Learn Thai from Mistakes

My student showed me a photo from his trip to Chiang Rai. Once I saw it, it made me laugh out loud. I would like to share it with you so we can also learn Thai from this photo.

tea leaves

This is a warning sign from a tea plantation in Chiang Rai province in Northern Thailand. Chiang Rai is known for their abundant tea plantations.

The sign in Thai says “ห้ามเด็ดยอดชา” , but what makes me laugh is the English translation “prohibit pluck the top feels numb”. I think you would laugh your bottom off like me if you understand the meaning of the Thai words used in the sign, so let’s break it down.

ห้าม /hâam/        means  to forbid, to prohibit. It is used to give a command to someone not to do something i.e. ห้ามสูบบุหรี่ / hâam sub bù-rìi/ Do not smoke.

เด็ด /dèd/            means to pick, to nip off, to pinch off. This word is used for ‘picking flowers’

ยอด /yâwd/      means the tip of something

ชา /chaa/           means ‘tea’ or ‘feel numb’

Now you understand how the mistake happened, right?  ‘Do not pick the tips of the tea leave’ could be translated to ‘prohibit pluck the top feels numb’ : )

I think a person who translated the Thai text to English just searched each word from a dictionary and chose the first meaning he/she saw. When I was a student I also did the same thing, not knowing that a Thai word that has several meaning could be different words in English like the word ‘ชา /chaa/ here that means both ‘tea’ and ‘feel numb’ .

 

Another similar cute mistake, I found the photo from the internet.

 

The sign in Thai says “ห้ามเกาะกระจก /hâam gò grà-jòk/

We learned the word ห้าม /hâam/ from the sign above already 🙂

เกาะ /gò/ has two meanings:

[1]  island

[2]  to hold , to hold something firmly (with my hands/arms)

กระจก /grà-jòk/ means pane of glass or mirror

 

Now we understand what the troubles are; the word เกาะ /gò/ and a misunderstanding how to use to use the word ‘forbidden’. ‘Do not lean against the glass’ could be translated to Forbidden Island Glass.  Well…it is better than Forbidden Island Mirror, huh? 

Oh wait!, did I translate it correctly myself? 555

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The sign in Thai says:

เขตชุมชน /kèet chum chon/  community area

ลดความเร็ว /lót kwaam reo/ reduce the speed

ลด /lót/ = to lower, to reduce

ความเร็ว /kwaam reo/ = speed

I think many Thai people often mix up the word ‘reduce‘ and ‘produce‘ since both words end with -duce. 😀

 

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The sigh in Thai says “ระวังคนตาบอด /rá-wang kon dtaa-dàwd/” :

ระวัง /rá-wang/ Be careful, beware, be cautious

คนตาบอด /kon dtaa-dàwd/ Blind people

The right translation should be ‘Caution: Blind People’. 🙂

 

First look at this sign, it made me laugh. But thinking about reality it is NOT amusing because it could cause someone’s life.

The sign in English is obvious, except the fact that it communicates totally the opposite message.

Have a look at the Thai text: “อันตราย ห้ามลงเล่นน้ำบริเวณนี้” It means “Danger! don’t swim in this area”

อันตราย /an-dt1a-raai/ = danger,  caution

ห้าม  /hâam/ = prohibit. We use this word in the pattern : ห้าม/ hâam/ + do something = Don’t do something!

ลง /long/ = go down

เล่น /lên/ = to play

น้ำ /náam/ = water

บริเวณ /baw-rí-wane/ = area

นี้ /níi/ = this

Perhaps, it is time for you to start learning to read Thai language. For your own safety.

ฟักทองเชื่อม

The Thai text says ฟักทองเชื่อม /fák-tawng chûeam/.  ฟักทอง/fák-tawng/ means ‘pumpkin’, and what makes this translation tricky is the word เชื่อม /chûeam/  as it has two meanings, it can means ‘to boil in syrup’  and ‘to connect’ , ‘to join’. Now you understand why this delicious Thai dessert sounds funny in English. 🙂

ฟักทองเชื่อม

ฟักทองเชื่อม Pumpkin boiled in Syrup.

 

If you see these names in the menu, would you order just to see what the dish is like exactly? 😛

The dish number 7 is “กุ้งผัดผงกะหรี่ gûng pàt pŏng gà-rìi”. Let’s take a look at each word, shall we?

กุ้ง gûng means ‘shrimp’ or ‘prawn’

ผัด pàt means ‘stir fry’ or ‘stir-fried’

ผง pŏng means ‘powder’

กะหรี่ gà-rìi is a type of curry. This word is also a slang used to call a prostitute.

ผงกะหรี่ pŏng gà-rìi is curry powder made of fenugreek seed, fennel seed, coriander seed, turmeric powder.

So the dish กุ้งผัดผงกะหรี่ gûng pàt pŏng gà-rìi is actually ‘Stir-Fried Prawns in Curry Powder’ as you see in the picture below. It is a delicious Thai dish! Have you ever tried before? 🙂

กุ้งผัดผงกะหรี่

Anyone can make mistakes and the best lesson is the lesson we learn from the mistakes 🙂

 

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50 Responses to Learn Thai from Mistakes

  1. Keith 08/01/2016 at 02:30 #

    “Pumpkin Connection” would be a great name for a restaurant!

  2. Foo 29/10/2015 at 12:39 #

    thanks !

  3. Mary 21/09/2015 at 21:17 #

    Every language has interesting quirks. Example, in Arabic they don’t have the p sound. So sometimes you’ll see nicely made, professional looking road signs that say ‘no barking’.
    Makes you wonder how they pronounce Palestinian, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for pointing these signs out. English is so different from Thai, we should not expect perfect English.
    Sometimes when I try to speak my very little Thai, they’ll wince and ask me to stop. 555

    • Mod 24/09/2015 at 21:48 #

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. It is interesting to know how other languages are like.
      Don’t stop speaking your Thai, keep practicing. Learning from mistakes is one good way to learn. 🙂

  4. William Russell 11/04/2015 at 15:36 #

    I moved to Thailand and married on sip ha macarakhun song pan ha roi ha sip pad, and I am having the hardest time trying to remember all the words my wife is trying to teach me. I would appreciate a little help in how you get the words to stick in the brain other than of course to repeat them a million times, as I really would like to be able to converse with my wife and family instead of just listening to conversations I can’t get involved in. Any suggestions?

    • Mod 14/04/2015 at 12:59 #

      Sawatdii ka William, thank you for visiting my website. I always encourage my students to use what they have learned from watching my videos or from the lessons they are taking. Go ahead to talk to Thai people and don’t afraid to make mistakes. Watch Thai movies and listen to Thai songs even you don’t understand everything but you will slowly pickup words and it stays with you when you hear or see them from the context that you enjoy.

      Besides that you might find website called Memrise useful, you can create your own course to help yourself memorise things that you are learning. Chok-dii ka (Good luck) 🙂

  5. Mr Petersson 23/03/2015 at 23:02 #

    Dear teacher Mod, don’t you find it embarrassing with the not so seldom poor translations you often find in Thailand?
    Do you think it’s in order to point these things out when you see them or is that rude?

    Kind regards
    Farang in isaan

    • Mod 08/04/2015 at 22:44 #

      Sawatdee ka Mr.Peterson,

      To be honest I don’t find it embarrassing. The situation is understandable because people in some rural areas are not fortunate to learn English. I think they do the best they can 🙂

  6. kevin-michael 10/03/2015 at 18:02 #

    Here at home near Philadelphia, PA, USA – there are plenty of mistakes on signs in English, so i agree with the writer that wrote that it was nice that the Thai people were making an effort to reach out to tourists – and intuitively, native English speakers would in most cases see though the error, i mean, often times we make copy/editing mistakes because we are focused on something else. How many of us have found typos in text that were not mispelled words but the incorrect word inserted by an Auto-correct feature.

    I really enjoy your efforts to expand Thai language learning and cultural awareness – Best wishes to the team at “Learn Thai with Mod”!!!!

    • Mod 21/03/2015 at 12:33 #

      Thank you for reading my post and your kind comments. 🙂

  7. David 14/02/2015 at 07:59 #

    I just discovered some of your wonderful videos and posts. Funny signs in Thailand are endlessly entertaining. I once read the menu at a massage clinic in Chiang Mai. Among the many services offered was this:

    Remove Foot 150 Bhat

    Now, as a student of Thai, I couldn’t help noticing what looked like a mistake in the paragraph on Be Blind.

    The sigh in Thai says “ระวังคนตาบอด /rá-wang kon dtaa-dàwd/” :

    ระวัง /rá-wang/ Be careful, beware, be cautious

    คนตาบอด /kon dtaa-dàwd/ Blind people

    The right translation should be ‘Caution: Blind People’. 🙂

    I think the “dawd” should probably be “bawd,” but I wasn’t sure so I spent time checking, and on the way to checking that, I learned some other things. So — even if it was a mistake, I learned from it! Just the way I learned from your funny signs. Thank you so much for the excellent video lessons and all you do for Thai learners.

    • Mod 04/03/2015 at 23:06 #

      Thank you for your comments. I am happy to hear that you learned something new:)

  8. frank 13/02/2015 at 00:00 #

    First look at this sign, it made me laugh. But thinking about reality it is NOT amusing because it could cause someone’s life.

    Shouldn’t this be read as ‘….it could cause the loss of someone’s life.’ ???

  9. Jonathan Bailey 12/02/2015 at 06:52 #

    Google translate should hire you to fix their translation algorithms. They’re always coming up with completely nonsensical translations………

    • Jonathan Bailey 12/02/2015 at 06:59 #

      Just to be sure, Google translate came out with it as “Don’t miss the tea.”

  10. yo 15/12/2014 at 16:49 #

    I love looking out for funny signs in thailand, all round the world really. But the dangerous swimming in water one is really bad, an icon with a swimmer and a slash to symbolize the no swimming would be the least the authories should have done. Duh..
    Why english in thailand is bad? My experience?..? i have seen grammatical and spelling errors in signages from a foreign language teaching school(they teach english too…), law firm specialising in translating of legal documents. (super omg), teachers correcting students english mistakes with ended up with other mistakes…
    Thai people are very self conscious, not daring to speak english for fear of mistakes. But thats how you learn new languages right?

  11. Dan in Isaan 10/07/2014 at 19:58 #

    Mistranslation on signs, menus, etc are a big part of my enjoyment of traveil. With over 75 countries visited, I’ve seen quite a few hysterical mistranslations.

    English speakers make mistakes when translating too!

    For example, in Spanish the words for “tired” and “married” are very similar and it only takes a little imagination to ponder the funny responses to questions:

    Q: Where is your wife?
    A: i dont have one, I am not tired

    President Kennedy flubbed his line in his famous Berlin Wall speech. The Germans could have laughed, but understood what he meant and were gratious.You see, the US President used the wrong case of the indefinite article “a” (ein/einer) which changed the meaning of the noun. So “Ich bin ein Berliner” meant “I am a Jelly Filled Pastry”. Good thing he wasn’t in Vienna.

  12. Dan in Isaan 10/07/2014 at 19:52 #

    Mistranslation on signs, menus, etc are a big part of my enjoyment of traveil. With over 75 countries visited, I’ve seen quite a few hysterical mistranslations.

    English speakers make mistakes when translating too!

    For example, in Spanish the words for “tired” and “married” are very similar and it only takes a little imagination to ponder the funny responses to questions:

    Q: Where is your wife?
    A: i dont have one, I am not tired

    President Kennedy flubbed his line in his famous Berlin Wall speech. The Germans coild

    • Mod 06/08/2014 at 15:28 #

      Thank you for sharing this translation mistake. Interesting! 🙂

  13. Adam 29/05/2014 at 02:46 #

    I’m guessing but I bet ‘cha’ is the Chinese word for tea and as they were the first ones to export it around the world theIr name for it just stuck.

    Gee, kruu Richard, I bet your lessons are bags of fun!

    Thanks for another great lesson Mod, interesting as always!!

    🙂

  14. Jonathan 08/05/2014 at 14:36 #

    Hi A-Mod!

    Mainly, just a quick note of “Thanks!” for such a wonderful site, one that is both very instructional and very entertaining.
    For those who visit your site, however, to learn and/or practice English, you should be more aware of what you post since I found the following sentences rather awkward to my ears.

    “First look at this sign, it made me laugh. But thinking about reality it is NOT amusing because it could cause someone’s life.

    The sign in English is obvious, except the fact that it communicates totally the opposite message.”

    Perhaps, these work better:

    “When first looking at this sign, it made me laugh. But then, in thinking about the seriousness of it, it is NOT amusing because it could cost someone’s life!” And, “The sign’s message in English is clear, except for the fact that it communicates totally the opposite meaning”

    Just “food for thought!”

    J.

    • Mod 09/05/2014 at 12:31 #

      Sawatdee ka Jonathan. Thank you for your advice. 🙂

  15. Roy 08/04/2014 at 06:37 #

    I think you really meant, ‘do not pick the tops of the tea leaveS.’

  16. Roger 01/02/2014 at 12:24 #

    Hi Mod, great idea to have some fun and link that to learning. It works too, new words and sentences stick better when you do that. Laughter and a smile helps the world. Sorry you got a bit hijacked with a silly rant, just ignore that. Wonderful site and a great help for us folks doing our best to learn Thai. Thank you so much (-:

  17. Nikolay 03/01/2014 at 14:44 #

    In Ukrainian language (as well as in Russian) tea also sounds similar, something resembling chai. Perhaps, this word has a common linguistic ancestor:)

    Thank you for this wonderful site, Mod! Well done!:)

  18. david 22/12/2013 at 06:39 #

    now I see why when I use the translate on my computer I sometimes do not fully understand what my Thai friend has posted in her own language . My computer is giving me the wrong meanings sometimes.

  19. Mark 27/06/2013 at 20:44 #

    Kruu Mod

    I come from Philippines and the word Tea is translated as Cha-a…………..it has a pause in between the two A’s. Yet they are both so similar

    • alex 07/12/2013 at 03:46 #

      In portuguese (I’m brazilian) tea is chá. It’s writting very similar to “cha-a” and I wonder if the pronounce is similar too. Sorry my ignorance, but what language do you speak in Philippines?

      • alfred 13/12/2014 at 16:18 #

        alex, we speak the Filipino Language but i think it is closely related to Malay.. I’m not quite sure 🙂

    • Passerby 11/02/2016 at 12:44 #

      The word cha is from Chinese (茶). That’s why it is ‘cha’ in a many languages. In the Chinese Hokkien dialect, it is ‘teh’ which went into English as tea.

      • Mod 16/02/2016 at 12:32 #

        Interesting! I have learned that many words in Thai and Chinese are similar. Thank you for sharing this information. 🙂

  20. Brett 04/06/2013 at 13:58 #

    It’s hard to imagine someone looking up each word to make a sign, but they sure didn’t use google which put it as “Most decidedly not Tea.” Google for the win?

  21. James 19/05/2013 at 14:46 #

    Khruu Richard,

    There are thousands of such little mistakes throughout the world – it is important for one’s sanity that one learn to smile (and occasionally laugh) at such harmless things, for the world is filled with things that are not funny at all.

    From your response, it would seem that you are struggling to come to terms with the shortcomings of some aspects of Thailand – I would suggest a slightly more ‘sabai sabai’ approach… getting seemingly annoyed/wound up over such matters will often mean you will most likely find yourself at loggerheads with most things Thai. May I be so bold as to suggest reading some Buddhist scriptures, practicing meditation and trying to prioritize a little better?

    All the best,

    James

    • Valaya Gaudet 10/11/2013 at 04:23 #

      Thanks, James. Well said.

  22. Khruu Richard 19/05/2013 at 12:07 #

    Very embarrassing to Thailand and the tea company. Who wrote this, who didn’t check with someone who knows English better. It’s quite inconceivable that someone who works with tea doesn’t know that chaa means tea in English. Who was overseeing this. It’s a sad reflection on Thailans’s educational system. I see these kind of misktakes everywhere, on street signs and on Thai websites, everywhere, why????

    • Khruu Richard 19/05/2013 at 12:08 #

      Sorry, I don’t think this is funny.

      • JanB 14/08/2013 at 02:44 #

        I’ll once come to your home country and complain about everything that goes wrong there to you personally on your website. How would you feel? 😉
        Let’s just be glad we can learn from it and if you can help correcting it with positive feedback, then do it. I know what you mean with the educational system and it’s problems, but i think it’s a bit wrong here. This is คุณครูมด website and not a complaining department 🙂

    • Claudio 04/10/2013 at 11:06 #

      At least they try to translate, in many parts of the world they wouldn’t have even tried.
      And more than ignorance of thais I think this reflects the bad manners of some tourists because if they feel the need to translate into english, it means that tourists do pick tea leaves.
      As suggested by someone else, just smile, world has already many things to be angry with, this can be seen as just a funny mistake .

    • Valaya Gaudet 10/11/2013 at 04:22 #

      I’m a late comer to this discussion but I think, Khruu Richard, that you need to lighten up a bit. That sign was funny. The fact that Khru Mod used it as an example is not disparaging to Thai culture; it’s just an example of how things can be mistranslated.

      As for the state of Thai education, have you taken a look at posts by American students lately? (The USA is where I currently live.) I’m taking an online writing class and let me tell you, some people have never heard of electronic spell checking. They are probably not aware that dictionaries exist either because they’ll write “comma” as “cama”, suspicions as “suspensions”; the verb ” to breathe” becomes ” to breath”; and forget about making the difference between “its” and “It’s”. So, please, before you make any comment, do a little research will you? And remember: Thai people love things to be “sanuk”.

      • Sky 24/05/2014 at 04:30 #

        Chai nakhrap….. Khun Richard, jai yehn yehn nakhrap 😉

    • Valaya Gaudet 10/11/2013 at 04:27 #

      Huh, Richard, you might want to put one of those four question marks at the end of the second sentence. While you’re at it, you could use one after “Who wrote this?” And since that leaves two question marks out of four, the third would be in a good spot if it were placed at the end of ” Who was overseeing this?” Just saying.

    • Per See 05/02/2014 at 13:53 #

      Dont M i s k t a k e s Rickard ?

      🙂

    • Henrik 13/02/2015 at 04:33 #

      Wow this guy really needs a hug. Here’s for you Richy.. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 And to all of you others and to kru Mod just as much love. and thanks for these funny mistakes the surely put a smile on my face and that I find really good for learning purpose too <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 Cheers

      • Mod 04/03/2015 at 23:09 #

        Thank you for your lovely comments. 🙂

  23. James 18/05/2013 at 00:34 #

    I had a good laugh too. Thank u. 🙂
    Your videos on youtube are so good, it made me want to explore your website. I think at least I must say a thank you for all your free lessons.

    Thank you.

    James

    • Mod 19/05/2013 at 12:00 #

      I am happy to hear that you enjoyed my video lessons. I hope you will find my site useful as well.

      • israel Lopez 16/07/2014 at 20:36 #

        español- tailandés

  24. Lee B 29/03/2013 at 06:17 #

    Doesn’t ‘chaa’ mean ‘slow too Mod? In English similar sounding words with different meaning are called homophones 🙂

    • Mod 10/04/2013 at 10:50 #

      ‘slow’ in Thai is ช้า /chaa (high tone)/. This is a nature of Thai language, when the tone is changed the meaning is changed. 🙂

    • Micheal 18/06/2014 at 11:42 #

      Your doing a good job dear. MAY GOD BLESS YOU

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