The Thai language is the main language spoken in Thailand, a hugely popular tourist destination for many Americans and Europeans and even a popular place where people go to retire.
When you speak with someone, you're always better off addressing him or her in that person's native language. It can be challenging learning Thai, though, and you might ask:
Is it worth the effort to learn Thai?
That all depends!
Are you going to Phuket as a tourist? To Bangkok for work? Maybe you're married to a Thai person but live in the States? Or perhaps you're an adventurous traveler who wants to explore the rural and less touristy places of Thailand?
Depending on your situation, it may or may not be worth the effort to learn Thai, but in order to better answer the question, let's try and look into what the advantages of learning the Thai language really are.
Learning Thai Lets You Better Understand Thai Culture
Thai culture is something that has developed over thousands of years. In all aspects of everyday life there are customs, traditions, saying and different expressions of respect and politeness that is used by Thai people in all walks of life.
As a foreigner, you're pretty much excluded from all of this, and for the most part, it's understood and accepted. You're not expected to know and understand the finer details and intricacies of Thai culture.
But what if you did?
Speaking Thai would allow you to understand Thai people and Thai culture on a whole other level. You'd know what to say in the right situations, what kind of actions to avoid in order to not be rude, how to address someone older than you as to show respect. And you'll be able to correctly respond to how Thai people are addressing you!
People Will Appreciate And Acknowledge Your Efforts When You Speak Thai, Even If They Speak English
If you go to Thailand mainly to stay in touristy areas in Bangkok and Phuket, you'll be perfectly able to get by in English like most tourists do.
If, however, you make the effort to learn a little bit of the local language - even if you'll only be reading off a menu while placing your restaurant order, your efforts will almost certainly be rewarded.
When you show people that you're willing to struggle a little bit and try and speak in their language rather than just assume that they speak yours, you're showing them that you care.
You'll be rewarded with instantaneous smiles, a sincere and honest welcome, and you'll be remembered.
You can also be 100% sure that you'll get a lot of attention and free Thai-language tutoring from enthusiastic and patient Thai people who'll be complimenting you on your less-than-perfect Thai language skills!
Learning Thai Lets You Make Friends With Ordinary Thai People Who Don't Know English
We all know the expat stereotype who go to a foreign country only to surround him or herself with other English speakers rather than trying to dive in and be part of the local environment.
It's very possible to live, work and spend your time in Thailand without really getting out of your comfort zone and really feeling like you're actually in a foreign country. If you're in this situation, you might ask yourself why you actually went there?
Learning and speaking Thai is an important key to breaking through this barrier and start making friends with the local people who don't necessarily know a lot of English.
And don't worry! You don't have to discuss philosophy, literature and politics off the bat. Enjoying a soccer match together or going fishing with an acquaintance can open up doors to a whole new world for someone who only knows Thailand through an English-speaker's eyes.
Doing small-talk about everyday things, worries, concerns, hobbies, sports or other things can be a way of learning something about the world and seeing things from a whole other perspective. You'll end up smarter, culturally richer, and you'll be gaining a friend!
If You're Looking For Employment In Thailand, You'll Have A Clear Advantage When You Speak The Language
Most foreigners who go to Thailand to work seek out the English-speaking jobs that are offered in the big cities. Chances are that you will too, and while there are many reasons to go for the English-speaking jobs, even if you do speak Thai, having knowledge of the local language will no doubt give you an edge over other candidates.
Even if you're going to rely mostly on the English language in your professional endeavors, you're going to be doing business with a lot of Thai people. Chances are that some of your clients, subcontractors, collaborators, managers or colleagues will be Thai, and being able to communicate with them in Thai will be a clear advantage, even if many of them do speak English.
Add to that the social aspect of it all. Imagine working in a company where the business-language is English, but where most employees are Thai. What language do you think will be spoken in the break-room?
Speaking Thai not only gives you an advantage when searching for a job, it makes it easier to thrive in your work-life once you've got the contract down.
Speaking And Reading Thai Lets You Explore The Less Touristy Areas And Discover Another Side Of Thailand
If you want to go explore some of the lesser known regions, small towns and unique landscapes in Thailand where you won't need to fight a horde of international tourists to take your photo, you'll gain a clear advantage from speaking Thai.
Being able to ask for directions and follow street-signs only written in Thai opens up a whole other version of Thailand to you. You'll be able to experience the country from a perspective that is hidden for most other tourists.
Speaking Thai also gives you the luxury of being able to get lost in Thailand all while staying confident in being able to find your way back to your hotel or lodgings only by relying on the Thai language.
When You Speak Thai In Thailand, Everything Suddenly Gets Less Expensive
Something that many language learners have reported, not only in Thailand, but all over the world is that money matters suddenly get easier if you, as a tourist, speak the local language.
Street vendors, souvenir shops and even more expensive things such as car rentals and organized trips often get a lot cheaper when you're able to haggle a little bit in Thai.
And often you don't even need to negotiate! Simply showing that you have a basic understanding of the language earns you a certain degree of respect and many sellers might genuinely want to offer you a deal, or even give you something for free.
It's obviously not always the case, and you need to keep in mind that whoever you're dealing with obviously needs to make a living. But as a general thing, knowing at least a little Thai can help make your vacations just a little more affordable!
Romantically Involved? Thailand Is Now Part Of You, And You Should Learn The Language
If your significant other is Thai or even just of Thai descent, you really should be learning his or her native language. Learning the native tongue of your loved one not only gives you a "hidden weapon" when hitting on him or her, it's also a way of knowing your better half in a more profound way.
While everyone can learn a to speak a second language to fluency, there'll always be something special about the language you were brought up speaking. Speaking Thai with your companion will not only flatter and impress him or her, but it'll bring you closer, because it allows you to communicate in a way that's closer to the heart than to the brain.
It's also a clear advantage when it comes to resolving conflict, it's an intimate "secret" language that you might speak together, and above all knowing your significant other's native language is a sign of profound love and respect to that person.
The Usefulness Of Thai Is All About Traveling In Thailand Or Speaking To Thai People
This is an important point. Knowing the Thai language can be useful in a lot of ways, but it's important to remember that Thai isn't an international "Lingua Franca" that allows you to speak with people from all over the world, to do business with a lot of different countries, or read and benefit from a vast history of literature and art.
The Thai language is above everything else the language of Thailand, and unless you have a strong bond with Thai people or the Thai community in the country where you live, you get most out of Thai from actually using it in Thailand.
Sure, a lot of great books have been written in Thai, and there are many opportunities for working with multinational companies who're present in Thailand or from dealing with the tourist sector in Thailand, but the Thai language doesn't offer the same kind of "universal" utility as French, Chinese, Arabic or Spanish might.
So if you decide to learn the Thai language, be sure to have a clear idea what you want to do with it! And maybe now you do?
Would you like to learn how to speak Thai? Go read my guide for learning Thai by yourself.