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Speaking the Language

Bangkok - Speaking the Language

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The national and official language used in Thailand is Thai – and there are several regional dialects. The Thai language is a tonal language – if you are not familiar with the language, ask someone to write out the name in Thai characters, so that you can show it to the taxi driver or someone when asking for directions.

The official working language is English in Bangkok and most business contexts. English is also the medium of instruction in schools and educational institutions. As Bangkok is a major tourist destination, most Thais in Bangkok can speak and understand English, especially those in the service industry.

There are expatriates who manage to get by without learning a word of Thai during their stay in Bangkok, although most expatriates will recommend learning some basic words for everyday living. Seasoned expatriates usually agree that when living in a city where English is not the mainstream or commonly used language, it is useful to learn a bit of the local language. Learning to speak simple Thai will help expatriates appreciate the Thai culture, people and mentality more. Being able to speak simple Thai will also open up many opportunities for the expatriate, as they will be able to interact more confidently with the locals. Most expatriates who learn Thai usually learn spoken Thai; the written Thai alphabet is unlike the Roman characters used in English.

One main push to learn Thai is to help one in finding his or her way around. Expatriates intending to drive by themselves around Bangkok should note that not all directional signs are in English, or have a Romanized version. Most signs in Bangkok have both Thai and English translation, but do not expect English / Romanized versions outside the Bangkok area. It is not uncommon to find inconsistencies in Romanized directional signs.

There are many language schools in Bangkok for expatriates to learn Thai. Apart from language schools, it is also possible to hire personal / private tutors, or purchase audiotapes to learn basic Thai for everyday use.

Along with learning the language, many expatriates find it polite to learn how to greet in the traditional Thai way, known as the "wai". One observation about communicating with the locals is to pay attention to the Thai smile. The Thai smile is something all expatriates living in Thailand will experience. Expatriates unfamiliar with Thai culture should note that a Thai smile should not be interpreted in the same way as one would in Western / American cultures – that is, primarily to express happiness. A Thai smile could mean many things, from embarrassment, or, as a way to diffuse an awkward situation, or, as a way of saying sorry. Thais are generally in tuned with the "range" of smiles – they are experts at reading the different nuances of smiling, and expatriates who wish to learn how to communicate and understand Thais well would want to keep this in mind, when communicating with the locals.

"Farang" is Thai for foreign, and is commonly used term by expatriates and locals alike to describe expatriates and their way of life. "Sanuk" in Thai means enjoyment or to have fun, and it is very much part of Thai living in the same way the French term "joie de vivre" is used.

There are three main English newspapers available – The Bangkok Post, The Nation and the Daily Express (newly launched in 2008). For business coverage in English, try Business Day. Subscriptions to home and offices for The Bangkok Post, The Nation and Business Day are possible. Call 240-3700-71 for The Bangkok Post; call 317-0420 or 316-5900 for The Nation and call 512-3579 for Business Day subscriptions. All three newspapers have offices operating in Bangkok. The Daily Express is circulated free and distributed with The Nation. The Daily Express is a spin-off The Nation. Despite the fact that The Daily Express is distributed together with The Nation, the overall tone and presentation style of The Daily Express is more like a daily tabloid. All newspapers are available at newsstands and bookstores located all over Bangkok.

For lifestyle / cultural events in Bangkok, try www.bangkokrecorder.com or www.bbkmetro.com. The Bangkok Post and The Nation also have entertainment / event listings for leisure activities.

There are also other English newspapers that are printed in Bangkok, such as the Asian Wall Street Journal or the International Herald Tribune, with a wider Asian focus, rather than Bangkok and/or Thailand. There are also publications in other major languages, such as Chinese, Japanese and European languages. If you can read Thai, there are several good newspapers in the Thai language. Thailand's media enjoys the highest freedom of press in Southeast Asia.

There are thirteen public libraries located in Bangkok, and the libraries are managed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. The National Library is located on Samsen Road (Tel: 281 5212). There are several lending libraries with a range of English books and publications available at The British Council, the American University Alumnae Language School (AUA) and the Neilson Hays Library. The British Council Library is located at Siam Square (Tel: 661 6830) and the Neilson Hays Library is located on Surawong Road (Tel: 233 1731). Most of these private institutions offer lending services to their members. Membership is open to all Bangkok residents, and membership fees apply.

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