How Singaporeans can learn Thai Language quickly

As Southeast Asia neighbours, there are definitely similarities between the Thai Language and Singlish. This post will explore some similarities between Thai and other Asian languages Singaporeans are familiar with.

1. Similar to Singlish, Thai ending particles will change the meaning of the sentence

In Singlish, ending particles will change the meaning of the sentence. For example, “okay lor” (expressing reluctance) is very different from “okay meh” (expressing disbelief). Similarly, the Thai language uses ending particles to convey emotions and change the nuance of the sentence. For example, “pbai lor” – “pbai” means go, “lor” expresses “really?” so “pbai lor” means – “do I really go?” Whereas “pbai si” – “si” is an ending particle to emphasize something. So “pbai si” is ordering the listener to “go!”. Hence, even though you might pick up some ending particles from watching Thai lakorns/dramas, it is always good to check with someone who knows Thai well enough if the usage of the ending particle is correct. You do not want to be rude unknowingly and order someone to do something when your intention is to seek confirmation.

Check out this post on the list of Thai ending particles

2. Thai tones are similar to Chinese tones

For Chinese Singaporeans, good news! The Thai tones can be roughly mapped to the tones in the Chinese language. Both languages have five tones: low, high, rising, falling and flat/no tone for the Thai language vs tone 1, 2, 3, 4 and no tone for the Chinese language. I’ve put into a table below on how the tones can be roughly mapped to each other. Please note that this is not a 100% match – it is just a rough guide I made for myself when I was trying to get used to the Thai tones (as I have shared on my FAQ page on learning Thai in Singapore).

Thai TonesChinese Tones
No equivalent Thai tone1st tone
Rising tone (e.g. หัว huă)2nd tone (e.g. 华 huá)
Low tone (e.g. ดุ dù)3rd tone (e.g. 赌 dǔ)
Falling tone (e.g. ได้ dâi)4th tone (e.g. 带 dài)
Mid/flat tone (e.g. มา maa)Neutral tone / 轻声 (e.g. 吗)
High tone (e.g. นับ náp)No equivalent Chinese tone
How I mapped the Thai tones to the Chinese tones –

3. Some Thai words sounds similar to Teochew, a Chinese dialect

One thing I’ve noticed when interacting with my Thai friends’ parents is that a lot of the older Thai Chinese speak fluent Teochew, a Chinese dialect. Most of the Chinese Thais come from China and a lot of them speak Teochew. Hence, it is of little wonder that the Thai language has “borrowed words” from the Teochew dialect. Some examples of Thai words sounding similar to Teochew are listed below:

English WordThai word / PronunciationTeochew word / Pronunciation
Chairเก้าอี้ kao yi交椅 gao yi
Older sisterเจ๊ je姐 che
Moneyเงิน ngen银 ngeng
Example of Thai words that are similar to Teochew, a Chinese dialect –

About the author – see the About page for more information

Joanne Tan is an aspiring polyglot and has so far mastered English, Chinese and Thai languages. She first started learning Thai in 2015 before staying in Bangkok for 5 months, and then continued studying Thai up to Advanced Levels at the National University of Singapore. In 2017, Joanne was awarded ‘Advanced Thai Proficiency’ by the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute of Chulalongkorn University. Today, Joanne continues to teach her friends basic Thai speaking and helps her Thai friends actively promote Thai culture.