Saturday, August 02, 2008


Prior to leaving on this trip, my wife told me that I should spend time listening to different accents.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law was asking me how many spoons I take in my coffee (ใส่กี่ช้อนค่ะ). It's an easy phrase, but I couldn't understand at first. Later, I asked my wife if there are more individual accents in Thai than in English. She said yes, because regional dialects contribute their own accents to the central dialect.

My brother-in-law's family is from the south of Thailand. They relocated to the central region recently because of the separatist insurgency in the south. They have a southern accent, which is a challenge to my ear, even for simple vocabulary. My wife is also from the south, but she lived in the central region for much of her life, so she does not have as strong an accent.

Thai has four major dialects, with the central dialect serving as a common language between them. The dialects are mutually unintelligible, but, from a practical standpoint, the central dialect is intelligible to everybody, because schools everywhere teach the central dialect. Thai people traveling to and from the central region create a rich mix of accents that are a challenge for foreigners learning Thai.*

Most of my listening practice has been the VOA news, which is spoken almost exclusively in a clear, central accent. Since VOA focuses on international news, it's not common that they interview Thai people with regional accents. The teachers at AUA also speak without strong regional accents.

I can understand now that getting familiar with different accents is part of becoming comfortable with the language.

*Corrections and clarifications are most welcome.


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