Our guide for translating Thai

Do you want to expand your market to the 8th largest economy in Asia, with more than 46% of its population between the ages of 25 and 54, which means many industries are flourishing?

If the answer is yes, finding a professional translation and localization partner is one of the first crucial steps because this is something you can’t get on the internet.

I. The importance of Thai translation

Thai (ภาษาไทย) is currently used by around 66 million people across the globe, and is the national language of Thailand with 20 million native speakers. In addition to Thailand where the Thai language is mainly spoken, it is commonly used in parts of Laos and among the immigrant community in the USA, UAE, Singapore. 

The Thai alphabet is derived from Khmer. The language contains 44 consonants and 15 vowels, but no independent vowels. Each consonant comes with an inherent vowel. There are 18 single vowel symbols, 6 compound vowels and 8 consonant-like vowels. On top of that, Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones. The tone of a syllable depends on the class of consonant, the type of syllable, the tone marker and the length of the vowel. This complicated combination forms a real challenge for Thai translators that requires years of learning and practicing.

II. 3 problems when translating Thai

1. Unique grammatical characteristics of Thai 

The first thing which is truly weird for foreigners is that there is no spacing between words in Thai. It creates a huge confusion for both automated translating machines and human translators, even the experts.

Second, Thai letters, just as Chinese, don’t have capital forms which makes it difficult to find proper names. Besides, there are other unique grammatical characteristics you have to be careful of, such as no distinction between adjectives and adverbs; the passive voice is considered to be used in a negative sense and nouns show neither gender nor plural/singular.

2. Hidden verbs 

The Thai language allows for implicit verbs which means that sentences sometimes don’t need verbs to be grammatically correct. Thai also allows for verb combinations. As a translator, if you are lacking experience with the structure and the implicit notions, these will become great obstacles.

3. Usage of Thai is based on social rank

There are completely different sets of vocabularies used in each social context. Translators must have an in-depth knowledge to choose the proper set for:

  • Street Thai: informal, as used between peers and relatives.
  • Elegant Thai: contains respectful terms; used in public press.
  • Rhetorical Thai: used for public speaking.
  • Religious Thai: used in Buddhism discussion or when addressing monks.
  • Royal Thai: used when mentioning the members of the royal family

Although most Thais speak at only the first and second levels, they are able to understand the others. 

Thai is known as a challenging language to translate. A well-rounded understanding of Thai culture and the language is demanded for successful Thai translators. That’s why it is a wise choice to partner up with a professional language service provider like us. If you need to translate into Thai, give us a call today!

Facts about Thai language

  • ‘Porn’ in Thai translates to blessings
  • Thai is mutually intelligible with Laotian, another Tai language
  • Outside Thailand, the largest concentration of Thai speakers is in Los Angeles, California.