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  1. #1
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    Learning the tones

    I've been teaching myself Thai for 8 years but still don't know the tones. I can't remember which one is which - even if I can say a word with the correct tone I have no idea which tone I am using. I haven't considered it a problem because I can remember how the word I want to say is supposed to sound. But now I am trying to do a lot more reading and writing I think it would be better if I could do something to learn the tones properly. Can anyone who struggled with the tones but now knows them comment?

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    Re: Learning the tones

    Check out the publications by Tiger Press in most book stores. The author learned Thai as a westerner so knows very well how to learn this process.
    Available online too at:http://http://tigerpressthai.com/index.php

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    Re: Learning the tones

    Well, from someone who "struggled with the tones in Thai" longer than any other foreigner I've met, I can say I dunno how much that book's gonna help you. I met the guy who wrote that book when he was hawkin' 'em on the Sukhumvit before he got 'em distributed by any bookstore here in Bangkok. In fact I might have a copy of it floatin' around the apartment. ..

    While a LOT of people will disagree with me, you certainly don't need to know the tone of any word in Thai to actually "read" Thai. Reading is memorizing groups of characters and having that group tied to a specific meaning in your head. BTW: the name for groups of characters is "words".

    I could read, understand Thai long before I could speak anything more than 2-word-tourist-thai here. For example the words; - & , - & and - & are similar sounding (especially to foreign ears not trained to pick up on the tonal differences), BUT they're all spelled different. Look at the characters which make those words up, each one has differences from it's similarly sounding brethren. I could recognize those differences and knew their meanings before I could even say the word with the proper tone or vowel length.

    Honestly, I think I tried every method out there to learn the tones, but it wasn't until I actually read a book IN Thai about tones that the rules began to click for me. Now quite possibly, I was at a stage where it finally just sank in, I dunno.

    I mean, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but;
    Until you can look at a Thai consonant and immediately know the class of that consonant, look at the vowel and know if it's long or short, look at the ending consonant (if there is one) and know if it's a sonorant final or a stop final (live or dead ending), and finally look at a particular tone mark (if there is one) and know the sound it compels the syllable to make you can't tone Thai words for squat. It takes TIME, practice, and more time and more practice

    Reading Thai isn't gonna help you speak any clearer Thai, and neither will speaking clear Thai help you read better, because they're horses of a different color. Thai deaf mutes read and write Thai yet they've NEVER heard or spoken the sound a single Thai word makes. This would lead me to believe that it is possible to learn to read Thai without ever speaking a single word of it.

    Anyway, I've attached the "cheat sheets" I made up from that book about Thai tones. I made them in English and in Thai too. It's the way I finally learned and it's the way it's taught to Thai kids. It's also the way toning is taught to foreigners attending Thai language schools here in Bangkok. I'm sure there're better more neatly compartmentalized sheets out there in internet land, these're just the ones I used myself.

    Good luck, stick with it, as I always say, I certainly ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer so I know if I can learn to read (and now) how to tone Thai words, just about anyone who puts their mind to it can too.

    P/S: the "cheat sheet" in Thai has other stuff on it too, mnemonics for the consonant classes, the word ending protocols, etc, sorry. The English version doesn't. ..

    Again Good Luck. . .
    Attached Files Attached Files

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  5. #4
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    Re: Learning the tones

    I hope I didn't "kill" this thread. .. Sorry for the blunt response. We'd just had a lively debate in Thai language class about speaking and reading Thai. It was about if there were any benefits as far as foreigners and their intonation of spoken Thai when they can read and tone words properly by sight.

    Anyway, when I was learning to remember the tones I started by process of elimination;
    • A word or syllable with a long or short vowel and a "live" ending (sonorant final) without a tone mark can ONLY be one of two tones; mid tone for low and middle class consonants or rising tone for high class consonants
    • A word or syllable with a long vowel and a "dead" ending (stop final) without a tone mark can ONLY be one of two tones; low tone for middle and high class consonants or falling tone for low class consonants
    • A word or syllable with a short vowel and/or a "dead ending (stop final) without a tone mark can ONLY be one of two tones; low tone for middle and high class consonants or high tone for low class consonants


    As far as the tone marks go & never change; is always high tone, is always a rising tone.
    For the marks & it's a bit trickier;
    • makes a low tone for both middle and high class consonants but a falling tone for low class consonants
    • makes a falling tone for both middle and high class consonants but a high tone for low class consonants


    The group of characters , , , , , , , , or can be preceded by a silent and because it is a high class consonant those words follow high class consonant tone rules (both with or without tone marks).

    Coincidentally the same group of consonants , , , , , , , , or when they follow a syllable which started with a high class consonant also take on the high class tone rules. Although I'm a little fuzzy on this I'm pretty sure it's true. (Example; ʹ saL naamR; even though is a low class consonant it follows the tone rules of the high class consonant which preceded it, making be a rising tone).

    In reading what I just wrote I realize it could be even more confusing than helpful. If that's the case, I’m sorry about that.

    As I said, it took a LONG, LONG time for me to get the rules "locked into my head".

    Even though I can tone most Thai words correctly by sight (other than squirrelly spelled words where I can't figure out the syllable breaks), I still speak some pretty off-toned Thai because the wrong pronunciation is "fossilized" in my head.

    Good Luck, and if I've made any mistakes in what I wrote please feel free to correct me.

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  7. #5
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    Re: Learning the tones

    One last thing to the O/P; don’t feel bad if you don't automatically know the tone of a word (which you're saying correctly) because almost all Thais don't know either.

    If you ask a Thai the tone of a particular word watch what they do. They'll count the tones off on their fingers starting from §ѭ (mid) - §͡ (low) - § (falling) - § (high) - §ѵ (rising). They'll stop counting on the appropriate tone and then tell you that's the tone of the word. Thais DON'T know the tone automatically (they just know how to correctly say the word). They ALWAYS conjugate the tones in this fashion and at most Thai language schools they call it ѹ§.

    In my experience asking Thais the tone of unfamiliar words it would appear that few if any can tell you the tone right off the top of their heads. Now sometimes they quite surreptitiously count the tones on their fingers, almost behind their backs so you can't see, but they most definitely count 'em.

    Good Luck. ..

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    Re: Learning the tones

    I mean, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but;
    Until you can look at a Thai consonant and immediately know the class of that consonant, look at the vowel and know if it's long or short, look at the ending consonant (if there is one) and know if it's a sonorant final or a stop final (live or dead ending), and finally look at a particular tone mark (if there is one) and know the sound it compels the syllable to make you can't tone Thai words for squat. It takes TIME, practice, and more time and more practice

    Reading Thai isn't gonna help you speak any clearer Thai, and neither will speaking clear Thai help you read better, because they're horses of a different color.
    Hi tod and willing learners, im no expert but my Thai gets better all the time, Im not to sure on the reading bit about it not helping talking thai?
    As sometimes i think about the word and with the skills of reading from knowing Consonant classes and tone rules, live or dead endings, then how the word should be pronounced, so example Gin cow, and colour white, i know to make both words rising on colour white. and both mid on Gin cow.

    Its not a problem getting things wrong, as your always going to be given slack as your a farang.
    For me its best to learn things broken down into small chunks then slowly over time link them together for that Eureka moment! now for this to happen repetition is the way to go.
    Same as going to the gym for muscle memory, im doing the same at the moment with writing out the Alphabet from memory in Thai script, its not a problem knowing the obsolete ones, and its fairly easy knowing consonant class,

    as you can write or read out in your head quickly the 11 high 9 mid and all the others must be low class. Many times people ask me if i go to school, i say no i do myself my way, i dont care if slower as i can do it at my own pace, also, i think its best to learn something, then tweak it a little if its not quite 100% as you can only remember something you can associate with something you already no.

    Also its so easy being put off learning with a native thai or at a school as obliviously you dont no what there trying to teach you! its a new skill, when you have a little understanding then learning other stuff from thai people makes sense and can then be fun, i think this is why lots of people give up as its to much to take in in one go.
    keep it fun cheers ian ,,,,,, ok ha ha Թ mid then falling tone i didnt remember there was a tone mark,,, he he all good fun, mistakes make you improve,,,,, cheers all
    Last edited by ian71; 02-05-12 at 04:07 PM. Reason: correction

  9. #7
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    Re: Learning the tones

    Quote Originally Posted by ian71 View Post
    Gin cow, and colour white, i know to make both words rising on colour white. and both mid on Gin cow.
    "Colour White" you are right, both Tones are Rising բ

    But for "Gin Kao" Թ you are wrong - first Mid or Normal Tone, second Falling Tone.
    My interesting blog about Thailand at Thailand Blog ---> click here

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    Re: Learning the tones

    Quote Originally Posted by djaidee View Post
    "Colour White" you are right, both Tones are Rising բ

    But for "Gin Kao" Թ you are wrong - first Mid or Normal Tone, second Falling Tone.
    Hi djaidee, you must of speed read my post and not read my correction at the end of the post, not a problem my friend, what i did in my head was think gin was mid tone and cow was low tone live??? i checked and it was a high tone with a falling tone marker,,,, not sure how you with out looking/reading a word, work out witch k sound it is high or low Consonant? any ideas???
    cheers ian

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