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The Myth of the Thai Tones


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Like many, I struggled to speak Thai in a way that people really understood what I was saying, even though my listening skills were good enough for me to follow conversations.   And Thai fri

Even in my early days in Thailand, when my pronunciation surely was atrocious, there were some Thais who understood me almost without fail, while I had no luck whatsoever with others.   I th

I'm sceptical on your theory.   So you are basically saying that we can pronounce every word in a mid/normal tone and  Thais work out the tone and the meaning of the word used from the

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I'm learning Thai right now and looking at tones so this post was really helpful.

 

It does affect reading though, doesn't it, as there are different letters/marks for different tones?

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I have a weird problem with tones. When I hear tones, I can repeat them correctly and I can tell whether two tones are different from one another or identical. But when asked (in a drill) to say which tone is which I get the names wrong. In other words I can imitate it, I can hear it, but I can't name it. And from what I can make out  it's not even like I would wrongly name two tones that should sound a bit like one another (like the rising and the high tone). I would more often mistake the low tone for the high or the rising tone for the falling tone. Worse still, if I know the name of a tone and tell to myself "careful this is falling tone" I'm more likely to pronounce it wrong than if I just listen to it and imitate it without knowing which one it is.

 

I have learned the tone rules and I have them on a cheat sheet but I don't find them helpful. They are much too cumbersome to be implementable in oral speech. I think the only way forward is to remember words or groups of words that go together, and to have those at the back of your mind when you speak.

 

As to tone drills, they could be useful provided they consist in phrases, not in one-syllable words.

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5 hours ago, JackGats said:

I have a weird problem with tones. When I hear tones, I can repeat them correctly and I can tell whether two tones are different from one another or identical. But when asked (in a drill) to say which tone is which I get the names wrong. In other words I can imitate it, I can hear it, but I can't name it. And from what I can make out  it's not even like I would wrongly name two tones that should sound a bit like one another (like the rising and the high tone). I would more often mistake the low tone for the high or the rising tone for the falling tone. Worse still, if I know the name of a tone and tell to myself "careful this is falling tone" I'm more likely to pronounce it wrong than if I just listen to it and imitate it without knowing which one it is.

 

I have learned the tone rules and I have them on a cheat sheet but I don't find them helpful. They are much too cumbersome to be implementable in oral speech. I think the only way forward is to remember words or groups of words that go together, and to have those at the back of your mind when you speak.

 

As to tone drills, they could be useful provided they consist in phrases, not in one-syllable words.

In my experience Thai native speakers have the same problem.  They can recite their tone party tricks, but in practice they cannot distinguish the tones reliably.

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12 hours ago, Bredbury Blue said:

I'm sceptical on your theory.

 

So you are basically saying that we can pronounce every word in a mid/normal tone and 

Thais work out the tone and the meaning of the word used from the context of the sentence.

 

Sometimes you will be right, if there's a horse in a field and I say that maa (horse) has to go", then Thais can work out it is the horse I'm talking about.

But if there's a horse and a dog in a field (both 'maa' in Thai but different tones) and I say "that maa has to go", then Thais cannot work out if it is the horse or dog I'm talking about.

 

So to a point you are correct but there will be instances when the incorrect pronunciation will confuse the other person or make no sense to them.

 

It would therefore be better to learn and use tones and if you pronounce with the wrong tone unlucky but you'll probably learn from that mistake.

Yep - that's what I'm saying.  And in my test, my Thai friends could not distinguish between horse and dog reliably.  It would have to be very unusual and specific circumstances where there was no context at all, so in normal speech the problem does not occur.

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43 minutes ago, JackGats said:

And if that were not complicated enough, you have to watch out for whether the syllable is "dead" or "alive". And if it's a dead syllable whether the vowel is short or long. It's a four to five-step algorithm. OK if you're solving a math problem, useless if you need to decide in a fraction of a second.

Thanks for pointing out those other items that can determine the tone. Learning to read Thai and sorting out the tones based on the 'four to five-step algorithm' is certainly good mental exercise at least.

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On 5/31/2021 at 8:51 PM, Kinnock said:

And Thai friends would constantly correct my tones, so almost everything I said was followed by an echo as a Thai friend corrected my tone.

 

I seriously wonder how they might react if you were to nit-pick every little flaw on their part in expressing themselves in the English language!

 

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6 hours ago, KeeTua said:

Then why visit the Thai language forum if you don't have any interest in this 'crude' language?

I wish it was crude!  I think the issue is that it's way too complex.

 

Bahasa Malay/Indonesian is a simple language.  Korean is a very logical language, but Thai, with it's labyrinthine tone rules and multiple letters to express exactly the same sounds must be the hardest to learn .... properly   So hard that I believe Thai people themselves simplify the language.

 

Posts in Thai on social media often have a simpler way of writing, combining Thai version of English and a more informal 'child-like' structure.

 

I heard there was an attempt to simplify the written language just after WW2, but it was blocked by the ruling elite.  After all, any barriers to educating the masses must be maintained.

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54 minutes ago, Kinnock said:

"   So hard that I believe Thai people themselves simplify the language."

Yeah, that's not something us educated people would do:  lol......lmfao

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