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[video] Another way to look at the 5 tones of Thai

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This post includes an embedded video. If you are reading it through RSS or email and don't see it, click through to watch it on my site!

Note: Rather than this video being a how-to about Thai tones, it's simply giving an idea of the way that I'm looking at and approaching them to help to make them easier. Since I had only been in Thailand for just over 2 weeks at the time of filming there are a few mistakes, but it should hopefully help others starting off!

Blogger cameo roles in the video

I was going to wait to record this video for another week or so when I would have had a better ear for the tones, but I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to work on a shared project with some big names in the blogosphere! I spent an entire week in Ko Phi Phi and most of that was in the company of some fellow “location independent professionals” that went with me to the parties on the beach every night. It's definitely been the best part of my Thailand trip so far.

I convinced some of them to help me with this video. They are (in the order you see them):

Sean Ogle Location 180: Sean quit his job and decided to move across the world and has a great blog about why it's not as scary as you think to do that. In person he's super cool and really great fun! We'll be meeting up again before I leave Thailand for sure!

Dan Andrews Tropical MBA: Dan knows his business and he does most of it from somewhere tropical! He runs a cool podcast to inspire others to do the same and was giving me some great advice for how I should expand on my blog. His work partner Ian was the cameraman.

Tom Li: Tom, and the others above are all working together. Tom and I had an amazing time meeting people on the sandy dancefloors!

Adam Baker ManVsDebt: Adam's blog is huge after less than a year since he started it, because apart from really amazing content, he is proving that you can travel the world even if you have a family and showing that there is a way out of debt if you are committed to it and sell all your useless stuff. His beautiful daughter Milly (who also appears in the video) and his wife Courtney are with him on the adventure of a lifetime. He's really nice in person!!

Summary of the 5 tones

Just to expand on what I said in the video (and correct little mistakes I made), the way I see the 5 tones of Thai are as follows:

  • High tone. This title is misleading because you would think it is just simply a higher version of the middle/low tone, but I actually hear it as rising. It does so in a different way to the rising tone (see below), and I think this can be pretty well represented by shock or surprise as I did in the video. So you start already high and make it higher.
  • Rising tone. This title is better, but it's important to note that you have to go down before you actually do rise your tone. This is precisely the same as we do in single word questions (like really?) on hearing interesting information.
  • Middle and low tone. I still find these two a little hard, so in the video I just focussed on the difference between them; at the moment just making a tone that feels middle or low is what I'm going with. Since then, from more practice, from what I can tell, the low tone sounds like how we would end a sentence in English. If you can give a better easy explanation than my “jaws” suggestion in the video, say so in the comments 🙂
  • Falling tone. I totally messed this one up in the video; sorry! (One long take and a lot of stuff to remember, whoops!) In the link in the previous point you can hear what it actually sounds like; it's like the opposite to the rising tone in that it starts high and then falls low. It's actually not that hard at all; I was just a little distracted in the video.

One other mistake I made in the video was that despite saying it pretty well on the beach, I said the high tone almost exactly the same as the rising tone (I went down-up, instead of up-up) when giving the example in the last part. I think I sound pretty silly trying to point out the difference between two sentences that sound pretty much exactly the same and shouldn't in Thai…

So overall, I definitely can't say that I've “mastered” tones yet, but I hope that I have a pretty good idea thanks to comparisons with situations in English, as in the video, and with practice they will come! Rather than giving tips in this video, I wanted to just share the learning experience, even in the stage where I'm still making lots of basic mistakes. And of course, it was a great excuse to work together with the other bloggers on a common project that only took a few minutes!

Right now I'm in a small town called “fisherman's village” despite there not being a single fisherman in sight; great fake title for tourist soundbites though. It's on the north part of Ko Samui and I'll be getting the 20 minute speedboat to the famous full moon party this weekend! Can't wait!!

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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