Stop Sounding Like a Farang - Learn Thai from a White Guy

Stop Sounding Like a Farang

Language learners have a tendency to build a protective bubble around themselves over time which can easily lead to number of bad habits.  This bubble grows as people tell you how amazing you are at their language.  In the beginning you know this is crap and you don’t know anything yet.  I mean, how could you?  You are just starting out, right?  As time passes and you begin to get your bearings, we sometimes find ourselves believing that we are really that good and in our vain-ness we become blind to anything resembling our actual ‘level’.

The point of this line of posts is to get rid of as many of those bad habits that so commonly occur when mr/s-farang-come-learn-speak-language-Thai.  You can’t necessarily rely on Thai people to correct your mistakes, because you’ll find that most of them won’t (even when you ask them to and they agree!).  And the logical conclusion we make when nobody corrects us is usually NOTHING IS WRONG.

Consider the following sentence –

ผม จะ ไป ที่ โรงเรียน

See anything wrong here?  Me neither.  Its grammatically correct.  You might even find this exact example in a phrase book or “Learn Thai + <CleverEasySoundingWord>” brought to you by <tokenwhiteguy>.  The problem is that it’s bulky, still and not very natural-sounding.  Farang-sounding even.  Let’s trim the fat off this sentence.

ผม จะ ไป ที่

โรงเรียน (not found)
   Ok – first and most importantly, excessive usage of ที่ is the first bad habit I try to cut out of my student’s mouths.  When Thai people sit around making fun of their friends who supposedly speak Thai very well, this one always comes up.  It’s not wrong and you can get as defensive as you’d like, but it’s just not natural.  Thai people rarely speak like this.   I suspect it originates from the much stricter usage of prepositions in English, but less important than where it comes from is where its going – into the trash. Keep going, you are almost speaking Thai.

ผม จะ ไป

โรงเรียน (not found)
 Alright, we are on the right track now.  Things are sounding better.  But we’re still feeling a bit bloated.  What should we cut next?  School?  Perhaps, but not yet.  Now we want to get get rid of YOU and what I mean by YOU is we need to get rid of ME ..erm .. “I”.

Pronouns folks.  Wrap them all up and put them in storage.  You can pull them out sometimes after you get a feel for when and how they are used.  But until then, it just makes us sound silly because at this point you are still thinking in English and its force of habit that brings all those pronouns along with it.  When you say ผม in Thai, it’s like somebody is standing behind you playing a flute.  It has a very nice, polite feeling to it.  When you are talking to people you don’t know, or in formal situations, by all means you should use it.  But, if you aren talking to your friends or people you see everyday, it’s not necessary.  Thai is a very contextual language which means that it is usually not necessary to specify who is doing what.

ผม จะ ไป ที่ โรงเรียน

Now we are on the right track.  Yet there are still more things we could do here.

For example, if somebody asks you where you are going and you are going to class at school you can just respond as follows:

Somchai:        ไปไหน

TokenFarang: ( จะ) ไป  เรียน

C’mon team – Tie bee eazee!

Remember, while we can translate the exact sentence in many cases, the ultimate goal is to speak like a native, is it not?  So try not to make logical rules in your head because those rules are based on the logic of how your native language(s) works and unless you are from Laos, you are just making the journey into fluency more difficult than it needs to be.


  1. i’m from laos… will my journey be easy then?

    der der…

  2. TokenFarang says

    Thank you. Im definitely guilty of this myself.
    would you cut it out when specifying which school as well?
    For example if you study at Chiang Mai University can you just say?:

    Somchai: เรียน ที่ไหน

    TokenFarang: เรียน (ที่) ม ช

    • Yup. You got it. It’s fine to say the ที่, but you can drop it. It could even go down like this:

      Somchai: เรียนที่ไหนเหรอ
      TF: ที่ ม.ช.
      SC: ชอบมะ
      TF: เฉยๆอะ

  3. Mary Kelley says

    All these points apply to English too—-(cut, cut, cut until barely retaining the facts). But that’s for fast conversation. Sometimes we want embellishing adjectives, adverbs, interjections for near-poetic beauty.

  4. It definitely peeves me how nearly every Thai learning program teaches the ultra-formal “stiff” version. Fortunately, my Thai wife tells me when I use a word that’s too formal. It baffles me why they teach it differently than the way it’s actually spoken.

    • I’ve seen the same kind of thinking in just about every language I’ve studied. Schools and textbooks tend to focus on very formal style of language which tends to make learners sound pretty ridiculous.

  5. Can you address the issue that many, perhaps all(?), Thai words ending in Lau – ling have the last sound as “n” in English instead of “l”. Invariably
    Thais will say, when speaking English, “schoon” instead of “school” etc. They seem to have great difficulty getting “school” right. Is that because the Thai letter “Lau – ling” is Always pronounced “n” at the end of a Thai word, or for some other reason?

    • @David – Any Thai word ending in ล or ร will sound like an น (n).

      Many Thai people speak English within the confines of their own sound system. There are no ending L’s or R’s in Thai so they morph into an N sound when spelled with either of those letters.

      You’ll also see something similar when Thais pronounce words beginning with ST, SM and other combos with S and another letter in English. They don’t have an ST consonant cluster i Thai so they always add in the inherent อะ vowel between the S and the T (or whatever the 2nd letter in the cluster happens to be). This is not to say that they can’t learn to say these sounds the way you or I do, as anybody can learn to say any sound with just sufficient practice.

      Smart = Sะ mart
      Stupid = Sะ toopid
      Sweet = Sะ weet
      Slow = Sะ low

      The more familiar you get the with the script and sound system, the more it all makes perfect sense why they speak English the way they do.

  6. My favorite bar sign said “yim yuh awk ngai “.
    From a 1978 Time life article.

  7. It’s all well and good and I do speak without the baggage…
    however…formal language is good in that it can show the
    deeper structures..I often tell students of English what the short
    sentence they are parroting really means if spelled out fully – so to speak –
    and this often gives them insight into their questions…
    especially true in reading, grammar, writing…
    I have also been in situations where I spoke too informally …ambiguously..
    as I did not specify some needed context…
    So I say….study it all! informal and formal

    • Hey Mark,

      At some point, it may be useful or necessary to learn the formal variations in a language, but I don’t believe beginners should waste any time on it. First, master only what you can use every day or almost everyday before doing anything else.


  1. […] Way of the Blog points to older posts. My favourite is De-Farang-ify. My bad, I often forget to remind readers at WLT to pay attention to how many ฉัน/ผม and […]

  2. […] Way of the Blog points to older posts. My favourite is De-Farang-ify. My bad, I often forget to remind readers at WLT to pay attention to how many ฉัน/ผม and […]

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