Lauren Dekleva
Lauren Dekleva
Thailand 2017
S̄wạs̄dī! My name is Lauren Dekleva, and I am traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand where I will intern with Urban Light, an anti-trafficking NGO that restores and empowers boys who work in the red light district. At Urban Light, I will teach ESL classes, lead life-skills workshops, assist with social media marketing, and support case workers. Read More About Lauren →

How to play UNO – in Thai!

I have played UNO so many times in the last two months (also, TWO months...! What? How has it been that long??) that it is now harder to play in English than it is to play in Thai. It’s not a very big deal – UNO is pretty easy to play with the language barrier – but it is an accomplishment none the less!

So, here is the proper vocabulary, so that you too can play UNO in Thai if you so desire.

First is the invitation. When asking if someone wants to play, you can say “len mai?” (will you play?) or hold up the deck of cards and ask “ao mai?” (do you want?). Mai, with a rising tone, is basically a question word. It kind of means everything and nothing at the same time, but you add it to the end of a sentence to make it a yes/no question. To respond affirmatively, you would use the verb itself to answer – len or ao. If the answer is negative, you use the word mai again, but this time with a falling tone. With this tone, mai becomes a negative modifier. So, “mai len” means won’t play and “mai ao” means don’t want (a phrase I also use occasionally to remind the boys of boundaries!).

Second, when dealing the cards, count to seven in Thai: nueng, sawng, saam, see, haa, hok, jet.

Next, you have to know the proper colors. See, with a rising inflection, means color in Thai, and precedes every color you name. So red is see-dang, green is see-kio, blue is see-fa, and yellow is see-leung. So, when someone puts down a Wild card, you can ask “see arai?”, meaning “what color?”, and then they’ll answer with any of the above.

Once you have those basics, you’ll need to know what to say when certain cards are played. When the Skip card is played, you say “yoot,” or “stop” to whoever’s turn is skipped. When the Draw +2 card or the +4 Wild card is played, you say “sawng bai” or “see bai.” I’m not sure of the exact translation of bai, but it essentially directs the player to draw 2 or 4 cards.

Some other helpful phrases: when someone plays a card out of turn, or tries to play a card against the rules, you can tell them “mai dai!” which translates to “you cannot!” Dai is the equivalent to can in English, and mai is the negative modifier I mentioned earlier. The same concept applies when you ask someone if they have a card to play, or if they need to draw one to continue. You would ask “mee mai” (do you have?), and if they don’t have the right card, they’d respond “mai mee” (do not have). And lastly, if you’re the lucky winner, you can exclaim “channat!” (I win!) as you lay down your final card.

These explanations may sound silly, but honestly, playing UNO has been one of the most effective ways to build relationships with the boys so far. It’s easy to communicate by laughing or cheering or sighing in disappointment, and some of the boys get very competitive with it.

It’s also reinforced my Thai skills in very small chunks. Now, I have these words and phrases down pat, and it has helped expand my understanding of others words and phrases with similar grammar and sounds. Who knew UNO could be such a versatile and useful tool?

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