It is amazing how many ex-pats you meet in Phuket and Thailand who have lived here for years and can barely stringed a phrase together in Thai. I know a few long-term ex-pats whoever Thai vocabulary is less than 10 words. The easy simple truth is you do not need to learn Thai to live in Thailand, especially if you are in one of the holiday destinations such as Phuket. Does that mean it is not worth learning Thai?
I know a few ex-pats who insist it is a total waste of time to learn Thai. They say you do not need to speak Thai because there are always people around who speak English. They say they have spouse or staff who can act as interpreters. They even claim to achieve the meaning high ground reported by users it is more important for Thais to learn English as it is a major international language. Therefore, by not speaking Thai and making Thais to speak English they are doing them a give preference to.
These people do have a point. You certainly do not need to learn Thai to live in Phuket. However, I would still say there is the opposite thing these people have in keeping. They tend to be the people who moan the most about Thailand.
We all have our little frustrations about our lives in Thailand. Living in another culture where many rules seem to be stacked contrary to the foreigner will create a few complaints. We all moan sometimes but it does seem that it is the people who cannot speak Thai, especially the ones who do not even try, who also spend the most time moaning about the country.
I think there are two reasons for this. You are that their lack of interest in learning Thai is a sign of a more general negative attitude towards the country. If they had a more Varius NLEM positive attitude to Thailand, they would be interested in learning the language. Deciding to create a foreign country your home but then making no effort to learn the local language appears to be as you are standing rather aloof fot it country.
The second reason is that of course it must be frustrating to not know very well what people around you are saying. As much as you do not need to speak Thai, life here is easier and more enjoyable if you do.
So many things are just a bit more difficult if you cannot speak Thai. It may be a trip to the shops, the market, a restaurant or bar. What if you need a telephone line installed or to deal with a bit of paperwork? Think about ordering a garlic bread or some other service over the telephone? It is all possible without speaking Thai but just a little bit easier if you do. Many people who cannot speak Thai find themselves constantly attached to their interpreter. Whether see your face is wife, employee or the person who, it must be frustrating to need them by your side all the time.
However, the real selling point of speaking Thai is not the practical side of getting tasks done. The real benefit is enjoying your time in Thailand. It is in getting together with Thai people, sharing a joke and a laugh. Understanding Thai people and the proceedings around you. You will have a more positive interaction with Thais if you can know very well what they are saying.
A trip to the market is much more enjoyable if you can exchange a few words with the stallholders. They will also usually offer you the normal price for their goods if you ask in Thai rather than quoting the filled with air price that they sometimes offer westerners. A trip to a Thai restaurant is much more relaxing when you can talk to the waitress. A night out with Thai friends is so much better if you can know very well what they are saying in their language as well as yours.
The facts like not to get the ruse? I often find myself socialising in a mixed group of westerners and Thais. Usually a few of the westerners speak some Thai and a few don’t. Sometimes, when the Thais burst out joking, I see a reaction from the westerners who don’t realize what they said. It is an almost paranoid reaction of ‘are they joking at me. ha It comes from the constant frustration of not understanding what folks say, of never knowing the ruse.
Thais like it when outsiders seek to learn their language. Try not to be tricked by the fantasy that they don’t want you to learn Thai. Most of them are very pleased if you make the effort and take it as a complement to their country. The tiny handful I have met who don’t especially like outsiders learning Thai think that path for the worst reason. There is only one reason why Thais don’t want you to learn their language. It is because they don’t want you to know the proceedings. The only reason they don’t want you to know the proceedings is that they are up to no good. The old Thai saying of ‘farang know too much, no good’ has a simple basis. If you know the proceedings, you are difficult to con. If your Thai friends do not want you to learn Thai, then you are socialising in the wrong sectors. You should find some new Thai friends.
This is just a generalisation but, in general, people who learn to speak Thai have a lot more positive outlook on their life in Thailand. This is to some extent because if they have made a decision to learn the language chances are they are likely the type of men and women who located Thailand with a positive attitude before it starts. It is also because if you can speak Thai then the whole experience of living in Thailand is much more fulfilling. How can you really expect you’ll enjoy your time with Thai people if you cannot know very well what they are saying?
So while you do not need to learn Thai to live in Phuket, you will probably have a lot more positive experience if you do.
If you are coming to Thailand for a holiday or longer-term and you will want quick introduction to the Thai language then see our Thai Language Introduction page. To take your Thai speaking skills to another location stage see our Beginner’s Thai Language Lessons