If you are planning to live in Thailand for the long-term, I would strongly recommend that you learn to speak Thai. As well as learning to speak Thai, I’d also suggest learning to read and write Thai. Thai can be a difficult language to learn for Westerners, as it’s a tonal language that us Westerners aren’t used to. This is why many English-speaking Westerners that move here just don’t bother. In the major cities you can easily get by with English, so why bother? Well, there are numerous reasons that you should make the effort, and here are just the main ones.

You’ll Make Friends More Easily

This is a real great reason to learn Thai. Not many Thai people can speak English, especially outside the main cities, so if you can’t speak any Thai, your circle of friends is going to be very limited indeed. You’ll have the choice of spending time with other expats or with the very small minority of Thais that can speak English. Just imagine what life would be like back in your home country if you couldn’t speak the language. We have to be able to communicate in order to make friends, but we can’t do that if we don’t speak the same language. If you decide to live in a smaller, more remote Thai town or village, then it’s likely you won’t have any friends at all, as no-one may be able to speak English. So for just this reason alone you should learn at least a little Thai.

You’ll Gain Huge Respect

Not many expats make the effort to learn Thai, so if you do you stand out as the person who has made the effort. This will gain you a huge amount of respect (and face) among Thai people, and they will make much more effort to get to know you, and to involve you. You’ll find that when you even speak a little Thai, they will be impressed enough to want to help you out with all sorts of things. They’ll also want to introduce you to their friends, so that is a double bonus.

You’ll Have An Easier Time Finding A Girlfriend

For you guys out there, this should be a no brainer. Probably less than 10% of Thai people can speak English, and those that can are often very limited in their vocabulary. So just think about that for a minute. Out of every ten cute Thai girls that you meet, you won’t be able to communicate at all with nine of them. The other one may or may not be able to speak a reasonable level of English. Why would you want to exclude yourself from being able to talk to all these cute girls? Are you really so lazy that you’d rather miss out than put in some effort to learn the language? Thai people value white skin, so plenty of Thai girls would just love to date a Westerner. But most can’t because most Westerners don’t make the effort to learn Thai. Some of the best girls in Thailand are the ones that can only speak Thai.

You’ll Have An Easier Time Finding A Job

Many expats that come to Thailand need to work, but finding work can sometimes be difficult. If you teach English, then you will get by with just your English skills. But for any other decent job you are going to have to learn at least a little Thai. There’s no point having great job if you can’t communicate with 90% of your co-workers. You’ll just feel like an outcast. That you’ve made the effort to learn Thai will also go down well with prospective employers. Just imagine that you’re a Thai employer looking to fill a vacancy. Two people apply for the job, one that has learnt some Thai, and one that hasn’t bothered learning any. All other things being equal, which person do you think will get the job?

Know What Thai People Are Saying About You

I have met many expats who appear to be slightly paranoid because they always think Thai people are talking about them, but have no idea what they are saying. This can drive some people crazy. All they need to do to remedy the situation is to learn Thai, and then they’ll know what the Thai people are saying. Even if you’re not paranoid about these things, it can be a bit disconcerting not know what others are talking about. So learn some Thai, and know what they are talking about. At the very least you’ll get to understand Thai people a little better.

Find Your Way Around More Easily

Not surprisingly, many signs in Thailand are actually written in Thai. So, learning to read, write and speak Thai will help you to find your way around much more easily. And it’s not just the signs. What if you’re lost and the only people that you can ask for directions speak Thai? How will you find your way? This may not be such a problem in large cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai, but in smaller towns it can be a real problem.

You’ll Understand The Culture A Little Better

The culture in Thailand will be vastly different from back home, and understanding this new culture will be much easier if you can speak Thai. You’ll understand what others are saying, and get small insights into the culture that you just wouldn’t be able to pick up otherwise. I have met expats that have been here for years, but are often still at a bit of a loss as to how the culture works. Those expats that can speak Thai always fit in much more easily and have a vastly superior understanding of the culture.

You’ll Have Fun

Yes, that’s right, you’ll have fun learning Thai. And who doesn’t want to have fun? If you take a Thai language course here, you’ll meet other people that are also learning Thai, and you’ll also meet lots of Thai people (especially females) that will help you with your Thai in exchange for you helping them with their English. There is nothing more rewarding than learning Thai with a few cute Thai girls. You might even meet the girl of your dreams.

Just to get you started, here are some very basic Thai words that you should know.

At the end of almost every sentence, Thais add the word ka (if they are female) or krap (if they are male). Adding ka or krap to the end of a sentence is just a way of being polite.

So if you want to say Thank You, you’d say…

Khop Khun Ka (if you’re female)
Khop Khun Krap (if you’re male)

Here is a word that you should definitely learn. It means Hello, Goodbye, Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Goodnight.

Sawaddee Ka (if you’re female)
Sawaddee Krap (if you’re male)

So now you already know how to say Hello, Goodbye, and Thank You. See, it wasn’t so difficult was it?
You will hear these words being spoken numerous times during the day, so start using them as soon as you arrive in Thailand. I don’t think there’s any substitute to learning Thai in a more formal setting, but you can easily pick up lots of new words every day. One way to do this is to learn two new words a day, and then keep using them over and over until you remember them. If you just learn two new words every day, that would be over 700 words in a year, and is enough to be able to communicate at a good level with most Thais. I’d start off with the most common words that you’ll use every day, as the repetition of using them will be what makes them easier to remember.

There are regional variations in the language, and the most widely spoken is Central Thai. So this is what you should learn when you’re starting out. If you learn Thai in the Isaan region, where tones are used much more, then Thais in Bangkok may not so easily be able to understand you. But learn Central Thai, and almost everyone will be able to understand you.