A Fast-track Guide for Indians to Learn Thai – Back to Basics

From the age of about 6 until around 17, I was really
into gymnastics and martial arts.  I could flex and bend like a rubber
band and was always flipping about the place.  After a few injuries in
both sports, I decided to focus my attention on my music instead.  Since
then, my body has become as flexible as a flagpole, I see a chiropractor
regularly due to some back injuries that happened back then, I find myself
really susceptible to colds / sinus problems and my health in general isn’t
that great.

It was my birthday 2 Sundays ago –  I decided to
get my health in order.   The day after my birthday I went down to
the local Planet Yoga here in Bangkok (By Master Kamal – California WOW) and
signed up for membership.  I hit it hard for the past week attending 9 of
the past 10 days.  My back feels fantastic, I’m starting to stretch out
again, my sinuses are clearing up and my energy levels haven’t been this high
for a long time! 

Having Indian blood, it’s been great to get back into
the ‘Indian’ side of me.  Hearing the Sanskrit during the class and just
having the ‘Indian’ presence is fantastic.  I noticed as the Indian Yoga
instructors were pronouncing the Sanskrit names of each of the Asanas
(positions), most of the Thais were oblivious to what they were saying.  A
lot of this was due to the fact that they were pronouncing the Sanskrit ‘too’
well.  In response to this, I have put this chart together for any Indic
language speakers wanting to get a kick-start on their Thai.  I have
adapted the original chart found at



First off, let’s have a look at where Thai fit’s into
it all:

![Brahmee Ancestory](http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/98/Brahmi_Chart.jpg)

Points of note for Indian speakers when learning


You’ll notice that each of the5 vargas
(velar, palatal, retroflex, dental, labial) is divided up into High, Middle
and **Low **classes. 

The ‘HIGH’ class in Thai are based on those
letters in the Indic sound system that come in the** second column** of each
varga – i.e. the non-voiced + heavy aspiration.  I have highlighted the High
Class in Grey.

As the High class are letters produced with an ‘open’
throat, all the main sibilant (s sounds) from the Indic sound system are also
high class, as well as ‘h’.

The ‘MIDDLE’ class in Thai are based on
those letters in the Indic sound system at come in the first column of
each varga – i.e. the non-voiced, non-aspirated letters.  **Note – the glottis is closed at the
beginning of each MIDDLE CLASS letter in Thai.  I have highlighted the
Middle Class in Yellow. **

LOW’ class consists of all the rest, as they
are in the ‘normal’ voice of the speaker.

You’ll notice a number of letters where one letter
in the Indic system has turned into two letters of in Thai.  From now on, I will call any pair of letters in Thai that stem from the same letter
in the Indic sound system ‘cousins’.  The sound of the ‘cousins’ will always be
related in some way – normally a ‘voiced’ and ‘unvoiced’ version of the same
letter, or affricate and sibilate version of a letter, or labial plosive /
affricate labial versions of a letter.  You’ll notice that when letters are
cousins, they look almost identical in shape with the exception of a dented or
extended head, or extended tail, or an extra bump somewhere.  The cousins are:
(Note that I am using the NLAC  – National Library at Calcutta symbols for the
Indic pronunciation where possible).
(j) – ช (ch)  ซ (s)

 (ṭ ) – ฎ (d)  ฏ (t)

(t)  –  ด (d)  ต (t)

  • o       
     (p) – บ (b)  ป (p)
  • o       
     (ph) –  ผ (ph) ฝ (f)
    (high class)
  • o       
    (b)  – พ (ph)  ฟ (f) (low

There are a few others than have
now become obsolete – so I haven’t included them on the chart.

Notice that the 3rd and 4th
columns of each varga turns from ‘voiced’ in the Indic languages to ‘unvoiced’
in Thai, leaving them to sound identical – and in modern Thai, have the same
consonant sound as the high class version too – although the tone will be
different for words that they lead.


All the retroflex letters (3rd varga)
become non-retroflex – leaving the 3rd and 4th vargas to
sound identical


All the ‘t’ sounds in the dental varga are less
‘toothy’ than those in the Indic languages – a little closer to the hard

As the retroflex sounds aren’t found in the
traditional Thai sound system, these letters are rare and can only be found in
a handful of Pali / Sanskrit based words.


All the letters in the 4th column of
every varga are VERY rare – as the original ‘voiced + aspirated’ sound isn’t
found in Thai.  Again, these are only in a handful of Pali / Sanskrit based
words.  Some of these words are common words.

The 5th Column – Nasals


The retroflex nasal becomes a plain ‘n’ sound


The palatal nasal ‘nya’ becomes a ‘y’ sound –
though the ‘nya’ characteristic is still kept when pronouncing Sanskrit words that
have the ‘nya’ in the middle – e.g.
บัญญา – ‘banya’ (panya) –
wisdom, สํญญา – ‘sanya’ – promise.

Sibilants (‘s’ sounds)

In the Indic language, you have the palatal ‘ś’,
retroflex ‘ṣ’ and dental ‘s’ sounds.  In Thai, these all turn into
normal ‘s’.

The letters in Thai are pronounced with an ‘o’
sound after them rather than an ‘a’ sound.  The result is that they sound quite
similar to Bengali letters – only that most of the voiced letters become

Why are the letters divided up into 3 classes?

Because the different nature of each of these ‘types’
of letters has an effect on the tone.   Tones are just the result of
the difference between the nature of the first part of a syllable and the last
part of a syllable.  Having the throat wide open at the beginning of a
syllable, then saying a vowel – while closing the throat at the end of the
syllable will cause the ‘vowel’ to ‘rise’.  It’s really important to
understand that ‘TONES’ are not just ‘sound contours’.  They are movements
of the throat.  I will post an article sometime soon that goes into tone
theory and why / tones exist.

Comparative Letter Chart for Devanagari, Thai,

Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Urdu (Nastaliq)

### NLAC ### IPA ### Thai IPA ### Dev ### Tha ### Ben ### Gur ### Guj ### Ori ### Tam ### Tel ### Kan ### Mal ### *Urd*
### *Velars (Throat)*
k k k *ک*
kh *ک‌ھ*
g ɡ *گ*
gh ɡʱ *گھ*
ŋ ŋ *ں*
### Palatals ### *
c c c *چ*
ch *چھ*
j ɟ cʰ / s ช ซ *ج*
jh ɟʱ *جھ*
ñ ɲ j  / ɲ **
### Retroflex ### *
ʈ d / t ฎ  ฏ *ٹ*
ṭh ʈʰ *ٹھ*
ɖ *ڈ*
ḍh ɖʱ *ڈھ*
ɳ n *ٹ*
### Dentals ### *
t d / t ด  ต *ت*
th t̺ʰ *تھ*
d *د*
dh d̺ʰ *دھ*
n n n *ن*
n   *
### Labials ### *
p p p บ  ป *پ*
ph pʰ / f ผ  ฝ *پھ*
b b pʰ / f พ  ฟ *ب*
bh *بھ*
m m m *م*
### Semi Vowels ### *
y j j *ی*
r r r *ر*
r   *
l l l *ل*
ɭ l ਲ਼ *
ɻ   *
v ʋ w *و*
### *Sibilants*
ś ɕ s ਸ਼ *ش*
ʂ s **
s s s *س*
*h* *h* *h* ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** *ہ  ھ*


### NLAC ### IPA ### Thai


### Tha ### Dev ### Ben ### Gur ### Guj ### Ori ### Tam ### Tel ### Kan ### *Mal*
a ə o / a คะ **
ā ɑ: ɑ: อา กา का কা ਕਾ કા କା கா కా ಕಾ *കാ*
i i i อิ กิ कि কি ਕਿ કિ କି கி కి ಕಿ *കി*
ī i: i: อี กี की কী ਕੀ કી କୀ கீ కీ ಕೀ *കീ*
u u u อุ กู कु কু ਕੁ કુ କୁ கு కు ಕು *കു*
ū u: u: อู กู कू কূ ਕੂ કૂ କୂ கூ కూ ಕೂ *കൂ*
e e e เอะ เกะ कॆ கெ కె ಕೆ *കെ*
ē e: e: เอ เก के []() [কে]() ਕੇ કે କେ கே కే ಕೇ *കേ*
    Q แอะ แกะ                                   *
    Q: แอ แก                                   *
ai ai ai ไอ ใอ ไก  ใก कै কৈ ਕੈ કૈ କୈ கை కై ಕೈ *കൈ*
o o Q เอาะ เกาะ कॊ கொ కొ ಕೊ *കൊ*
ō o: O: เอา เกา को কো ਕੋ કો କୋ கோ కో ಕೋ *കോ*
    o โอ: โกะ                                   *
au au o: โอ au कौ কৌ ਕੌ કૌ କୌ கௌ కౌ ಕೌ *കൌ*
ɻ̣ ru ɻ̣ कृ কৃ કૃ କୃ కృ ಕೃ *കൃ*
ɻ̣: ru ฤๅ ɻ̣: कॢ কৢ **
ɭ̣ lu ɭ̣ कॄ কৄ કૄ కౄ ಕೄ **
** *ɭ̣:* *l*u *ฦๅ* *ɭ̣:* ** *कॣ* ** *কৣ * ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

I will make a disclamer that by the time of getting
to the end of this chart, it is about 3am, and I am very bleary eyed and trust
that there are probably numerous errors.  Errors that I am aware of are
those of the Bangla script – I had problems installing the Bangla keyboard on
this machine – so the Unicode would not render the spelling properly. 
Vowel frames are not in the correct order – e.g. কো
should look more like the Thai เอา vowel.  … I’ll fix
it up when I can.

I will be posting a table in the near future that
includes a lot more Brahmi based scripts including Javanese, Balinese,
Cambodian (Khmer / Mon), Kam Mueang (Chiangmai script), Burmese and other Tai
scripts.  If you have any questions or comments, drop me an email at