The Five Stages of Learning to Read Thai

There can’t possibly be 44 consonants and 32 vowels. The human mouth can’t even make that many sounds. I bet you only use about 20, so I’ll just learn the letters in the words I use the most. The others must be really rare. Also, I don’t think I’ll worry about the tone rules. They can’t be that big of a deal. All those charts on the internet are there to scare people away.

You really use all 32 vowels and 42 of the 44 consonants? And now you’re telling me that I also have to learn special characters and dipthongs? And what’s this about invisible vowels? You told me this writing system was phonetic. Invisible vowels are not phonetic. You lied to me!

Listen, Thailand, I’m going to help you out. Why not just take one grapheme to represent each sound, make them all middle consonants, and use the tone marks for middle consonants as needed for each syllable? And stop changing the sound of the consonant when it shows up at the end of a syllable. No one needs 16 ways to write a /t/ sound. Imagine not having to wonder if ซื้อ begins with a ส ษ ศ or ซ. All /s/ sounds will be ส. All /t/ sounds will be ท.

Don’t just do it for me. Think of the children! Imagine how much more time they will have to learn other things if they don’t have to learn the names and rules of 44 consonants!

This is worse than purgatory. No one is listening to my very reasonable suggestions, so I have to memorize every consonant, every tone rule. For the rest of my life I’m going to have to ask myself, “Is this a mid, high, or low consonant? Is it followed by a long or short vowel? Is it a live or dead syllable? Does it have a tone mark, and, if it does, what does that tone mark mean with this particular consonant?” every time I try to read a sentence. I’m going to be stuck on chapter 6 of มานี for the rest of my life. And spelling! That’s never going to happen.

I just read a newspaper headline out loud to my husband without thinking about tone rules, and I pronounced everything correctly. And yesterday when I wrote down new words I was hearing in my ละคร, I spelled them all correctly despite never having seen them. It’s kind of neat how the different consonants tell you the etymology of the word, and thank goodness I don’t have to write a tone mark above every syllable. What a waste of time that would be! Whoever came up with this system of high, medium, and low consonants to make reading and writing a tonal language easier was a genius!

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