In Thailand money talks, and not in English - Solution? A Thai translator from Bangkok

When trying to communicate in Thailand, smiles help; but as everywhere else in the world, it seems to be money that does most of the talking. More often that we might like, it talks a little too quickly, and walks straight out of your wallet into the hands of some of the more unscrupulous Thais. Small talk can prove expensive... in a big way.

It may just be the farang’s biggest handicap in Thailand; communication. It affects nearly all of us, from the lazier long-term farang resident who just hasn’t got around to learning the lingo, to the would-be expat trying to negotiate the minefield of Thai legal and administrative issues, to the tourist who has fallen in love with the country and, possibly, a Thai girl… and who is struggling to compose letters and emails that his girlfriend can read, and to understand the replies.

Ok, without getting into the blame game – there’s fault on both sides, after all – what possible solutions are there? Thinking about a couple of incidents I blogged about a while back, it occurred to me how much money all concerned might have saved, if they’d first laid out a little money on some professional help. First there was the Alain and Jeff debacle, involving an expensive divorce, the manipulation of a rather naïve Frenchman, and all manner of communication problems. And the very next day there was an absolute classic, an English guy spending a fortune on a bar, being completely taken to the cleaners over the contract by his girlfriend and her family, and eventually finding out – after he’d paid up in full – that the leased business was in an area that was on the point of being demolished to make way for a new condo building, leaving him with a hole in the ground and an even bigger hole in his pocket. If only he had met Goy, the subject of this blog, earlier…

So rather than muddle by, paying over the odds for goods and services, going it alone in frustrating contacts with Thai bureaucracy, trying to sort out disputes with a mix of hand signals and pidgin English, why not use someone who knows the system, speaks the language like a native? Well in fact she is a native, although you would hardly know it from her great English. I came across Goy a year ago now in Bangkok, and have used her services on a couple of occasions since. Although Goy works in the Big Mango, she does much of her business online, handling assignments from all over the globe. I gave her a call to ask if she would do an interview for FrogBlogger

FB: Hi Goy, great to chat again! Thanks for agreeing to the interview. Have things been going well since we last met?

Goy: Really well thanks! More and more farangs are realizing they could do with some professional help in communicating with Thais, in translation, interpreting, improving their own spoken and written Thai…

FB: Can you tell FrogBlogger how you started out in the translation business?

Goy: Well I had so many girlfriends who didn’t study English as hard as I did, and every time they met a nice farang boy they asked me to send him an SMS or call him, or even translate emails. The problem was that sometimes the boys asked me out, but what could I do!

That gave me the idea to start the website SMS Thailand about 2 years ago. It translates SMS messages from English to Thai or Thai to English.

FB: That sounds like a winner, is it going well?

Goy: Yes I am really happy with the response; you can see that some people did not know what the girlfriend was talking about before. Now at least they know what their other half is saying. Sometimes that is a bad thing of course! I had one customer that wrote to me and said that he finally understand the girlfriend only wanted his money. He could actually ask her real things, and she could no longer just smile and look cute back.

FB: So you’re suggesting guys don’t know what the Thai girls are saying most of the time?

Goy: Well I am pretty sure many don’t have much of a clue, and then you need to understand the Thai culture and mind to really understand what she is thinking.

I was in the immigration office with a client and I overheard a conversation between two people that were getting married. The immigration officers had to translate back and forward between the Thai girl and the guy. They could not even talk to each other, it was so funny! The immigration officer could not speak that much English either so I finally offered my help so we could get the queue going!

FB: So you help by interpreting to and from Thai as well?

Goy: Yes I like to do that because I can see it really helps people. I offer that service on the other website, Thailand Translator. I was in court for a divorce. Often law firms in Thailand hardly speak English and the ones that do charge the farang too much. I was helping a client that had been given a price of 100,000 baht for a simple case, and I solved it for 2,000 baht with no lawyers in court. The Thai lawyer had said to my client that if he did not hire her, he could go to jail for not paying money to his ex wife. He had no choice but to hire her she said!! That’s where understanding Thai culture comes in. The lawyers do not set the price for what it should cost; they quote a price on what they need for the moment. It’s incredible that some people can become lawyers in Thailand! Most divorces cases do not even need a lawyer; you just need to talk to the girl in her language. Usually she doesn’t want to go to court but language barriers and greedy lawyers push them there.

FB: Yes that sounds familiar. That’s a real problem, and a real worry for a lot of farangs who come to Thailand, finding a lawyer they can trust to do a good job... … I remember you told me you did some work in the film industry as well?

Goy: I did some work for a movie company when my ex boyfriend was an actor in one of the movies. After that I got some more work in the same business in Phuket, but I didn’t finish it.

FB: Why was that?

Goy: They had another girl working on the set as a helper, and pretty much all she could say in English was “Where you come from?” … “You stay alone?” Basically she was a bar girl. Nothing wrong with that, but one of the guys in charge had employed her at the same salary as me and she was strutting around pretending to be boss. Since he had hired her for more than just ‘translating’, she thought she could do whatever she liked. But she had no education, and no idea. It was terrible to work with her so I went back to Bangkok. I have my pride!

FB: And you teach privately as well?

Goy: Yeah. I have a funny story about what can happen when you learn to speak Thai! Before I started the website for private Thai lessons I had a student. He had work in Bangkok, but was living with his ex-Pattaya bar girlfriend up country. So every time he came to Bangkok, he hired me to teach him some Thai. After a while he got really good, and finally he began to understand what his wife was saying to her relatives. He was an educated guy from England, and he got really scared once he realised the kind of language his wife was using. She had no education, and was mostly using swear words when she was talking to her family. Really rude all the time! He broke up with her not long after that as he could not stand her bad language. When she talked English she sounded so cute, but terrible in Thai!

FB: I have heard that some girls aren’t too keen on their boyfriends learning Thai!

Goy: Yes I had some clients whose girlfriends got jealous of me, so the guys stopped learning Thai. And they often have no interest in their men starting to understand everything they are saying, it’s kind of weird.

FB: Well, maybe not quite so weird… I have no trouble imagining why some girls might be worried if their boyfriends spend too much time in lessons with you! Anyway… so now you translate emails too?

Goy: Yes on our Translate Thai emails website we offer unlimited translations each month. I have seen so many Thai girls spending 200-500 baht on internet cafe translating, and now they don’t have to. I have some clients before that had to print out the email in London, go down to a Thai restaurant to get it translated and then ask them to respond. That’s not going to work in the end. Some also tried Google or other free translation software, but come on, do you really want to risk your relationship with a Google automatic translation?! It can come out with the opposite of what you want to say!
Anyway, I got many emails thanking me for helping out, and now they can finally send emails back and forth daily to their loved ones in Thailand.

FB: So how can people contact you if they want any help with Thai?

Goy: They can go to my site Thailand Translator, and I will get back to them asap.

FB: Thanks Goy! Look forward to hearing some more funny stories from the world of translation one day soon!

Goy: Thanks for having me! Hope to talk again soon :)

Now, I’m not sure if I would go to Goy for Thai lessons as I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on doing my exercises to save my life, plus my life wouldn’t be worth living anyway if my wife realized just how pretty my teacher was. So Goy’s language services do have some drawbacks! Still she comes highly recommended from me with respect to her translation work, and if you can persuade your wives and girlfriends that there is no chance of losing you to her charms, I’m sure her Thai teaching methods are excellent too… ;-)

And if anyone should get the wrong idea, beware…. Goy is a very keen Thai boxer!

Goy can be contacted at:

Thailand Translator, Ltd.

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Mike said...

Pete what an interesting post. I actually came across the SMS website a while ago.
Like you I might have a problem learning with Goy-what beautiful eyes.
The whole subject of cross cultural communication (language) is a real issue, I often misunderstand MTF if she speaks to me in English and believe it or not we communicate better in Thai- basic from me-but the more I learn the more convinced I am that its the best route to follow.

Now I need a nice ladyboy to teach me here in Prachuap-that way MTF could hardly be jealous!

Catherine said...

I ran into Goy twittering on last week. With her skills being sorely needed in Thailand, she has a great business plan.

Especially with the amount of Thai-English relationships out there, where there is no shared language beyond the basics of communication (pidgin and a lot of hand signals and eyebrow raising).

I've never really understand how people opt for marriage and kids, or even go as far as cohabit, when they don't share a language.

Where at least one of them isn't proficient in the other language.

Ok, I understand the basics - companionship, sex, money, convenience - but not the day to day realities.

I mean, how do they know what kind of soul this person has?

How do they know that when they DO learn to speak the other's language (if they ever do), that the person won't bore them to tears?

'The man' of the house is British, so I do know firsthand that relationships even with a shared language have their difficulties.

It comes down to yet more of the basics, the man / women thing.

And while I don't always understand him because he IS a man, at least I can communicate to figure out what's up and where to go from there: help, commiserate, compromise, compensate, ignore.

I can't talk for the Thai girls, but for it being a man thing, maybe men have a box for this too?

The Frogblogger said...

Cheers Mike, if ever there was an interview I enjoyed doing, this was it ;-) I shall, hopefully, be doing regular follow-ups :-D

I really enjoyed your last post on My Thai Friend oh boy did that conversation sound familiar! Chok dee - we need it!

Catherine, I agree, Goy has got a great product, and an eye for the promotional side - what an asset to any business.

Very interesting thoughts about relationships... although some might say you've got the "basics" slightly in the wrong order! ;-)

Soul? I suppose intuition plays a role there, and yes some of we chaps with a touch of the feminine side do have that! But as for knowing how one might actually get on with the person, once overfamiliarity with no. 2 on your list of basics sets in, that's a very good point.

Waddya mean you don't understand your other half because he's a man. I thought we guys were supposed to be the most transparent, predictable and easily manipulated creatures about!

But you're right - without the subtleties of language, how can we effectively communicate all those supportive elements of a relationship you mention. A cuddle only goes so far...

Cue Goy, perhaps. Though that might be the final straw for some relationships! :-D

(PS "pigeon"... did I really write "pigeon English"?!! LOL!)

Catherine said...

Ok, you caught me out. I was going to post the basics as: sex, companionship, sex, money, sex, convenience, and yet more sex.

But... I thought I'd get a bunch of guys howling at the moon at the mention ;-)

"I thought we guys were supposed to be the most transparent, predictable and easily manipulated creatures about!"

Sure, for the most part: The day-to-day living with rooting for the same teams in the same way, disliking the same greens, the channel changing and throwing your socks anywhere but the clothes hamper and all.

But then you switch boxes on us gals and decide that being the strong and silent type has gone on long enough and then... whoooh... where'd all that come from?... Then back in a new box you go...

Guys will continue to be a bit of a mystery and I would not want it any other way.

But as with all good mysteries, where is the fun if you aren't given a decent chance to try and figure it all out?

MJ Klein said...

how these farangs can have a relationship with someone to whom they cannot communicate, is beyond my comprehension, but i've seen it frequently in Thailand.

my best friend in Thailand is an attorney who was educated in Australia. having someone to translate is one thing - having someone who can make sense of Thai legalese is another thing altogether!

The Frogblogger said...

MJK thanks for the comment. I've seen a few of the relationships you refer to, it certainly seems to make for a strained atmosphere, away from the bedroom at least. Just can't imagine them lasting long, without a major effort to get to grips with the language.

In this case I think Goy has happened upon a niche in the market. The Thai government has long had a rather lackadaisical approach to the teaching of English, as is pretty evident in the tourism industry - how often are poorly translated brochures available as an afterthought, if at all (as Richard Barrow suggested in this blog, ref travelling around some of the less popular areas).

Too true about the legalese, but I think what Goy is getting at is the importance of trying to resolve differences through improved communication before things end up in court... in my experience it's rare to find a lawyer who will help out much in this respect, as it's clearly against his own interests!

The Frogblogger said...

Hey Catherine I grew out of supporting teams when I stopped being a teenager, always eat my greens, haven't got a TV, don't wear socks in Thailand (and wash them myself in France) ... now you're confused!

Catherine said...

Ok, now I am confused. I thought Brit males always wore socks.

Aren't they like, the national dress or soemthing?

Especially with sandals?


Catherine said...

Kidding aside...

Why don't you have a TV?

The Frogblogger said...

Catherine, maybe I've moved about too much, only got odd socks left ;-)

As for the TV, have been back in France for a few months, just never got around to it... and can't say I miss it.

Catherine said...

'maybe I've moved about too much, only got odd socks left ;-)'

Ah, another Western male trait... and one I've been told by every man in my life.

-->> All of my posessions will fit in the back seat of a car.

I soon fixed that :-D

'As for the TV, have been back in France for a few months, just never got around to it... and can't say I miss it.'

Do you watch TV when in Thailand? It is supposed to be a great way to learn Thai. Or any language.

I tried to watch French TV when I lived there but I lost interest.

In Thailand I watch a soap that is quite funny. It is not inundated with screaming, etc. It's more comedy than anything else.

Talen said...

Excellent interview...I've run into Goy on Twitter as well. She really has a good head on her shoulders and a great business plan as Catherine said.

All this and she's absolutely stunning. I'm sure you were just itching to get out of that interview:)

The Frogblogger said...

Catherine, most of life's detritus is stored in mouldering cardboard boxes in a garage in the south of France, probably never to see the light of day again. Possessions... who needs them! As for Thai TV, it seems to have too many people dressed up as women and ghosts running around for me to have a clue what's going on most of the time. I try to watch Thai news programmes though, but need a lot more basic vocab to grasp more than the essentials.

Talen... who said I ever left?! I'm still there! In spirit anyway :-(

Jon said...

I'm yet another person who has spotted Goy on Twitter - great exposure there.

Whilst I appreciate it is a fantastic business with huge potential I agree with MJ Klein - if you need a translator to communicate with your other half, I doubt your relationship is gonna last very long.

Bangkok Blogger said...

I tried 1 to 1 Thai lessons about two years ago - I had to give up after 10 x 2 hour sessions - I got a headache after an hour, failed to do my homework and was punished by the girl teaching me ! :)

The Frogblogger said...

Jon sure, employing a translator to talk to each other doesn't exactly augur well! Still, I think a fair few farang couples are in need of an interpreter sometimes, they don't seem to have much of a clue about what makes each other tick either...

Bangkok Blogger come on admit it, you were just being difficult on purpose, so you could fast forward to the punishment bit ;-)

Catherine said...

'But you're right - without the subtleties of language, how can we effectively communicate all those supportive elements of a relationship you mention. A cuddle only goes so far...'

I'm hoping that one of the guys in this type of relationship will enlighten us.

I don't mean the cliché relationship, I mean an honest to goodness caring relationship.

Because I honestly want to understand.

I've known the girls side - you know, where they all get together and gossip? - but what they are describing is not the caring type I'm curious about.

Brave Boss said...

I like your post, nice information,its really very useful to learn English to Thai translation. Your language is also quite easy and simple. Thanks for the post.