syllable is mit-, whereas those who use the sound from "beet" are thinking that the first syllable is mi-. This is analagous to how half of Thais seem to pronounce มกราคม (n. January) as [mók-gà-raa-kom, mók-gà-raa-kom, มกH-กะL-ราM-คมM, mohkH-gaL-raaM-khohmM, mók-gà-rah-kom, ˈmók ˈkà ˈraa ˈkhom, ˈmók ˈkà ˈraː ˈkʰom, mokH-kaL-rāM-khomM, ˈmók ˈgà ˈrah ˈkom, mók-kà-raa-khom, mók-gà-raa-kom, mók-kà-ra-khom] and half of them pronounce it as [má-gà-raa-kom, má-gà-raa-kom, มะH-กะL-ราM-คมM, maH-gaL-raaM-khohmM, má-gà-rah-kom, ˈmá ˈkà ˈraa ˈkhom, ˈmá ˈkà ˈraː ˈkʰom, maH-kaL-rāM-khomM, ˈmá ˈgà ˈrah ˈkom, má-kà-raa-khom, má-gà-raa-kom, má-kà-ra-khom]; the way in which they think of the final consonant affects how they say the vowel.

So a proposed simplification to the TLC system is that that all open syllables (those without a final consonant) sound like, and are written with, the "ee" in "beet", and all closed syllables (those with a final consonant) sound like, and are written with the "i" in "bit."

There may well be counterexamples for this; it's just an idea that might help make things simpler.

This relates to another current ambiguity in the TLC system: if you see "ee," you can't tell whether it is the short "beet" sound, as in หิมะ [hiL-maH] (n. snow), or whether it is the long "beet" sound, as in มี [meeM] (vt. have). It would be helpful to know how long to pronounce the vowel in these cases. One could imagine several possible ways to correct this long/short ambiguity:

Overall this is a very minor issue for TLC's very clean, complete, and well-documented system.

TLC Initial Consonants

The TLC system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[ph]pet
-[bp] spot
-[d]dog
-[th]time
-[dt] stop
-[g] sky
-[kh]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

TLC Final Consonants

The TLC system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

TLC Vowels

The TLC system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aai*][−าย◌าย]-[ai*][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[aao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[aeh][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[eh/e−*][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[aayo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[aae][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ae][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[aaeo][แ−วแ◌ว]-[aeo][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[uuhr/eer−][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[uh/er−][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[eeuy][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[eeuy][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[uaaw][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ee*][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i*][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iu][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[iia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iaao][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[o:h][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o/oh−][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[ooy][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[aaw][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[aw][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[aawy][−อย◌อย]-[awy][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[oo][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[uuay][−ูยูย]-[uy][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[uaa][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uay][−วย◌วย]-[uay][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[euu][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[eu][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[euua][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[eua][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[euuay][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[euy][−ึยึย]

TLC Tones

The TLC system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[bpaaM] mid tone - [maaM] มา (vi. come)
-[bpaaL] low tone - [khaaL] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[bpaaF] falling tone - [khaaF] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[bpaaH] high tone - [thaaiH] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[bpaaR] rising tone - [maaR] หมา (n. dog)

TLC Syllable Stress

In the TLC system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[maH~haaR-witH-thaH~yaaM-laiM]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The Tiger System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[koon-gèp-sûea-wái-nǎi]

The Tiger system is used for the Thai learning books from Tiger press, including its Thai Language Course and Thai Phrase Book:

Like TLC, the Tiger system doesn't use any funny letters for vowels or consonants. It attempts to be intuitive for American speakers and it uses the same marks as several other systems for the tones.

According to the author, the Tiger system was designed to be simple and sufficient for the words and concepts presented in his learning books. In fact, some of the letter sequences we listed above are not actually in the guide description at the start of the book, but rather come from asking the author. Unlike some other systems, the Tiger system was not designed to encompass all the subtle sound differences that differentiate Thai words: the idea was to strike a balance between completeness and ease of use. In that sense, it is like the Thai Government system, but whereas the Thai Government system throws out scores of critical distinctions that would lead to misunderstanding, the Tiger system only discards some subtle distinctions needed for more advanced words that are not used in the Tiger books.

Here on slice-of-thai.com, we have added syllable stress information to this pronunciation guide system by using - and ~ betweeen syllables, as explained here. Normally, this system does not indicate stress.

Tiger Initial Consonants

The Tiger system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[p]pet
-[pb] spot
-[d]dog
-[t]time
-[dt] stop
-[g] sky
-[k]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

Tiger Final Consonants

The Tiger system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

Tiger Vowels

The Tiger system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[ah][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[ao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ow][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[ay][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[ayo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ae][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ae][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[aeo][แ−วแ◌ว]-[aeo][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[er][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[er][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[eeuy][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[eeuy][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[eeuow][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ee][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[ew][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[eea][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[eeo][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oh][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[oy][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[aw][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[aw][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[awy][−อย◌อย]-[awy][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[oo][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[oo][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[ooi][−ูยูย]-[ooi][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ooa][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[ooay][−วย◌วย]-[uay][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ue][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[eu][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[uea][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[eua][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ueay][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[uei][−ึยึย]

Tiger Tones

The Tiger system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[pbah] mid tone - [mah] มา (vi. come)
-[pbàh] low tone - [kàh] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[pbâh] falling tone - [kâh] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[pbáh] high tone - [táai] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[pbǎh] rising tone - [mǎh] หมา (n. dog)

Tiger Syllable Stress

In the Tiger system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má~hǎh-wít-tá~yah-lai]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The Haas System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[ˈkhun ˈkèp ˈsʉ̂a ˈwáy ˈnǎy]

The Haas system is actually a collection of modern systems that are based on the pioneering Thai linguistic work by the late Mary Haas. Even our Paiboon+ system inherited much from her original work.

Nowadays, the Haas system can be found in various forms in:

The core consonant, vowel, and tone symbols are always used as shown in the tables below. The different texts vary slightly in how they use the initial and final glottal stop (ʔ) symbol. On this website, we always include the initial glottal stop symbol and we never include final glottal stop symbol.

We have added syllable stress to this system by prefixing stressed syllables with ˈ, as explained here.

Haas Initial Consonants

The Haas system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[ph]pet
-[p] spot
-[d]dog
-[th]time
-[t] stop
-[k] sky
-[kh]kiss
-[c] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ŋ] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

Haas Final Consonants

The Haas system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ŋ] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

Haas Vowels

The Haas system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aay][−าย◌าย]-[ay][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[aaw][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[aw][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[ee][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[eew][เ−วเ◌ว]-[ew][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ɛɛ][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ɛ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[ɛɛw][แ−วแ◌ว]-[ɛw][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[əə][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[ə][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[əəy][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[əəy][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[əw][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ii][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iw][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iaw][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oo][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[ooy][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[ɔɔ][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[ɔ][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[ɔɔy][−อย◌อย]-[ɔy][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[uy][−ูยูย]-[uy][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uay][−วย◌วย]-[uay][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ʉʉ][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[ʉ][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[ʉa][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[ʉa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ʉay][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[ʉy][−ึยึย]

Haas Tones

The Haas system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[ˈpaa] mid tone - [ˈmaa] มา (vi. come)
-[ˈpàa] low tone - [ˈkhàa] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[ˈpâa] falling tone - [ˈkhâa] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[ˈpáa] high tone - [ˈtháay] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[ˈpǎa] rising tone - [ˈmǎa] หมา (n. dog)

Haas Syllable Stress

In the Haas system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má ˈhǎa ˈwít thá ˈyaa ˈlay]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The IPA System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[ˈkʰun ˈkèp ˈsɯ̂ːa ˈwáj ˈnǎj]

The IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet is a huge collection of squiggly English-like letters that are the bread and butter of linguists. This is the alphabet that they use to communciate with each other when doing language research.

The squiggly letters of IPA should render correctly on all modern browsers on all modern Windows (XP and beyond) and Macintosh (OSX) systems without any special effort, but if you have any trouble, see if you can find and install the font called "Arial Unicode MS" or "Lucida Sans Unicode." These TrueType fonts work on both Windows and Macintosh and you can probably find one or both of them for free with Google via searches like "download Arial Unicode MS."

Syllable StressWe indicate syllable stress by prefixing stressed syllables with ˈ, as explained here.

Phonetic IPA

The IPA is designed to be useful as a phonetic alphabet, meaning that it can (if desired) describe the sound of any word in any language of the world, in excruciating detail.

As we discussed above, this is not the goal of a pronunciation guide system for language learners. A pronunciation guide system is typically a phonemic system which describes only those aspects of the sound needed to distinguish between words in the target language. Some pronunciation guide systems then add on a little extra phonetic information to help the language learner, but the idea is not to pile on everything and to keep it simple.

Phonemic IPA

Linguists do also use the IPA for phonemic purposes, even for Thai.

To do this, they first decide what the phonemes of Thai are, including the consonant sounds, vowel-sounds, and tones.

Then, for each phoneme, they consider all the different ways it might come out of people's mouths, depending on different people's dialects or depending on the environment of the phoneme within a word, and then they pick one (doesn't really matter which one) to be the canonical way of writing that phoneme.

For example, I know one Thai couple in which the husband always pronounces [wɔɔ-wɛ̌ɛn, wɔɔ-wɛ̌ɛn, วอM-แหฺวนR, waawM-waaenR, waw-wǎen, ˈwɔɔ ˈwɛ̌ɛn, ˈwɔː ˈwɛ̌ːn, wǭM-wǣnR, ˈwor ˈwǎirn, waw-wǎen, wor-wǎen, wo-wǎen] like a [v], and the wife always pronounces it like a [w], yet they are able to communicate fine (barring normal marital issues). So there must be one common phoneme, which I can arbitrarily choose to call /w/.

The set of IPA symbols we use for consonants and vowels on slice-of-thai.com are the ones that the majority of linguists seem to have chosen for analyzing Thai. To see the complete set, take a look at our comparison charts above

I don't want to give the impression that everyone's in total agreement, though. In particular, there is great disagreement about which symbol to use for the infamous Thai vowel [ʉʉ, ʉʉ, −ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌, euu, ue, ʉʉ, ɯː, ư̄, eu, eu, eu, ue]. Different books and websites I have seen use /ɯ/, /ɨ/, and /ʉ/. The Paiboon and Paiboon+systems, which borrow some symbols from IPA, uses /ʉ/. You can perhaps make arguments about which one is "right" by listening to the sound (and in reality, none of the sample sounds published by the IPA sound anything like the real Thai sound, which seems to indicate some Western bias on the part of the IPA!) but you'd be missing the point. The goal of the game is to pick one and have everyone use that, and realize that it's not necessarily an exact phonetic match with all speakers. Oh, well.

There is similar, though not as rampant, disagreement about whether the [ɔɔ, ɔɔ, −อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌, aaw, aw, ɔɔ, ɔː, ǭ, or, aw, or/o−, o] sound should be written as /ɔ/, /ɒ/ or /ɑ/, and whether the [əə, əə, เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌, uuhr/eer−, er, əə, əː, œ̄, er, oe, er, oe] should be represented with /ɤ/ or /ə/. Again I just picked something I seemed to see most often, and in some cases it happens to match what the Paiboon system also uses.

Interestingly, most linguists agree with Mary Haas's assertion, in the introduction to her 1964 Thai-English Student Dictionary, that the closest IPA symbol to the Thai sound [แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌] is actually æ, but that it is so typographically ugly to repeat the symbol twice to indicate long vowel length (e.g. ææ) that everyone agrees to write the nearby symbol ɛ instead! Again, for phonemic use, it's ok, as long as everyone agrees.

There is also a phonetic/phonemic distinction for tones. The IPA has a set of very detailed "phonetic tone" symbols that describe how your voice goes up and down, and then they have a set of "phonemic tone" symbols, which we use in this document, and which are also a part of many of the other systems such as Paiboon+ system.

Brackets vs. Forward Slashes

Generally, when linguists are using the IPA phonetically (meaning they are referring to that exact pronunciation only), they will surround their word in square brackets like [foo], whereas if they are using it phonemicaly, they surround it with forward slashes, as in /foo/.

When we give a pronunciation guide at slice-of-thai.com like [foo, foo, โฟM, fo:hM, foh, ˈfoo, ˈfoː, fōM, ˈfoh, foh, foh, fo] we violate that convention and always use square brackets, because using forward slashes on our site causes huge typographical problems when you have enabled other pronunciation guide systems, and even in some cases where you have not (when we use the forward slash as a separator for alternatives).

Apologies to the linguists, but you can at least assume that every single use of IPA on this site is meant to be phonemic Thai and not phonetic.

IPA Initial Consonants

The IPA system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[]pet
-[p] spot
-[d]dog
-[]time
-[t] stop
-[k] sky
-[]kiss
-[] glass jar
-[tɕʰ]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ŋ] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[j]yes

IPA Final Consonants

The IPA system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ŋ] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

IPA Vowels

The IPA system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aːj][−าย◌าย]-[aj][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[aːw][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[aw][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[eːw][เ−วเ◌ว]-[ew][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ɛː][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ɛ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[ɛːw][แ−วแ◌ว]-[ɛw][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[əː][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[ə][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[əːj][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[əj][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[əaw][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iu][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[iːa][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iaw][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[oːj][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[ɔː][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[ɔ][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[ɔːj][−อย◌อย]-[ɔj][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[uːj][−ูยูย]-[uj][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[uːa][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uːaj][−วย◌วย]-[uaj][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ɯː][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[ɯ][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[ɯːa][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[ɯa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ɯaj][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[ɯj][−ึยึย]

IPA Tones

The IPA system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[ˈpaː] mid tone - [ˈmaː] มา (vi. come)
-[ˈpàː] low tone - [ˈkʰàː] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[ˈpâː] falling tone - [ˈkʰâː] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[ˈpáː] high tone - [ˈtʰáːj] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[ˈpǎː] rising tone - [ˈmǎː] หมา (n. dog)

IPA Syllable Stress

In the IPA system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má ˈhǎː ˈwít tʰá ˈjaː ˈlaj]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The ALA-LC System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[khunM-kepL-sư̄aF-waiH-naiR]

This system comes from the American Library Association and the US Library of Congress. It is described in a specification here.

It's complete and usable, but frankly it's a bit weird:

ALA-LC Initial Consonants

The ALA-LC system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[ph]pet
-[p] spot
-[d]dog
-[th]time
-[t] stop
-[k] sky
-[kh]kiss
-[čh] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

ALA-LC Final Consonants

The ALA-LC system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ŋ] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

ALA-LC Vowels

The ALA-LC system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[āi][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[āo][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[ēo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ǣ][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[æ][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[ǣo][แ−วแ◌ว]-[æo][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[œ̄][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[œ][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[œ̄i][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[œi][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[œ̄o][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iu][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[īa][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[īeo][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[ōi][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[ǭ][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[ǭi][−อย◌อย]-[ǫi][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[ūi][−ูยูย]-[ui][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ūa][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[ūai][−วย◌วย]-[uai][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ư̄][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[ư̄a][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[ưa][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ư̄ai][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[ưi][−ึยึย]

ALA-LC Tones

The ALA-LC system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[pāM] mid tone - [māM] มา (vi. come)
-[pāL] low tone - [khāL] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[pāF] falling tone - [khāF] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[pāH] high tone - [thāiH] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[pāR] rising tone - [māR] หมา (n. dog)

ALA-LC Syllable Stress

In the ALA-LC system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[maH~hāR-witH-thaH~yāM-laiM]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The TYT System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[ˈkOOn ˈgèp ˈsêu-a ˈwái ˈnǎi]

TYT comes from Teach Yourself Thai by David Smyth. The system is designed to be intuitive for non-technical learners (particularly those with British English dialect).

While it is better than the Thai Govt+ system, this system is not as complete as some of the other systems. It fails to express many important vowel length distinctions, such as:

[−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌] vs. [−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]
[เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌] vs. [−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]

You would probably be better off starting with a different system.

We indicate syllable stress by preceding all stressed syllables with the symbol ˈ, as explained here. Normally this system does not indicate stress.

TYT Initial Consonants

The TYT system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[p]pet
-[bp] spot
-[d]dog
-[t]time
-[dt] stop
-[g] sky
-[k]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

TYT Final Consonants

The TYT system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

TYT Vowels

The TYT system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[ah][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a/u−][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[ai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[ao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[ay][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[ay-o][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[air][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[air][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[air-o][แ−วแ◌ว]-[air-o][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[er][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[er][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[er-ee][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[er-ee][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[er-o][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ee][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[ee-oo][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[ee-a][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ee-a][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[ee-ao][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oh][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[oi][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[or][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[or][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[oi][−อย◌อย]-[oi][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[oo][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[OO][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[oo-ee][−ูยูย]-[oo-ee][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[oo-a][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[oo-a][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[oo-ai][−วย◌วย]-[oo-ai][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[eu][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[eu][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[eu-a][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[eu-a][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[eu-ai][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[eu-ee][−ึยึย]

TYT Tones

The TYT system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[ˈbpah] mid tone - [ˈmah] มา (vi. come)
-[ˈbpàh] low tone - [ˈkàh] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[ˈbpâh] falling tone - [ˈkâh] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[ˈbpáh] high tone - [ˈtái] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[ˈbpǎh] rising tone - [ˈmǎh] หมา (n. dog)

TYT Syllable Stress

In the TYT system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má ˈhǎh ˈwít tá ˈyah ˈlai]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The LP System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[khun-kèp-sêua-wái-nǎi]

The LP system is the pronunciation guide system used in the Lonely Planet Thailand Travel Guide, 10th edition (August 2003).

Like TLC and Tiger, the LP system doesn't use any funny letters for vowels or consonants. It attempts to be intuitive for American speakers and it uses the same marks as several other systems for the tones.

While very widely used (in the company's ubiquitous guidebooks, and in all the travel writing, forum posts, and email discussions they spawn), if you're currently looking to pick a system to learn Thai seriously, the LP system is not bad, but not the best. It suits its purpose of allowing the casual traveler to order Pad Thai and buy a train ticket, and it is leagues ahead of the Thai Govt+ system on which it is based, in that it adds many important distinctions like [ch] vs [j], [aw] vs. [oh], and [i] vs [ii], it still leaves out some vowel distinctions that will be important to you after your first month or two of Thai study (such as short and long [ae], short and long [ao], etc.).

Here on slice-of-thai.com, we have added syllable stress information to this pronunciation guide system by using - and ~ betweeen syllables, as explained here. Normally, this system does not indicate stress.

LP Initial Consonants

The LP system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[ph]pet
-[p] spot
-[d]dog
-[th]time
-[t] stop
-[k] sky
-[kh]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

LP Final Consonants

The LP system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

LP Vowels

The LP system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[ai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[ao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[eh][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[ehw][เ−วเ◌ว]-[ehw][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ae][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ae][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[aew][แ−วแ◌ว]-[aew][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[oe][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[oe][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[oei][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[oei][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[oeaw][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ii][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iu][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iaw][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oh][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[oy][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[aw][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[aw][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[awy][−อย◌อย]-[awy][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[uu][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[ui][−ูยูย]-[ui][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uay][−วย◌วย]-[uay][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[eu][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[eu][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[eua][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[eua][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[euay][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[eui][−ึยึย]

LP Tones

The LP system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[paa] mid tone - [maa] มา (vi. come)
-[pàa] low tone - [khàa] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[pâa] falling tone - [khâa] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[páa] high tone - [thái] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[pǎa] rising tone - [mǎa] หมา (n. dog)

LP Syllable Stress

In the LP system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má~hǎa-wít-thá~yaa-lai]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The T2E System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[kun-gèp-sêua-wái-nǎi]

This is the default system from the website thai2english.com.

While it is better than the Thai Govt+ system, this system is not as complete as some of the other systems. It fails to express many important vowel length distinctions, such as:

[−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌] vs. [−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]
[เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌] vs. [−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]

More seriously, this system uses the same symbol [o] to write three very different vowel sounds:

[โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌] vs.
[เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌] vs.
[−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]
and so many words that sound completely different in Thai, such as:
กด [gòt] (v. press)
กอด [gòt] (v. hug)
will be written the same in this system.

You would probably be better off starting with a different system.

Here on slice-of-thai.com, we have added syllable stress information to this pronunciation guide system by using - and ~ betweeen syllables, as explained here. Normally, this system does not indicate stress.

T2E Initial Consonants

The T2E system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[p]pet
-[bp] spot
-[d]dog
-[t]time
-[dt] stop
-[g] sky
-[k]kiss
-[j] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

T2E Final Consonants

The T2E system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

T2E Vowels

The T2E system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[aa][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[aai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[aao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[ay][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[eo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ae][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ae][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[aew][แ−วแ◌ว]-[aew][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[er][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[uh/er−][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[oie][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[oie][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[ero][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[ee][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[iw][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[ieow][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[oh][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[oi][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[or/o−][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[or/o−][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[oi][−อย◌อย]-[oi][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[oo][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[ui][−ูยูย]-[ui][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uay][−วย◌วย]-[uay][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[eu][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[eu][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[eua][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[eua][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[euay][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[euy][−ึยึย]

T2E Tones

The T2E system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[bpaa] mid tone - [maa] มา (vi. come)
-[bpàa] low tone - [kàa] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[bpâa] falling tone - [kâa] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[bpáa] high tone - [táai] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[bpǎa] rising tone - [mǎa] หมา (n. dog)

T2E Syllable Stress

In the T2E system:

Example: the first and fourth syllables of

[má~hǎa-wít-tá~yaa-lai]

are unstressed, and the other syllables are stressed.

See this page for more information about stress.

The Thai Govt+ System

Example for
คุณ เก็บ เสื้อ ไว้ ไหน
[khun-kèp-sûea-wái-nǎi]

This is the Thai Government pronunciation guide system (and I use the term loosely) that appears on Thai road signs and on some Thai websites.

As we have explained in detail above, this system doesn't meet even the most minimal requirements for being useful as a system to study Thai. This system erases scores of hugely important distinctions between different consonants and vowels, making it nearly impossible for you to see a word written in it and guess the correct pronunciation.

We have included this system just because it is so ubiquitous and it might be useful for you to compare it with more modern systems.

We have attempted to prop up the Thai Government system (hence the +) by adding tone marks (the same ones used for Paiboon and other systems), but normally it lacks even tone marks.

We've also added syllable stress information using - and ~ betweeen syllables, as explained here.

Not Even One System

In actual fact, the Thai Government system is not even a single system! You will see that the names of places, people, roads and rivers that are written in it vary widely in terms of how they are spelled. You might see a sign for "Prathum Thani," and then a few minutes down the road, see another sign for "Pathum Thani!" You might be headed for "Chon Buri" but then be surprised to find yourself in "Cholburi;" are you lost?

There have been several standards documents published for this system, from the Thai Government and even from international bodies, but practically speaking, it's a mess of casual non-conformance. Keep away!

Good with Thai Script?

Some argue that the combination of the Thai Govt system plus native Thai Script makes a good system for learning Thai. While it is true that the Thai Govt system gives you a lot of the hints you need to decipher Thai script into its correct pronunciation, and is certainly better than nothing, the Thai Govt system does not give you all of the hints you need. It gives you the fewest hints of any system presented here.

For example, the irregular Thai word เล่น is spelled long but it actually sounds short. The Thai Govt system does not distinguish long/short, so it doesn't give you the length hint you need to pronounce the word correctly. In some cases, you might be able to formulate rules for these irregularities to supplement the Thai Govt system, but there will always be more irregular words that defy rules, such as เพชร [pét, pét, เพ็ดH, phetH, pét, ˈphét, ˈpʰét, phetH, ˈpét, phét, pét, phét] (n. diamond), which is irregularly short and high, and เงิน [ngən, ngən, เงินISM, ngernM, ngern, ˈŋən, ˈŋən, ngœnM, ˈngern, ngoen, ngern, ngoen] (n. money), which is irregularly short.

Thai Govt+ Initial Consonants

The Thai Govt+ system uses the following symbols for initial consonant sounds (see this page for more information about initial consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[b]boy
-[ph]pet
-[p] spot
-[d]dog
-[th]time
-[t] stop
-[k] sky
-[kh]kiss
-[ch] glass jar
-[ch]charm
-[f]fog
-[h]have
-[l]love
-[r] burro (rolled)
-[m]man
-[n]nation
-[ng] thing
-[s]sex
-[w]walk
-[y]yes

Thai Govt+ Final Consonants

The Thai Govt+ system uses the following symbols for final consonant sounds (see this page for more information about final consonant sounds):

SymbolThaiEnglish Sound
-[m] tim
-[n] tin
-[ng] ting
-[p] job, with no audible release
-[k] jock, with no audible release
-[t] jot, with no audible release

Thai Govt+ Vowels

The Thai Govt+ system uses the following symbols for vowel sounds (see this page for more information about vowel sounds):

English Example,
Basic Sounds
LongShort
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
Guide
Symbol
Thai
Vowel
lie, how, Boston Haavard-[a][−า/−า−◌า/◌า◌]-[a][−ะ/−ั−◌ะ/ั◌]
Thai, sky-[ai][−าย◌าย]-[ai][ไ−ไ◌]
chow, powder-[ao][−าว/−าว−◌าว/◌าว◌]-[ao][เ−า/−าว−Sเ◌า/◌าว◌S]
pale/pet-[e][เ−/เ−−เ◌/เ◌◌]-[e][เ−ะ/เ−็−เ◌ะ/เ็◌]
Beowulf, stay over-[eo][เ−วเ◌ว]-[eo][เ−วSเ◌วS]
cat-[ae][แ−/แ−−แ◌/แ◌◌]-[ae][แ−ะ/แ−็−แ◌ะ/แ็◌]
baby waeh waeh-[aeo][แ−วแ◌ว]-[aeo][แ−วSแ◌วS]
sofa, about, duuh!-[oe][เ−อ/เ−ิ−เ◌อ/เิ◌]-[oe][เ−อะ/เ−ิ−Sเ◌อะ/เิ◌S]
sofa yawn-[oei][เ−ยเ◌ย]-[oei][เ−ยSเ◌ยS]
sofa out-[oeaw][เ−อวเ◌อว]
beet/bit-[i][−ี/−ี−ี/ี◌]-[i][−ิ/−ิ−ิ/ิ◌]
Matthew-[io][−ิวิว]
Mama Mia-[ia][เ−ีย/เ−ีย−เีย/เีย◌]-[ia][เ−ียะ/เ−ีย−Sเียะ/เีย◌S]
meow-[iao][เ−ียวเียว]
go (US English)-[o][โ−/โ−−โ◌/โ◌◌]-[o][โ−ะ/−−โ◌ะ/◌◌]
go yearly (US English)-[oi][โ−ยโ◌ย]
law (US), lot (UK)-[o][−อ/−อ−◌อ/◌อ◌]-[o][เ−าะ/−็อ−เ◌าะ/็อ◌]
lawyer (US English)-[oi][−อย◌อย]-[oi][−อยS◌อยS]
boot-[u][−ู/−ู−ู/ู◌]-[u][−ุ/−ุ−ุ/ุ◌]
Louie, Louie-[ui][−ูยูย]-[ui][−ุยุย]
too alone (roughly)-[ua][−ัว/−ว−ัว/◌ว◌]-[ua][−ัวะ/−ว−Sัวะ/◌ว◌S]
too why (roughly)-[uai][−วย◌วย]-[uai][−วยS◌วยS]
boot, with a smile-[ue][−ือ/−ื−ือ/ื◌]-[ue][−ึ/−ึ−ึ/ึ◌]
too alone, with a smile-[uea][เ−ือ/เ−ือ−เือ/เือ◌]-[uea][เ−ือะ/เ−ือ−Sเือะ/เือ◌S]
too why, with a smile-[ueai][เ−ือยเือย]
Louie, with a smile-[uei][−ึยึย]

Thai Govt+ Tones

The Thai Govt+ system uses the following symbols for tones (see this page for more information about tones):

SymbolToneExample
-[pa] mid tone - [ma] มา (vi. come)
-[pà] low tone - [khà] ข่า (n. galanga)
-[pâ] falling tone - [khâ] ค่า (n. fee, price, value)
-[pá] high tone - [thái] ท้าย (n. end, rear)
-[pǎ] rising tone - [mǎ] หมา (n. dog)

Thai Govt+ Syllable Stress

In the Thai Govt+ system: