Let’s face it one of the biggest phenomenons in Thailand is that the majority of foreigners living here permanently are not proficient with the Thai language. While in most other countries expats would learn the local language and make it a priority for themselves as to understand the local culture and to get integrated into the society this just doesn’t apply for Thailand where most foreigners stick to talking in English even they know that the English skills of most Thais are worse than those of high school graduates in western countries.
You hear all different types of excuses from foreigners who decide not to learn Thai: The tones are so difficult, the Thai script looks like hieroglyphs that they will never master, Thai people speak so fast and maybe most common: Life in Thailand is fun even if you don’t speak Thai. Yes that’s true, Thais will always say “mai bpenrai” if you don’t speak their language and try to communicate with English as good as they can. However if you do take some effort and spend the half an hour a day in your room studying with a good beginner’s textbook you will soon know how life in Thailand gets even much more fun.
Below are ten of the best reasons to start learning Thai based on my personal experience.
1. Integrate in Thai Society
Yes, you will always be the “Farang” and when you first meet a Thai person they will never expect you to learn Thai. But then as soon as you start a basic conversation in Thai they will look at you on a completely different perspective, show respect and make you compliments. If you don’t learn Thai you will always feel somewhat isolated even if you live here for years and years. Also, if you ever intend to apply for Thai citizenship one of the core requirements is to have an interview with the government officer in Thai.
2. Thais cannot Gossip you
We all know the situation when we talk to a Thai in English, she suddenly turns to her friends, tells them something in Thai and they are all starting to laugh. Or you have just finished a conversation with some guy and while you walk away he says something to his friend which is always what he thinks about the conversation you just had. Or you sit in a restaurant with a few Thai friends and every once in a while they are talking in Thai to each other and that’s often what they think about you, knowing you cannot understand. By learning Thai you will always be on top of these things, Thais cannot gossip you and you can also respond to what they are saying.
3. Bargaining is easier
Thai people think they can get the most money out of Farangs who are on a holiday and don’t know about the fair prices of goods and services. Obviously not talking about grocery shopping at 7-eleven or going for a massage but really about anything that doesn’t have a price label on it like the bargaining at markets or for transport services (motorcycle, tuk tuk). If you do speak Thai, the locals will know that you have spent a significant amount of time in Thailand and are experienced enough to not accept an unreasonable price offer.
4. Less likely to run into Scams
Scams usually consist of local Thais approaching you and telling you a lie then offering you a service. Like the Grand Palace is closed and they bring you to another tourist attraction (like a gem or tailor shop). Or the famous Patpong Ping Pong show scam when they say the show is free and drinks are just 100 baht and then when you check the bill its a couple of thousand for a couple of beers. Obviously these guys can tell you the same kind of lies in Thai language as well however again it is less likely to happen as if you answer them in Thai they will usually assume you know their game and go over to the next guy.
5. It’s easier to find a nice Thai girlfriend
Thai girls are shy. If you don’t agree ask yourself if you are spending most of your time with hookers or girls with ordinary jobs or student girls. If you try to approach normal Thai girls in English in a lot of cases they will be hesitant to give you her contact not just because she is shy but also because her English is poor. If you are lucky she will giggle and turn to her friend who may help as an interpreter. To make things easier from the beginning it’s no surprise that it immensely helps if you can talk to a girl in Thai. You will also know what she talks about you with her friends, what she writes about you on facebook and so on.
6. You get more Dates from Online Dating Sites
There are hundreds of thousands of sexy Thai girls active on the various Thai online dating sites and for each girl come at least two guys who are registered and trying to arrange dates with them. If you know how to write your profile in Thai you will not just receive so many more messages, you can also chat with them in Thai making it so much easier arranging dates as the girls will assume you are not just a tourist who is looking for a quick adventure (even though quite a lot of Thai girls there are into that type of Farang).
I wrote my profile on Thai Friendly in Thai (like four paragraphs) and I get so many messages from girls I don’t even bother reading them all. It’s been 3 years since I first registered and by checking my inbox this morning it turned out I have 1294 (!) unread messages from Thai girls.
7. You start to understand the Thai Way of Thinking
When you talk to a Thai person in English there are always situations where you wonder: Why does she say it this way? Example: Why she uses the personal pronoun “she” to refer to both women and men? Why she says that person is her sister when she really means she’s her good friend? Why she asks you if you play facebook instead of use facebook? By learning Thai you will understand why Thais like to use certain expressions in English just the way they do it in Thai.
8. Better Chances to get a Job
Even the majority of foreigners that have well paid office jobs in Bangkok are not fluent in Thai. So while you will only be required to have good English skills (which all Thai people assume Farangs have no matter if they come from England or France) it certainly adds tons of bonus points to your job application if you can prove decent Thai language skills (which all Thai people assume Farangs don’t have no matter where they are from). I wrote a full article on the different ways of getting a job in Thailand that you can find here.
9. You get the Answers to your Questions
You run into so many situations with Thai people when you ask them questions in English and they either don’t understand what you mean or just misunderstand you. Even if they know they don’t understand you in 90% of the cases they wouldn’t admit that they “mai kao jai” and just tell you something that really doesn’t answer your question. Even if they do, sometimes they express themselves in English in such a way that it doesn’t make any sense for you – another good reason to start learning Thai and you get all the answers to your questions.
10. Thai People encourage you to learn Thai
Whether you are “good with languages” or not, whether learning Thai is difficult or not (I don’t think so) the good thing is Thai people appreciate any effort you take in learning their language and will always take some time to help you learn new words or sentences. While they are very hesitant to teach you the bad words, you can always go to Thais even if you have never talked with them before and if they see you try to learn something everyone is going to help you.
I hope that’s more than enough good reasons to start learning Thai. If you feel encouraged now and want to improve your Thai language skills head over to the Learn Thai section.