Thai Language How to Type Pronunciation Guides

How to Type Pronunciation Guides

Table of Contents


As we explain in Pronunciation Guide Systems for Thai, there are a variety of different systems used to write the sounds of Thai words in an English-like alphabet:

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[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]
Thai Govt+Lame system used for Thai road signs + tones[khun-kèp-sûea-wái-nǎi]

If you are a student of Thai, you may find that you want to type pronunciation guides, for example:

Most of the pronunciation guide systems use tone marks to indicate the Thai tone of each syllable (e.g. [àa], [âa], [áa], [ǎa]). These tone marks are hard to type because they don't appear on most Western keyboards. Various European languages for which you can find keyboards use some subset of the marks, but no language that we are aware of uses all four tone marks at the same time.

The Paiboon and Paiboon+ systems also use a couple of "funny letters" ([ɛ], [ə], [ɔ] and [ʉ]) that are not found on any Western keyboard.

The IPA system uses even more funny letters and marks that you will not find on any natural language keyboard.

In this document, we'll share tips and keyboard maps you can use to overcome these difficulties so you can type pronunciation guides.

PCs started out in the 1980s completely English-centric, able to represent only A-Z and a few accent marks needed by Western Europe. Thanks to a painful, slow transition process that has been going on for decades and is not finished yet, computers are slowly getting the features we need to type and display text in other languages like Thai. We can take advantage of this support to type and display Thai pronunciation guides too. But it means that your software must be recent and modern enough to have enough of these features.

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Step 1: Choose a Suitable Operating System

Microsoft Windows: You must have Windows XP with Service Pack 2, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or later. Earlier versions of Windows (95, 98, SE, ME, NT, 2000) had some support for the tone marks we need, but it was so painfully broken and app-specific that it's not worth using. You can tell which version of Windows you have by opening "Start...Settings...Control Panel...System."

Macintosh: If you have a Mac, just make sure you're using OS X.

Linux: we'd appreciate any details from Linux users out there.

Step 2: Choose a Suitable Font

Fonts are tricky because of the following two harsh realities:

Understanding Font Substitution

As you read and try out the advice we'll give below, you may find yourself saying "No way! I've tried tons of fonts on my system and they all have the pronunciation guide letters."

But you are falling prey to a "feature" that is now commonly found in operating systems and browsers: font substitution. When a program like Notepad, Microsoft Word, or your web browser encounters some text that cannot be displayed in the current font, it will secretly look around your system for a font that does have the necessary letters, and switch to that font instead, without telling you.

Font substitution can be a good thing if the system does it right. For example, if your text contains only plain English and native Thai script, and you choose a font like Times New Roman that does not contain Thai letters, your application will secretly switch to another font for the Thai letters only, and the result will usually look ok:

Unfortunately, for Thai pronunciation guides, the system usually flubs up the task so badly that the result is unreadable. For example, here's some sample text using the "Arial Unicode MS" font:

But here's what I get if I switch the font to Times New Roman, or if I paste that same text into Gmail and send it as an email (where Gmail will try to display it with Times New Roman):

As you can see, the system is trying to "help" us by switching from one font to another on a per-letter basis. But the accents don't line up correctly, and the result is horrible!

The severity of this problem varies with different browsers, OSes, and websites, but in most cases, the output is unusable.

So the lesson we learn from this is that the fonts we choose must contain all the letters needed for our pronunciation guide system. Ideally, they should also contain the native Thai Script letters, since then the letters would have been designed to blend with the English letters in a pleasing way.

For those who are curious, you can find out which letters a font really contains using the "charmap" program that ships with Windows ("Start...Run..charmap").

Windows Fonts

Of the hundreds of fonts that you will commonly find on Windows computers, only a few fonts contain all the letters we need for pronunciation guides:

Font FamilyTypeFont File NameThaiPaiboon+
Thai Govt+
Arial Unicode MS
Not the same as Arial!
Lucida Sans UnicodeRegularl_10646.ttfNoYesYes
Microsoft Sans Serif
Not the same as MS Sans Serif!
Segoe UIRegularSEGOEUI.TTFNoYesYes
Segoe UIBold ItalicSEGOEUIZ.TTFNoYesYes

In this chart, the Thai column says Yes if the font contains the letters needed for native Thai script, and the subsequent columns say Yes if the font contains enough letters for the specified pronunciation guide systems.

As you can see, the only font that covers it all is Arial Unicode MS, which is a different font than just "Arial." It is very likely that you have Arial Unicode MS installed on your system, or can get it pretty easily:

A close second is Lucida Sans Unicode, which covers everything but Thai, and has been distributed for free with every version of Windows since Windows 98. Depending on your application, Lucida Sans Unicode may be a good choice because it looks like the font Lucida Grande found on all modern MacOS X computers.

Coming in third is Microsoft Sans Serif, which covers everything but IPA, and has been distributed for free with every version of Windows since Windows 2000.

The font Segoe UI covers everything except IPA, and has Bold/Italic variants, but Segoe UI is not as common since Microsoft only started distributing it with Windows Vista and Office 2007. If you have Windows XP, you can get Segoe UI for free by installing any one of these free Microsoft packages:

A set of other Windows fonts—Tahoma, Cambria, Candara, Constantia, and Corbel—have all the letters we need for Tiger, LP, and Thai Govt+, but sadly they contain a fatal flaw that makes them basically unusable: when you place a rising tone mark ̌ over an i as in , the dot over the i fails to disappear and the tone mark itself is so off-center that it looks like it's over another letter. Close, but no good.

You might wonder whether there are any additional Windows fonts that have the four tone marks (i.e. [àa], [âa], [áa], [ǎa]) required by Tiger, LP, and Thai Govt+, but don't have the additional ɛəɔʉ "funny letters" used by Paiboon and Paiboon+. The answer is no. Thanks to the fatal flaw in Tahoma et al. described above, the only fonts that you can use for Tiger, LP, and Thai Govt+, are the ones that also work for Paiboon and Paiboon+ as well.

Macintosh Fonts

To be written. We'd appreciate any details from Mac users out there.

Linux Fonts

We'd appreciate any details from Linux users out there.

Back in 2012, helpful reader Brad Carroll offered this basic guide for how to install font on Linux in general, and this guide should work for the font files mentioned on this page.

How do I Install Fonts on Linux?

Method 1 - Using a file manager

  1. Download the ttf files using your web browser
  2. Open your file manager and navigate to the folder where you downloaded to, usually ~/Downloads/
  3. Select the ttf files and then right-click and select "cut" (or Ctrl + X)
  4. Navigate to /usr/share/fonts/truetype/
  5. RIght-click in some empty space and select "paste" (or Ctrl + V)
  6. Fonts are now installed and you can close the file manager window

Sometimes you won't be able to do this because you don't have permission to write to the /usr/share/fonts/truetype folder, but fear not because you can always try ....

Method 2 - Using the terminal

  1. Open a terminal window
  2. On the command line type: cd ~/Downloads/ (if this is where you downloaded to)
  3. Type: ls /usr/share/fonts/truetype
  4. If anything was listed then this means the destination directory exists, which means you can go to step 5 otherwise stop and get help.
  5. Type: sudo mv *.ttf /usr/share/fonts/truetype/
  6. Enter your password when prompted
  7. Close terminal when ready, fonts installed successfully.

If you had any software such as LibreOffice open during the installation, you may need to quit the application and then start it again before you will be able to see the new fonts in the font list.

If you do not have a /usr/share/fonts/truetype/ directory then it means you are using a version of Linux that stores fonts in a different location to that which we expect. Contact your Linux provider for help with this situation.

The mv command is a risky one and can overwrite existing files without warning. You should check very carefully that you type everything correctly before you press the Enter key.

IPA Fonts

Since IPA is an international standard alphabet used by Linguists around the world, there are fonts specifically designed for it. The free Doulos SIL and Charis SIL are the most popular fonts, but there are other sources as well.

Many linguists report problems when typing IPA with the standard Microsoft fonts, and prefer to use one of these specialist fonts instead. Since you only want to use the IPA for Thai, you'll be using a tiny subset of the IPA and you may or may not hit problems with the standard Microsoft fonts.

Adobe Fonts

Adobe sells a family of OpenType fonts beginning with "Kozuka Gothic Pro" or "Kozuka Mincho Pro." These fonts have enough letters to be used for Tiger, LP, and Thai Govt+.

Step 3: Choose a Suitable Application and File Format

So now you have a suitable operating system and you've picked out a font on your computer that you know contains the proper characters for Thai pronunciation guides.

Which application should you use to create your document?

Websites: Email, Forums, Blogs, and Social Networks

Unfortunately, you immediately run into a problem if your goal is to start your web browser (e.g. Firefox, Chrome, Opera, or Internet Explorer) and type Thai pronunciation guides directly into websites that you visit, such as:

The problem is that when you visit such websites, it is the website which controls the font, not you. Most websites do not offer you any choice of font. Some websites do offer you a choice of fonts (e.g. when you're typing a Google/Yahoo/Hotmail e-mail with "rich formatting" turned on), but in the vast majority of cases, none of the fonts they list will have the complete inventory of letters that you need to type Thai pronunciation guides. For example, when typing a Google Mail email, you'll probably be able to choose the font called "Arial" (which lacks the letters you need) but not "Arial Unicode MS" (which has the letters you need).

The reason why you have such a limited choice is that webpage designers want to make sure that their pages will be viewable across multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.), and so when they offer you a choice of fonts, they limit themselves to the so-called "web-safe fonts" that are supposed to work cross-platform. Unfortunately, the list of "web-safe fonts" is highly outdated and does not address the needs of modern international text processing. Most speakers of non-Western languages on such websites are able to send and receive text in their native language only by a lucky accident of font substitution, but as we mentioned above, font substitution rarely, if ever, does the right thing for Thai pronunciation guides.

So what can you do?

In some cases, you may find that choosing "Arial" makes it look ok (because some computers will substitute "Arial Unicode MS" for "Arial" when they see the Thai pronunciation guide letters), but this strategy won't work for every user who reads your email or post.

Otherwise, in the case of web-based email, you will probably be forced to take your Thai pronunciation guide text out of the email and include it as an attachment instead. In this case, read the next few sections of this webpage for some advice on which application to use to write the attachment, and which file format to pick.

If you are posting to a forum or blog that relates to the Thai language, then there may be hope. You can probably convince the forum administrators to either change the forum font, or to enable a feature that allows you to change the font in your post, to one of the fonts mentioned above that includes the letters you need. You can refer the administrator to the following paragraph for more information:

If you are a website designer or a forum administrator yourself, there is a way to make your site work cross-platform and also work with Thai pronunciation guides. Remember that CSS allows you to specify multiple fonts for a given CSS style, and each user's browser will pick the first font it recognizes. In the CSS style that is used for display of Thai pronunciation guide text on your site, you should include all of the relevant font names above in your stylesheet, one or more font name for each platform, and then your site will display pronunciation guides correctly on all platforms. It's sad that we have to deal with this, and it goes against the CSS philosophy to give font names explicitly, but we are left with no other choice.

PDF (.pdf) Files

If your goal is to write Thai pronunciation guide text in a file that you want to send to other people, and you just need them to be able to read your document (not modify it), then one of the best formats to use is PDF. This is because a PDF file has all the fonts and other required formatting information bundled up inside it. So other people will see your document correctly even if they don't have the same fonts installed on their machine.

Anyone can open and view a PDF file on their machine if they have the free, bloated Adobe Reader, which comes pre-installed on the vast majority of machines these days. For those who dislike the bloat of Adobe Reader, there's also the free, smaller, faster, and nicer Foxit Reader. Your computer may have come with a different PDF reader pre-installed as well.

You can create PDF files from any application at all using the amazing, free PDF995 or the bloated, expensive Adobe Acrobat. Both packages add an imaginary printer to your computer so that when you select "File...Print" from any application, the output actually gets saved as a PDF file on your computer instead of being printed to paper.

You can also save PDF directly from certain Adobe applications, such as Adobe Illustrator.

You can also get a free plugin to save PDF files from Word 2007 from Microsoft.

Text (.txt) Files

If you want to type Thai pronunciation guide text in a file for use on your own computer, or you want to send the file to others so that they can also modify your document, then one option you have is to use the simplest file format of all, raw text (.txt).

You can create text files with Notepad (Windows), Wordpad (Windows), TextEdit (Macintosh), or a host of other text editor applications. Your first step should be to change the font to one of the suitable fonts above, then start typing. Since you will be typing Thai pronunciation guides, it's important to save your text file as Unicode (which your editor may also refer to as UTF-8 or UTF-16). Most modern text editors will choose Unicode automatically when they see what you have typed.

The catch with a text file is that it doesn't contain any formatting information at all. You can't change between normal/bold/italic or use different font sizes. A text file doesn't even store the name of the font you used when you typed it. So, if you share your text file with others, you will need to tell them which font to use to display the file, and they'll have to have that font installed on their system. You can refer them to this webpage for assistance.

HTML (.htm) Files

Another option similar to .txt files is HTML. HTML is the same format that web designers use to write web pages. There are a variety of tools (FrontPage, DreamWeaver, etc.) to create HTML pages. Microsoft Word can create HTML files, but it creates them in a horrific, Microsoft-specific way which is not recommended or compatible, so we don't recommend using Word.

The benefits of HTML are that you can include formatting like colors, fonts, font sizes, bold, and italic, you can align things in nice tables, and you can include links to give your document structure. With HTML, the names of the fonts you use actually appear in the document (unlike text files). However, like text files, an HTML file does not include a full copy of the fonts it uses (it only includes the name of the font), so your recipients will still need to have suitable fonts installed on their machine already.

Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx) Files

You can certainly use Microsoft Word to create files with Thai pronunciation guides for use on your own computer. Versions of Word later than (not including) Word 2000 seem to properly support input and display of the letters needed for pronunciation guides. This applies to Windows; I have not tried the Mac versions.

Note: if you are "blessed" with Word 2007, 2010 or later, and you want to use our keyboard map (below) to type Thai pronunciation guides, be sure to read our note below about configuring Word to work with the maps.

If your goal is to share your file with others, and you don't need or want the others to modify your file, then it's best to convert your file into PDF format and send the PDF instead. This avoids a huge range of compatibility headaches.

If you must send evil Word attachments, be sure to configure Microsoft Word to embed your fonts into the document ("Tools...Options...Save tab...Embed TrueType fonts"). That way, there's a chance that the recipient will not need to have all the same fonts installed on their machine (although this kind of embedding frequently fails due to irritating licensing issues with certain fonts: the recipient may be able to view, but not modify, your document, in which case you might as well use PDF).

Also, if you are using Word 2007, 2010 or later, be sure to "Save As..." your file in an older version of Word (97-2003), or be sure the recipient has an equally recent or more recent version of Word than you do. Microsoft continually and gratuitously changes their file format with each version, to force your recipient to pay money to Microsoft to upgrade their copy of Word.

Just say no.

Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint Files

Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint are logical programs for making study sheets and flashcards, and versions later than (not including) 2000 seem have the necessary support for input and display of the letters needed for pronunciation guides.

But in all versions I have tried, especially in Excel, that support is quirky. In most cases, I have to copy and paste pronunciation guide text from other applications, rather than trying to type the text directly into Excel or PowerPoint (I can type some letters but not others). Once typed, I always experience problems with the accents mysteriously disappearing and reappearing. I found that I am always able to find a way to fidget around with the text (like hitting F2 in Excel to edit and immediately hitting Enter to make no changes, or gratuitously resizing the row) to make the text display correctly. Again, this applies to Windows; I have not tried the Mac version of Excel or PowerPoint.

As with Microsoft Word files, if your goal is to share your Excel or PowerPoint files with others, and you don't need or want the others to modify your file, consider converting them into PDF format and sending the PDF instead, to avoid a wide range of font compatibility problems.

Adobe Files (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.)

Your mileage may vary, to put it lightly.

Adobe apps like Photoshop and Illustrator have some of the worst, quirkiest, most aggravatingly buggy support for non-Western languages (including Thai) in the world. I wish I could give you a simple good/bad version number cutoff, but in reality, each combination of operating system, app, and version is a crap-shoot as to whether or not it will let you type the letters used in Thai pronunciation guides.

In older versions of Illustrator (circa version 10), I found I had to type Thai text and Thai pronunciation guides into Notepad, then paste them into Photoshop, then paste them from there into Illustrator! Photoshop CS3 on Windows XP is the first Photoshop I have ever encountered that lets me type the tone marks and Paiboon+ letters ɛəɔʉ directly (using the keyboard map we provide below) rather than pasting them from another application, but for some reason I find I need to press each tone mark key twice to make it come out. Go figure.

In general, more recent versions should work better, but that is not always so.

Step 4: Use a Keyboard Map

Ok, now you've got good software and a good font: it's time to type!

The next barrier you hit is: "how do I type those accents and funny letters?"

To solve this problem, we're going to piggyback on the same support that your operating system already has for typing other languages. On Windows, Mac, and Linux, the operating system gives you a way to click on a little box (called a keyboard switcher) that appears in a corner of the screen to switch the keyboard from its normal English mode (typically displayed as EN) to other languages. Here's a screen shot of the Windows keyboard switcher:

For example, you can (and perhaps already did) enable the Thai keyboard (TH) to type Thai script:

On this website, we will show you how to turn on your keyboard switcher, and we provide a small file called a keyboard map, which will add a third option (neither EN nor TH) to the keyboard switcher that lets you type Thai pronunciation guides:

In the example screen shot above, the third "language" is called PL, which is officially "Polish" but which we're co-opting to mean "Paiboon Plus," as explained below. The actual abbreviation that appears on your keyboard switcher will vary depending on the pronunciation guide system you want to use and your operating system.

Paiboon, Paiboon+, Tiger, LP, Thai Govt+

If your goal is to type Paiboon, Paiboon+, Tiger, LP or Thai Govt+, follow the instructions below for your operating system (although the file you will install below is called Paiboon+, it actually has the letters you need for all of these pronunciation guide systems).


Now that you have installed and activated your keyboard map, you should see the little keyboard switcher in the lower-right corner of the screen:

The Windows keyboard switcher is a pesky creature and sometimes runs away and hides in the upper-left corner of your screen, or even the upper-left corner of the title bar of one of your open windows, in this alternate visual form:

If that happens, click the Minimize button shown in the screen shot, and the keyboard switcher will go back where it belongs, in the lower-right corner of the screen.

To actually type Thai pronunciation guides:

Now your keyboard will behave as follows:

Without the Shift key held:

With the Shift key held:

The accent marks are arranged along the number keys according to the 5 tones of Thai:

To type an accented letter, type the vowel letter first, then type the accent. For example, to get ([]), type "e" first and then type "5."

You can type the four "funny letters" ɛəɔʉ used by Paiboon and Paiboon+ by using the shift key to type:

Windows: If You Use Microsoft Word 2007/2010

If you are "lucky" enough to have been stuck with Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010, you may have noticed that you cannot type certain vowel + tone mark combinations (ə̀ ə́ ɛ̀ ɛ́ ɔ̀ ɔ́ ʉ̀ ʉ́). This is due to yet another mis-feature that the Geniuses at Microsoft put in to "help" us. To disable the mis-feature so that you can get your work done, follow these steps (you should only have to do this once):

Windows: If You Use The Chrome Web Browser

We have heard that some version of the Chrome web browser from Google do not allow you to type certain vowel + tone mark combinations (ə̀ ə́ ɛ̀ ɛ́ ɔ̀ ɔ́ ʉ̀ ʉ́) even though they display correctly in webpages. At this time we don't know any workaround for this problem or if it has been fixed. If you have an update, please let us know.

Windows: Polish?

You can't help but to have noticed that the Paiboon+ (PL) keyboard option says Polish:

The reason it says "Polish" is that the brilliant folks at Microsoft designed their system so that we cannot add our own language (say, "Paiboon+"), but instead we must tag our keyboard map with one of the existing world languages. We can't choose English (EN) or Thai (TH), since these already have keyboard maps on the list (and switching between multiple keyboard maps under one language is hugely painful under Windows), so we chose a third language Polish whose abbreviation "PL" looks like "Paiboon Plus."

In the unlikely but possible case that you are Polish and you already have a Polish keyboard configured on your computer, you can switch the Paiboon+ keyboard over to another language. Right-click on the keyboard switcher, click "Settings...," and click the "Add..." button. The next step depends on your operating system:

Windows: Uninstalling The Keyboard Map

If you would like to remove the Paiboon+ keyboard, first close all applications that are using the keyboard, and then simply run the Paiboon+.exe program above again. It will give you a choice to "Repair" or "Remove." Choose "Remove" and click "Finish."


Mac Choice 1:

Helpful reader Peter Baldwin contributed a Paiboon+ Mac key layout which you can download here:
This zip file includes the keyboard layout file as well as detailed visual documentation showing you how to install the layout file and how to use it.

FYI The key assignments that Peter chose are not the same as the assignments used by the Windows key maps above. See Peter's documentation for details.

Mac Choice 2:

Here is a Mac keyboard layout file that uses exactly the same layout as the Windows key maps above:

You can use the same installation instructions as found in Peter's Mac keyboard map, but the actual keys you type will be as seen in the pictures above.


We have not yet developed a Linux keyboard map, but if anyone else does, please let us know and we can post it here.

In the meantime, on Linux, you can also type Paiboon, Paiboon+, Tiger, LP and Thai Govt+ using the keyboard maps designed for the more complex IPA below.


If your goal is to type IPA, which is an international standard used by linguists around the world, then you can use one of the many available IPA keyboard packages on the internet. Google "IPA keyboard map" to see them. For example, here's a set of keyboard maps from SIL for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Step 4 Alternative: Copy and Paste

If you don't want to deal with installing a keyboard map on your computer, you can also "type" pronunciation guides by cutting and pasting the desired letters from another document.

Here is a complete inventory of all the vowel-mark combinations you need in order to type Paiboon, Paiboon+, Tiger, LP and Thai Govt+. You can copy these combinations right off our webpage into your document:


If your goal is to type IPA, you should probably use a keyboard map. Copy and paste is much more complicated since there are so many combinations of base letters and marks, and you cannot paste a mark all by itself. A good place to get base letters that you can copy is the wiki page on the International Phonetic Alphabet.

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