As the most people visiting Thailand can only speak little or no Thai language, the communication between a Thai and a foreigner happens in English. Although a lot of Thais are able to speak a bit of English, understanding them or trying to get them to understand you can usually still be a bit of a challenge.
One of the main reasons for this is that, especially among those with a limited access to education, Thai phrases are usually translated precisely into English, while the English words, on the other hand, are pronounced in a distinctively way in Thai. Generally, pronunciation causes bigger problems in understanding than how the grammar does.
Because of this, many tourists visiting Thailand, especially those who are not staying in the country for too long, just give up on learning the local language and ask the question, "Do people speak English in Thailand?" Well, let's find out…
Even though the English language was taught in some schools in Thailand, most locals didn't have a lot of opportunities in practicing their skills in speaking the foreign language unless they studied abroad.
Perhaps, reading and writing would be easier, but speaking the language is not going to be as simple. In the year 1960s, learning the English language in the country has become more common among Thai as the numbers of foreign visitors grow, particularly by the American Military, which based in Vietnam and used the neighboring country, Thailand as their R&R.
English continually boosted as the country became a famous destination for travelers looking for cheap place to go. Another important factor is the rising number of expats deciding to live in the country.
English is now widely spoken in the capital city, Bangkok as well as other tourist destinations in the country. However, some locals who speak English you may encounter quite rudimentary and understanding the words is not always simple.
In Thai schools, contact to the English language is variable at best, so, except parents are able to afford to send their kids to expensive schools, it's more likely for them not to have oral skills in speaking English. While there might be some English taught in Thai public school, it's usually not an essential part of the program, while children might be able to say some words and phrases, they possibly do not actually understand what they mean.
The further the place is from major cities such as Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, the lesser your exposure to English will be. The net outcome is extremely poor English skills on the whole but for the middle classes, English would be more common. The issue is worsened by teachers providing the students with passing grades, regardless of what their score is.
Staff in hotels in most major tourist destinations will almost always have acceptable English speaking skills. On the other hand, if you go to more rural parts of Thailand, your possibility to encounter people who speak English is close to impossible. Even if the language is spoken, you'll still have to focus on trying to understand their pronunciation, grammar, and sentence structure, as they have trouble into pronouncing English correctly.
When a shop keeper or street vendor has to tell you the right price of a product they are selling, don't be surprised if they choose to type the amount into a calculator and then show it to you rather than telling them to you by words.
In the field of business, you might normally find Thai people talking with each other in the English language, particularly educated locals as they like showing off their skills since for most of them, being able to speak English symbolizes status and intelligence.
English language media in Thailand has seen growth in the past few years and it keeps growing. There are many English magazines and newspapers circulating around the country, which includes big mainstream publications like The Nation and The Bangkok Post newspaper. Actually, even Thai language periodicals will normally have headlines written in English.
So, to answer the question, "Do people speak English in Thailand?" the answer is yes, and no. Well, it is very easy to survive in Bangkok and other tourist spots even if you don't speak Thai, however, if you try to wander around the areas that are not common to foreign visitors, you'll a lot likely have a trouble without having a phrase book.
There are a lot of foreigners living in Thailand. A lot of them try learning the local language, and a lot of them are disappointed for finding the language difficult to learn, so don't worry as you're not alone.
Although being able to speak Thai when visiting Thailand would be a lot easier for you, speaking English as a foreigner in Thailand would be acceptable, just make sure you have a phrase book with you if you are planning to go to off-the-beaten-path parts of the country.
Have you been to Thailand before? What's your experience on talking English during your stay? Make sure to share your thoughts in the comment below!