Thailand is a country that many people want to visit at least once in the lives. With its amazing culture, delicious food, and beautiful landscape, Thailand should be high on any traveler’s list. However, there are some who have not yet considered the language barrier.
Thai is an entirely different language from English or any other Western language so depending on the scope of what you want to achieve on your trip, it can be hard to get by without being able to speak at least a little Thai.
Why Thailand is a Popular Tourist Destination
Thailand has long been a country known for its natural beauty and unique culture. It may not be as popular as other destinations such as France or Italy but nonetheless has attracted a large amount of tourists from all around the world.
Some of the main reasons why many people want to visit Thailand is because they can experience an entirely new culture with a variety of new activities, flavors to indulge in and sights to see.
Do I need to learn Thai?
People often ask if they should learn Thai before they visit Thailand. The short answer is no – most people can get by with English or basic sign language. However, if you wish to step out of the resort and really get to know the culture and country, picking up some basic Thai will be extremely helpful.
Reasons you Might want to Learn Thai Before Visiting
While learning how to speak Thai is not a necessity for most, there are absolutely a few reasons why it’s something to seriously consider.
Here are three of the main reasons.
1. Thai Culture
There are many aspects of Thai culture that can seem difficult to understand, such as different greetings and gestures, the spiritual significance of flowers and tattoos, the etiquette of dipping your head when passing someone on the street or entering someone’s home.
A lot of these differences are explored while learning some Thai language basics. It will make your trip much more interesting, especially if you step off the beaten path al little.
2. Thai Cuisine
If you want to really explore and understand Thailand, you need to experience the flavors of the local cuisine. Thai cuisine is a combination of Asian and Western cuisine, and there are many dishes that are not found in any other country.
While many resorts, hotels and restaurants in major tourist areas such as Bangkok and Phuket will cater to English speaking travelers, you’re really missing out of you don’t at least eat one or two meals with the local population.
Having a rudimentary understanding of the Thai language will make ordering different Thai delicacies much easier and improve you overall visit.
3. Thai People
The Thai language is spoken by about 60 million people and there are many other languages spoken in the country, including: English, Chinese, Malay, and Vietnamese.
That being said, the language barrier in Thailand, especially outside of major tourist destinations, is very real. Of that 60 million, about 90% of the population of Thailand speak Thai, but only roughly 15-20% speak English. And, most of that 15-20% work in the tourism and hospitality sector.
Knowing a little Thai will allow you to converse with everyday people and not only those at the front desk of your hotel or the servers taking your order leading to a much more satisfying travel experience.
How to Learn Thai Before Your Trip
Visiting a country with a language completely different from your own can be daunting. But for many, the struggle to learn the new language is worth it once they arrive at their destination. Learning Thai before visiting Thailand can be beneficial for many of the reasons listed above.
The easiest way to learn some basic Thai outside of Thailand is online.
The Internet provides a wide range of free and inexpensive Thai courses, classes and one-on-one tutors that help. It’s more convenient than trying to find an in-person class, which is often much more expensive and much less accommodating to your schedule.
That doesn’t mean in-person classes are bad, but they aren’t for everyone.
Who Should Not Learn Thai
Before traveling to Thailand, you may want to ask yourself if you really need to learn Thai. Many people assume that they must speak Thai in order to get around the country without any problems. This is not necessarily true. While speaking Thai can be very useful, for the reasons we’ve already discussed it is not required for everyone.
If you plan on spending a week in an all-inclusive beach resort, chances are almost everyone you encounter will have at least a basic conversational level of English. Or, if you’re just making a quick weekend stop on your way to a different location, it’s most likely not worth the time investment.
While learning the Thai language is certainly not a necessity before traveling to the wonderful country of Thailand, doing so will not only help you better understand their culture, but it will also help you get around more easily. You’ll be able to explore various flavors of Thai cuisine that might be otherwise difficult to order. And, you have a much bigger chance of making local friends.
If you only plan on staying in the country for a few days and hitting up the major tourism areas, it shouldn’t be a priority. But, even then having some basic understanding will let you soak in the culture in a more appreciative manner.