"Although I have heard many times that it is not necessary to be able to speak Thai language to secure a teaching job in Thailand, there must be occasions or situations within the school environment when knowing some or a decent amount of the local language comes in handy?"
This is a common question from many a new arrival. It goes without saying that in everyday situations such as ordering dishes in a restaurant or explaining to a bus conductor where you need to get off, a knowledge of spoken Thai is going to be invaluable. But how about speaking Thai in the classroom and within the school environment? Is it something that schools frown upon? What do some of the more experienced foreign teachers in Thailand say?
Richard has taught at the same Thai school for almost three decades. He says "It's useful to know Thai at school, but we forbid the foreign teachers to use any Thai in front of the kids. We have a few teachers who are nearly fluent, but none of the kids know that. If they did, then they would only speak Thai to them. We've had complaints from the parents in the past that their kindergarten aged kids spoke Thai with a "farang accent". So we are now quite strict. The foreign teachers are here for the kids to listen to English, not badly spoken Thai"
Complaints from parents. The last thing a school wants.
Tonya agrees with Richard. "Speaking Thai in class is a no-no. Besides, if you don't know Thai well you could be passing on bad grammar or tonal pronunciation to your Thai students. Further, their parents are paying for you to speak to them in only English. Give them what they want. Learn at least basic Thai for daily life though, definitely"
Teacher trainer Eric - "I interviewed three teachers on this subject a while back. Each of them stated speaking Thai is useful (obviously) but needs to be limited in the classroom"
"I was taught to NEVER speak Thai in the classroom" says Troy, "I also believe it's better you don't let on that you can speak Thai because it works to your advantage in many many ways"
Sounds like Ged sometimes uses his Thai language skills - "If you can speak Thai a little bit, then use Thai and then follow it up with English so the very young children know what you are talking about!"
Sean, another long-term foreign teacher in Thailand - "Certainly, knowing Thai helps. But, to school administration, it's a liability. I think they see it as too risky, that you may use it because you can. In most classrooms, the foreign teacher will sound ridiculous using any Thai. It is certainly frowned upon (but not by all). I've also been with very low level learners and the use of Thai was needed and welcomed. But, this is the exception, not the rule. In my current role, Thai is neither needed, nor allowed. But, I can tell if the students are following the lesson or not by following their Thai banter in class. Like I say, very useful. But, looked at as a liability by most"
Mark takes a more light-hearted approach to things - "If I use Thai in the classroom it's for comedy relief only. For example, I have learned the Thai words for past, present and future and my pronunciation of all three of them is horrible and provokes an outpouring of merriment. But it makes the lessons interesting and fun!
Teacher Diana certainly sticks up for the Thai speakers - "Of course speaking some Thai comes in handy" It wouldn't be the expression I would use though since it's more of a necessity in my opinion. If you can't communicate with your colleagues and employers, then everything will surely be a lot more difficult for you.
Let's leave the last teacher comment to another Mark, who simply says - "The more you know, the more it will hurt"
As for me, I only taught adult students during my years as a language teacher and although I rarely ever spoke Thai in the classroom, knowing what students were talking about amongst themselves was priceless. One incident at one particular language school always comes to mind. My group of eight students were about to take a two-hour test which would determine whether they were able to move up to the next level and obtain a certificate. When I handed out the test papers and students had their first chance to look over the question sections, one lady turned to the rest of the group and said "what's this section about? the teacher didn't teach this!"
In Thai, I then said to her "actually I did teach it. But looking at the attendance sheet, you were not here. So it was your responsibility to catch up with work that you missed"
On another day, this student might have marched up to the front desk and complained to the reception staff. But thanks to being able to understand Thai, that situation was well and truly avoided.
We would love to get some more comments so let's hear your opinions in the comments box below.