Thursday, 16 June 2016 03:11

How Google’s new input tool will finally help me digitally communicate with my mother


I moved to America from Thailand when I was 9 years old – old enough to have learned how to read, speak, and write basic Thai words but not advanced enough to write a professional cover letter or blog post.

It’s somewhat of a difficult language – Thai has 44 consonants, 22 vowels, diphthongs, and triphthongs, and five tones. The Sanskrit-based language can appear intimidating to those unfamiliar with the alphabet, and even some local Thais have difficulty spelling some words due to all the characters involved.

So even though I’m generally able to read Thai, it’s been extremely difficult to type it. After all, most keyboards don’t support all the characters involved, and when you don’t use it all the time, it’s hard to remember where the locations of each alphabet are.


And now that we live in a messaging-based world, it’s become that much more difficult for me to communicate with my mother, who does not read English well. My go-to trick has been to type out individual words I want in Google Translate then copy and paste them until they form a complete sentence, but at that rate I might as well just call her on the phone. Which, of course, can be inconvenient in its own right as we both have full time jobs and busy schedules.

*Long sentences on Google Translate to Thai generally make for very awkward translations

Here’s where “Karaoke Thai” comes along.

karaoke thai example

In Thai culture, most music videos have English phonetic spellings of each sentence underneath the Sanskrit, which is incredibly helpful for new language learners to follow along. I haven’t been able to use Karaoke Thai to communicate with my mom because she still has difficulty parsing the sounds of some English words, but the latest update to Google Input Tools may just change all that.

Now, when you type in Karaoke Thai, Google may suggest words you meant to say and instantly convert it into Sanskrit. To get it, you’ll need to download the free extension for your Chrome browser. You can even type full sentences in Karaoke Thai and it will automatically translate them.

For many people reading this post, this tool might not mean a whole lot. But for many Thais, it means easily communicating with their peers, family, new expat friends. It may be my favorite thing Google’s ever released.

I write about new technology every day, and while new Google AIs and gadgets may change the way we’ll live in the future, sometimes it’s the smallest updates that will evolve the way my mom, my grandmother, and I can finally communicate with each other present day when we’re afar.


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