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Learn to Read & Write. Then Speak.

The Five Thai Tones

As the explained in the video, Thai is a tonal language, which means that when Thai words are spoken, the pitch can be different for each word. This is very similar to the way questions in English will rise at the end of the sentence. But a Thai sentence can change pitch with each word, and words with more than one syllable will often have two or more tones together.

There are five tones in Thai, and getting the tone right is one of the most important things about speaking Thai.

While you're learning the names and sounds of the alphabet, we'll use a system of transliteration, where the Thai sounds are spelled out in English syllables. Then, tone hint marks like these are placed over the vowels to let you know which tone to use.

By the time you finish our lessons, you will be spelling words in Thai, and will be able to see the required tones in the written words. You will no longer need to have Thai words spelled out in English letters.

Listen to this example:

Our Tone Hint Marks:

Mid tone
(no mark)

Syllables are spoken with a steady, even tone that drops slightly lower at the end. (even)

Low tone

Syllables start out a little lower than your normal voice, and fall lower through the end of the word. (down)

Falling tone

Syllables start out a little higher than your normal voice, rise higher at first, then fall lower through the end. (up and down)

High tone

Syllables start out a little higher than your normal voice, and rise even higher through the end, giving them a stressed high sound. (up)

Rising tone

Syllables start out at your normal voice, fall lower at first, then rise higher through the end. (down and up)

Different Tone = Different Word

Many Thai words can sound almost the same, but will have different or even opposite meanings because of a difference in tone.

This study application below has 5 Thai words that sound very similar to each other, except for tone. All the words are spelled the same in English, and the only you will know what tone to use is by the red tone hint marks.

But as you'll soon find out, they all have different spellings in Thai, and that's how we know what tone to use. Play the sound files, repeat each word, and think about the differences in the way they sound.

The Five Thai Tones

click the icons to listen

mid

mai

mai

low

mài

mài

falling

mâi

mâi

high

mái

mái

rising

mǎi

mǎi

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Lesson Navigation:

Watch Free Thai Lessons on YouTube:

More to come . . .

Active Thai is a work in progress. Please check back often for new lessons.