Learn to Read Thai

If you are on this page, you are probably thinking of learning to read the Thai Language.

You may have heard about how hard and complicated it might be to read Thai. But let me help make it easier for you.

On this page, you will only see the necessary information to learn to read Thai. You will start by knowing, and not memorizing, the core elements of the Thai reading system and then practice reading your first Thai word!

Core elements of the Thai reading system

Understanding all these elements is important since it helps you to pronounce a Thai word correctly with the right tone. Don’t memorize everything you read here. You will start memorizing at the practice stage.

1. Thai consonants and their classes

There are 44 consonants. ฃ (kh) and ฅ (kh) are no longer used. The consonants are divided into 3 classes. Each class has its own tone rules. Learning each class at a time should make it simpler.

Thai consonants in alphabetical order

The three classes of consonants

When we learn to read and write in school, we learn and memorize these 44 consonants in alphabetical order. We memorize them through the alphabet song. Later on, we learn the classes.

You can do the same, but you can also just learn them separately according to their classes. I mentioned earlier that it should be simpler for you because you can memorize the letters and their tone rules at the same time.

Classesnumber of lettersmembersNote
High11ข, ฉ, ถ, ฐ, ผ,
ฝ, ศ, ษ, ส, ห
ฃ is no longer used
Middle9ก, จ, ด, ต, ฎ, ฏ,
บ, ป, อ
-
Low24ค, ฆ, ช, ฌ, ฑ, ฒ,
ท, ธ, พ, ภ, ฟ, ซ,
ฮ, ง, น, ณ, ม, ย,
ญ, ร, ล, ฬ, ว
ฅ is no longer used

2. Thai vowels

There are 28 vowels in total. 12 are long vowels and 16 are short. The form of some vowels will change when a word has a final consonant. Each vowel has a certain position when writing. You will see vowels all around the consonant.

The table below separates the vowels into 3 groups based on their characteristics. There are single vowels, mixed vowels, and vowels with final consonant sounds.

Single Vowel
Short VowelLong Vowel
Thai ScriptSymbolsSoundsThai ScriptSymbolsSounds
- ิi - ีii
เ - ะ / เ- ็
e เ -
ee
เเ - ะ / แ- ็
æ แ -
ææ
- ึ
ɨ - ือ / - ื
ɨɨ
เ - อะə เ - อ / เ- ิ əə
- ะ / - ัa - าaa
- ุu - ูuu
โ - ะ / disappear
o โ -oo
เ - าะ / - ็อɔ -อɔɔ
MIXED VOWELS (DIPHTHONGS)
Short VowelsLong Vowels
Thai ScriptSymbolsSoundsThai ScriptSymbolsSounds
เ- ียะ
iaʔ เ- ียia
เ- ือะ
ɨaʔ เ- ือ
ɨa
- ัวะuaʔ - ัว / -วua
VOWELS WITH FINAL SOUNDS
Short Vowel
Thai ScriptSymbolsSounds
- ำ
am
ไ - / ใ -ay
เ - า
aw

3. Final consonants

Out of 44 consonants, 35 of them can be a final consonant. The ฃ (kh), ฅ (kh), ฉ (ch), ฌ (ch), ผ (ph), ฝ (f), อ (ʔ), ห (h) and ฮ (h) are not. We have only 8 final consonant sounds because some of them share the same sound.

PHONETIC SYMBOLEXAMPLE WORDSSOUNDSTHAI LETTER
- kmâak ก, ข, ค, ฆ
- prîip บ, ป, พ, ฟ, ภ
- tpə̀ət ด, จ, ช, ซ, ฎ, ฏ, ฐ, ฑ, ฒ,
ต, ถ, ท, ธ, ศ, ษ, ส
- ŋyuŋ
- nrian น, ญ, ณ, ร, ล, ฬ
- msǎam
- ykhuy
- whǐw

4. Tones and the tone marks

There are 5 tonal sounds and 4 tone marks. The tone is important because it changes the meaning of the word.

Here, you can listen to the five tonal sounds in Thai

Name of the TonesSymbolsExample WordsSounds
Middle Tone


maa
Low Tonelow tonemàa
Falling Tonefalling tonemâa
High Tonehigh tonemáa
Rising Tonerising tonemǎa

The following table shows you the four tone marks and how Thai people call it.

NameTone MarksHow to Use It
ไม้เอก (máay ʔèek)- ่ก่า กี่
ไม้โท (máay thoo)- ้ก้า กี้
ไม้ตรี (máay trii)- ๊ก๊า กี๊
ไม้จัตวา (máay càttawaa)- ๋ก๋า กี๋

5. Types of syllables

Thai syllables can either be open or closed. It is how you end your pronunciation. When you pronounce an open syllable, you can prolong the ending sound, but it’s not possible for closed syllables.

Open Syllable– ends in n, ŋ (ng), m, w, y, or a long vowel
– use these  ำ (am), ไ- (ay), ใ- (ay) and เ-า (aw)
Closed Syllable– ends in k, t, or p or a short vowel

I put the table below to show you how the types of syllables can affect the tone. This is just for your reference. You don’t memorize it for now.

Tonal Sounds
ClassSyllableMiddle ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
HighOpen-ข่าข้า-ขา
Closed-ขะข้ะ--
MiddleOpenกาก่าก้าก๊าก๋า
Closed-กะก้ะก๊ะก๋ะ
LowOpenคา-ค่าค้า-
Closed (Long Vowel)--คาบค้าบ-
Closed (Short Vowel)--ค่ะคะ-

To wrap up

These five elements all together will form a Thai word and how it should be read. Everything will make more sense in the practice section. If you feel ready to start to read Thai, let’s go to the next section.



Take your Thai reading to the next step

After you have completed all the lessons on how to read Thai, you are likely to be able to read pretty much everything in the Thai script. However, you may come to the point that you can read it but not understand it.

The way to get out of that position is to practice reading more and more from the content that is right to your level. Read something that you find interesting or enjoyable for you.

You can read from any source. Whether it is a book, e-book, article, social media post, app, etc. Just make sure that you enjoy reading it.

With this process, you will become more fluent in reading and expand more Thai vocabulary and sentence structures at the same time.

If you don’t know where to start, here are Learn Thai from a Story series that I have published so far. These two books are for you to practice reading Thai from an easy story. Check them out and see if any of them are at your level and are interesting for you.