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How Men Vs. Women Speak Thai

I was recently watching Khru Bo’s YouTube Channel “IWantToLearnThai” — a channel I highly recommend for intermediate Thai language students who want to practice their listening skills. Khru Bo does an excellent job with her choice of subject matter, her pacing and repetition, and her overall presentation.

However, when watching her videos I was reminded of how Thai language learners who are men sometimes accidentally speak rather effeminately, because they take up the habits of a female Thai speaker, which are different than that of a male.

Learning how to speak Thai like a man, rather than a woman, goes beyond being aware of the differences between the masculine “khrap” (ครับ) and the feminine “kha” (ค่ะ), and an understanding of masculine and feminine Thai pronouns. It also includes being aware that Thai women will refer to themselves in the 3rd person and use softening particles much more than men do.

For example, in her videos Khru Bo often won’t use the 1st person Thai pronouns for “I” or “me” when describing things that she’s done or was thinking. Instead, she’ll refer to herself with her name.

For example, she’ll say something like, “Khru Bo might have told the truth” (ครูโบอาจจะบอกความจริงก็ได้นะ) instead of saying, “I might have told the truth”.

For decades, Thais have teased foreign men who refer to themselves in the 3rd person like this when trying to speak Thai — joking that they have must have spent a long time in Bangkok or Pattaya, learning their Thai from speaking to bar girls.

Another common thing that Khru Bo often does is use the Thai particles “ah” (อะ) and “na” (นะ) at the end of a phrase or sentences. These are what are known as softening words, which are used to make a phrase or sentence sound less abrupt or harsh to the ear.

For example, Khru Bo might say something like, “Mâe mâi yòo bâan ah” (แม่ไม่อยู่บ้านอะ), which means “Mom is not at home”. A Thai man would rarely, if ever, add that “ah” to the end of a sentence like that.

This isn’t to say that Thai men never use softening particles like “ah” and “na”. But that they use them far less frequently, especially the “ah” softener. They use these particles most liberally when talking to a female — especially a girlfriend, wife, or when trying to flirt in Thai.

But even in romantic situations one must be careful, as some Thai women are turned off by men who use too many softeners and thus sound effeminate (or like a “kathoey“).

When Thai men use softening particles in regular every day conversations, they often will place the polite masculine particle “khrap” after it — thus softening the sentence a little, but maintaining their masculine linguistic status.

There are, of course, exceptions to this guide to Thai softening sounds. You might hear young Thai men who are online influencers using a lot of softening particles, and there are some men in Thailand who just prefer speaking a bit more effeminately as a lifestyle choice. But as a foreign man learning Thai, you would probably be wise use these particles sparingly.

Now, if you are a woman learning Thai, you don’t need to liberally sprinkle your sentences with “ah” (อะ) and “na” (นะ), as so many native Thai women do. Professional Thai business women use softeners less frequently, and so can you without any worry about being impolite.

Lastly, many Thai women who have learned English will sometimes add the “na” softener to the end of their English sentence or phrase. For example, “We should go, na”. This works for them because it’s viewed as “narak” (น่ารัก) or cute. However, you won’t see a Thai man who speaks English doing this. It’s thus a speaking habit best to be avoided if you are a farang in Thailand.

Khru Bo Thailand

Back to Khru Bo’s YouTube channel for learning Thai. Once again, let me say that it is a great intermediate level resource for practicing your Thai listening skills and picking up new vocabulary — especially if you can read Thai.

My advice for using the videos on this channel is to turn on the Thai subtitles and slow the speed down to 75%. Watch the video once or twice like this. Then turn on the English subtitles and watch it at the regular speed.

David Alan