The Burning Question - Does it help if you can speak Thai?

The Burning Question - Does it help if you can speak Thai?

Teachers give their opinions on a couple of teaching in Thailand questions

It seems that after interviewing for several teaching jobs, some schools want their foreign teachers to speak some Thai and other schools couldn't care less. Do foreign teachers in Thailand feel that knowing and speaking some Thai comes in useful while they are in the classroom?

I use Thai for the occasional noun or verb or we would never get anywhere. I speak mostly English as I don't know Thai but do use some phrases to get the students' attention. They appreciate it, if you can pronounce the words and phrases reasonably well. (Ray)

Of course it's useful to be able to speak the learner's first language. The only reason it's not mentioned in Celta training is that it was developed for people moving to England and so it's expected that the class be full of different language speakers. Anyone who says you should never use the speakers home language under any circumstance has done zero research and frankly given zero thought to the matter. This being said, it is possible some headmasters and parents might be against speaking Thai in class. (Michaeal)

In any foreign country, speaking the local language is the bottom line: showing respect to the culture or wanting to really know what's going on around you, etc Also, it is good to sometimes remember that the English language is obviously the international language but it is not yet an official language to be spoken in Thailand, so that´s another reason of trying to speak Thai language with locals. (Jordi)

It's a no-brainer, of course it would help in the classroom. (Birgit)

I have found that speaking some of a native language makes life easier around the school, both in meetings and in living in the country, but I have never heard of any school not hiring foreign teachers because they don't speak the language. That's often a polite excuse to save face when rejecting a candidate and also a way for native teachers to protect their jobs, even express resentment over higher salaries paid to native speakers. Neither South Korea or Japan demand ESL teachers speak their languages and China will take anyone that can breath, regardless of what they say. (Stephen)

Not only in school, but if you are living in a foreign country I think you should speak the language. (Faiza)

If you use Thai in class, the students only listen to the Thai and not the English. Ok if you use the odd word as a last resort maybe, but I feel like I'm being lazy if I do! My assistant teacher was using Thai all the time to teach english, as were most of the Thai teachers in the school. I found out later she'd lied to me when she told me she had permission to do that. (James)

Absolutely NO, foreign teachers are hired to teach English and speak English only. (Survivor)

No Thai should be spoken when teaching English. Teaching your students to listen to you first is best. We have English teachers from four different countries and our students are exposed to different English accents so they have to listen. Get the students to listen and you will not need to speak Thai. (Glyn)

I tried to teach my children to tell me when they don't understand something and I used the Thai 'mai kao jai' . Parents came up to me to tell me their children are saying 'mai kao jai' like a farang!!! I think best not to speak Thai, my school doesn't expect it. (Shireen)

I was taught the number 1 rule when teaching ESL is NOT to speak Thai. You are teaching English NOT Thai. It is useful for communicating with Thai teachers who are limited in speaking English, however I never introduce any Thai language into the classroom when teaching. (Troy)

In my opinion it's a double edged sword. Speaking Thai certainly helps with communication with the students and it is nice to be able to translate some words that they don't know and to explain some grammar rules. That is the good side. The bad side is that because a teacher can speak some Thai, the students will speak Thai first to you first and English only when asked for it. But the higher the level of the students the less important Thai becomes. Personally I think it is a balancing act that depends on the level and attitude of your students. (Kenneth)

I speak as little Thai as possible in class, but the fact that i am able to means my students are much more comfortable with me. Also i teach much more effectively than I did before I could speak Thai. (Jennifer)

Korea, Japan, and maybe China hire teachers who can speak their basic languages. These students in these countries speaks better English than those in Thailand. So why don't we copy their systems? (Senior)

The problem with knowing Thai is that you're tempted to use it and use it too much. Many students may appreciate it, most employers probably will not. It does help when teaching kids - it's an absolute 'no no' in the corporate world, though. If lessons are planned well enough in advance then Thai shouldn't be needed at all. (Mark)

I have only recently graduated and plan on teaching in Thailand for a year or two before returning to look for non-teaching work in the UK. My question is this - how would two years of teaching English in Thailand look on my resume? Will it help or hinder my employment chances once I return home?

I am having the same dilemma, and am just about to finish a masters degree in engineering. My careers adviser said that If I went away for a couple of years to teach, I would return in pretty much the same position I'm in now... a graduate with little professional experience in engineering. Its not the end of the world though - you're only young once! (Diana)

My view is that some people are too hung up on their resumes, especially so early in their careers. I used to be a recruiter and I would always look for character and those that had travelled and/or done something a bit out of the ordinary or someone that had taken on a challenge which required at least a little courage to do. Those type of people would most times - if the rest stacked up - get an interview. I fail to see that learning how to live abroad, teach, plan lessons, manage relationships with Thai colleagues, control / educate a classroom full of hungry (or not so hungry) minds could in any way be seen by a future employer, in whatever field, as being a waste of time. If it were me I would believe it was evidence of get-up-and-go and a willingness to try something new. Doesn't matter whether you are an engineer or shelf stacker, in the workplace people with life experience are worth having. (Dave)

Beware that if you come to Thailand, you may never choose to leave. I came here for a six week vacation....four years ago. (Christopher)

Live life to the full stop worryin about what employers think. (Gypsy)

It's an experience that will be with you for your whole life. It might not seem like an asset on your resume/cv but it's something that will get you noticed. It's certainly different than the norm. I am a year removed from college and taught English in Thailand and Cambodia. Currently looking at non teaching jobs. It gives you an edge, I think. You just need to make sure you word things the right way. (Anthony)

Speaking from personal experience in this matter, it will be viewed as a gap year at best, and I mean if you're lucky. If you can maintain some link with your field, i.e with freelance work or whatever, that will really help you upon your return. If you are (or will be) under 25, the damage will not be too severe. (Neil)

I returned to England after 9 months of teaching in Thailand and found that the time abroad was looked on very favourably by employers. A lot of interviewers said it showed a person with a bit of 'get up ang go' and self-motivation. It certainly didn't take me long to find a decent job. (Andrew) 

Impossible to say. You can make the experience a plus in an interview or the interviewer may make it a minus.  On the one hand you've got the 'bug' out of your system and are ready to dedicate yourself to your career... on the other hand recent graduates are more malleable than worldly wise ones and may suit an employer better. On balance  - this is something you should do for your own benefit regardless of the professional implications - which are, at best, unpredictable. (Mark)

If you would like to send us your opinions and answers, please use the 'Post Your Comment' form at the bottom of the page and I will add your words to the main text, along with your first name. In addition, if you have any suggestions for future 'burning questions' then send me an e-mail.


I think Asians who wish to learn English should not expect his/her English teacher to speak their Asian languages. It would be better if they treat English as their first language if they are really keen on learning English because it would be a more natural teaching and learning experience for the teachers as well as for the learners if English is their first language.

By WA, Asia (3rd February 2015)

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