Is Thai hard to learn?

Is Thai hard to learn?

Published: Feb, 21, 2023 | By: Apinia Rims

Is Thai hard to learn?

 It’s undeniable that Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with the popular slogan “Thailand is the Land of Smiles”. But it's true that the reputation of our language is that Thai is difficult to learn.

The statistics from the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) revealed that from January 1 to December 31, 2022, more than 11.8 million foreign tourists came to Thailand to get a taste of the incredible Thai culture, people, and of course, the food.

But what about the Thai language? Of course, most tourists will pick up some basic words like “Sawaddee Krap” (Hello) and “Khob Khun Krap” (Thank you). 

But have you ever thought about what your experience in Thailand would be like if you could actually speak a little bit of Thai while you were here?

With over a decade of teaching experience, I have taught Thai to students from more than 20 countries around the world. Wow, even typing that brings back memories from some remarkable moments in my life when I think of those students and where they came from.

Asia China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, India, Israel, Taiwan, Turkey, Vietnam
Europe Australia, Denmark, England, France, German, Italy, Norway, Macedonia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
Americas America, Canada, Venezuela


Seeing how many students come to Thailand from all over the world to learn Thai tells you just how many people are interested in learning Thai.

But is Thai hard to learn? Will you actually be able to learn the language well enough to speak with Thai people and use it while you live or travel there? 

Let me answer this question for you and give you some more information you can hopefully use when doing your research before beginning your Thai language-learning journey.

is Thai easy to learn

What you should know about the Thai Language

The Thai language is the oldest in Southeast Asian countries. It has its roots in Austro-Thai, which is similar to the Chinese language in terms of tones that cause significant changes in the meanings of the words as the tonal sounds are changed.  

Thailand is like a sister country to China due to our related histories and the large diaspora of Chinese people in Thailand. Therefore, many words have been borrowed and used until the present, for example:

เกาเหลา (go͞a-la͝o) 高楼 
Chinese clear soup with boiled vegetables
เต้าหู้ (dta͡o-hu͡u) 豆腐
ซาลาเปา (sa͞a-la͞a-bpa͞o)
Chinese bun

Origin of the Thai language

Back in 1283 A.D., King Ram Khamhaeng the Great, the first king of Thailand, invented the Thai alphabet. The written Thai language consists of 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and 5 tones. It was made the official language of government work on March 31, 1993.

The history and evolution of the Thai alphabet began in 1283 A.D.  when King Ram Khamhaeng the Great had an idea for the creation of the Thai script called "Laai Sue Thai", which derived from the existing alphabets of Mon (the owner of the ancient civilization in the land of Burma) and Khmer (present-day Cambodia).

The Thai writing system and how it's unique

Thai script is very different from the Latin alphabet and can be a real challenge for new learners. It consists of four units starting with consonants, vowels, final consonants, and tones. They all are put together and become a word to be pronounced in single or many syllables.

  1. Thai Consonants

  • There are 44 consonant characters.

    ก ข ฃ ค ฅ ง จ ฉ ช ซ ฌ ญ ฎ ฏ ฐ ฑ ฒ ณ ด ต ถ ท ธ น บ ป ผ ฝ พ ฟ ภ ม ย ร ล ว ศ ษ ส ห ฬ อ ฮ
  • But,  24 consonants have the same sounds.

    ข ฃ / ค ฅ ฆ / ช ฌ / ญ ย / ฎ ด / ฏ ต / ถ ฐ / ณ น / พ ภ / ล ฬ / ศ ษ ส
  1. Thai Vowels

In the beginning, there are 32 vowels. But exceptions, 4 vowels were considered consonants. Currently, there are 28 vowels in total.

Short Sounds: 12

อะ อิ อึ อุ เอะ แอะ โอะ เอาะ อัวะ เอียะ เอือะ เออะ 

Long Sounds: 12

อา อี อือ อู เอ แอ โอ ออ อัว เอีย เอือ เออ

Short Sound: 4

อำ ใอ ไอ เอา

Exceptions: 4

ฤ ฤา ฦ ฦา

speak Thai at a night market

  1. Final Consonants in Thai

The 44 consonants are grouped into 8 units except ฃ ผ ฝ ห อ ฮ.

Units Names Names Numbers Consonants
1. go︡k กก 5

ก ข ค ฅ ฆ

2. go︡p กบ 5 บ ป พ ฟ ภ
3. go︡t กด 18 จ ฉ ช ซ ฌ ฎ ฏ ฐ ฑ
ฒ ด ต ถ ท ธ ศ ษ ส
4. go͞ng กง 1
5. go͞n กน 6 น ญ ณ ร ล ฬ
6. go͞m กม 1
7. gə͞əi เกย 1
8. gwə͞əo เกวอ 1


  1. Tones

There are 5 different tones in the Thai language. Let’s start with the sound “a͞a,” which is pronounced like the “R,” but you don't roll the tongue.

Consonant Classes Middle Low Falling High Rising
Middle ga͞a ga︡a ga͡a ga︠a ga͝a

can make 5 tones

กา ก่า ก้า ก๊า ก๋า
High   ka︡a ka͡a   ka͝a
can make 3 tones   ข่า ข้า   ขา
Low-Single ka͞a   ka͡a ka︠a  
can make 3 tones คา   ค่า ค้า  
Low-Double 1 nga͞a   nga͡a nga︠a  
can make 3 tones งา   ง่า ง้า  
Low-Double 2 nga͞a nga︡a nga͡a nga︠a nga͝a
can make 5 tones by adding ห in front งา หง่า หง้า ง้า หงา

How to make 5 tones

No. Tones Start Finish
1. Middle Flat tone Flat tone
2. Low Low tone Very low tone
3. Falling High tone Low tone
4. High High tone Very high tone
5. Rising Low tone High tone

A word is written and read by breaking out to each unit if you follow these steps, I can guarantee you won’t go astray.

1. Start with an initial consonant.
2. Follow with a vowel. _า
3. Add the final consonant.
4. Finish with a tone mark, which is written above an initial consonant. ไม้โท
5. Read a word “ข้าว” means “rice” ข้าว

There are many ways to practice writing Thai, and a way that I’m going to show you is the standard curriculum from Thai textbooks for Thai kids to learn and use regularly when they are in school, even me.

  1. Word Spellings

The word is pronounced step by step as in parenthesis.      

(คอ-อา) คา 

(คา-งอ) คาง 

(คาง-โท) ค้าง = stay overnight

(kͻ͞ͻ-a͞a) ka͞a (ka͞a-ngͻ͞ͻ) ka͞ang (ka͞ang-to͞o) ka︠ang

  1. Vowel Reductions 

The vowel isn’t written and is invisible in words, but it is pronounced.

(คอ–โอะ–นอ) คน = people

(kͻ͞ͻ-o︡-nͻ͞ͻ) ko͞n

  1. Consonant Clusters

(กวอ-อา-งอ) กวาง = deer

(gͻ͞ͻwͻ͞ͻ-a͞a-ngͻ͞ͻ) gwa͞ang

  1. Leading Consonants or Double Consonants

The consonant ห is added in front of the initial consonant น in order to make the rising tone with no writing tone mark.

(หอ-นอ-อา) หนา = thick 

(hͻ͝ͻ-nͻ͞ͻ-a͞a) na͝a

  1. Orthography

The mark is written above the final consonant of a word to indicate that it is silent or unvoiced. It is a special mark and rule, which is derived from an English word and transliterated into Thai sounds.

(คอ-อา) คา (รอ-การันต์) คาร์ = car

(kͻ͞ͻ-a͞a) ka͞a (rͻ͞ͻ-ga͞a-ra͞n) ka͞a

difficulty level of learning Thai

Factors that make Thai difficult to learn

When it comes to the required time to learn Thai, learners must push through many obstacles to keep from giving up and quitting. According to my past student attendance sheets, you can definitely see there are issues that need to be addressed before you start a Thai course.

Which one is your concern?  If you know and are proactive in preparing for it; your Thai learning experience will be much easier and go much more smoothly.

  1. Enjoying the daily activities

  2. Time management

  3. Responsibility

  4. Perseverance 

  5. Motivation

Let’s have a look at some of the specific aspects of the Thai language that can make Thai hard to learn for students.

The tonal language system and its impact on speaking and listening

Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones, which can knock learners down if they don’t have enough patience to keep learning when they get stuck trying to pronounce a word. This problem can be found with all beginners who want to learn Thai because of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the correct Thai pronunciation rules. 

Thai grammar structure, including verb tenses and sentence construction

Thai sentence structure is different from English in some cases. For instance:

English This + house + is + very + beautiful 
Thai House + noun classifier + this + beautiful + very


English I want to go to the market
Thai I want go market


The Thai language doesn’t use the articles a, an, and the, so they will be removed from Thai sentences when the words are replaced with Thai meanings; therefore, English articles mean nothing.

  • Differences in vocabulary and sentence structure from English and other 

  • Cultural and contextual nuances that can be difficult to understand

When two people from different cultures speak with each other, there is always a possibility for miscommunication and cultural misunderstanding, so it’s possible that your attempts of speaking with a Thai person won’t always be as smooth as silk. 

There are many differences in interpretation, perception, perspectives, and society. When learning a new language, it’s impossible to separate it from its country’s culture. As a result, culture is one particular part of language learning that creates problems for students. This cultural understanding and knowing the proper context certainly make the Thai language seem more difficult to learn and understand.

why is Thai hard to learn and easy

Comparing learning Thai to other Asian languages

The Thai pronunciation system is similar to Chinese, another tonal language. However, Chinese is easier because it only has 4 tones compared to Thai’s 5. See the comparison in the table below.

Language Middle Low Falling High Rising
Thai bpa͞a bpa︡a bpa͡a bpa︠a bpa͝a
Reading ปา ป่า ป้า ป๊า ป๋า
Chinese ba͞ ba͝ ba︡ - ba︠
Reading ปา ป่า ป้า - ป๋า

Thai grammar vs. Chinese

Some Chinese grammar is the same as Thai grammar in terms of sentence structures, except the pronunciation of one tone is different.

Subject Verb Object

Thai tenses

The Thai language and the Chinese language do not use tenses in past, present, and future forms. There is only one challenge: vocabulary. The more learners can remember vocabulary, the better they can understand the language. In addition, most of the Chinese words used in Thailand tend to be food names, trading names, and people's names.

Common difficulties for English speakers

The Thai language may be easy to learn for Chinese speakers because of the similar tones that help them understand faster, but it seems hard for English speakers to learn. 

If a learner wants to take a class to learn Thai, I always recommend starting with writing lessons. If you can write, you can pronounce, read, and speak in a complete package and build a good foundation for the rest of your learning. 

is Thai difficult to learn

How to learn Thai effectively

In the era of social media, with online content growing like mushroom spores, learners can find many good online resources: study materials, worksheets on Google, and tutorial videos on YouTube to use for free. 

However, now knowing how difficult it is to learn, if you’re serious about learning to speak Thai, you should seriously consider taking a course from an experienced teacher or school.

The other resources I mentioned above may be free, but you have to think about your time as an investment, and the time that you spend on free resources where you’re not actually improving your Thai skills will ultimately be a loss for you later down the road.

You need to make the most of your time, so investing in an experienced teacher who can help you improve quickly, not to mention make sure you actually complete the course, is a worthy investment in yourself. 

Tips for learning Thai as a beginner

My tips may differ from other gurus or experts, but if you don’t try, you will never know what works for you. So here are a few tips I recommend that have worked for my students to improve their Thai language skills in the past.

  1. Read books in two versions: Thai and English. Try to read 1 or 2 pages a day. When you are happy, when you have time, and when you hunger to read. Go for it. 

  2. If you like superstars, celebrities, influencers, or any well-known person in Thailand, you can follow their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Line group, or any social media platforms. Follow them and try to consume the content they make in Thai. 

  3. Watch interview programs on TV or YouTube channels where the host speaks Thai and English, such as Woody, Lukgolf, etc.

the big Buddha in Phuket, Thailand

How to overcome your challenges and master Thai

Before we succeed in what we do, we learn to fail at an uncountable time and then get up and start over again. Someone once said, “Your fingers and toes are enough to count the success in your life, but it is not enough to count your failures”. 

I want to encourage all learners out there who are learning the Thai language and struggling to continue, or thinking about quitting, so I picked out some quotes that I think might motivate you on your journey. I hope maybe one of them just might be the pick-me-up you need :).

  • “Don’t say you can’t until you prove you can” - Les Paul

  • “Hard work never brings fatigue. It brings satisfaction” - PM Narendra Modi

  • “If you are going to hell, keep going” - Winston Churchill

  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” - Thomas Edison

how hard is it to learn Thai

So learning Thai is hard. But is it worth it?

If you’re thinking about learning Thai, you’ll have to consider a variety of factors, such as your available time, your budget, and your end goal.

"Is Thai hard to learn?" is a reasonable question to ask in the beginning. But it may not be the right one.

Learning is hard work that reminds us that knowledge cannot be bought. But it’s an investment that learners must pay the price with their time, effort, and endurance. Luckily, if you put in the work and stick with it, you will certainly eventually reap the effort you’ve sown, and the rewards sometimes feel endless.

If I am asked, “Is it worth the effort to learn Thai?” My answer would be, “Absolutely, yes!,” As we say in Thai, “No pain, No gain. No rain, No flowers. No snow, No fur (ไม่เจ็บไม่โต ไม่มีฝนไม่มีดอกไม้ ไม่มีหิมะ ไม่มีเสื้อหนานุ่ม). Ultimately, learning is a part of your journey to be wiser. 

Not only that, in the case of learning Thai, it’s a part of your journey to being a better human who is better connected with other humans in the world. New opportunities will open up, you’ll meet more people than you would have, and your experience in Thailand will never be the same.

Once you get the taste of speaking Thai with Thai people in Thailand, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it so much that no matter how hard learning Thai may sometimes be, you’ll never look back.

Except for maybe when you look back at the time you Googled "Is Thai hard to learn?" and then immediately start laughing out loud ;).

Get our monthly newsletter full of learning tips straight to your inbox
Apinia Rims from the Weaver School

Apinia has been teaching Thai to foreigners in Thailand for over 10 years. She is passionate about the Thai language as well as Thai culture and has also been active as a Thai translator for over 15 years. Apinia earned a Bachelor's degree from Chiang Mai University, and she currently has her own Facebook page and Youtube channel, where she gives helpful tips and tricks for learning Thai.

Start improving your language skills

Create a free account in 60 seconds to book online language lessons with the teacher of your choice.

Create your account