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Dai Yin: The Art of Hearing & Speaking in Thailand

When discussing how the Thai language impacts Thai culture, people often talk about the multiple meanings of the Thai word “jai” (heart, mind, and spirit), and the hundreds of other words with “jai” as a prefix or suffix — which are popularly categorized as “Thai Heart Talk“.

However, there’s another word that’s important to understanding the Thai people, as well as the essential role the heart plays in everyday life in the Kingdom. That word is “dai-yin” (ได้ยิน), which means “to hear”.

Dai-yin is actually composed of two smaller Thai words, “dâi” (to get) and “yin” (to feel). Thus while the literal meaning of “dai-yin” is to hear, its underlying meaning suggests “to get a feeling” — connecting words and sounds with the heart.

In English, “hear” is a straightforward term describing the physiological process of detecting sounds. It highlights the Western tendency to categorize different sense experiences — one which leads to a more analytical and less integrated approach to perception.

But the Thai word “dai-yin” goes beyond the mechanical process of perceiving sound. By incorporating the idea of “feeling,” this commonly used Thai term suggests that hearing involves an emotional or intuitive component.

When Thai people hear something, they don’t just process it on a sensory level but also interpret it through an emotional lens. It reflects a deeper connection between words and feelings, and helps to explain the emphasis that Thai culture places on polite language and empathy in communication.

Thai culture is known for its concern with maintaining harmonious relationships and social harmony. The underlying meaning of the word “dai-yin” is a potent reminder to all Thais that when speaking they should be empathetic toward others — being careful not just with the words they choose but to the emotions and feelings those words may evoke in the person who hears them.

Thai people are much more attuned to the subtleties of tone, mood, and atmosphere in daily conversations than most Westerners are. This sensory difference is actually one of the main causes of miscommunication between foreigners and the Thai people — as well as much of the frustration and annoyance that both parties sometimes feel.

The more that “farangs” pay attention to these emotional subtleties, and be respectful of them, by speaking more politely, and with greater empathy and self-awareness, the less communication problems they will have in the Land of Smiles.


Dai-Yin in Thai Buddhism
A full understanding of the Thai word “dai-yin” can not be had without considering Thailand’s Buddhist beliefs.

Dai-Yin and Thai Buddhist Culture

Of course, anytime we talk about Thai language and culture, we can’t forget the impact of Buddhism, as it is inseparably entwined with both.

To “get a feeling” by way of “hearing” — as encapsulated in the word “ได้ยิน” (dai-yin) — can be connected to various Buddhist beliefs and practices in Thailand.
For example, let’s begin with “mindfulness”. In Buddhism, mindfulness involves being fully aware and present in each moment, which includes being attentive to sounds and the feelings they evoke within you and others.

The idea of hearing as “getting a feeling” aligns with the practice of mindfulness, where one not only perceives sounds but also becomes aware of the emotional and psychological responses to those sounds. This practice fosters a deeper connection with one’s sensory experiences and promotes a holistic awareness.

Buddhism also teaches that all experiences are interconnected and transient. The concept of “dai-yin” reflects this interconnectedness by integrating the sensory perception of sound with emotional and intuitive responses.

This view is consistent with the Buddhist understanding that sensory experiences cannot be separated from the mental and emotional states they influence and are influenced by.

Then, we have the the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, of which “Right Speech” is one of the 8 noble practices. We are called upon to speak truthfully, kindly, and beneficially.

To practice Right Speech effectively, one must also practice right hearing — listening with empathy and understanding. The Thai word for hearing (dai-yin), with its emphasis on feeling, supports this practice by encouraging listeners to engage with others’ words in a compassionate and emotionally attuned manner.

Lastly, in Buddhism we have what is called Vipassana meditation, or insight meditation, which involves observing the sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise in the mind and body. The Thai action of hearing as “getting a feeling” can be seen as a form of insight practice, where one not only notices the sounds but also the accompanying feelings and thoughts.

This meditative practice helps develop a deeper understanding of the mind and promotes mental clarity and emotional balance, ultimately resulting in a compassionate and mindful engagement with the Thai people and the world.

David Alan