L2 - Tones

Thai is a tonal language - that is the tone used to pronounce a word can change its meaning. Thai has five tones. They are low, middle, high, rising and falling. When Thai is spoken nicely, the tones give it a nice sing-song sound.

There are two viewpoints about learning the tones. Some people say they are an essential part of the language and you cannot begin to learn Thai without them. Others believe they can come later as you become more proficient at the language. In most cases, if you say the sound correctly (even without the correct tone) then a Thai should be able to understand from the context of the conversation.

We will subscribe to the second theory and we will not spend too much time talking about tones but it is important to at least understand the concept. Many westerners find they simply do not have an ear for the tones because it is not a part of their own language.

Low Tone - a level tone, lower in pitch than the speaker's natural pitch.

Middle Tone - a level tone, spoken in the speaker's natural pitch.

High Tone - a level tone, higher in pitch than the speaker's natural pitch.

Rising Tone - a tone that rises in pitch. This is the same tone we use in English to indicate a question.

Falling Tone - a tone that falls in pitch. This is similar to the tone we use in English to give emphasis to a word.

The best way to pick up the tones is the same way Thai children learn them. That is by listening to native Thai speakers and copying.







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