August 02, 2003

Want to Speak Thai ?

Most Thais who deal with tourists speak some english, but off the beaten track (which might be your taxi next door ) be prepared for the worse, Philippines is heaven in comparison. Even when they speak some english words I do have some extreme problems with most asian accents and even understanding the guide in Vimanmek Mansion was not especially easy and I had to focus hard. However don't expect to master Thai this will sound even worse.

Thai is a tonal language and it uses 5 differents tones: low, middle, high, falling and rising. Which means that a syllabe can be altered in five different ways. From my guidebook 'mi mi mi mi' means "new wood burns, doesn't it ?".

From my understanding (but is is just a guess) this is probably why Thais may have a problem understanding foreigners due to their variety of accents. They can hardly figure out the right words.

For the records, a few minutes ago a woman (english native speaker) was asking the owners of the cybercafe if the place where she was going was close 'Tavee ?' 'Teevee ?' and if she could walk to it. She had to open the map, show them the place, all the staff started to get around and chatted in Thai for 5 minutes. As I had enough of this noisy mess since I was seating just behind, I kindly asked her where she wanted to go. She told me she could not remember the exact name as she just arrived in the morning and she took the boat. I gave a try as the 'Teevee' thing looked familiar to me.
- 'Shanti Lodge ?'.
- 'Yes that's the one !'.
- 'ok, that's simple then, you just have to follow the road until you bump into the national library, you cannot miss the street, there are also 4 green street signs on the other side of the road. It's about 10 minutes walk from here'
- 'Ah right, I remember the National Library indeed'

She obviouslly was puzzled by my reply and she told the cybercafe owners while leaving (in a funny sarcastic way) that it was amazing that it was a foreigner who could give her the right directions to the place.

Posted by stephane at August 2, 2003 08:17 AM