The Thai government’s proposals to include Mandarin are at odds with previous legislation which ruled that Thai signs should only include one extra language in addition to the native Thai language. With Thai unlikely to be the one to make way for Mandarin, it appears that English will be sacrificed.
Mandarin is claimed to be the most spoken first language in the world with over 955 million people, an incredible 14.4% of the world having the language as their native tongue. English is the first language of only 360 million people.
However English has become known as the world’s international language. Indeed 95% of Thais know the phrases, ‘Hello’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Same same’, ‘Click Like’ and ‘No have’, while an even greater number know no Mandarin whatsoever. On the other hand, a variety of accents and dialects across the English speaking world make many of those from places like Liverpool and Glasgow undecipherable even to other English speakers. For example most Thais think all Australians and Londoners are called Mike. This is because they usually address each other as “mate” and make it sound like “Mike”.
The news has been met with a backlash from Thailand’s large expat community, most of whom have not bothered to learn the local language even after being here multiple years and instead depend on signs in English.
Ex-pat Stephen Peterson suggested, “I think it’s totally bonkers that they are going to replace English with Mandarin. If they were going to replace English with anything, I think they should replace it with American. For some reason American sounds a lot like English”
International observers believe the removal of English signage could prove damaging to the Thai tourism industry, with the country’s capital Bangkok the most visited city in the world in 2013. The Thai coup has already damaged tourism as potential international visitors rejected the idea of being told to go to bed early by the government.
A Thai government spokesman, Pongpat Siriwatana, explained that it was a pure numbers game, as there had simply been more Chinese tourists than English speaking ones.
“It’s simple. We will cater for the needs of the many rather than the few. There are more Chinese people than English people visiting Thailand, and they buy more naff gifts. They don’t quite drink as much as the English unfortunately. Eventually Chinese tourists will turn into quality tourists. Same thing happened to the Russians, remember? Russian is widely accepted as a second language in Pattaya and some parts of Phuket.”
“English speaking people were getting pissed off by the large numbers of Chinese blocking them everywhere they try to go in Thailand anyway. If we put everything in Mandarin, they wouldn’t need to waive around the street all the time looking at their maps and iPhones to know where they are going. Win-Win!