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First advise, never ever talk Thai to a government official.  It's the mental equivalent of punching yourself in the face. 

Second advise is it's fine to hear and understand it -- but by no means allow anyone, I mean anyone to know that you can.

If you can speak fluently, learn to speak like a newbie.  Deliberately make mistakes.  

Also know that Thai isn't neatly encapsulated in one language - despite the governments best efforts.  

My wife speaks like a Princess on the phone in perfect centralized Thai.  I did the Linguaphone   Course, and I had to throw it out the window.   Defenestration I think they call it.  At home her Mother speaks in such a broad dialect, people down the road can't understand her.   But I talk to her.  And then there's the condescending voice my wife speaks to me from time to time as if I was a child, with some interesting vernacular thrown in which makes me laugh, which gathers her fury.    I learnt how to speak to her Mum via her Nephew, because she doesn't want to teach me the local lingo so I don't chat up all the girls.  The one time I chatted a girl up I was very nearly castrated (with the knowledge of the local police). 

Even so I've had Mothers giving me their girl's mobile numbers.  She just wants a ลูกครึ่ง ( luk khrueng ) .  And I've had many proposals. Such is life in the village. 

Finally, you won't like what you hear most of the time.  You are a Farang, and your money is welcome, you may even hear you're a handsome man, and even believe it if you're a fool. 



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Completely disagree with pretty much everything in this post.

Speaking Thai to a high level impresses Thais. It shows respect for Thailand and Thai people that you have made the effort to speak their language where most foreigners barely reach taxi Thai level. The only people who have not liked the fact that I speak Thai well are those who wished to lie to me or cheat me.

Government officials are especially impressed when you speak Thai, or at least that has been my experience.

Speaking Thai to a high level opens doors and wins people over very quickly. And if you can crack jokes in Thai and understand the language to a level where the person talking to you can speak naturally without the need to grade their language, they will, in most cases, by mighty impressed.

Nothing allows you to understand Thai people and Thai culture like speaking the language to a high level.

There is an argument that speaking Thai well gives you an insight in to the local culture you might not like but I'd disagree with that and suggest that you're finding that, perhaps it's time to change your friendship group / social circles.

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Fully agree with Stick on this one.

Without being able to speak Thai, I would never have been able to integrate into the family as well as I have now. I am 'uncle' to my nephews and nieces, not 'the farang'.

It also gives you a distinct advantage in the job market, as - even though they usually have a uni degree - the vast majority of Thai office workers are totally uncomfortable in English. When I started my current job, the very first thing my staff asked was "Can he speak Thai?". They now pretty much exclusively speak Thai to me, same goes for the majority of my Thai colleagues.
One of them actually asked me to speak at her wedding a few days back (I declined as I would be mortified speaking in front of 300-400 strangers :) ).

Been here 20+ years and never had a negative experience due to speaking Thai.


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I couldn't acknowledged the point better myself.  Although my wife owns approximately 5% of Isaan, she is treated like a Princess in her village.  It's hierarchical and that's just how it works there.  Now I get away with murder (metaphorically), just because we are married.  I'm a Surgeon, and she earns more then I do.  I'm not a diplomat, I use my tools to save lives.  I completely understand Thai, but I will chat to a taxi driver or a bar maid gladly, but the government are off limits.  

Btw the people I associate with are principally my family.  They will always come first.  I don't need to do business in Thailand, I've got a rich wife and a high paying professional job in Australia.  

Stickman has obviously pinned his colours to Thailand.  In some fashion I have too.  My wife and I own land in Thailand and Australia.   And she is much more wealthy than I. 

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although my opinion being of minor gravity because no expat I may contribute personal experience resulting from alltogether 2 words that I regularly use leading into overwhelming applause from related parties. Which are :

Tikjabully krap  : Ashtray please


Maijdjifann krap : Tothpick please

No average tourist would ever use this level of Thai, if you know what I mean.


And speaking with Donald the President : The highest level of communication ever seen anywhere.




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Depends what kind of Thai you speak. Plenty of guys have picked up a fair amount of "Thai" from the bar girls, not realising it is actually Issan Lao and not very polite in that language either. Trying to speak that to government officials is much worse than punching yourself in the face!

Learn the language properly ... or stick to English.

p.s. Also, if a Thai immigration officer wants to show off her English to you, let her (no matter how bad it may be). Forcing her to speak English might be viewed as causing her to lose face, which isn't a good thing when you're trying to get your visa extended!  :surprised:


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PS, my views on learning Thai, and it's usage..

First off, I am a firm believer in that if you stay in any country for any length of time, learn the language! Now, with that off my chest, I will tend to agree with Stick, KS and Flash in that you will find it to your advantage to speak Thai, but only if you speak proper Thai and not bar gibberish. It helps if you read and write the language too.

I've never had any problems in dealings with government officials; in fact the immigration officer I usually deal with for my PR status recognizes me and greets me every time I see her. Ditto the people at the local market, supermarket - even hospital!!

I've contributed an article on this particular subject to Stick's website ages ago but I think it is still as relevant today as when it was written. Though under a different nom-de-plume of Sick Water Buffalo.

But as you say it is always better to size up the situation first as there are times when I would rather not acknowledge the fact I understand the language. It's called tact..


VK aka SWB

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