Thai Language Blog

The Dreaded Thai Kows Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Beginner


When I teach a new set of beginning learners in my class, the very first lesson I give is on Thai tones. To scare them a bit I present various words that sound the same, but change meaning depending on the tone. While most teachers prefer to give the famous ‘mai’ example, I prefer the ‘kow’ example because it’s even worse (harder?).

What makes ‘kow’ really hard is that there are so many different similarly sounding words (to the English ear) with no easy way to remember which is which. I’m just going to list them out below, and leave it up to you to memorize.

Before we start, I must differentiate between เอา (ow) and อาว (aow). For the English speaking ear these vowels sound almost exactly the same.

The เอา (ow) vowel sounds just like ‘ow’ in English, as in ‘ow that hurts’.

To say the อาว (aow) vowel, start off by making a long ‘aa’ sound. Then follow it off with a ‘w’ at the end.

Ask a Thai to listen and let you know if you’re pronouncing them right.

Thai Karaoke English
ข้าว Kaow3 Rice
ขาว Kaow5 White
ข่าว Kaow2 News
ค้างคาว Kaang4kaow1 Bat (the flying squirrel)
เข่า Kow2 Knee
เข้า Kow3 Enter
เค้า Kow4 Him (slang)
เขา Kow5 Him, her, they

He ate white rice.


Kow5 gin1 kaow3 kaow5


A bat came and ate his knee.


Mee1 kaang4kaow1 kow3 maa1 gin1 kaow2 kow4


The reporter entered Khao San road.

Nak4kaow2 kow3 ta2non5 kaow3 saan5


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