Thai Alphabet - High Class Consonants - Learn Thai from a White Guy

Thai Alphabet – High Class Consonants

ผี ฝาก ถุง ข้าว ส่งให้ ฉัน

That was a somewhat strange sentence which makes use of the main 7 high class consonants of Thai.  See if you can pick them out in the words above: ผ ฝ ถ ข ส ห ฉ

First up – ข [ขอ ไข่] This is the 2nd letter of the Thai alphabet. Yes the one right after ก [กอ ไก]่. What does this letter’s name mean? Well, ไข่ is an egg. Its pronounced much like a ‘k’. Along with its vowel, it sounds a something like ‘kai’. Can’t think of any words in English that have it. How about the last syllable in the name Malachai (that guy that chills behind the rows). As you no doubt remember ไก่ means chicken and ไข่ is egg. 1st and 2nd. The debate is over. The chicken came first.

Rules of the high class are kind of interesting. Any time there is no tone mark and no hard ending (endings that are like k/g, p/b or t/d) the words will take on a rising tone.  This applies for both long and short vowels.  Too easy eh?  Let’s go over 3 letters and then try some simple words.

[หอ หีบ]  This letter is the closest thing to an ‘H’ that you’ll find in Thai.  But remember its not an ‘H’, so its gonna do some things the English ‘H’ version doesn’t do.

ฝ [ฝอ ฝา] Here we have one of the ‘F’ – like letters.   Also, high class so rising tone on open endings.

  • หา – haa (long vowel + rising tone) to look for
  • ฝา – faa  (long vowel + rising tone) lid; cover

Now then, we need to learn some new vowels. These 2 are related and look very similar so lets learn ’em together.  Remember that is just a placeholder which you need in order to read the vowel.  The vowels are the semi-circle-ish shapes on top.  The only difference is that the long vowel has a line sticking up from it.

  • อิ /i/  as in ‘he’ but usually a bit shorter then English
  • อี /ii/ as in ‘he’ but usually a bit longer than English

ผี Remember this from above?  ผ is much like a ‘p’ – As this one is high class and we are throwing on that อี above, we are getting a sound just like when they say ‘P’ on Sesame Street.  Well its a long vowel, so make it a bit longer than normal. Um with a rising tone.  Lets change that …think something along the lines of …”I gotta peeee” and send that tone up high.

ผี means ghost btw

ฝี VS ผี – Notice that these letters are mighty similar.  Long vowels, rising tones.

  • ฝี – /fii/ Like the English ‘fee’
  • ผี – /pii/ ‘peeee’

Mnemonicalafrageous time – You hopefully remember from 3-5 seconds ago that ผี means ‘ghost’ – Um …maybe when you were a kid and you saw a ghost you had to ‘peeee’ or something?  Not great, but it might work.

ฝี – this means ‘boil’ as in the pus-filled kind – so lets say that the long part sticking up is a pus-filled abcess just waiting to burst.  And we can even take that a step farther and imagine that the boil is just so friggin large that if it does burst (and the long part falls off) you die and become a ghost.

Not working?  Go back and read the above again, but this time visualize it in your mind. Imaginative memory is an extremly powerful tool.  You won’t need to remember this stuff forever, but the quickest way to get through an alphabet is by making sure its stuck in your short-term memory until you can process the letters fast enough to graduate to basic reading.

Moving along…consider the following word

ฝาก Do you remember that last letter?  It’s our old friend the CHICKEN, a middle class consonant [กอ ไก่]

How about the vowel อา ?

ฝ + า = ฝา  lid – see above.  But if we throw on that last letter, everything changes!

ฝาก – Now that we have thrown a hard [k, p, t, b] ending on the tone is gonna change.  Remember I said only open vowels are rising.  With hard endings, we need to switch to a low tone.  The low tone is created in your chest as opposed to your neck or head.  You should feel it in your upper chest if you are producing the sound correctly.  It is difficult to say this tone loudly especially at first.

ฝาก /faaak/ all k + g- like letters in Thai end with the same sound.  An unaspirated ‘k’ – This means you need to cut off the air before it comes out.

Think of how you say ‘Duck, duck, duck Goose’ to find that cut off ‘k’  and you’ll catch on.

ฝาก – to deposit

So if we refer to that stuff at the top we now hopefully can read the first 2 words!  Wow, we sure are amazing.

ผี ฝาก – ghost /piii/long vowel, rising tone + deposit /faaak/ long vowel, low tone

What is this ghost trying to deposit?  We’ll get there in a sec.  Be patient.

First we need more vowels!  Did I mention that the Thai alphabet has over 30 vowels?  Don’t worry, they each have only one sound so it’s not really that bad.

อุ VS อู  –  As you may have already guessed, these vowels are also related.  The first one is of course the short vowel.

  • อุ is a short /u/ like in ‘where to?’
  • อู is a long /uu/ similar to ‘cool’ but your lips should be pursed into a fishy ‘o’ and hold it for a tad longer.

Now lets make some words.

Remember [งอ งู]  ?  Yea, well me neither, but we are going to need to if we are ever going to be able to talk about snakes.  Anyways, ง is like the /ng/ in sing and thing and bring.

งู (not a high class consonant!) is pronounced /ngoo/ refer to this post if you need a refresher on the wonders of the งู (snake).  If you still can’t figure out how to pronounce it, do tell me and I can explain in better detail how to find your งู.

Back to High Class – [ถอ ถุง] This letter is just like the T in ‘Mr. T’.  Well almost.

ถ /taw/ /u/ /ng/ = ถุง /toong/ (like the ‘too’ in too much with an ‘ng’ attached to it)  rising tone

ถุง means ‘bag’  as in the paper or plastic variety – not backpacks or luggage.

ผี ฝาก ถุง – /piii/ /faaak/ /toong/  Ghost deposits bag

Letters letters letters!  Too many letters!  Gotta keep moving..

This next word is one of those you will here every day in Thailand.

ข้าว –  ข [ขอ ไข่] + า = ขา + ว = ขาว +    ้ = ข้าว

kaw + า  = kaah (rising tone because high class and open ending) +  ว = kaaaow **Imagine an excited kid saying “Wooow!” Now imagine that he is dyslexic, stutters and occasionally slips up with a lisp – erm..just change the ‘w’ sound to a ‘k’ might be easier.  So…

Wait, did I mention yet?  [วอ แหวน] is a semi-vowel.  Distant cousin of the ‘W’.  แหวน means ‘ring’.  When it comes at the end of a word it ‘w’-afies the word before it.  Think about what your mouth must do to change the word ‘Ho’ to ‘How’ and you should have a pretty good idea of what it does.

ข้าว is pronounced kaaow (becomes a falling tone due to the tone mark).  If it didn’t have the tone mark it would be a rising ขาว because its a high class consonant with a soft or open ending.

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