You probably know that my Thai is quite alright by now but then when I’m with a group of Isaan people it’s always somehow frustrating to hear them switch speaking in their local Isaan dialect and I don’t get what they say. As a consequence, I have recently started to obtain some useful Isaan vocabulary to at least be able to tell a girl things like that she’s cute, ask if she’s eaten yet, or understand when they talk about me (the Isaan word for Farang) or say that I’m handsome or whatever.
While the central Thai and Isaan languages share a lot of common words and the grammar is almost 100 percent identical, there are countless of Isaan words that make it quite its own language. Isaan people can always understand Thai people (mainly due to advertisements and television exposure) and a large majority is also proficient in speaking central Thai, most of the central Thai people have trouble understanding Isaan not just because of the different words but also because of some different tone characteristics.
A good example is the word for rice. In Thai the vowel has a falling tone (kâao) while in Isaan it’s the same word however the vowel has a low tone (kàao).
Please note: Some characters of the transliteration may cause displaying problems with Google Chrome browser. If it does, open it with Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, that works fine.
sam-baai dii bɔ̀ɔ ชำบายดีบ่อ How are you?
bpeeng-jang-dǎi เปงจังได๋ How are you? (for friends)
hét-ì-yǎng yùu เฮ้ดอิหยังอยู่ What are you doing?
bpai sǎi ไปไส Where are you going?
kɔ̀ɔi ข่อย I, me (both male and female)
jáo เจ๊า You
mák มัก to like
bpen dtaa hák / dtaa hák เป็นตาฮัก / ตาฮัก nice, cute
ngaam งาม beautiful
lɔ̀ɔ / lɔ̀ɔh hɛ̌ɛng หล่อ / หล่อแฮง handsome
lǎai หลาย very, much
hák ฮัก to love
kít hɔ̂ɔt คิดฮอด to miss
bàk-sǐi-daa บักสีดา Westerner (Farang in Thai)
bàk บัก fruit
jàk moong (lɛ́ɛo) จักโมง (แล้ว) What time is it?
gin kàao กินเข่า to eat
sɛ̂ɛp แซ่บ delicious
mɛ̂ɛn แม่น yes
bɔ̀ บ่ no
hɛɛng แฮง strong, power
Remarks about tone marks in transliteration:
Tone Symbol Tone Type Example
` low màa
(none) mid maa
´ high máa
ˆ falling mâa
ˇ rising mǎa
More information on how to pronounce the transliterated words you can find in the Thai Beginner’s Course.
Make sure to check back here, I’m gonna add a few more important words when I have time to make it at least 30.