Learning the Thai script - consonants, vowels, tones, tone markers ... I know this is probably preaching to the choir, flogging a dead horse - and many other overused idioms ... but as I read through discussions here, on Youtube and in other groups, I realised when I put my clip out the other day debunking that old 'Thai is the most complicated script in the World' clip (see links below), that there are still some people out there struggling to learn the Thai alphabet in a linear, minesweeper fashion, not realising that it's actually a very symmetrical, logical system based on a map of the human mouth.

Sorry about my mugshot being the 'example' ... I was going to use one of Prayuth, but then was concerned that I'd be arrested for a Cyber crime / หมิ่น.

This is an updated version of the old analogy I have used over the years of how the Thai consonants are presented to many learners ... even now.


Asking someone to just memorise a string of consonants and then memorising seemingly random mnemonics to pick out which ones are the

  • 'High Class'
  • 'Mid Class'
  • 'Low Class'

... consonants is akin to getting a photo, cutting it up into pieces and then straightening them all out in a linear fashion, then rebuildng another image of different proportions from those pieces.

You might be able to kind of make out that it's a 'face' with eyes, nose, ears and mouth etc., but it would be very difficult to present someone with that and then have them memorise 'the face'. It makes much more sense (for me at least) to just present its original format.

When you see it in the original format, the 'classes' - which are groups based on

  • Middle Class - Column 1 'stopped throat'
  • High Class - Column 2 (aspirated) + 'S' (traditional sibilants) + 'H' base (mascot for 'air')
  • Low Class - 'voiced' - Originally remaining 3 columns in initial 5x5 grid, but later lost voicing + Semi vowels (which need voice)

These are all laid out plainly in the matrix.

Check out how the semi-vowels ย ร ล ว fit in nicely to the matrix ... and even the 3 's' ศ ษ ส letters ... where ซ was a break-away cousin invented later on to cover words derived from traditionally ช words that kept the 's' sound... (Ask Lao / Isan speakers how they pronounce ช้าง ... 象).


In any case, I hope that posting this has helped anyone out there who has been struggling to learn the Thai letters and trying to understand why on earth they are the way they are. This should explain a lot.

Thai is the Most Complicated Script - Debunked

Part One

Part 2