Learn to Speak Thai through Transliteration

Why do I need to learn to speak Thai through alien symbols instead of learning from its original transcript? This is one of the popular questions from many of my students. In this article, you will see the advantages and disadvantages of learning to speak Thai through Transliteration systems. Later you can decide if it will be better or worse for you to use them.

In fact, there are many ways to learn to speak Thai, it depends on your learning style. That means you do not need to learn those strange symbols to start speaking Thai. But then why it is there?

Table of Contents:

  1. What is a transliteration?
  2. The advantages and disadvantages of using Thai transliteration
  3. Unstandardised system of Thai transliteration

What is a Transliteration?

The transliteration is the process of transferring a word from the alphabet of one language to another. It helps people to be able to pronounce words in other languages without reading the original script.

Pinyin for Mandarin and Romaji for Japanese are the well-known examples. They use romanisation system to allow foreigners to learn to speak their languages without reading original characters. It is very helpful to hasten your speaking process.

Instead of looking at this character 家 and trying to memorise that it means ‘home’ in Mandarin and is pronounced as ‘jiā’, the learners can just ignore the character and be able to say a word home by using Pinyin (jiā)

Same thing in Japanese, you can learn to say the word ‘home’ without knowing how to read its hiragana form いえ, but using the Romaji character which is ‘ie’.

Thai Transliteration works the same way like Pinyin and Romaji. Therefore, you can say the word ‘home’ which is pronounced as ‘bâan’ in Thai language, regardless of the knowledge of Thai alphabets ‘บ้าน’

Speak Thai through Learning Transliteration Pros and Cons

Using transliteration in learning some languages might not make much more sense than learning some others. For example, Native English speakers may not need to use transliteration to learn a language like Spanish because the writing systems of both languages are similar.

However, with some languages which have a totally different writing system like Thai, using transliteration can be very helpful, because mastering the reading system in Thai may require a lot of time and effort. It may discourage you from learning to speak.

Being able to speak Thai before starting to read Thai can be beneficial for you. Because by the time you start learning to read, you will already know many words in Thai. It will boost your reading process and make it more fun to learn reading.

Although using transliteration can shorten the learning process of speaking Thai, it might cause bad pronunciation. Since the transliteration combined with roman alphabets, there are possibilities that you may pronounce it in an English way. That can be a big issue in speaking Thai.

Therefore, if the transliteration is used in a proper way, it can be very beneficial for the learners to start speaking Thai.

In the video below, you will see how easier it is to use transliteration in learning to speak Thai than using Thai alphabets.

Unstandardised system of Thai transliteration

Unfortunately, there is still no standard system of Thai transliteration which causes a big confusion for the learners. Different schools and teachers use different symbols in transliterating words. Different Learning Thai books are written in different transliteration.

Here are some examples of how Thai transliteration are varied in different books. The symbols in a YELLOW BOX all represent ONE same sound in Thai which is ææ.

  • Teach Yourself Thai Conversation by David Smyth
thai transliteration
  • Colloquial Thai – The Complete Course for Beginners by John Moore and Saowalak Rodchue
thai transliteration
  • Thai – An Essential Grammar by David Smyth
thai transliteration

I cannot say which format is the best transliteration to represent Thai sound. However, I would suggest you to stick with one format of transliteration to avoid confusing with all the sounds. If you are taking lesson with teachers, you can discuss what format of transliteration you prefer with them or what they would suggest.


The Transliteration is not a must in learning to speak Thai. It is just an option for you to start learning to speak Thai without learning to read Thai at the first step. There are both advantages and disadvantages of using this system.

However, the important thing is to use the form of transliteration that can help you to pronounce correctly or at least as close to the original sounds as possible. I hope this article gives you some idea about the Thai transliteration and I wish you enjoy learning Thai.

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