Thai vs. English Consonants

Comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between two languages is an effective tactic for second language learners. Direct cognitive awareness of those differences, while engaging in recognition and production of the differences, is more effective than indirect trial and error. Instruction and exercises that highlight these differences are important for mastery.

Minimal Pairs

Explicit training with minimal pairs is the most common drill-style method of learning the difference between two sounds and between two tones. Specifically, phonemic boundaries are being introduced (and re-established) for the second language learning, in order for them to hear more accurately the sounds in the target language.

Missing Consonantal Phonemes in Thai

Consonants and consonantal phonemes (when not aligned with an exclusive consonant) are

In Thai, certain consonants (and consonantal phonemes) are not present, which are in English. Those include:

  • V
  • R (while present, the R in Thai is a rolling or tap R, but in general conversation the R is replaced with an L)
  • TH (both voiced and voiceless)
  • CH/SH (these two are not distinct in Thai, rather they are heard as a single phoneme, transcribed as CH)
  • Z

Missing Consonantal Phonemes in English

  • Voiced Plosive P (Pp)
  • Voiced Polsive B (Bp)
  • DT

Missing Consonant Clusters

Final Consonant Sounds in Thai

Not only are there changes in what a given letter becomes (transformation) in the final consonant position (fewer sounds are possible in the final consonant position), but also the consonant sound is cut short or muffled in many ways.

This has an impact not only on Thai learners unable to pronounce final consonants fully in English (especially the final S in plurals), but also certain final consonant sounds will be heard as a different sound, to match Thai phoneme patterns, e.g., path -> pap, ball -> ban.


This paper aims to examine similarities and differences between Thai and English consonants. It determines areas of difficulties when Thai students try to pronounce English consonantal sounds. It is found that English sounds which do not occur in the Thai phonology tend to pose great difficulty for Thai students to utter. Those sounds include /g/, /v/, /T/, /D/, /z/, /S/, /Z/, /tS/, and /dZ/. Sounds which exist in Thai but can occur in different environment, i.e. syllable position, are also prone to be difficult to pronounce. Such examples are /f/ and /s/. To tackle the problem of sounds nonexistent in Thai, Thai students are likely to substitute Thai sounds for the English sounds. In addition, the phenomenon where /l/ and /R/ are used interchangeably in Thai tends to be transferred in pronouncing /l/ and /r/ in English with great challenges.

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