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Is it true that you shouldn't spek Thai in Thailand unless you're fluent?

Is it true that you shouldn't spek Thai in Thailand unless you're fluent?

Old Oct 20th, 2003, 06:50 AM
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Is it true that you shouldn't spek Thai in Thailand unless you're fluent?

I always believe that when you travel to another country, it's more fun and also a good thing to try to learn to speak a few words of that country.

But someone told me that Thailand is one of the exception: unless you can speak fluently, it is better not to speak Thai at all or it would be deemed an insult.

Just checking: is this true at all??
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 07:17 AM
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I completely disagree. We had a great time trying to speak Thai. People were humored by our attempts to speak. The greatest compliment I received was when a masseuse said I was "very Thai". Try it, it's fun.
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 07:47 AM
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find that most Thais, apart from my wife, are very tolerant of my comical attempts to speak Thai. I do think that they appreciate you making the effort.

Thank heavens some words are (almost) universal, such as BEER!
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 08:18 AM
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Absolutely try at least a few words. Thais (as every other people I've had contact with) are pleased when you try to speak their language. If they can't tell at all what you are trying to say, they'll speak to you in English.
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 08:19 AM
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I agree that most Thais would not be offended by your well-intentioned attempts to speak their complicated language. . .The person who told you not to attempt it may have been referring to the fact that Thai, like most Asian languages, is tonal, which means that the same word pronounced with different inflections has different meanings, which can lead to misunderstandings or you may call someone something quite impolite by mistake!! English by contrast, is not tonal, other than a rising tone when asking a question.

For the most part, IMO Thais would not be offended even if you inadvertently say something impolite.
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 04:27 PM
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The problem is when you learn a language out of berlitz, you are probably going to speak better thai or whatever language it is, than the average person you come in contact with (hotel, restaurant workers, taxi drivers, etc) Most of whom, Im sad to say probably are only thinking about your money.
Remember that in dealing with asians..saving "face" is the all important factor in communication.
I dont even speak english to taxi drivers here. I dont want them to feel bad about not understanding me.
I keep my mouth shut...i would do the same there.
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 05:31 PM
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Certainly there is nowhere you can go wrong by learning to say hello, please, and thank you.
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 06:45 PM
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Reading Artisland's post reminds me of an amusing anecdote about my friend, Granita. Granita is a lawyer in Chicago, very beautiful and elegant. We went to Dartmouth together. Her mother is a German countess (second marriage). Granita wanted to learn to speak Thai, so she had her mother's Thai "gardener" teach it to her. She studied with him for a 3-year period. Well, when she finally mastered the language, she went on holiday to Bangkok. She spoke fluent Thai to everyone she met, and most of the people she came in contact with (taxi drivers, hotel maids, valets, etc.) were amazed at how well she spoke the language. However, she met with an aristocratic Thai woman and tried to speak with her. The Thai woman said to her, "You are very beautiful and obviously well educated, but why do you speak Thai like a prostitute?" People forget that like most languages, you can tell a person's social class by their idiom. My friend didn't realize since she learned Thai from her mother's illiterate gardener that her Thai would make her sound like a lower-class woman.
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Old Oct 20th, 2003, 06:55 PM
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ThinGorjus, quelle horreur for your poor friend!
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Old Oct 21st, 2003, 11:37 PM
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do learn some words. but odds are 50 50 that they will understand you.. becouse of the tonal thing.. mayby just keep it simple and smile.

thais will not be offended if you try. they may feel a litle emberased in that they can't make out what the heck your trying too say..
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Old Oct 22nd, 2003, 04:28 AM
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I agree fully with Tangat and Orgy7, the biggest critic of my Thai is my wife! The kids jusrt laugh at me but then again their English is perfect.

I find the biggest problem is not 'not being understood' but 'understanding what others were saying', not understanding a problem, understanding what they said often a 'bigger problem'!

I aklso agree with whover mentioned about Swahili, in Africa words easy to pick up, if you don't pronounce correct no problem, still understood, in Thai what you may think you are saying right is actually meaning something totally different. Very embarrasing once when I ordered Fried Rice with Chicken in Thai, came out as Fried Rice with xxxxx !!
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Old Oct 22nd, 2003, 06:47 AM
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Thanks for the responses.

I understand the "tonal" thing - growing up speaking Cantonese in Hong Kong, I have also taught friends Cantonese while living in Canada. But people in Hong Kong and China will never look at foreigners speaking or attempting to speak Cantonese, abeit incorrectly, as insult. They might just find it funny/humorous, as sometimes incorrectly pronounced Cantonese words are "dirty words".

I posted the original question because I was told by this guy I met in the gym about Thai feeling insulted if foreigners speak imperfect Thai, and he professed to speak quite a few languages including English, French, Spanish, Laos and Thai; he said he used to work in a cruise ship and Thai is one of the very few countries that you shouldn't speak Thai unless you are fluent: not because you may speak some silly words, but because the Thai will feel insulted.

I just wanted to know if this is true.

John
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Old Oct 24th, 2003, 12:32 AM
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it seems as if you fraind was trying too make hemself seem like a big shot by saying he spoke all these languages.
When he opened his mouth too speek thai and it wasnt good. your fraind just totaly lost face in the thais eyes....

( humility seems too be an imprtant trait in thai colture )

I would of reacted the same as the thai did.. if someone pulled that on me with Spanish.
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Old Oct 24th, 2003, 02:25 AM
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My husband tried out a simple phrase with a waitress( after much practice!) and she stared at him blankly. After another attempt he gave up and asked in English. When we got back to our hotel he tried the phrase on the receptionist and asked what he'd done wrong. She understood him and said he'd done nothing wrong. We then were told( not by her) that many people involved in the tourist industry took it as an insult if the guest tried to speak Thai as they had learned to speak English( or whatever language) to do their job. I did find this strange but thinking about it, the waitress we had was in every other way very polite and efficient. Maybe she was insulted.(BTW the person who told us this was a Thai guide)
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Old Oct 25th, 2003, 03:53 PM
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ThinGorjus: Great story! Reminds me of a colleague who claimed that he had spent two years learning Chinese in Taiwan. He was hired by our company to represent us in Asia. The Chinese customers who heard him were totally shocked - not only was his pronunciation terrible, but his phrases were laced with a lot of inappropriate language, including a liberal amount of swear words. He had spent a good deal of time with prostitutes and in other "cheaper" parts of town.

Johnmango: The mangoes in Thailand are the best in the world, I'm certain you know that!

As someone who speaks Mandarin fluently and knows two other Chinese "dialects", I am well acquainted with the problems of "tonal" languages.

This would be my take on your question: your friend is not very well acquainted with tonal languages if what he speaks is mainly European languages and, possibly, some Laotian and Thai. Either that or he learnt not "good" Thai, as ThinGorjus' story illustrates so well. So, he is probably massacring Thai when he tries to speak it, thereby getting very negative feedback.

I would venture to say that in Thailand one's ATTITUDE is as important as how correctly one hits one tone or another. When I used to fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong, I felt that the Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong were loud and cacophonous when compared to the Thai, who are soft and gentle both in their manners and in their speech. So, IMHO, one should try not only to hit the right tone, but also speak in a soft voice, never shouting, when in Thailand.

Additionally, in Thailand, an initial greeting (and some other times too!) is also accompanied by the WAI, the folding of the hands. The WAI is very difficult to master. Who wais whom first and how far you should bow when wai-ing - it's all very complicated. I try not to wai if at all possible, for fear of doing the wrong thing, so I just smile, bow slightly, and answer in English! No Thai feels insulted by these gestures, recognizing that I am a foreigner and mean no insult.

In addition, Marilyn's suggestion is a good one: learn to say "hello", "good-bye", "thank you", and "excuse me" in any country that you plan to visit.

I used to have a Thai roommate in college and, believe me, the Thais have a lot of hidden points of courtesy that you and I can only guess at - but saying "thank you" in Thai and speaking softly and courteously can only win you brownie points, not lose them.

Just my HO.
easytraveler


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Old Oct 27th, 2003, 08:47 AM
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I agree with Easytraveler about the Wai, it is highly complex, it depends not on just status but assumed status, age, relationship. I agree when in doubt a lowering of the head with a smile works! If you use a gentle bow you can't go wrong but a Wai in the wrong way can be a problem, especially knowing when to Wai 'back', so even with a Thai wife we agree that if I am in doubt just a gentle bow works.
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