The Kingdom of Thailand: Tips for Thai Localization

How COVID-19 Has Affected The Language Industry
October 7, 2020

Thailand is a Southeast Asian country with a population of over 69 million people. Formerly known as Siam and officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand, Thailand is the 20th most populated country in the world. With a rising middle class, there has been a rapid increase in the usage of smart devices leading to a boom in the use of social media, mobile games, and other mobile services (banking, e-learning, etc…).

What’s the best way to reach this growing market? For this blog, we will explore the Thai language and trends happening in Thailand to give you some of the best tips for localizing your content for the beautiful Kingdom of Thailand.

[Average read time: 4 minutes]

 

photo by Robin Noguier

The Thai Language

The official language of Thailand is Thai (aka Central Thai). Sometimes referred to as Siamese, Thai is part of the Tai language family. The origin of the language is contested but is said to have first been spoken in the border area between present day Vietnam and China. There are four major dialects: northern, north-eastern, southern, and central. The central dialect–known as Central Thai or Bangkok Thai–is the one taught in schools, is generally understood in all regions, and is the dialect used when localizing content for the general Thai population.

Thai is a tonal language like Vietnamese and Chinese in which changing the tone of how a word is pronounced changes the meaning. Thai has five tones (high, mid, low, falling, and rising)–which you can listen to here–and consists of 44 consonants and 32 vowels. Thai grammar is simpler than English: there are no conjugations nor a need for articles like “a” or “the.” Also words do not change based on gender, number, or tense.

As for the Thai script, it is said that the first known record of the written Thai language is from a stone inscription dated to 1292 AD during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng. Thai has an abugida writing system in which the consonants and vowels are written as a unit. To form words, a series of Thai consonants are written left to right with the vowels positioned on the top, bottom, left, or right of the corresponding consonant.

When preparing Thai text for subtitles/captions, line spacing is incredibly important given how Thai is written–if lines are too close together it may obscure the vowel characters of a nearby line. Also, when encoding Thai text files it’s important to know that it is a single-byte language, i.e. a language that has less than 256 characters so one byte can represent one character (other single-byte languages include: Russian, Arabic, and most Western/Eastern European languages, including romance and germanic languages).

Now that we have a better understanding of the Thai language, what are some trends that companies interested in localizing for Thailand should be aware of?

 

photo by Note Thanun

Thai Localization Trends

As mentioned in the intro, Thailand in recent years has seen a boom in smartphone usage and is ranked 4th in the world for time spent on social media. Apps geared towards dating, socializing, and entertainment viewing have done well in Thailand.  For example, social/messaging app LINE, originally launched in Japan in 2011, is very popular in Thailand. Therefore companies that specialize in smartphone apps and social media may want to consider localizing their content to reach this growing, tech-literate population.

Though Thailand is becoming more technologically advanced, it’s important to know that high-speed and and high-storage smartphone devices still have yet to become mainstream, with a large number of the population still using 3G/4G, low-storage devices. With this in mind, it’s important that content be optimized so that it can be used and watched on a wide range of low to mid-tier devices used by the general populace.

When translating from English into Thai, it’s popular to retain certain English words instead of translating them, particularly if they don’t have a direct translation. Words like “artificial intelligence” or “Hogwarts” are kept in their English form. This is partly due to the English foreign language requirement in all secondary schools in Thailand as well as the popularity of American pop culture. Sometimes when localizing English names of people and characters, the English name is kept with Thai text appearing next to it.

As mentioned in our blog Tips for Localizing Content for Southeast Asia, audiences are more likely to engage with content if the company has taken the time to understand the culture and traditions of a country. Songkran (Thai New Year) starts on the 13th of April every year and comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti meaning transformation. It’s celebrated with visits to local temples, donations to Buddhist monks, as well as water fights in which locals splash or shoot water at each other to symbolize purification. Therefore, water guns are big business leading up to Songkran.

In Thailand, there are certain content restrictions that one should follow in order to avoid content being banned. Any content that is unflattering to the King and the Thai monarchy is considered a big no-no and is subject to a ban or even criminal prosecution. Political content is heavily censored in Thailand, and sexual or pornographic video content is banned.

 

photo by Florian Wehde

Summary

Thailand is sometimes referred to as the “Gateway to Asia” with good reason. Ranked 21st out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” scale, Thailand represents a great opportunity for companies around the world due to its developing digital infrastructure and streamlining approval processes.

When localizing content for the general Thai population, it’s important to use the central, Bangkok Thai dialect. Also, given the compound nature of its writing system (with vowels placed around the consonant character) it’s important that enough space is given between lines for legibility when translating into Thai script.

Thai has a rich culture and it’s important that companies are aware of cultural Thai traditions and taboos when localizing their content. Now that you’ve read this blog, you’re ready to start localizing your content for Thailand.

Need help localizing your content for Thailand? We have extensive experience localizing content for Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. Contact us today:

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