The pitch of a syllable can be high, low, rising, falling or in a mid-level tone. Depending on the tone, the otherwise same word has a different meaning. It is therefore essential to find the right pitch. But this is the point where beginners have serious problems when learning the Thai language. Unnecessarily, I believe. Anyone who passes this step, or moves it to a later date, can learn vocabulary as much as he wants: with incorrect intonation he will not be understood.

All the words in the following table despite different spellings but are pronounced as ma:. However, the tone is different, and therefore also the meaning.

mid-level tone low tone high tone rising tone falling tone
to come
to ferment
Mother (chin.)


Here nothing is said about the absolute pitch, the information and the graphics are based relative to the middle tone. The frequency of the middle tones is very much dependent on the particular speaker. So a woman speaking normally at a higher frequency than a man. From a single syllable spoken therefore we can not secure the mid different from the low or high tone. Throughout the set the other hand you will easily make the individual medium tone.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Washington D.C. has developed a Thai Basic Course providing training to government employees in 1970, starting with an introduction to the phonology (the sound system). Since this course is available free as public domain on the Internet, I've made an own version of the phonology for ClickThai using parts made from the original. You'll find it at the Training Area.




In non-tonal languages we can transfer additional information through the intonation of a sentence. We use, for example, an interrogative or an expletive tone. This is not so in Thai. One of the difficulties in learning the Thai language is to abandon old ways and to allow new functions by using intonation.
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