It is amazing how many ex-pats you meet in Phuket and Thailand who have lived here for years and can barely sequence a word together in Thai. I know a few long-term ex-pats whose Thai vocabulary is less than 10 words. The straightforward in order to you do not need to learn Thai to live in Thailand, especially if you are in one of the holidaymaker destinations such as Phuket. Does that mean it is not worth learning Thai?
I know a few ex-pats who insist it is a total waste of time to learn Thai. They say you do not need to speak Thai because there are always people around who speak English. They say they have girlfriends or wives or staff who can act as interpreters. They even claim to offer the moral high ground as the saying goes it is more important for Thais to learn English as it is a major international language. Therefore, by not speaking Thai and driving Thais to speak English they are doing them a like.
These people do have a point. You certainly don’t need to learn Thai to live in Phuket. However, I would still say there is an added thing these people have in accordance. They tend to be the people who moan the most about Thailand.
We all have our little frustrations about our lives in Thailand Varius ส่วนประกอบทำมาจากอะไร. Living in another culture where many rules seem to be stacked up against the foreigner is likely to produce a few complaints. We all moan sometimes but it does seem that it is the people who cannot speak Thai, especially the ones who do not even try, who also spend the most time moaning about the country.
I think there are two reasons for this. Is that their lack of interest in learning Thai is a measure of a more general negative attitude towards the country. If they had a more positive attitude to Thailand, they would be interested in learning the language. Deciding to produce a foreign country your home but then making no effort to learn the local language would appear that you are standing rather aloof to it country.
The second reason is that of course it must be frustrating to not determine what people around you are saying. As much as you do not need to speak Thai, life here is easier and more enjoyable if you do.
So many things are just more difficult if you cannot speak Thai. It may be a trip to the shops, the market, a restaurant or bar. What if you need a telephone line installed or to deal with a bit of forms? Why not consider ordering a french fries or some other service over the telephone? It is all possible without speaking Thai but just a little bit easier if you do. Many people who cannot speak Thai find themselves constantly attached to their interpreter. Whether that person is wife, employee or anyone who, it must be frustrating to need them by your side all the time.
However, the real good thing about speaking Thai is not the practical side of getting jobs done. The real benefit is enjoying your time in Thailand. It is in reaching Thai people, sharing a joke and a laugh. Understanding Thai people and what is going on around you. You will have a more positive interaction with Thais if you can determine what they are saying.
A trip to the market is much more enjoyable if you can exchange a few words with the stallholders. They will also usually offer you the normal price for their goods if you ask in Thai rather than quoting the overpriced price that they sometimes offer westerners. A trip to a Thai restaurant is much nicer when you can talk to the waitress. A night out with Thai friends is so much better if you can determine what they are saying in their language as well as yours.
What exactly is it like not to get the scam? I often find myself socialising in a mixed group of westerners and Thais. Usually a few of the westerners speak some Thai and a few don’t. Sometimes, when the Thais burst out laughing, I see a reaction from the westerners who don’t understand what they said. It is an almost paranoid reaction of ‘are they laughing at me. woul It comes from the constant frustration of not understanding what people assert, of never knowing the scam.
Thais like it when foreign people endeavor to learn their language. One of these hoodwinked by the fable that they cannot want you to learn Thai. Most of them are very pleased if you make the effort and take it as a complement to their country. The tiny handful I have met who hate foreign people learning Thai believe that means for the worst reason. There is only one reason why Thais don’t want you to learn their language. It is because they cannot want you to know what is going on. The only reason they cannot want you to know what is going on is that they are up to no good. The old Thai adage of ‘farang know too much, no good’ has a simple basis. If you know what is going on, you are difficult to con. If your Thai friends do not want you to learn Thai, then you are socialising in the wrong bags. You should find some new Thai friends.
This is a generalisation but, in general, people who learn to speak Thai have a more positive outlook on their life in Thailand. This is to a certain extent because if they have made a decision to learn the language they’ll likely are in all probability the kind of people who visited Thailand with a positive attitude right away. It is also because if you can speak Thai then the whole experience of living in Thailand is so much more fulfilling. How can you really be ready to enjoy your time with Thai people if you cannot determine what they are saying?
So while you do not need to learn Thai to live in Phuket, you will probably have a more positive experience if you do.
If you are coming to Thailand for a holiday or longer-term and you want a quick introduction to the Thai language then see our Thai Language Introduction page. To take your Thai speaking skills to the next stage see our Beginner’s Thai Language Lessons