Phrasebooks are something of a necessary evil when traveling to a new place for the first time. Especially when the native language of the country you are visiting isn’t based on Latin characters, it’s very important to have a backup plan to get you where you need to go and make communication easier.

I’m a little bit surprised that there aren’t more Thai phrasebooks on the market. Considering the complexity of the language for the lay visitor I would think there was a larger market. Perhaps there is in Europe; in the U.S., however, there don’t seem to be many available.

Given the dearth of phrasebooks that seem to available, I picked up “The Rough Guide Phrasebook – Thai” to see if it would be something I could recommend to people who are looking for a book they can bring with them.

A phrasebook should, obviously, make it very easy for a visitor to communicate with native speakers. Does this book live up to that expectation?

All Thai Phrasebooks Need a Few Things

I come to expect certain things from all Thai phrasebooks:

  • Basic pronunciation guide
  • Mention of the tones
  • Situational encounter dialogues
  • Basic English-Thai dictionary

Luckily, TRGP has all of these sections. I immediately turned to the “How the Language Works” section first, as this is always the biggest bone of contention I have with all Thai books. Unfortunately, I am once again somewhat disappointed with the transliteration scheme. I simply cannot see someone using this book to effectively communicate a word, phrase, or sentence using the transliteration they give. I just picture some big cowboy from Texas trying to pull off the phrase “Kôr un née sŏrng têe, un née nèung têe, lair un nóhn nèung têe krùp” and having that come out correctly.

Transliteration aside, I am pleased at the basic grammatical rules they give in the book. I was pleasantly surprised to see them included, and they do a good job of keeping it simple and easy-to-understand.

The dictionary portion of the book is very robust, offering both Thai-English and English-Thai methods of finding what you are looking for. This section is a combination of both vocabulary and short phrases, as well as the occasional interjection of short dialogues. I really like this feature and the organization of the dictionary in general. There are lots of useful words and phrases and, thankfully, Thai script is included.

The dialogue section is very small, covering a handful of topics such as Accommodation, Banks, Booking a Room, Health, Meeting People, etc. It is in these dialogue sections that I have the most trouble with the book, because no Thai script is included – only English text and the transliteration. It would have been so much better if the writers had included the Thai text as well so, when faced with a difficulty in communication, you can’t simply show the person you’re speaking with the book. No, you have to instead fight your way through it and hope the person understands what you are trying to say. This is a major flaw in the book and I really wish the publishing companies would get this right.

Dialogue and transliteration notwithstanding, this is a solid phrasebook and probably something I would recommend to first-time Thailand travelers. I think there is enough information in here to pretty much cover all situations, and the dictionary will certainly become the most widely-used section of the book.