Is Thai hard to learn?

Is Thai hard to learn?

Published: Feb 21, 2023 | By: Treesukondh Thaleikis

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Thai is a relatively hard language to learn for speakers of Western languages. The US State Department places Thai at Level 4/5 on its FSI language difficulty ranking (5 being the most difficult).

But I think this placement is a bit misleading and doesn't give you an accurate picture of how hard Thai is to learn. For one, Thai is easier to learn than some of the other languages listed at Level 4. For example, Hebrew, Persian, and Vietnamese are also listed at Level 4.

But if you review the experiences of people who have tried to learn these languages, Thai is definitely easier to learn than these three other languages.

I will give you that it's difficult, as I'll detail more later. But I guarantee you it's easier than you think. The main thing that separates it from the level 1 and 2 languages for Western language speakers is that you've never made the sounds that you need to make in Thai before.

And unlike learning Spanish, French, or Italian, there will be very few words that are the same or sound the same as in English.

Once you actually start learning and speaking it, you'll realize that it's much simpler than many other languages, and there are many things about the Thai language that actually makes it much easier to speak than many of the other so-called "difficult languages."

Why does the Thai language have a reputation for being difficult?

It’s undeniable that Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with the popular slogan “Thailand is the Land of Smiles”. But it's true that the reputation of our language is that Thai is difficult to learn.

The statistics from the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) revealed that from January 1 to December 31, 2022, more than 11.8 million foreign tourists came to Thailand to get a taste of the incredible Thai culture, people, and of course, the food.

But what about the Thai language? Of course, most tourists will pick up some basic words like “Sawaddee Krap” (Hello) and “Khob Khun Krap” (Thank you). 

But have you ever thought about what your experience in Thailand would be like if you could actually speak a little bit of Thai while you were here?

With over a decade of teaching experience, I have taught Thai to students from more than 20 countries worldwide. Wow, even typing that brings back memories from some remarkable moments in my life when I think of those students and where they came from.

Asia China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, India, Israel, Taiwan, Turkey, Vietnam
Europe Australia, Denmark, England, France, German, Italy, Norway, Macedonia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
Americas America, Canada, Venezuela


Seeing how many students come to Thailand from all over the world to learn Thai tells you just how many people are interested in learning Thai.

But is Thai hard to learn? Will you actually be able to learn the language well enough to speak with Thai people and use it while you live or travel in Thailand

Let me answer this question for you and give you some more information you can hopefully use when doing your research before beginning your Thai language-learning journey.

is Thai easy to learn

What you should know about the Thai Language

The Thai language is the oldest in Southeast Asian countries. It has its roots in Austro-Thai, which is similar to the Chinese language in terms of tones that cause significant changes in the meanings of the words as the tonal sounds are changed.  

Thailand is like a sister country to China due to our related histories and the large diaspora of Chinese people in Thailand. Therefore, many words have been borrowed and used until the present, for example:

เกาเหลา (go͞a-la͝o) 高楼 
Chinese clear soup with boiled vegetables
เต้าหู้ (dta͡o-hu͡u) 豆腐
ซาลาเปา (sa͞a-la͞a-bpa͞o)
Chinese bun

Origin of the Thai language

Back in 1283 A.D., King Ram Khamhaeng the Great, the first king of Thailand, invented the Thai alphabet. The written Thai language consists of 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and 5 tones. It was made the official language of government work on March 31, 1993.

The history and evolution of the Thai alphabet began in 1283 A.D.  when King Ram Khamhaeng the Great had an idea for the creation of the Thai script called "Laai Sue Thai", which derived from the existing alphabets of Mon (the owner of the ancient civilization in the land of Burma) and Khmer (present-day Cambodia).


difficulty level of learning Thai

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Factors that make Thai difficult to learn

When it comes to the required time to learn Thai, learners must push through many obstacles to keep from giving up and quitting. According to my past student attendance sheets, you can definitely see there are issues that need to be addressed before you start a Thai course.

Which one is your concern?  If you know and are proactive in preparing for it; your Thai learning experience will be much easier and go much more smoothly.

  1. Enjoying the daily activities

  2. Time management

  3. Responsibility

  4. Perseverance 

  5. Motivation

Let’s have a look at some of the specific aspects of the Thai language that can make Thai hard to learn for students.

The Thai alphabet

The Thai alphabet presents unique challenges that can make learning the Thai language a demanding task for non-native speakers.

One significant reason is its non-Roman script. Unlike languages that use the Latin alphabet, the Thai script consists of 44 consonants, 15 vowel symbols, and four tone markers, making it visually intricate and unfamiliar to learners accustomed to Roman-based languages.

Additionally, the script lacks spaces between words, requiring learners to grasp word boundaries through context and familiarity. The complex pronunciation rules and five different tones further contribute to the difficulty.

Memorizing the various consonant classes and their sounds, as well as distinguishing between the different tones, poses a considerable challenge.

Moreover, the absence of direct phonetic correlations between Thai and other languages makes it harder to rely on previous language skills when learning Thai.

Nonetheless, learning the Thai alphabet is crucial if you really want to learn the language, and also incredibly helpful. Any Thai language student will tell you there's a night and day difference between when they were trying to pronounce Thai words with Romanized spellings and when they learned the Thai alphabet

So while it might be a tough challenge, it's one eventually you'll have to overcome. 

The tonal language system and its impact on speaking and listening

Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones, which can knock learners down if they don’t have enough patience to keep learning when they get stuck trying to pronounce a word. This problem can be found with all beginners who want to learn to speak Thai because of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the correct Thai pronunciation rules. 

Thai grammar structure, including verb tenses and sentence construction

Thai sentence structure is different from English in some cases. For instance:

English This + house + is + very + beautiful 
Thai House + noun classifier + this + beautiful + very


English I want to go to the market
Thai I want go market


The Thai language doesn’t use the articles a, an, and the, so they will be removed from Thai sentences when the words are replaced with Thai meanings; therefore, English articles mean nothing.

  • Differences in vocabulary and sentence structure from English and other 

  • Cultural and contextual nuances that can be difficult to understand

When two people from different cultures speak with each other, there is always a possibility for miscommunication and cultural misunderstanding, so it’s possible that your attempts of speaking with a Thai person won’t always be as smooth as silk. 

There are many differences in interpretation, perception, perspectives, and society. When learning a new language, it’s impossible to separate it from its country’s culture. As a result, culture is one particular part of language learning that creates problems for students.

This cultural understanding and knowing the proper context certainly make the Thai language seem more difficult to learn and understand.

why is Thai hard to learn and easy

Comparing learning Thai to other Asian languages

The Thai pronunciation system is similar to Chinese, another tonal language. However, Chinese is easier because it only has 4 tones compared to Thai’s 5. See the comparison in the table below.

Language Middle Low Falling High Rising
Thai bpa͞a bpa︡a bpa͡a bpa︠a bpa͝a
Reading ปา ป่า ป้า ป๊า ป๋า
Chinese ba͞ ba͝ ba︡ - ba︠
Reading ปา ป่า ป้า - ป๋า

Thai grammar vs. Chinese

Some Chinese grammar is the same as Thai grammar in terms of sentence structures, except the pronunciation of one tone is different.

Subject Verb Object

Thai tenses

The Thai language and the Chinese language do not use tenses in past, present, and future forms. There is only one challenge: vocabulary. The more learners can remember vocabulary, the better they can understand the language. In addition, most of the Chinese words used in Thailand tend to be food names, trading names, and people's names.

Common difficulties for English speakers

The Thai language may be easy to learn for Chinese speakers because of the similar tones that help them understand faster, but it seems hard for English speakers to learn. 

If a learner wants to take a class to learn Thai, I always recommend starting with writing lessons. If you can write, you can pronounce, read, and speak in a complete package and build a good foundation for the rest of your learning. 

the big Buddha in Phuket, Thailand

So Thai is hard to learn, but is it worth it?

If you’re thinking about learning Thai, you’ll have to consider a variety of factors, such as your available time, your budget, and your end goal.

"Is Thai hard to learn?" is a reasonable question to ask in the beginning. But it may not be the right one.

Learning is hard work that reminds us that knowledge cannot be bought. But it’s an investment that learners must pay the price with their time, effort, and endurance. Luckily, if you put in the work and stick with it, you will certainly eventually reap the effort you’ve sown, and the rewards sometimes feel endless.

If I am asked, “Is Thai worth the effort to learn?” My answer would be, “Absolutely, yes!,” As we say in Thai, “No pain, No gain. No rain, No flowers. No snow, No fur (ไม่เจ็บไม่โต ไม่มีฝนไม่มีดอกไม้ ไม่มีหิมะ ไม่มีเสื้อหนานุ่ม). Ultimately, learning is a part of your journey to be wiser. 

Not only that, in the case of learning Thai, it’s a part of your journey to being a better human who is better connected with other humans in the world. New opportunities will open up, you’ll meet more people than you would have, and your experience in Thailand will never be the same.

Once you get the taste of speaking Thai with Thai people in Thailand, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it so much that no matter how hard learning Thai may sometimes be, you’ll never look back.

Except for maybe when you look back at the time you Googled "Is Thai hard to learn?" and then immediately start laughing out loud 😉.

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Treesukondh Thaleikis from the Weaver School

Treesukondh (Tree) Thaleikis is a professional Thai teacher for foreigners, translator, and content writer from Bangkok, Thailand. She graduated from Mae Fah Luang University with with first-class honors. Tree loves traveling and is passionate about language learning, especially English. You can contact her on LinkedIn, or you can read more from her on her personal blog here.

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