Now Im not the sharpest tool in the shed – but I not a dummy either.
So I wondered why a reasonably intelligent guy like me couldn’t work out how to read and write Thai after multiple attempts with different teachers and institutions.
Then I worked out why – and it was staring me in the face the whole time. A blinding flash of the obvious.
When Thai teachers put together a system for English peeps to learn their language, they used the same words (low, middle and high) many times to explain different things.
The academics had arranged the consonants into 3 groups and called them Low Middle and High Classes.
Unfortunately they also used the same words eg Low Middle and High to explain the Tone groups; which is a different thing altogether. Instant confusion. It was havoc to try and make sense of.
And that’s why you so often hear that Thai is hard to learn. It’s no wonder if they are going to intermingle the same words to describe different roles.
There are 2x LOWs that mean different things (eg Low Class consonant and Low tone) and 2x HIGHs that means different things (eg High Class consonant and High tone) and many MIDDLEs that all mean different things = super complicated. Here’s the solution.
So I had a brainwave and renamed the old-fashioned consonant classes into colours, and separated them into 3 groups based on easy to remember positions in the earth eg
red = SUN is high
green = earth is middle
blue = sea is low
Simple as. See below.
Ahhh the clouds parted and sunshine came through. I could see clearly now …
Think of the RED group as the SUN (previously known as “high class”)
Think of the GREEN group as the EARTH (previously known as “middle class”)
Think of the BLUE GROUP as the SEA (previously known as “low class”)
How An English Person Easily Explains Thai Tones
I must give thanks to Rachelle Nelson for this brilliant concept of How To Learn Thai Tones.
What made tones finally click for me was thinking about them as different intonations in English, which this video using the word “hi” is very close to.
For example, think of the MID tone as a incomplete thought, perhaps the way you would greet someone if you’re concentrating very hard and don’t want to be disturbed, as in “Hi…”
The FALLING tone is more of an “excited” sound, like exclaiming “hi!” to someone you are excited to see.
The LOW tone sounds like the way you say hi as a formality, just to get on with the rest of your statement – “Hi. I’m calling about…”
The HIGH tone is like a lead-in to a question, as in “Hi, are you there?”
And the RISING tone is like a prompting question – I imagine a parent saying to their child, “Are you gonna say hi?”
And that’s another example and instance why Ive found that non-Thai people make the best Thai teachers (no offence intended).