20 Useful Isaan Words You Should Know

Last updated: July 16th, 2015 | in Learn Thai

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).

Here are some 20 very important and useful words from the Isaan language that you can use to impress your girlfriend, gik, friend or anyone else from Thailand’s northeastern provinces.

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.

20 Useful Isan Words You Should Know

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.

About Redcat

Redcat

Redcat lives his dream by living and traveling in Thailand. On Thailand Redcat he shares his experiences and advice to all aspects of (night)life in Thailand. Redcat is also fluent in Thai both spoken and written and is author of the books Thai Beginner’s Course and Thai Love Course.

4 Responses

  • Baht bus says:

    I’m currently staying with my girlfriend in her village about 60 Klm from udon Thani . I really need to learn more Thai language and was looking for some advice on where to start . I see many pay for Learn Thai etc , but have never seen any decent reviews . Any books, websites , literature or YouTube that you can reccommend .
    Thanks .

  • Torin says:

    Hi I’ve learning Thai for many years including reading Thai. But living in the uk is hard even though I have a Thai wife and friends, but when we go out to visit family they often talk to me in isan which can become very difficult when trying to have a communication session.
    I do know a few words which I have pick up but sometimes mix it up without realizing, to the joy for them.
    But over all they try communicate with me and visa versa.

  • Ronnie says:

    After spending many hundreds of hours learning Thai, I am starting to wish that I had learned Isaan instead. To me, it seems as if it is the common language of the people. If a Falang speaks Thai, the reaction is often one of you should,not bother learning it, because it is very difficult if you are not Thai, and people in Thailand can speak very good English and Thai folk are mostly indifferent to you having spoken to them in Thai. If however, you say a few simple words in Isaan, the reaction is very different. People are delighted that you know a few words of ” their” language. And where do I find such reactions ? In CENTRAL Thailand. Reading articles on the Internet, one could be forgiven for believing that those who speak Isaan are to be found located in the North East. Another thing that I have noticed is that articles to be found on the Internet seem to suggest that Loas and Isaan are essentially the same language. I accumulated quite a number of words and phrases in Loas and tried using them in Isaan, only to discover that they were not recognised.

    • michel8332 says:

      I guess it depends on the people you meet. I made different experiences with speaking Thai: People mostly appreciate your efforts and encourage you to carry on in learning a “difficult” language. And it is absolutely necessary because only few people speak English, even less speak good and understandable – an experience which I’ve made in cities as well as in small villages of the north east. Of course, speaking Isan takes it to another level but can bring along other difficulties: Isan is the language of the north east, there’s no arguing that. The reason why so many people speak Isan in central Thailand is simply found in the migration from the north east to other parts of the country which is driven by lack of (well paying) employments in this area. That does not change the fact that in the eyes of a Thai, Isan is the language of a minority group and stands for lower level of education. In short: Speaking Isan among Thai people makes you a country bumpkin.
      So, yes, speaking a little Isan is useful (and I should know that as a significant part of my family belongs to this ethnic group) but speaking proper Thai is way better. One should be able to identify the situations, where better use the one then the other.


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