The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Thai-English Travel Dictionaries, What’s the best?

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 17•11

English-Thai/Thai-English dictionaries are essential for any frequent traveler to Thailand, and the best not only translate in both directions, but also have a third phonetic section that allows English users to take Thai spoken words and determine what’s being said. Two of the best are the ones by Mike Simpson and Benjawan Becker. They each have their plusses, so here they are, with a short review to follow: 

English-Thai Dictionary (3 in 1), Mike Simpson. (2001, ISBN 974-90031-7-9) 5.5 x 8 x .5 inches (14 x 20.3 x 1.3 cm). 390 pages. 

Thai-English Dictionary (3 in 1), Benjawan Poomsan Becker (2002, ISBN 1-887521-14-3) 4 x 5.5 x 1 inches (10 x 14 x 2.5 cm), 658 pages. 

Our test words are “mariyat,” which refers to politeness or manners, and “lak-lab,” which means “steal sleep,” but colloquially refers to a man having sex with his female partner. These words were chosen because they’re commonly used in tourist areas of Bangkok, and are good examples of the kinds of words a visitor may end up hearing. They are spoken in many colloquial conversations. 

For sheer portability relative to size, we recommend Becker’s, which can fit in any purse or jacket pocket. Sure it’s an inch thick, but like a small digital camera, the advantage it that you’ll probably end up carrying it with you. The word “mariyat” is not found in these 658 pages, and another word “su-paap” is used for the adjective “polite.” “Lak-lab,” using the phonetic spelling, is translated as “under cover,” but both “lak,” meaning “steal,” and “lab,” meaning “sleep,” are given literal translations. Becker makes heavy use of the phonetic alphabet, meaning that the user has to have some familiarity with it. Buy it now at the WoWasis estore, powered by Amazon.

Simpson’s is our choice for using in a hotel room. It’s a little too big to carry in a pocket, but doesn’t use the phonetic alphabet, easier to use for the general traveler. “Mariyat” is listed with its translation of “politeness,” but “lak” is not translated to mean “steal.” A benefit of Simpson’s dictionary is that each page border has either the English or Thai alphabet running down the side, of particular value when looking up words in Thai. 

Both dictionaries include several pages on the Thai alphabet and pronunciation rules. In essence, both are quite good. Overall, we recommend Simpson’s for the hotel room, Becker’s for the street.

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