If you’re traveling to Thailand and don’t speak a word of the Thai language, you might feel better to know that most Thai people speak enough English to communicate with travelers! Learn more about how you can better communicate with your tuck-tuck drivers, hotel staff, tour guides, and other Thai people you may encounter on your vacation.
Where Would A Thai Person Learn English?
English is taught in some Thai schools but many people never get the chance to practice their English outside of the classroom. This is similar to how many Americans take high school Spanish classes and graduate knowing just “hola” (hello).
Some Thai people learn English because they end up working with tourists or with English-speaking businessmen.
How Much English Do Thai People Speak?
Thai people speak basic English, so they will probably understand your basic needs in most tourist towns. Sometimes knowing English is actually a status symbol of intelligence since it’s used often in business. Words they will probably know include flight, bus, hotel, bathroom, food, eat, where, how much, and other simple common words and phrases.
This will also depend greatly on where you are. If you’re business-heavy Bangkok or on a tourist-heavy island, the Thai people will know more English since they are exposed to Aussies, British people, Americans, Irish, and the like.
How to Speak Clear & Easy English
While most English speakers find the language relatively easy, simplifying your sentences is key to speaking to Thai people in English. This may seem oversimplified but you’ll find it to be a great help when communicating. See the examples below.
Bad Sentence: “Excuse me, can you tell me where I get on the ferry boat to Ao Nang?” vs. Good Sentence: “Where is the boat to Ao Nang?”. Be sure to cut out extra words and phrases that may be confusing. You’re not dumbing it down, you’re making it easier to understand.
Speaking Loudly vs. Slowly
Some movies showcase the hilarious antics of tourists who decide that if someone doesn’t understand English, they must not really HEAR you. Chances are, you’re talking LOUD enough but too fast. Try to slow down a bit when you talk and understand that translating means that your brain has to think about what each word means.
Remember You Have an Accent
Think you don’t have an accent? I thought that about myself for many years until a Southern woman I met in a French airport pointed out that Californians go up in pitch at the end of their sentences. After listening to my fellow Californians I realized she was absolutely right. We ALL have some kind of accent, however slight. This can make your English even harder to understand.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Still lost in translation? Mime your question or do something to make them understand you. For example, we had trouble getting our check at the end of our meals but found that when you pull your cash or wallet out and make it very visible to the restaurant staff, your check will magically appear.
Another common example of this is when you’re buying something in Thailand the shopkeeper pulls out a calculator and types the price of the item into it to show you. They usually do this because they don’t know how to say “A hundred” in words you’ll understand.
Learn A Few Thai Phrases!
Want to make your life MUCH easier? Learn a few basic phrases in Thai. You don’t need to write them, just saying them will get you a lot more respect. Remember that males and females use different versions of the same word so it won’t sound exactly the same for everyone.
Thai phrases to learn:
- Where is the…
- Thank you…
- How much is the…
- Excuse me…
Check out this awesome website which shows you 100 basic Thai phrases!
Not sure how to say “Holiday Inn Phuket” in Thai? Use the Agoda website to book your hotels and it will show you a page with your hotel name written in Thai. Show this to your tuck-tuck driver for an easy trip to your hotel!
You will find that with your knowledge of basic Thai, a bit of gesturing, and a little luck you won’t have any issue speaking English with Thai people. We had no problem communicating with people, the hardest part was finding our small hotels because the drivers had never heard of them. We solved this issue by using Agoda.
Any questions? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below!
Need a hotel in Thailand? Check out our walk-throughs on YouTube!