In Thai each syllable has a specific tone. Tone determines how you should use pitch when pronouncing that syllable. Changing tone may change the meaning of the word (e.g. mài, mǎi and mâi are different words). You can identify the tone by a little marker placed above the corresponding syllable. The tones are:
- Mid tone (no marker) is your normal speaking tone. When you don't see a tone marker, pronounce the syllable with your normal speaking tone. Examples: dii, khun, gin.
- High tone means that you should use a higher pitch than what you use in your normal speech. Examples: khráp, néua, náam.
- Low tone is the opposite; use a lower pitch than what you use in your normal speech. Examples: àrai, yùu, mài.
- Rising tone means that you should start with a low pitch, but increase it as you pronounce the syllable, to finish with a high pitch at the end of the syllable. Examples: phǒm, chǎn, mǎi.
- Falling tone is the opposite; start with a high pitch and finish with a low pitch. Examples: chêu, khâ, mâi.
While pronouncing tones correctly takes some practice, Thais are very good at understanding foreigners with less than perfect tone use. To help you get started, we have included audio samples in the learning material. When you see a speaker icon, click it to hear how a word is pronounced.
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