5 Jan /12

Thai language translation: challenges and specifics

Thai translatorsThailand has never been governed by a European power nor had any foreign invasions. It is for this reason that no other language in Thailand gained excessive prominence. English is a mandatory subject at most Thai schools but the number of fluent speakers remains very low, especially outside Bangkok.

These facts make the need of professional and accurate translation services a must when doing any business in Thailand. With an own unique script and language pattern, Thai is considered a hard language to translate. In translation business Thai translation is a challenge to translation services providers. An in-depth understanding of Thai culture, as well as the language, is needed for successful Thai translations.

Thai script / alphabet

Thai language has its own unique script based on the Khmer script and no link has been found to relate it to any other language. The Thai alphabet is a syllabic one and consists of 44 basic consonants. There are no independent vowels in the alphabet. Each consonant goes with an inherent vowel. There are 18 single vowel symbols, 6 diphthongs / compound vowels and 8 consonant-like vowels that combine into numerous vowel forms and which modify the consonants. A Thai translator has to face this linguistic challenge. A professional Thai translator must know that in order to employ other vowels, each consonant is written with vowel symbol markings that appear as a subscript following a consonant or as strokes before and/or after a consonant.

Thai is a tonal language

Thai words that may sound similar have completely different meanings depending on the tone. Thai is a language with 5 tones. Some words are pronounced with a high, mid or low tone and others with a rising or falling tone. For some consonants there are multiple letters which indicate different tones. The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonant, the type of syllable, the tone marker and the length of the vowel. The rules of the Thai language are understood by a good Thai translator performing a Thai translation.


As in most languages, different dialects of Thai are used in different regions. The main dialects of the language are Standard Thai spoken by the ethnic majority; Bangkok Thai which as the name suggests is used in Bangkok, Khorat Thai, Central Thai andSouthern Thai.Standard Thai is understood by all Thais, in addition to their own regional dialect.

Usage in Thai language is based on social rank

Standard Thai is composed of several distinct registers / forms, which consist of different pronouns, qualifying nouns and verbs, to be used in different social contexts.

  • Street Thai: informal, as used between friends  and relatives.
  • Elegant Thai: includes respectful terms of address; used in newspapers.
  • Rhetorical Thai: used for public speaking.
  • Religious Thai: used when discussing Buddhism or addressing monks.
  • Royal Thai: used when addressing members of the royal family or describing their activities.

Most Thais usually can speak at only the first and second levels, though they will understand the others. A professional Thai translator must have an in-depth knowledge in the completely different sets of vocabularies and precise understanding which to be used depending on the social context.

Thai grammar specifics and Thai language pitfalls

Even when a Thai translator has knowledge in all the Thai dialects and registers, there are still a number of important grammatical characteristics to be kept in mind when translating from or into Thai language.

  • Thai letters do not have small and capital forms.
  • There are no full stops at the end of sentences.
  • In Thai language tenses are indicated by adverbs and the context itself, but not by verbs.
  • There is no distinction between adjectives and adverbs.
  • Adjectives and adverbs are placed at the back of the noun or verb to which they refer.
  • Nouns display neither gender nor plural and collectives are formed by reduplication.
  • The passive voice is only used in a negative sense.
  • As a rule, space between words is not used and words are written consecutively until the end of the sentences.
  • Instead spaces in a Thai text indicate the end of a clause or sentence.

Since Thai language is hard to translate, for business it is imperative to use language services provided by a translations vendor that is experienced and well-versed in Thai language translations. For example, translation company EVS Translations: a full-service translation company with global presence and with over 20 years’ experience. Thai translation projects are assigned to a team of 70 native Thai speakers, who reside in Thailand and are familiar with the Thai language specifics and socio-cultural nuances and are capable of translating in a number of Thai dialects.

A project manager coordinates the Thai translation process from start to end and assigns the translation tasks to the most suitable Thai translators. All Thai translations are proofread by editors to ensure accuracy.

EVS Translations have the resources and experience to complete even the most challenging (high volume and tight deadline) Thai translation projects.