When traveling, we do our best to learn the basics of the language of each country. In our experience, even if we totally butcher the language, the locals really appreciate our efforts. Trying to speak the local language shows respect and helps to bridge the cultural divide.
Thai is an especially hard language to learn. It is a tonal language, meaning the same word can mean many different things based on the tone of voice used when saying it. We learned that “cow” can mean rice, white, and entrance depending on the tone! This makes it VERY hard for our western trained ears where tone is not part of our language. I’ve asked how to say something and have said it back exactly as I have heard it only to be told that I am not saying it right!
But we do keep on trying and adding more to our limited vocabulary. So far we know:
- Thank you
- A limited amount of numbers
- I love you (we say this to the boys at bedtime)
- How much is this?
At the market I was ordering spring rolls. I wanted to order ten of them. The Thai word for ten is sip so I was pointing at the spring rolls and saying, “sip!” The lady gave me a confused stare. I tried again, motioning to the spring rolls, giving a big smile, and saying, “sip!”
The Thai woman standing next to me turned and asked in English “What do you want?”
I replied, “I want ten spring rolls.”
The woman spoke in Thai and all the people around me started to laugh. I was saying sip but I should have pronounced it seep! I started to laugh too and practiced saying it correctly.
The English speaking Thai woman turned to me again after she was done chuckling and said, “Next time just say ten!”
I’ll keep trying.