The real deal
In response to Mr. Gravoso's letter "Can't Speak English?" (Postbox 23rd April) I have one request to ask of you - please don't use our country, the Philippines, as an example of how great English flourished compared to what is happening in Thailand and Cambodia today. Let me explain why. We Filipinos were already familiar with the use of Latin writing symbols from the Spanish colonization of around 300 years. That made it easier for Filipinos in the past to learn English. If we had kept and used our own writing system the "Baybayin" today, then maybe things would be different. So in a way, we were "lucky" to have the Spanish and Americans colonize our country, so we could discard our original writing system.
As for teaching English here in Thailand or Cambodia, no matter how competent teachers are, English cannot be learned in school alone. Even if you're the most effective English teacher in the whole world, a student will only learn English to full extent if he/she uses it outside of the classroom. There should be a lot of exposure to the use of English. So to learn English much more quickly, they usually go abroad in exchange programs, or find a way to interact with foreigners here all the time, or strictly read and watch English books and movies.
The difference will be on how the governments of each country adopts the use of the English language. Take for example Singapore, a country whose natives use at least 3 different languages, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. But they have higher English literacy because their government pushes the use of English not only in schools but in other forms such as signs, billboards, newspapers, government forms and many others. Maybe in bigger cities here such as Bangkok it is somewhat being implemented, but how about in the provinces? Maybe that explains why students in bigger cities tend to have higher literacy in English?
I am happy for you though Mr. Gravoso, and I hope you do well and have a great time in Cambodia. Of course I agree with you that we need competent teachers with qualifications, but in a country where there is less supply of it, they will still put people to fill those empty slots no matter how dumb they are. I just want to point out that all these problems of English literacy is not to blame on us teachers alone but to the environment our students live and breathe during their daily lives out of the classroom as well.
Juan de la Cruz