Transliterations Explained

Transliteration is that one of the most difficult subjects when dealing with a Thai learning blog/site/forum.  Thai is not written in romanized letters like many languages of which English is one.  This means there is often a need for those languages written in a different character system than English, to  transliterate it to allow beginners to begin speaking.  The problem with Thai is there is no standard transliteration used.  On my mission, we were taught a form of transliteration (we lovingly called it “Elder” language after the title of the male missionaries), but would have to try to convert it to which ever transliteration system was used in which ever dictionary or phrasebook that we found outside of the materials created for us.

For this reason, many recommend that one never learn from a transliteration and go straight to Thai script.  The logic is that the only thing consistent between all the dictionaries and phrasebook is the Thai script.  That and since Thai script is mostly phonetic, the sounds can probably learned very well in one or two sittings, why waste time learning a transliteration that is only good for one book and that you are just going to stop using once you learn to read Thai.

I do recommend learning Thai script as soon as possible.  One should probably start learning it at the same time they start learning to speak Thai.  That said, I don’t agree with the idea that one should just jump to Thai script.  First of all, Thai script is not as difficult to sound out words right away, but it does have its own peculiarities that are not anything like ones we would find in English.  The learning curve is much steeper to learn Thai script than it is to learn a transliteration.  Secondly,  you have to learn the sounds of the Thai script from somewhere.  Most sites or books create a transliteration anyway to teach you the sounds of the Thai script.  In a sense you a learning a transliteration anyway.

The challenge I and many other bloggers like me face is how to write transliteration on our blog given that there is no standard form to use.  I toyed with the idea of writing my own transliteration system and posting it so all could read it, but then I realized that I am just adding to the problem.  What I have chosen to do is to use the standard found at the website Thai2english.com.  Two reasons, first it is a great tool and anyone looking up words on my site will probably end up there to get a definition.  The second is that many of my blogger friends are doing that same thing.  By conforming to an agreed upon  standard, we are making a much more useful tool for all who are learning Thai.

I have made  a primer on Thai sounds called The Sounds of Thai.   This is a free download and all I ask is that you do not change or attempt to sell it.