Learn 300 Words of Thai in 5 Minutes!!

You will see many English words written in Thai characters when you visit Thailand. This says “ice cream”

After mentioning ‘Tap Sap’ (Imported vocabulary) in my last blog I couldn’t help but sit back and write up a whole stack of notes on the issue and this is the end result. See below for the entire list I have put together

I’ve clearly noticed that a whole load of our foreigner readers out there are interested in learning Thai. Since living here, I can’t remember how many times now someone has asked me to the likes of “How do I go about getting started with learning the Thai lingo?” well, sure-a less, I’ve pointed them in the direction of ‘Tap Sap’, cause its darned easy Thai lingo to learn as of course it is in fact English in origin.

Since the Thais started playing around with the Thai language they have effectively made up a whole string of English sounding phrases that most foreigners wouldn’t have a clue to the meaning of and one of the ‘classics’ has to be ‘American Share’. This Thai-Eng lingo does in fact mean to ‘share the bill’. In Thai tradition it’s usually the elder that foots the bill (ie the one who is oldest or wealthiest). This phrase did in fact arise from the days of the American Gis. ‘American Share’ has certainly become popular over the years due to cultural development.

If you thought that Thai-Eng lingo was pretty absurd, nothing beats this one: ‘Working Woman’: I don’t know about your home country but in my hometown ‘Working Woman’ does not sound good at all!! And sounds instead like a stray woman walking the streets at night!! Here in Thailand, it means a woman who is pursuing her career ie, working for a company etc.. This phrase became so popular that a few years back there was even a TV chat show named ‘The Working Woman’. So lads, the next time you meet some Thai girl on ICQ that tells you she is a ‘Working Woman’ for goodness sake don’t misunderstand what she’s trying to say!

One of my fave Thai-Eng phrases has to be ‘Lip-sing’. Perplexed to the meaning? Well, don’t be as it in fact means ‘to mime’. Therefore, the next time when you are out with your Thai friends and they are egging you on to sing the awful likes of ‘Take me home country road’ or ‘Hotel California’ (for the ninety-fifth time!) just inform them that you prefer to ‘Lip-sing’ and so evading this gruesome chore. Next, we have the cute ‘awk date’ which actually translates as ‘go out on a date’, pretty popular phrase with the younger trendy Thais. As for Pattaya’s ‘Banana Boats’, the Thais just love them!!

Now, since the introduction of ‘Tap Sap’, a darned load of English words within the Thai lingo have in fact been corrupted in meaning and now mean something completely different to the English. The worst of all may in fact be ‘Coffee Shop’. Here in Thailand a ‘Coffee Shop’; means nothing of the sort and certainly not the kind of place to take yer girlfriend or old mum when she comes for a visit!! As for coffee, such establishments do serve such a thing but they’ll prefer you instead to be knocking back bottles of beer and buying drinks for a few stray ladies who will soon be appearing uninvitedly at yer table!!

As for a ‘Pub’, I’m not sure about you Americans but in England a pub is usually a dull, squalid place where for some mysterious reason half the customers stand at the bar being served by a couple of grannies. As for a ‘Pub’ in Thailand! You’ll soon be bopping away at your table and being entertained by some scad-looking girlie singers wearing as little as possible in some rather raunchy out-fit. Then for the female customers there are a set of fine handsome male singers wearing the latest Japanese hair-do to admire. Certainly beats having to stand at the bar in a pub back home having to listen to the likes of ‘Darned government cut me social welfare benefit again’. Then, we have the word ‘bar’, it may sound perfectly OK in English to say ‘I’m going out to the bars tonight’ but if you translate this to Thai it does not sound good. And instead means you’ll be looking for more than just a game of pool and a chat with yer buddies!! You have been warned.

Next, we have the word ‘Scotch’. If it’s a bottle of whiskey your after from your local shop to celebrate your new house-warming party, the shop-owner will be instead handing you adhesive tape! Of course ‘Scotch’ in Thai is actually an abbreviation of ‘Scotchtape’! Now a ‘Tour bus’, these in Thailand are any old inter-provincial air-con bus and nothing like the double-decker tour buses that rove around the streets of Paris.

Many words to do with the car are “tap sap” like this one, turbo, and also break, clutch and air.

The Thais certainly love ‘Tap Sap’ that has hailed from The States and ‘Camp’ is one of them. Originally coming here as a teacher I was bewildered when arriving at ‘Camp’ as it was in fact a modern funky place with dormitories to sleep in. To us Brits it is nothing of the kind, but instead a smelly camping ground where you sleep in a tent! Here, in Thailand, its camp this and camp that, I mean any darned location where the company staff or students go for a day or two and play nothing but silly games and ‘sing karaoke’.

Now we all know the Thai people have a plentitude of virtues and one of them has to be ‘nicely-cunning’, I mean they are pretty smart in regards to ‘Tap Sap’. Not only do they import a word from English but they then abbreviate it. Look at the English language, now what’s the point in saying the long-winded likes of ‘Basketball’ when you may as well just say ‘Bas’? Or ‘Badminton’ when you may as well shorten it to ‘Bat’. The Thais have certainly taught us a lesson in laziness of speech! ‘Air’ can mean either ‘Air-conditioning’ or ‘Air-hostess’. ‘Batt’ for ‘Battery. Then if you’ve just arrived at your office job after being sent out here by your company, don’t be perplexed if you here the likes of the workers mentioning “Soup, soup” all day. There aren’t talking about their favourite broth of course, but instead gossiping about their ‘Supervisor’.

Should you hear any Thais asking you “What is your ‘spec’ in a guy?” they are in fact asking you “What specifications do you look for in a guy?” ie. What kinda guy do you like? Then, there is ‘Mike’ as in ‘Microphone. ‘Down’ as in ‘Down-payment’ and ‘Film’ as in ‘Camera Film. Then, one that certainly gets on a lotta peoples’ nerves, and that is ‘Charge’. Not only does ‘Charge’ mean as in the sense to ‘charge a battery’ but it also means ‘Overcharge’.

Then we have the classic ‘Ver’ (Wer)!! ‘Ver’ is an abbreviation of ‘Over’ and can be used when seeing someone obviously making a fool of themselves. Yes, ‘Wer” means ‘Over the top’.

Once upon a time ‘Tap Sap’ used to compromise of only nouns as in ‘Helicopter’ and ‘Taxi’ etc… but a fair share of common verbs and adjectives are engraining themselves in the Thai lingo. Last time I told you about ‘Work’, ‘Get’ and ‘Take care’ but howabout the word ‘Show’. Geez, this word in Thai now has as many or even more meanings as the English equivalent. If someone likes to ‘Put on a bit of a performance in front of the room’ it means that person ‘Likes to ‘Show’. Then in regards to girls who enjoy wearing something a little revealing, she too also likes to ‘Show’. ‘Show’ can also have a negative meaning, as in ‘Show off’. Then if you feel a little injustice being dealt your way just say ‘Mai fair’ as in ‘It’s not fair’. Or if your not sure about something just mention ‘Mai sure’ as in ‘I’m not sure’. And…should you hear any Thai ask you to the likes of “What football do you cheer?” they of course means ‘Cheer’ in the sense of ‘Support’

And finally, howabout ‘Hit’. It certainly doesn’t translate to a ‘Hit in the head’ but it does translate to ‘Hit’ as in ‘Plaeng hit’ (Hit Song). Or just about anything that is in fashion. Then we got the latest of all the ‘Tap Sap’ – ‘Hot’. Not hot as in the weather but ‘Hey he’s a hot guy’ ie… he’s a bit of a stud!

As promised, please find below my whole list of ‘Tap Sap’. I decided to split the list up into three. The first list is of ‘Tap Sap’ that is now perfectly common in the Thai language and on some occasions, if there is a Thai word equivalent, it has now become defunct in spoken conversation. The second list comprises of ‘Tap Sap’ where even though there is a perfectly usable proper Thai word, the ‘Tap Sap’ is used just as often, or in some cases more. The third includes ‘Tap Sap’ that is used with up-to-date Thais and especially those who are students or have a decent job. Most of these ‘Tap Sap’ however wouldn’t be understand by your average farmer. For a more comprehensive list of these just listen to the next speech by our beloved PM. A speech of his in Thai goes alone the lines of “Blaaa blaaa infrastructure blaaa capitalism” etc…. of course half the upcountry population haven’t the faintest but who cares! He sounds ‘Brainy’.

I have not included ‘Technical’ ‘Tap Sap’ like ‘Bacteria’, ‘Amoeba’, ‘Alluminium’ or say ‘Malaria’ etc..

To be understood you’ll need to say the following ‘Tap Sap’ with the Thai pronunciation. Try them out!!

1) Visa, Hello (telephone), Free (as in getting something), Pump (as in pump/petrol station), Sexy, Townhouse, Cake, Battery, Notebook (as in PC), Jeans, Lipstick, Chalk, Check-in (hotel), Theque (discotheque), Sheet (paper), Chemi (Chemistry), Board (Whiteboard etc), Bow (hair), Plan, Microwave, Skateboard, Cheerleader, Cook (occupation), Cookie, Guide (occupation), Tour (go on), Stamp (letter), Motorcyke (motorbike), Shirt, Game, Honeymoon, Print, Poster, Check (bank), Ball (football), Giraffe, Gorilla, Chimpanzee (lots more animals), Volleyball, Ping Pong (Table Tennis) (lots more sports), Commission, Marker (pen), Suit, Coupon, Corruption, Tank (as in oil), Sofa, ICU, Lock, Lift (elevator), Seminar, Game Show, Cutter, Invoice, Liquid (Liquid Paper), Gel (hair), Stunt, Cartoon, Furniture, Tip (in a restaurant), Gym, Logo, Barber, DJ, Cream, Chat (Internet), Copy (fake), Guitar, Piano, Neon, Bonus (job), Spa, Jacuzzi, Rock (music), Yaught, Cashier, Skate (roller), Fuse, Cap (hat), Scooter, High-Lo (card game), Card (as in X’mas card), Part (as in part 2), Kilometre, Centimetre, Atnomat (automatic), Bingo, Buffet, Calorie, Clip, Franchise, Graph, Tissue, Khaki, Nawee (Navy), Lens, Champ (champion), Opera, Sauce, Chong Fridge (freezer), Starter, Clutch, Brake, Gear (Lots more vehicle words) , Helicopter, Com (computer), Condo, Flat (accommodation), Fax, Stereo, Remote (remote control), Cream, Pear, Plum, Peach, Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry, Jam, Salad, Sundae, Vanilla, Ice-cream, Beer, Spaghetti, BBQ, Fast-Food, Macaroni, Steak, Mustard, Pasta, Custard, Punch (fruit punch), Wine, Toffee, Nugget (chicken), Chocolate, Donut, French-fries, Hamburger, Hot-dog, Ham, Cheese, Bacon, Mayonnaise and of course Pizza. Then my fave kind of ‘Tap Sap’ for cuteness, Choc-Chip (chocolate chip).

2) Happy Birthday, Bye-bye, Merry X’mas, Smart (as in smart-looking), Dic (dictionary), Charge (battery), Mini-Mart, Xerox (make a copy), Bakery, Bank, Passport, Chauffer, Program, Print, Motorshow, Casino, Office, Walkman, Footpath (sidewalk/pavement), Cologne, Promote, Promotion, Sales (occupation), Joke, Pick-up (vehicle), Bill, Star (as in famous), Queue, Technical, Ticket, Brochure, Bomb, Party, View, Inter (international), Club, Four-wheel, Select, Hero, Lotion, Hurricane, Romantic, Import, Export, Agent, Alien, U-turn, Classic, Curfew, Diet, Disc, Double, Popular, Serve (occupation), Lottery, Engine, Conversation, Menu, Modern, Plaster (sticky), Shock (surprise), Gap, Certificate, Lab (Labratory), Gift, Gift Shop, TV, Walkman, Tape, Projector and Switch.

3) Happy, Sorry, Good-night, Get (understand), Work (as in a plan), Support, Quality, Department, Store, Hotel, Mobile, Surprise, Edit, Police, Dinner, Perfect, Uncivilised, Refugee, Summer (as in camp), Sick, Dancer, Super, Stop, Check (inspect), Magazine, Shampoo, Drop (as in drop a course), Service, Inspiration, Delivery, Drink (both verb and noun/alcohol), Clear (verb and adjective), Holiday (as in day off), Effect, Action, Fit (corrupt usage of Tap Sap, means ‘tight’, as in a blouse), Mini (esp. mini-skirt), Boss, Basic, Advance, Quote, Centre, Save (money), Notice (as in notice board), Note (verb and noun), Size, Revision and finally Form (as in both ‘good form’ and the thing you fill-out)

And I know there are lots lots lots more!!

I do hope that you have found some of the ‘Tap-Sap’ in this blog helpful. I have decided to put together the most comprehensive up-to-date list of ‘Tap-Sap’ available. So, dear readers if you can think of any more ‘Tap-Sap’ pls do write a comment and tell me.

Visit Steve’s main page at Steve’s Weblog

29 responses to “Learn 300 Words of Thai in 5 Minutes!!

  1. After living a couple of years in Holland my image of coffee shops is totally ruined. I don´t even think of asking someone where I could find a coffee shop when I would like to have a cup of coffee or anything else to drink. Here they don´t serve any kind of drinks except water, instead you can find all kind of mild drugs from those.

  2. If you want a cup of coffee in the Netherlands, look for a “Thee huis” (Tea House) -strange -but “respectable ” coffeeshops have had to re-name themselves in order to dissasociate themselves from the other kind.
    The cannabis selling coffeeshops do sell coffee (and fruit teas, Fruit juice and sometimes alcohol) -but often it is awful.

  3. Great list Steve! I remember on my second visit to Thailand struggling to try and tell the taxi driver to go the airport in Thai (trying to say “pai sa-naam bin don meuang mai”) when my Thai friend helped by asking him “go air-por mai” which was instantly understood!

    I know you’ve got ‘program’ in your list already, but that seems to be another one with a corrupted meaning. As Thai people will ask something like “do you have any program tonight?” meaning “have you got any plans tonight?”. And it has the meaning of “computer program” also of course.

    “superstar” is another one, gets on my nerves a bit as it seems anyone in Thailand who’s a little bit famous is known as a “superstar” !

    Also you’ve got “pretty” and “presenter”, both used as nouns to describe the salesgirls you see every where.

    Some others – “I” and “you” are used by some people, “fitness” as an alternative for gym or ‘ork gamlang gai’, “concert” too.

  4. Thanks for that Mike, i made the list up over just a two day spell so i know i missed a lot out. Would love other readers to remind of more as just like that one about ‘Airport’, ‘Concert’, ‘Fitness’ and ‘Presenter’etc..

    You just reminded me of ‘excercise’. I thought about ‘pretty’ i think its pretty cute Tap Sap. Ive heard ‘I’ and ‘You’ quite bit too by quite a few cocky TV folk! I also heard ‘You’ being spoken to me on occasions when the speaker hasn’t worked out the most suitable way on how to address me ie. as ‘Pee’ or ‘Nong’ or ‘Khun’ or whatever.

    Come on give me some more!!

  5. there’s “master” too… but its normally pronouce as “mutter”….

    me: pee krup.. nee pen “mutter” laew yang krup?

    pirated vcd/dvd vendor : “mutter” laew krup! roy percent!!!

    oh… then there’s “percent” too..


  6. Big list !! excellent job..
    Here is some more “Tap-Sap” for u is
    caddy , credit , job , on air , small talk , hung over , part time , coach , team , click , wig ,
    and then..ha ha ” Farang ting tong”

  7. Hahaha…. reading this blog, really makes me laugh because it’s almost the same as in Indonesia, we also have a lot of imported vocabulary, and unbelievable the tap sap such as working woman, pub, mike, charge, etc. are exactly how it is interpreted in Indonesia.

    Steve, you’ve been doing a good job for listing a lot of tap sap!

    Do people in Thai also say Disco for dancing?

  8. They say “Tech” for disco…. dancing is dancing… 🙂

  9. Hi Steve,

    Nice job. Quite a thorough piece of work you have here. Interesting about the use of words referring to government or government processes. I’ve heard corruption used in this context – as a farm or as a way to describe someone. He is corruption.

    Don’t have much to contribute though I would think though that ‘lip sing’ is just ‘lip synch’, as in to synchronise the movement of your lips to the recorded music, a common enough expression in North America at least.

    And yes, I’ve often heard ‘disco’ used to refer to danceclubs. Thought that very 70s, but apparently many Europeans use the same vernacular.


  10. Great job on this list, Steve! You must have an amazing memory to come up with so many of ’em just in a couple days! 🙂

    Unfortunately, in many cases the pronounciation of these loanwords changed so much that merely knowing the correct English equivalent is not sufficient to use it in a Thai conversation. Some Thais would go as far as to correct you to pronounce it “right”, lol.

    The list is a good starter, but one would have to listen to the Thai pronounciation and imitate it to use the words effectively, just like you wrote before the list.

    After staying here just one year, I don’t have much more to contribute. Almost all the English loanwords we use in the labs are words of the terminology that you already decided not to include in the list, and for good reason! Much of that would be incomprehensible even to the majority of native English speakers as well. :p

    I wonder why you put “shampoo” in the third category; I had the impression that it’s a commonly used word nowadays. “Moisturizer” would be a better choice there, IMO. 🙂

    Speaking of which, commercials and ads are a good source of such borrowed words. These are used not to convey the actual meaning, but rather the high quality (and price) of the product.

    Some English words also seep into the Thai vernacular by new, trendy nicknames.

    Good blog, Steve. 🙂

  11. Hi thanks for the refreshing comments and extra Tap Sap!

    Thanks for that there Bruce on ‘Lip Synch’, i”l check on the Thai spelling of this over the weekend to see whether it come from what you said or was it LipSing.

    Glad to have had a decent audience come to this blog and found it helpful, as you could have imagined it did take two days of intensive brain-storming to put the list together.

    Sure, as Siamjai said you will have to try the words out first to get the Thai pronunciation as most Thais wouldnt have a clue at first at what you were trying to say. But practice makes perfect. And since they are actually English words in origin they are far easier to remember than the Thai words.

    A lot more Tap Sap has come to my head since i wrote this just yesterday so how knows, may be they’ll be a Tap Sap Blog Part 2 soon!!


  12. D.R. Silvers

    I teach uni students English and part of my game plan is to always highlight that those loan words are not Thai, not English but Thing-lish…I then set about trying to correct the damage done!

  13. Pompenkroo

    Yes. People always ask me how I learned to read Thai so quickly. I tell them that I learned by studying the alphabet first, then by trying to read all the transliterated English in advertisments and consumer goods. The first “Thai” that I succefully read was on a bottle of liquid soap, “Sunlight: Lemon Power”
    Nevertheless, you don’t learn how to distinguish tone by reading this way.

  14. Hey Steve,

    This is possibly off the topic of Tap Sap but something I have noticed is the abundance of “secretary-generals” in this country, both in every part of government and the public and private sector as well.

    I recall working at a magazine and a colleague interviewed the proprietor of a well-known hotline for troubled people. The office had two full time staff members, the well-known lady of the interview who offered some counselling, and another guy who looked after the administrative work. That guy’s business card read “secretary-general”.

    Perhaps Kofi Annan or Boutros Boutros paid a visit to Thailand at one point and impressed somebody.

    In fact Steve, I recommend that Richard bestow upon you the title of Secretary-General of Thaiblogs.com!


  15. Oh yeah Bruce, and how many darned ‘executive secretaries’ do you find??

    In regards to what Pichai said (Phichai lives in Khorat in the north-east)

    They perhaps don’t in your district of Khorat.
    Those words you listed above are in fact from section three of the guide where i stated that ‘Section three consists of Tap Sap that is used with up-to date Thais and especially trendy students and those with a decent job.

    I also explained in the guide ‘Most of these Tap Sap (section three) would not be understood by your average farmer’, that’s what i advised.

    I used to live in Khorat and know that most of the provinces up-to-date, trendy teenagers and those with a decent job have in fact moved to Bangkok.

    And Bangkok is where most of section three Tap Sap is used.

    In my company visits i always heard the likes of ‘ticket’, ‘conversation’ and ‘engine’.

    The word ‘refugee’ was made famous by the Carabao song of the same name years and years ago. As for ‘Center’ you sometimes hear it on the TV and occasionally in the office. As for Barber i can not believe Pichai hasn’t heard that!

    Actually, i had two Thais help me write this list up.

    One is a teacher and he guaranteed the authenticity of the Tap Sap i mentioned.

  16. Michael Christoffersen

    Coffee shop! Indeed.
    I recall on one of my first trips to Thailand, I was in Trang looking on my map to try to negotiate my way to my GH.
    A woman dressed in an office suit drove noticed me trying to figure out the way, stopped and kingly offered to take me to my GH.
    After letting me off she told me that she was working on improving her english and if I had time to chat with her for half an hour or so before she had to go to work. Sure, I said, how about going somewhere for a cup of coffee.
    Coffee Shop? She inquired with her eye brows raised, Sure why not…. She took off in horror and I didn`t at the time realize the local connotation of coffee shop.

    Michael Christoffersen

  17. “Working woman” with a bad connotation must be a “Britishism” (and “Indonesianism”). In the USA, it means exactly the same as used by the Thai. Perhaps the Thai picked that up from the 1970’s GI’s too?

    Until I came to Thailand, I always thought we and the Brits spoke the same language. Huh-uh. Almost daily, in my university classes I’m trying to help sort out the vocabulary, spelling, idioms, and pronunciation for my confused students!

    Us yanks sure made a bloddy mess of things when we rebelled, didn’t we, old chap?

  18. er.. “bloody”, that is. (Of course, the confusion for my students is even worse, when I can’t get the Queen’s English right.)

  19. So now it’s our turn to make a ‘bloggy’ mess of things, right?

    LOL..I sorry couldn’t resist.


  20. Just an other funny “tapsap”:


    which means a coloured tuft of hair.

  21. little_sakura

    Great list, i will make sure to memorize and SOMEHOW try to learn the thai pronouciation of the words, for as i mentioned before in another post, i’m looking forward to travelling to Thai in about two years time. Who knows maybe even move there permanently.Chao.

  22. mai pen lai

    Hi Steve, great list. I lived in Pataya for one year in 1993-94. It sounds like the Thais are really picking up the English. When I was there, here are a few of the Thai-Eng. words being used then. I might add that very few Thai’s spoke any kind of English at that time.
    Morcy: for Motorcycle
    Bicy: for Bicycle
    Mosky: for Mosquito
    Suh: addressing man or woman
    Aircon: for Airconditioning

    Our Thai language teacher told us that most Thai’s find it hard to pronounce their “R’s” and said they were lazy preferring instead to use “L” in it’s place; hence mai pen lai and falang.

    By the way, our instructor also told us that “Farang” mean any person “other” than a Thai. Sounds like someone disagrees with this.

    I loved my stay with these gracious people. Look for my book coming out next year: “Mai Pen Lai means never having to say you’re Sorry.”

  23. actually “Farang” to us thai people mean anyone that not asian and most of the time mean white people. whether where you are from.

    it doesn’t mean we’re racist or anything. just that it what we use for so long.

  24. Hi – could someone solve a mystery for me and tell me what “choc du cap” (not 100% sure of spelling!) means. I am told it is a Thai phrase but cannot find a translation anywhere.

    Thank you for your time

  25. Mystery solved: it means good luck and is also said when you are raising a glass to salute the worthless person across the way.

  26. The most common one..

    “du” for ‘the’

    Pai du mall khap….

  27. no comment everything is good.

  28. never heard so much shit in all my life