Ajarn Street

Why can't Thais speak English?

Some of these students have had over 2,000 hours of English.

As I go through a typical day, one nagging question keeps popping up in the back of my head; Why can't Thai people speak English?

Well that's a dumb question, right? I can already hear some of the answers now. "They're Thai. They speak Thai. We're in Thailand. Duh"

Alright let me rephrase the question then. Considering that English has been the international language of tourism and commerce for I don't know how many decades now, and there are I don't know how many thousands of English teachers all over the country, why is the general level of English so poor?

Why can't even young, supposedly educated college students speak English? Why can't the Pratom (primary) teachers at my school, who are supposed to teach every subject, including English, speak English?

Ok two of them can, but most can't, so we have a situation here where Thai English teachers can't speak English.

Lost opportunity

The odd thing about it is that they are required to be in my class to help control the students and presumably to learn English as well, which I am thankful for. But when the class is going smoothly and I don't really need any help, the Thai teacher often tunes out my lesson, opting instead to open up his or her laptop and squeeze in a couple games of solitare or log in to Facebook or whatever it is they do.

Not only does this give students the message that it's acceptable to ignore my lesson, but aren't the Thai teachers shooting themselves in the foot when they waste a great opportunity to learn English from a native speaker along with their students???!!!

Director's orders

Recently the director of my school called a meeting with all the foreign teachers. The director (who doesn't speak English) was ranting and raving (in PasaThai) about how Thailand is trying to catch up to ASEAN standards of English proficiency.

He instructed all the Thai teachers that they need to use and teach English vocabulary words in all the subjects. At this point I must borrow the phrase I have seen in other articles on this site and say that it would be comical if it weren't so tragic.

I'm really not trying to put down my school, the teachers, or Thai people in general. Some of the teachers at my school have been teaching for over 30 years, which means they began their careers before I was born.

I realize that learning English is very difficult and takes a great deal of effort. In some ways it may be "too late" for some of the older teachers and older Thai people in general. But like I said, most high school and college students don't even speak English.

Number crunching

Let's look at some of the numbers for a typical 16 year old high school student.

Let's say that "Ploy" is a 16-year old girl who goes to ABC Government School in XYZ city. She started English classes about 10 years ago in Pratom 1. For the past 10 years she has been going to English class twice a week with a native speaker for 50 to 60 minutes each class. She also has English class twice a week with her Thai teachers, and her math and science classes are taught by Filipino teachers with English being the language of instruction.

Doing the math on that gives you the following stats - Ploy has had about 700 hours of dedicated English conversation class with a native speaker over the past 10 years. She's had another 700 hours of English grammar taught by the Thai teacher, and another 700 hours of science and math classes taught by Filipino teachers.

So over the last decade, Ploy has had a grand total of 2100 hours of classes where English has either been taught directly or at least used as the main language of instruction.

So of course Ploy can speak English, right? Maybe, maybe not.

"Tuning out"

If Ploy is a good student, and she puts in the effort to learn, and she has had even halfway decent teachers, she probably can speak English. But if she doesn't see the need to learn, isn't motivated, and she has had mediocre teachers, she has probably been tuning out of English class for the past ten years the same way her Pratom homeroom teachers have been doing for the past thirty.

So how can we fix this problem?

I don't have all the answers, but I think that Thai people will continue to put in a very small amount of effort as long as they don't see any real need to learn English.

But as ASEAN becomes stronger and more unified, and as the world in general becomes more of a tight-knit community Thailand will soon see they are lagging far behind other countries where many if not most of the citizens actually speak their second language.



Matt Jones, you couldn't be more off th mark in your statement about Americans learning other languages.
Maybe 60 or 80 yrs ago it could have been said that Americans are too lazy to learn other languages - - - - MAYBE - - - - but not anytime recently.
And, no, the 20% learning French is not consistent across the US. That's more likely to be the case in Vt or Maine, where you have th Quebec border nearby and a higher motivation to communicate w them. My close friend learned it, and learned it well.
Spanish is spoken, quite decently, by yards of Americans, in a much bigger area of th US. I took it myself, during college, and I had reams of German as well (which, hey, u can absolutely use even in asia).

I understand it's now fashionable to bash the US, and Americans in general, but get your facts straight before electing to do so on a public forum.

By ripp, Thailand (16th March 2024)

Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Koreans students often learn to speak English well, but very few Thais are able. I believe it is a cultural and educational issue. Thais are taught to dismiss details and focused thinking. The speaking of another language requires intense conscientiousness and focus, traits which are discouraged in Thai culture (as opposed to, say, Japanese culture, where trait conscientiousness is highly valued). Therefore, Thais usually achieve a "passing" level of English and never feel any reason to perfect it unless they move abroad permanently—and often not even then.

There is also some selection bias. The Thais who do become excellent at English tend to move abroad, so they simply aren't in Thailand anymore.

By JR, Bangkok (13th December 2022)

1. written assessment is way way more easier to do. and English unlike Thai is two languages, a spoken one and a written one. the Thai dialects only have a phonetic transcription. so Thai tend to believe learning the written language is an entre to th spoken language. of course, it is not.
2. English in Thailand is taught as a 3rd language. throughout all coursework. foreigners tend to buy into the overwhelmingly mandated narrative that 'everyone speaks Thai and Pasa Thai is Thai'. but while Pasa Thai is the upper diglossia, it is not even the spoken language of Bangkok, as far I as know, let alone the Thai L1.

there you go!

By Steve, Maewang Chiangmai (13th August 2019)

Funny, I had often wondered about this myself but never really looked it up on the internet until now. I think Jimmy from Winchester hit the nail on the head and I agree with many others also. As a Thai who grew up in Bangkok and went through Thai education/indoctrination systems (~25 years ago, mind you), here are my two cents.
I believe that the most valuable form of English communication that most non-English speaker would benefit from is conversational English. You are more likely to get out on the street and end up speak to someone in English rather than writing them a full English sentence or an essay. Thai schools place too high an emphasis on written English (think grammar, verb tenses, preposition, punctuation, those fill in the blank with the correct words type questions, etc., etc.) Not every student is going to end up on the national spelling bee competition but they are taught to memorize vocabularies and definitions like those are the essences of the English language. Linguistically, this is a complete opposite of a natural learning process. You learn to speak first, then read, and then write. You write better by reading more. You speak better through a combination of listening/watching/practicing/interacting with others who also speak English back to you. You improve your language skills faster by practicing with somebody who possesses a better command of the language than you do. In Thailand, we produce kids with brilliant memorization skills (thanks, TOEFL) but lack the verbal fluency to communicate with English speakers. (And many of those native-Thai English teachers themselves have awful English pronunciation.) On top of that, Thai people are very critical of each other (unfortunately not as much on themselves). We have all come across the grammar police on internet forums and sometimes in the flesh. People are afraid of being made a fool if they make mistakes, so they don't bother to practice English altogether. Really, those who are not afraid to make mistakes and try to improve their English are the ones to be admired and celebrated. Don't get me wrong, written English is important too. But unless you are going major in arts broad, business writing will get you through most situations. Even native English speakers struggle with English literature and composition sometimes. Unfortunately though, for the majority of the Thai population, there simply isn't enough incentive to prioritize English as a second language. And that's very understandable because they don't have many opportunities to use it on a regular basis. But for those people who work in tourism and hospitality industry, white-collar professional office workers, people who work (or want to work) at international organizations, highly visible people in executive positions, kids who plan to go study abroad, etc, there is no excuse not to try and improve your English communication skills right here at home. In general, all kids should perfect their conversational English while they are young since they learn languages much faster than adults. Plus today we have this thing called the internet. We have google and youtube and websites with English contents. If you don't want to be left behind in this highly connected world, better smarten up and improve your English. 'Learning English will put you at a disadvantage' is said by nobody ever.

By P. Nongnitchai, Portland, OR (5th January 2019)

Every living thing categorises, subconsciously, consciously and/or both; at the tangible (body (nee physical)) level/s and/or at the intangible (brain (nee mental)) level/s.

Our internal thoughts are triggered by 1+ of our five senses having been triggered by 1+ the external factors known to trigger them.

^ The above two ^ are an inter-combined system of one; if either or both could exist without the other, "lIFe 'z wekno wit wou. ld no' t ex is t."

What's... typo... 're the differenceS between Thai and English? The former is a tonal language and the latter is prefixed with a "non-" which makes them opposites. Just like cat is not to dog.

Nice to knows in the theory of WHAT?, but absent or abysmal in the practices of HOW?

1. PHONICS, to read, pronounce and spell 85% of words

2. PARTS OF SPEECH, to understand 100% of sentences

3. word PHRASES & sentence CLAUSES, to have 'Can Do fluency'...

0. ...vs. the one word at a time, but five things at once of (for example): Present Simple (or Simple Present), S + V1+ O, generally true, 3rd person ex. "They dislike English."

By Jef, CLMV+I (5th May 2018)

You're right to say that there are much more to a society's well being than just speaking English. I live in Thailand for a long time and can honest tell that Thai people, at least in Bangkok, could communicate in English better (a lot better in fact) than people in Seoul and Tokyo. I am not denying that speaking English has its benefits. But so does the ability to speak any other second or third languages.

What Thailand needs is to have more information be translated into their own language - to have many many more good books translated into Thai in order for them to be accessible to as many people as possible. However, despite the fact that Thais have better English communication skills relative to other East-asian, this has not happened. Guess what? People from poor desperate countries tend to speak and read foreign languages well because it's the door to opportunity. But countries that are determined to reach a high-level of development WILL invest in its own language and intellectual culture. They will make the democratizing process of knowledge the highest agenda of their education. This is why East Asian countries could develop even if their English remains appalling.

What I am seeing in Thailand is that the upper-middle classes are sending their kids to International Schools. They want their kids to be a part of an "educated English-speaking class." The english-speaking classes in Thailand see their ability to use English well as a sort of privilege marker. But they've never been committed to using their "privilege" to spread the knowledge they into the local language. Nay, they don't even have the ability to use their mother language well anymore. It's a fashionable in Thailand for the educated class to speak Thai with english terms pr phrases sprinkled all over the place. Some think it's chic to do so. This is a sort of colonial mentality (even though the Thais were never colonized) that benefits only individuals but not the society.

This is why Thailand still don't have a working democracy. What they have is a class-division mentality. English so far has been used as an excuse for the society's failure to spread knowledge to the rural poor. You cannot teach all Thai to speak English, since the primary language of education is still and will always be in Thai. They got all the priority wrong.

By Matt Jones, USA (23rd January 2018)

To say that any country would be at the "top of the heap" because their English language skills are currently superior to Thailand, and therefore should excel, is such complete ting tong as to be laughable. LOL. There are many sociological political, historical, etc facets that come into play, The bottom line is that the Thai society WILL BENEFIT BY LEARNING ENGLISH. period. To argue otherwise, IMO, is ignorant.

By Bruce Michael Baumbush, St Thomas (23rd January 2018)

So Mat Jones from America, you think it is just hunky dorey that the educated Thais are deficient (substantially so) in English languish skills?!!

By To Mat Jones from America, St Thomas (23rd January 2018)

@Kantanon. While English is an international language, the presence of economic and cultural influence from the anglophone countries in Thailand is not all that great. If speaking English well is an important indicator for development. Philippines and Malaysia would have been the two leading economies in Asia now. Indians speak English much better than the Chinese on average (the two countries have the same size population), but China's economy is five times bigger and now has an incomparable influence on the world stage. Neither Korea, Japan, nor France (whose English skills are equally appalling) consider English as their "second official language."

By Matt Jones, United States (22nd January 2018)

I am Thai and want to simply put it that those who still cannot speak decent English are just" ignorant". I used to make my comment several times to different advisers from the current government about making English the second official language for Thailand. Most people just never see it the way I do. Not being able to speak English for Thai is and will be an never-ending story as far as I can see.

By Kantanon Wanitpisittana, Bangkok (22nd January 2018)

I believe it is more difficult for people with native languages significantly different from English to learn English. Unlike languages of other ASEAN countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia and The Philippines, Thai language is tonal, has very strong accent and doesn't use alphabet, hence they will need to learn the alphabet, the language and to reduce their strong accent when learning English. I'm not familiar with Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, but I believe this difficulty at some degree also applies to these countries. Such facts may require more efforts for Thai people to learn English.

By Ted, Jakarta (14th December 2017)

@Ben Wong ... Yes, Thailand was never colonised, but like Thais, you seem to be ignorant as to the reason. Was it because Thailand is "strong" and resisted colonising attempts which is the "implied reason"? No. They were purposely NOT colonised by mutual agreement between the French who were in control of Cambodia on one side and the British in control of Burma on the other side. Why? So it could be used as a "buffer zone" between the two colonising powers. Simple as that. In addition, Thailand gave away huge chunks of territory (Parts of Chanthaburi and Trat) to the French in exchange for not colonising them. That territory was later returned to them by the French. Not really something to be "proud" about. Which is the reason it's conveniently skipped over and not mentioned in history classes.
As for having "no reason" to learn English ... more rubbish. English being the "lingua franca" language of the WORLD is reason enough.
No ... the reason has been stated here many times. Laziness. Simple as that.

By MarkCM, Surry Hills (4th October 2017)

I am a firm believer that people learn language because they must. And for most of the world, countries that were once colonized by a western power all have a mind set which prioritizes learning a colonial or a western language over their own. Of the countries in the world, I think the UK and the US have are the two countries that suffer from the language skill deficit the most. If you look at America, French is studied a foreign language by 20% of the students. But who can speak French in America? Almost none, except the rich kids whose parents send them to French immersion schools. Foreign languages are spoken in America and Britain by immigrants. But for average British or American, their is no need to do so. So they suck at foreign languages -- no interest to learn, whatsoever.

I lived in Thailand for a long time and this is a country that has their own legal system, their own law codes and legal authority - from top to bottom. At school, they study their own literature. Their religious texts (Buddhism) maybe in classical Pali, but they have all the translations and commentaries in their own language. Of all the countries I've been to, maybe only Japan and China prioritizes their own cultural learning over outside influence at this level. In Malaysia, the Malay language is spoken by over 200 million people - a true lingua franca. But everyone still speaks pretty good English. How come? It's just because Malay is no different than Hindi. True, they are used by everyone, but not at the level that matter. For their legal and education systems are modeled after that of their colonial masters.

Over here in the U.S. and I have far more problem communicating with the Chinese students than the Thais who live or study here. The reality is many Chinese students can hardly speak English at all but they are now the big financial source for American colleges, so nobody ever questions how TOEFL exams are graded in China.

By Matt Jones, USA (4th October 2017)

Thai pride. Thailand is the only country in Asia besides China and Japan that was never colonised. Nobody make them learn any new language there is no motive for them to seek to learn the coloniser's language to get ahead as in other colonised countries. It can be frustrating especially in outlying areas outside the usual tourist trail but that's just the way it is. Like the Japs too that are proud people. Good for em.

By Ben Wong, Thailand (4th October 2017)

I've taught here for 12+ years and the answer to this question is quite simple, sheer laziness. I'm not trying to be rude or disrespectful but it is the truth. The simple fact of the matter is that the culture tends to make excuses and ignore problems instead of identifying and solving them. I've worked with people from all over the world and who speak English as a second language and the Thais are the only ones who butcher English but excuse themselves by saying "Thai style". You don't hear Spanish speakers miss pronouncing words and saying "Spanish style" or any other country of origin and style. Until the Thai culture changes from a make excuses for our inabillities to putting in the necessary work to achieve a desired effect, they will always struggle.

By 12 year English teacher, Bangkok (27th August 2017)

Hi guys,

As a Thai and English speaker from a Thai and English ethnic background , I'd like to add my two cents to the post.

Apologies if my point/s have already been raised [ I didn't read through all the comments]

First point - Don't use it, you lose it:

You will find that people all across Thailand, especially if they work in the Hospitality / Retail industry can actually speak conversational English just fine. There is reasoning behind this.

Outside of these industries, especially in poorer areas of Thailand such as the north, English language is continually lacking in quality & presence - even more so among the older generations.

I am not a sociologist by any means, but from talking to my Mum and her Thai family about why it is that even though English is taught in schools it is not regulatory applied by local Thai people, the answer is as follows:

If there is no reason for a Thai person to use the English language on a regular/daily basis, once you are out of education [If you actually focused and learnt to speak English well in school] you will end up forgetting how speak English.

A rule with all languages: "If you don't use it, you lose it." meaning those who get to talk to English speakers as part of their jobs will be getting regular refreshers in English, whereas a truck driver will not be.

Although there is much more than the above point as to the reasoning behind English skills lacking across Thailand, I truly believe this is the main point for most Thai people.

Second point to note is - Culture:

There is a strong cultural national pride in Thailand, and being well spoken in Thai, and focusing inwardly [On Thai focused roles not needing foreign influence] is often considered a much better and more authentically "Thai" lifestyle choice and in turn makes you a better Thai person compared to those going down a path that focuses on the growing plague foreigners sunning it up and buying fake clothes in night markets. I won't get started on the bar girls and how they are viewed to by the higher class Thai people.

And my final point - Ignorance is bliss:

Just like how so many English people I know couldn't care less about learning a new language [even if they like travelling], for what ever reason that may be, there is the same belief held in parts of Thailand.

"I am Thai, why should I need to learn English if I will never need to speak, or write in English in my life time?" - My mum's Brother.

Thailand is much poorer than EU & NA countries, meaning holidays to English speaking places is not on the books for many Thai people. Its pretty easy to see why Thai people wouldn't be bothered to learn a language they wouldn't need to use, especially if most of their time is taking up doing work that doesn't have a requirement for additional language.

To conclude,
I don't believe this inward facing ideology is a good thing for Thai people, but it is part of Thailand's culture and must be respected. Just like in the UK, the older generations culture/beliefs don't care for much foreign language skills, neither do some Thai people.
This being said, I believe it is a passing ideology and people will adapt and evolve as the world globalises more and more each year.
But for now, a farmer isn't going to give a cr*p if you think its weird he can't speak English even though he spent 2100 hours learning English in school - He's just going to go about his day, speaking Thai to other Thai people and not speaking English because he doesn't need to like he always has done until he's reincarnated.

Point one:
If there is no need to speak it, people won't learn/remember it.
Point two:
Thailand is not as fortunate as EU and NA countries, career prospects that involve foreign language skills are not as readily as available/required as overseas.
Point three:
People don't care too much about change until its on their door step. Until then, Thai people will stick to their own customs and lives.

By Jimmy, Winchester (11th June 2017)

It all boils down to individual. Despite many years of education they still cannot communicate in english. this is called laziness to learn and lack of interest to speak.

i learnt 10 languages by attending part time international language school. it is not easy, but just tell yourself nothing is easy..

By R'louey, Malaysia KL (7th April 2017)

I've had the privileged to work in an English speaking office in Thailand for a number of years. Most of those people are from high class families and spent time studying overseas.

I can relate to the problem of confidence, from both the English and Thai perspective. I previously knew Thai well enough to think that I was really good at it. I can speak, read and write. Time has taught me to recognise that I actually speak REALLY bad Thai, in terms of pronunciation and tones. Consequently I have lost a lot of cofidence to speak Thai that can only be overcome by immersion.

Looking at this from the Thai perspective, it is understandable that they may have a wide grasp of the English vocabulary, but may be less confident in communicating, as they may believe that their pronounciation is not correct. They also (generlly) have less opportunity to be immersive and may be shy to do so.

Consequently, adept, Thai speakers of English, are often highly motivated to learn a specific accent and concentrate. on learning the tonal inflections.

Even now, I find that, even among my close friends, they are reluctant to speak in English for fear of making mistakes and appearing inept. (This may or may not be due to losing face). Things are certainly easier, on both sides, after a couple of beers,

By Andy, Bangkok (5th April 2017)

It may be easy to suggest that a failure to learn language is due to laziness. However, I think it's motivation and opportunity which are the more important factors. Japanese are notorious for their perennial inability to use English at a decent level. Yet Japanese are good students generally. If you look at Japanese students in America today, their number is quickly in decline, as opposed to that of Korean and Chinese - who continue to rely on access to western schools and job markets.

I have spent years learning French, but most of what I can do is reading (or listening to French music). I'm pretty devoted at learning it. But the progress belied the efforts. Mastering a language need a lot of resources. Sometimes just reading or using the Internet is not enough. You need someone to talk to or opportunity to express yourself.

By Methaya Sirichit, Washington DC, USA (4th March 2017)

Such a long drawn out thread for such a simple question ... which also has a simple answer. And the answer is ... laziness and lack of interest. Simple as that. I studied French for 4 years at school. I had no interest in it at all. Consequently, my French is terrible.

Case closed.

By MarkCM, Sydney (3rd March 2017)

Sammy you are yet another commenter who has completely missed the point of this article. The point is Thai students study English from kindergarten all the way up to their final senior school year. Why after 12-14 years of studying the language in school are they unable to speak it? No body is saying they are ignorant. it's just puzzling that they spend so much time learning and have so little result.

By Rob, Buriram (3rd March 2017)

Well, Sammy, as a general rule, foreign teachers don't usually teach English to Thais just so that they don't have to learn Thai. Amazingly, some Thai people want to learn English as they feel it might help them to get ahead in various ways (further studies, careers, etc).

Also, as these foreign teachers are often employed (directly or indirectly) by Thai schools, and English is a subject on the Thai curriculum, it is possible that the Thais themselves, or at least their educational system and leadership, think teaching English to Thai people might be a good idea (other, more cynically minded motives notwithstanding, and said while trying not to criticise the approach Thai education uses for it).

It's not really a colonial conspiracy, honest!

By Jimmy, Bkk (3rd March 2017)

My brain hurts after reading that last post.

By MarkCM, Sydney (3rd March 2017)

As stated before this IS Thailand and they speak Thai. Problem is if a Thai travels to America you want them to soeak English, why? Because thats our language and when tou come to Thailand you ALSO want them to speak English. Why cant you diversify yourself, respect their country and learn THEIR lamguage? Im an American whi has travellwd to Thailand a couple of times and I learned to speak Thai and its not difficult. Learnnro adapt to diffetent cultures; if not, then stay in your country where you feel comfortable with food, language and culture. Good Old saying.... whem in Rome do as the Romans do. Very very simple... dont make it difficult for yourself

By Sammy Pereira, Udon Thani (3rd March 2017)

No, I was not joking one little bit. I have been here for over 6 years and have been consulting in several schools. My comment came from my observation of the teaching situation. If you are trying to teach here with the attitude I perceive from you, you are in the wrong profession.

By James, Nakhon Ratchasima (24th November 2016)

The older this article gets, the more hilarious and pathetic the replies get. lol
James ... you're kidding me, right? Was that a "satirical" reply? Please tell me you were just pretending to be an English teacher.

By MarkCM, Australia (24th November 2016)

The reason, as I see it, Thais do not learn to speak English John is correct but missed a point. The Asian is very concerned about 'losing face'. It is a cultural thing. You are not going to change the culture.
With my tutoring I encourage one of the parents be present. This gives the implied message to the child that learning English - which in the case of some parents they too - is important. I also for the older people fashion the lesson around what they want to use it for. Business usage is entirely different from plain conversation and less difficult

By James, Nakhon Ratchasima (24th November 2016)

The reason they cannot speak English in my view is

1. They are taught it as rules instead of a communicative language.
2. They are taught too many rules and too much grammar which does not make sense a lot of the time. Why is the past tense of paint - painted, and the past tense of go - went? Sometimes it just is, Learn it and accept it for what it is.
3. Too many schools do not do reading. Many of them do not have reading books.
4. A lot of others refuse to do photocopying and so we are stuck doing the same boring sh*te day in and day out. "Where are you from? What did you do on the weekend?" etc...
5. At the end they are given an exam in multiple choice - I always hear the reason, it is easy to mark. In fact it is not. It easier to mark writing on effort, rather than grammatical errors.
6. Thais always want to get it "RIGHT", which is why they get it so wrong. They want perfection, I have realised when in fact it has nothing to do with anything about that. Instead marks should be based on effort and not boring grammatical questions.
7. I am not even going to question how they want everyone to look good, and so looks come before substance and so young 22 years olds with 2 weeks of experience get jobs before seasoned 50 year olds with 10 years experience. But so be it. Mai pen rai. This is Thailand. They always know best what is good for them.


By Johnny Jon, Bangkok (23rd November 2016)

1. Education isn't free, even more so for English language. Especially when there is no need for it here.
2. Average Thais are poor, most of them couldn't afford it and when they could, they see no reason for it.
3. Have you ever encounter a Thai international student in Bangkok? Well, now you have. Do i speak English?

By Kenji, Bangkok (15th September 2016)

" People get assimilated into Thailand"

Perhaps historically but not now. How many ethnic Farangs have been in any of the last four Thai governments. The ethnic Khmer people of Burriram can own property in Thailand in their own name. Ethnic Farang or black people cannot. In the UK, ethnic Asian or Black people can own property in their own name and can be found in government positions.

By John, Currently Phillipines (17th June 2016)

@ MarkCM

"Conquerred racially" sure happened in places like America, Singapore, Australia, and pretty much the whole of South America. It didn't happen here. Because the supposed conquerers disappeared.

By Methaya Sirichit, DC, USA (16th June 2016)

@Methaya Sirichit: " Thailand perhaps has the
greatest rate of assimilation of other ethnicity in the world."

... and yet they have "never been colonised". I always laugh when I hear that. They may not have been colonised "politically" ... but they sure have been colonised "racially".

By MarkCM, Sydney (16th June 2016)

Just join in to put some observation about Thais. "Thai" is a culture, there really is no 'Thai' as a race. If you search a wikipedia article "overseas Chinese" you will find out that Thailand has the largest number of Chinese immigrant in the world (over 9 millions). So where are they now? They are gone. They have been assimilated. They become me, and other sino-thais in the country who identify almost solely as Thais. Thailand perhaps has the greatest rate of assimilation of other ethnicity in the world. If Chinese go anywhere, they tend to remain with their Chinese identity. It's only here that the Chinese disappear. That's pretty much what happened to Thais with Khmers and Laos ethnicity as well. If you know recent history, the British and French came over to divide the territory among themselves. Those boundaries did not create racial tension as they tend to do elsewhere (except perhaps for the South where religious extremism is involved).

That being said, I meant to propose that Thais place utmost importance to their language and culture. Those who adopt them or grew up there become fully integrated. Thais don't care what you look like, there is no otherness in such context. The former Chief of the Supreme Court was a Sikh man. My boss at the law firm where I worked was also a Sikh (with a head band), but culturally he is Thai first -- he is even more Thai than I am (he speaks Esaan and is an avid collectors of buddhist amulets). There isn't political limitations on race or ethnicity, whether subtle or outright; although class divisions based on family connection is still there.

Every nation is proud of their culture. But if there is a difference that describes Thainess, this might be it.

By Methaya Sirichit, DC, USA (16th June 2016)

Just remembered another simple one that most Thai people don't know in English. Red Mahogany. Has to be described as Mie Padoo. Another slightly annoying thing is the leaving out of the letter " u" from the spelling of the words " Colour"; " harbour" and " neighbour", but this is found throughout Asian countries. Also, no Asian people can be convinced that breasts are not called milk. In most Asian languages, it's the same word that is used for milk and people simply do not believe that they are different words.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently Thailand (11th June 2016)

There are very many untruths that are said about Thailand and the Thai people. All websites that describe Thailand say that correct behaviour is to keep calm in all circumstances and to never loose your temper. Thai people can be seen to very quickly loose their temper and to start shouting at someone in public, often over something that seems trivial. Other incorrect things said is that it is the " land of smiles" and that they are very friendly towards foreigners. If you go to the Phillipines or Indonesia, local people who see you on the street come up to you and are thrilled to speak to you, exchange pleasantries etc. in Thailand, if you walk down a street, or along a beach, local people will simply ignore you. If you go to somewhere where the intention is to extract money from you, then they are friendly, but only whilst the money extraction process is happening. I have met some Thai people who like to chat for no expected reward, but most expect payment simply to have conversation. In very few instances have I learned a little Thai from someone without being asked for money for it. In Loas, Cambodia, Indonesia or any other country, no one has ever asked me for money to teach me some phrases in their language. Thailand can be a great place if you go there as a novice tourist, (whom the Thais love ) to have a party, but many who stay a long time can become disillusioned. If you go there to have fun in bars, enjoy the company of girls for a fee, and enjoy the food and party atmosphere, it's a fantastic place. Can make the world famous Rio Carnival look lame by comparison. However, don't expect people to be as genuinely warm and friendly as other Asians when there is no profit to be made. Don't expect pristine untouched, quiet, undeveloped natural beautiful beaches like you get in other Asian countries. You can have a great time in Thailand if you accept it for what it is.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently Indonesia (11th June 2016)

Yes. Last time I went to my local DIY store, they understood Hack Saw Blade. Last technical term I was taught was by a dirty shirtless guy wearing torn shorts working on his boat engine. What was he fixing? His Da da-yah-t which he told me meant dyno start, the part of a boat engine that has dual functionality of starter motor and electrical Dynamo. I don't even know the Thai words for the much simpler devices of starter motor or Dynamo, and I am university educated and can afford a shirt. Do you know the names in Thia for those items?

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently Indonesia (11th June 2016)

Ronnie, am I gathering from that last post that if I walked into a DIY shop and asked for "a hacksaw blade", the Thai assistant would instantly know what I was after? Have I got that bit right?

Whatever. I think you've made your point now. You think most Thais are fluent in English and I really don't think we should attempt to change your opinion.

By Phil (ajarn.com), Samut Prakarn (11th June 2016)

The reason that I contribute to this conversation is that I believe that what is being said is wrong. My own experience is that most Thais speak reasonable English and that their motivation to learn it and understanding the reasons why it is a good thing to do exist. By comparison, in Indonesia, typically every Indonesian you meet will ask when they meet you whether you speak Indonesian. Their expectation is that all foreigners should speak Indonesian ( and I don,t mean just those who live there long term ) their motivation to learn English is almost non existent. Nearly all will try to teach you words for things in Indonesian, by pointing at things. Almost none show any interest in you reciprocating by wanting you to teach them words in English. You should know how to speak Indonesian and if you do not, it is your fault and tough luck. You can get a similar attitude in western countries. You speak Dutch? You speak Norwegian ? Etc. not in Thailand. There no one expects you to have learned Thai and if you meet someone with poor English skills, they usually are apologetic for not being able to converse well in English. I have spent around 1300 hours learning Thai and Isaan and am sometimes embarrassed at my lack of ability to follow people speaking in a conversation in Thai, although I can make myself understood. After learning for so long, I can possibly speak Thai to the level that a five year old can speak their own native language. After learning English for so many hours the proficiency of Thais to speak English is far greater. If I go into a hardware store, I only know the names for paint, paint brush, paint roller, hacksaw blade, wood screws and light bulbs after that I am lost. Sometimes I see Thai people get frustrated or laugh at my inability to ask for things or describe things with correct grammar in Thai, when they can do it with ease in English. I think the sentiments being expressed in this website are completely wrong. The ability to speak English and the wish to learn it in Thailand is orders of magnitude more than in neighbouring ASEAN countries, such as Vietnam or Indonesia.

By Ronnie Pilkngton, Currently Indonesia (11th June 2016)

Thank you Rob for bringing the proper focus back to this thread. As the OP stated, "Why can't even young, supposedly educated college students speak English? Why can't the Pratom (primary) teachers at my school, who are supposed to teach every subject, including English, speak English?"

Yesterday, I called one of the English language schools in Bangkok to inquire about their upcoming schedule for a friend of mine. Neither the girl answering the phone or the second person she handed me off to could understand my simple question in English. I would assume (although that's always risky) that these employees had taken English courses from their employer.

By Capt. Bruce, Bangkok (10th June 2016)

Ronnie Pilkington. I think you miss the point. The point is why can't Thai's speak English after learning it in school for ten years?? We aren't expecting them to learn it just to please us. It's just bewlidering to see how little they know after so many hours spent in class. It's a shame and a sad waste of their time. Chill out ;-)

By Rob Gall, Buriram (10th June 2016)

Pra Deh Thia me Lot Lapchang Hetweeak Sanambeen Suvarnibhumi, Doung Tep, Mia Challat. Loo Kaa me nid noi Ban Haa. Poo English Poochy Mai Cowchai. Baw Pen Yang. Quee peun toe raa sap. Cip Natee thouhk Kohn Quam sook. Poochy loo lookaa awk jhak Soi see, Tannon Sukhumvitte Doung Tep. Falang teenee keean not book khon Pra Deh Thai Mia cow Chai poo English. Tallok Yuk Loiey. Khoiy you teenee braman song pee. Hawk Dooan tee pan maa bung Poosow Dan Nie e-bong ( rheuah ) wow Lao lie, poo Thai dee, Speak English Little Bit. Dok Die! Don knee Poosow man can me raprinya Poo English Leowe. Pooying rean English Neng eye. Poosow wow English baw? Men Leow! Men! Falang jeh kan khon Thai bow hoo English Chennie? Poosow heean lie Hong heean who? Pooying loo yuk. Falang me ban haa poo Thai loo. Bie baa hoot " beer Chang Cap". Chang law? Chang Eang? Chang Kooang ( car Mechanic ) Chang Gor Sang ( Builder) Chang Fie Faa ( Electrician) ? No umderstand tradesman beer. Falang talk ting tong. " Panang curry with rice please". Eang?! Now the Farang want to eat a curried wall, complete with brick and plasterboard! Yep, there most certainly exists a language problem in Thailand. Look into thine mirror, thee who cast thine first stone.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently in Indonesia (10th June 2016)

Sorry. Forgot. There is one sector of Thai society where people speak almost no English. The taxi drivers who are specifically working at Bangkok,s main International Airport. Rather odd. One would think that it would be a pre requisite of that job to be able to speak English, whereas the exact opposite seems to be the case. The four people in two years I have found who do not speak fluent English don't include the Suvarnibhumi taxi drivers. How obscure.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently Indonesia (10th June 2016)

The fabled place where they speak good English is called Thailand. Ever wondered why it is that when the vast majority of bar girls arrive in Bangkok, Pattaya, etc, that when they say they moved down there from Isaan a month ago, most have reasonably good English? I suppose they learned it in two afternoons eh? Yes, there is the occasional individual who has little English, just the occasional one. Surat Thani as an example, is most certainly not a tourist area. The place is almost devoid of non Thai people. I did not find a single person who could not speak English. Nor in Udon Thani, the town/city in Isaan bordering Loas. The first person that I ever met from Khorat was working in Norway many years ago, and she had perfect technical English, and was working there as an Engineer. In addition, it can be observed that many from Isaan also speak fluent German. Often I have spoken with western foreigners based in rural Thailand ( if such a thing still actually exists devoid of motorways, endless concrete and millions of pick up trucks ) who talk about no one where they live who can speak English. Of course, it's so obvious, that,s how they get on never having learned a word of Thai themselves. These are the same people who sit in bars and talk endless rubbish like Thais all leave school at 12, and there is no Public Health Service etc. people on this website are actually making reference to those in neighbouring countries like Vietnam having better English skills. Anyone who has been to Vietnam knows that you can enter typically a town with say ten thousand inhabitants, and about 15 people have the most rudimentary basic English skills. Try places like Borneo or Sulawesi in Indonesia. In Borneo, you can approach hundreds of people every day, just looking for a single individual who has twenty words in English. In two years of living in Thailand, and being able to speak Thai reasonably, I can recount four instances where I required to speak to a Thai person in Thai as their English was not good enough. I shudder to think how many thousands of Thai people I spoke to in that two year period.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently in Indonesia (10th June 2016)

Some of the posts here defy explanation. I would like to know where is this fabled place where everybody speaks English so well! Pidgin doesn't qualify as a good standard of English. Most of these types of posts are from people who are saying that the majority of people in a certain area speak English of a high standard. Thailand in a parallel universe perhaps! Phuket, Bangkok, Pattaya and tourist resorts don't count as they have a higher prevalence of English speakers than out in the provinces where tourists don't often go.

By Paul Clifton, Banbury, United Kingdom (9th June 2016)

Considering the large body of opinion agreeing that spoken English is poor in Thailand. Could someone please advise what the name of the village is and its location in Thailand where Thai people do not speak much English. As someone who has lived in Thailand for two years, it would be nice to know that my efforts to learn Thai, and a little Isaan reasonably proficiently have not all been in vain, and that it is possible to find people who do not speak English. I very rarely do meet such people, but it tends to be a one off thing, where Thais will direct the person towards me, knowing that I speak Thai. It's quite a rare occurrence.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently in Indonesia (9th June 2016)

Why is it that so many people believe that if something is said often enough, then it becomes true? The reality is that the vast majority of Thais speak English very well. For some obscure reason, there seem to be certain words that few know which include weed killer ( yaakaya ) Pistachio Nuts ( Too Ah Back Ahh), Cashew Nuts ( Mek Ma Moo Ung ), tweezers ( Neahp ) and plumber ( Chang Pra paa) . Otherwise, throw most things at them and they understand it instantly. Try them with things like " financial accounts in arrears ", " Government Institution " , "University Graduation", " delayed schedule" or a host of other rather complex terms and most are likely to understand instantly. The last time I had an official letter arrive, I asked a woman I was sitting next to on public transport to translate the Thai text of the letter for me. " Please submit without delay, your company,s financial statement for the year 58 forthwith to the office, the address for which is given at the letterhead. This documentation remains in arrears and no further reminders shall be forthcoming " . The translation was made into English without hesitation. I asked her later what her job was. She worked as a CLEANER, in a hotel! If you want to know what it is like to be in an Asian country where people do not speak English, then try Vietnam or Indonesia. The people I have the most difficulty with in Thailand are westerners, who mostly only seem to speak English when obliged to do so. Otherwise it is German, Russian, Swedish, Finish etc.

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently Indonesia (9th June 2016)

This thread sure is drawing the obtuse clueless cretins out of the woodwork! LOL

By MarkCM, Sydney (9th June 2016)

The one and only reason that Thai students are denied a proper English language program where they actually are functionally literate at the end of their school years is very simple and obvious.The scum at the top of Thai society make sure that this is the outcome because they can't afford to have the great unwashed educated properly, good heavens they might find out that they are being well and truly screwed!!The outcome of the recent test between Malaysia,Vietnam and Thailand to test end of school students in English proficiency was to say the least damning, M + V tied at 85% while moronic Thailand got a score of 5%!!!!! Yet these stupid people have these delusions of having a lead role in the new Asian Economic Community,Tell'em their dreamin'

By Schoona, Khon Kaen (8th June 2016)

I have been coming to Thailand for near on 5 years now and I have noticed that the best speakers of English are those that need to use it for work. These are predominantly young people from wealthier backgrounds who have studied English at university as part of another course and have become proficient in using English in their jobs. These people are found in areas where tourists tend to stay. Jobs that deal with tourists require their staff to be somewhat proficient in English. But on the whole, English is not spoken widely, especially out in the provinces. The state school system does not seem to teach English effectively, concentrating on learning words by rote rather than comprehension of colloquial English sentances.

The best schools seem to be those that can immerse the students in English. I have had to learn Thai in order to be able to communicate effectively since the vast majority cannot understand spoken English and most people can only say a few words like "Hello, how are you?". Pronunciation of English poses a real challenge because Thai lacks certain sounds like th, sh, z and Thai words and syllables that end in certain consonants mutate to sound like p, t and k. The Thai word for shallow fry for instance is written like 'pad' but is pronounced like 'pat'. The letter d in all instances (there are several different sorts of letter d by the way) mutates to a t at the end of a word. So Thai people have difficulty pronouncing words and syllables ending in d, ch, th, s, sh, r amongst others.

I think it is a question of confidence and also culture. You see, Thai people do not like to embarrass themseves because this is like losing face, an important feature of Thai (and Asian) culture. They would rather not say a word of English than risk making a mistake and embarassing themselves. Thai children do not seem to have the same motivation or eagerness to learn English compared with their peers in China for instance. It is frustrating to see the way that English is taught and the lack of emphasis on effective teaching methods. Perhaps this will improve over time, but for now Thailand is lagging behind in English.

By Paul, Kamphaeng Phet (2nd June 2016)

I'm a Thai who has been teaching English for many years. I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh for 6 years and I enrolled for MA TESOL there. My MA there and the work at a university there thought me tremendously about CLT and communicative English; and what could really help students to communicate in English.

For any Bangladeshi student who enrolled in English course with communicative environment, I fould that almost all of them could use English well after they graduate (university level). The assessment aligned with what had been instructed and trained...and many involved speaking, presentation, discussion, listening along with reading and writing.

In Thailand....., the curriculum still focus a lot on grammar; though many tried to implement " English Conversation Class" and had the 2nd English class by foreign teachers...I was told Thai teachers would still explained to them in Thai in their classes..... and many even had to write the pronunciation of those lessons in Thai alphabets so the kids could read.

The parents also believe that their kids don't know enough vocabulary or don't know good grammar to speak well. That's coz generations after generations here have been taught with Grammar Translation Method...and it is still going on....among Parents and worse, English teachers who are Thai.

I am seeing a huge gap between the practice and the need of the school to keep the look of International Standard...while O-Net and A-Net tests are so hopeless and do not align with any lessons they teach in classes in many schools at all.

HOwever, I wouldn't ask who to blame...., but what can we do to improve it?

By Sunida Witayakarื, Bangkok, Thailand (25th April 2016)

Do you know why?
The answer is so easy :
---Spoiled students (rich families)
--Dislike the homework
--Dislike to study with Foreigner teacher because some Thai teachers pushes them to against some farang teacher.
--Some Thai teachers advice thai students to not study English with farang but study English with Thai english Teachers and students can catch only one or two words in English during one hour....(Thai English teachers teach by Thai language not teach English language by English ).
---Thai parents are still believing Thai teachers (Even they lie at them ).
Finally,we love the king,the country but some Thai teachers spoiled many schools.
Thanks for choosing this vital topic

By Jerome, bkk (19th March 2016)

I live in rural area of Thailand. Most people seem to work seven days a week, After work they have a habit of having social time; snacks with whisky. It goes with the job. Coming home they are "tired" and perhaps not able to support their kids with their homework. In addition some parents have not finished high-school themselves. Internet is sometimes a good source of information and English skills would be very useful. My understanding is that the things are getting better while in the West they keep cutting resources.

By Juhani, Chiang Rai (27th February 2016)

Some of the replies from "teachers" here are so cringe worthy (bad spelling & grammar etc) they're bloody hilarious! What an entertaining thread. :)

By MarkCM, Sydney (5th February 2016)

What you have written is nothing but the true. God bless you. I was once in Thailand as a teacher and I can boldly say if you can teach in Thailand then you can easily teach in any other difficult country full of block- headed people fro the head to the toe. For me I can just say Thais can't speak English especially the real language called English. This is because of their disrespectful attitude towards foreigners who are teaching them.They prefer their Thai teachers that copy grammar from books to sheet for them to copy back.No wonder they have a very good handwriting. Not until Thais change their attitude towards Westerners I don't think they can ever speak the real English.Be it British or America English. They can't . They should not only the gift but love the giver as well.Thank you.

By Abacaba Latino, USA (4th February 2016)

The logic of what is said can't be denied. Even Americans are weary of foreign languages when listed as just "French ###". People are people where that is concerned. As I said before, when I get a new student, I attempt to establish what they want to use English for. If it is in the work as a guide, I gear the conversation to what they would run into. If it is legal work, gear it to calming down the customer before helping them, etc. What Methaya wrote makes common sense and anyone wanting to teach here had better take notice.

By James, Korat (29th January 2016)

No, it wasn't well written, concise of logical. It was another example of something I have often seen an "educated" Thai do- when criticized, individually or culturally, become highly defensive and blame those doing the criticizing; accuse them of generalizing, and then make blanket generalizations themselves ("as a Thai, I know...", "genetically pretty smart" ???); provide no real evidence to support their own generalizations; make statements using some bizarre leaps of logic, or which display a lack of knowledge (lots of foreign teachers have at least as much experience of learning a foreign language during their own school experiences as Thai students; don't you know this?); think that the environment they are familiar with is the "real"Thailand, as opposed to a vastly overprivileged bubble, and that their experiences are standard (apparently, quality literature can't be written by those who aren't better-educated); and use it as a platform to demonstrate/show off how smart or well-read they are.

Check out various newspaper editorials written by hiso types for further examples. The response I criticize here is at least as shallow as anything anyone else has written on this page, and deserves no credit.

By jbkk, bkk (29th January 2016)

Dear James,
Although I support a cultural view of languages, it's pretty clear that many people are motivated by the practicality of learning language. I noticed that students in Thai universities wouldn't sign up of an English class if it is labeled "English ###." But people are suckers for "English for Business" or "English for Lawyers" especially if at the end of the course certificates are handed out. I think it shows that Thai are as motivated to improve themselves as any other folk. But "English" (standing alone as a term) somehow frightens them and they prefer to deal with "English" only in so far as it touches their professional matters. Otherwise, they would avoid it as vigorously as they could.

It's not just Thai, however, other Asians are all like this. They spend 20 years learning English, but never could or wanted to read Shakespeare. When I teach them English, this is the mindset I want to change.

By Methaya Sirichit, DC United States (28th January 2016)

Well written, concise and logical. It would be a pleasure to work with you at anytime. I agree with your assessment of the Thai national culture and how it can drive a farang to distraction. When I work with individual students I try to fashion what they need to learn by what they want to do. I have counseled lawyers here in how to service Americans who come to them for assistance. At the same time I have been asked by lawyer friends back in the states as to how to best service the Asian communities in their areas.

By James Hutchins, Korat, Thailand (28th January 2016)

OK I have read a variety of opinions. Some are correct but some are outright shallow. I am a Thai, born and bred, and I have had some Eng-teaching experience. I used to be an IP lawyer, then quit to become a law professor; I am now teaching in Phisanulok but currently on a sabbatical leave. I developed a course called "English for lawyers" to teach law students practical English for professional purposes (for a legal profession). As for my language background, I speak rather good English, I have an intermediate command of French, basic Chinese, and have taught myself ancient Greek. Here are my observations and criticisms:

1. I think most Thai have a working knowledge of English. The ability to use English among Thai population is known to be better than in Japan or China. Thailand is a very popular tourist destination, it is not a secret that people here use English well in their professional lives.

2. I never had any problem creating motivation for my students. As a Thai, I know that mastery of a foreign language requires that 95% of the work be done outside of the classroom. So, my foremost goal has always been to create motivation and love of learning English.

I have a realistic expectation and always tell my student that they will not walk away from the course being able to use proficient legal English as a professional. And improving English will be their life-long project.

By "motivation" I do not mean presenting a language as a "tool," that is how the anglo-saxon think about language. For me languages are portals to other cultures. I motivate students partly by introducing them to a small body of English literature, something their schools never did. Teaching them songs, poems by William Blake or Lord Tennyson. I taught them how to read English blank verse which is the gate to Shakespeare, and give them something to memorize.

This may appear somewhat high-brow but it proved fresh to students who had spent a life time learning grammar; most of them like my materials.

3. I attempt to explain grammar and vocabs as logically as possible. My knowledge of classical language (Greek) and French allow me to explain tenses better than contemporary textbooks. Students are always interested in etymology and your French or Latin can help.

Making language appear logical is one of the best way to draw enthusiasm from students. The law students I taught were not linguistically brilliant. Most law students are those who hate both English and math; it is actually a common knowledge that people who come into the legal profession don't have many aptitudes. (this is pretty true in the U.S. too) But if you present your subject interesting enough, they will learn.

4. Yes. Thailand's English language education is obsolete, inefficient and time-wasting. It is that bad. In my generation, we all went to public schools. But Thai upper-middle classes are now sending their kids to international schools.

Unfortunately, the upper class of the future will be those who speak bilingual but having no profound grasp of either language. I think it is sad that the elite are giving up on the state's education system and choose the path that will produce future elite who will treat languages as tools rather than culturally important assets.

Will the country ever produce quality literature when the better-educated don't even know enough Thai anymore? We will see.

5. Most farang teachers don't have background in languages, not even as a student. They come from all walks of life and come to Thailand to pick up language-teaching jobs.

Thai always appreciate native speakers. But language teachers should be adequately passionate about language and be able to transmit the desire to learn to students. Most of you don't even know another European language and may not have any interest in literature.

6. It is true that Thais are quite lazy. But they are not stupid.

Thais are 40% of Chinese ethnicity, they are genetically pretty smart. Thai culture is a bit like France - that is pretty laid back.

The whole state is bureaucracy, most people dream of civil-servant jobs that employ you for life. Thai bureaucratic system is like a socialist state with in a capitalist state. So it is not one of your corporate-driven societies.

For Thai kids, English is just another subject like math or chemistry. They are chores that kids have to put up with until the final exam. My point is that, to stimulate them to learn English, you have to present English as, not only professionally, but also culturally important to them. I believe that teachers should have some knowledge about local cultures to make connection with students.

I doubt most farang teachers know much about Thai culture. Thais are both conservative and nationalistic (think about a country where 80% are the GOP Republicans). Thus, they'd super appreciate foreign folk who learn their culture or languages. But Thais know more about the world than you think they do.

Maybe it's you who know too little about the place in which you are working

By Methaya Sirichit, DC United States (28th January 2016)

Wow, Ronnies comment about how "everyone" speaks english in Thailand is absolutely insane!! After 10 years of coming to Thailand and travelling all around the country among locals, not bars, not hotels, not english tourist districts or international schools I can comfortably say that less than a fraction of 1% speak anywhere near a useful level of English. It is truly baffling!! I have travelled more or less everywhere in the world, and aside from the deep rainforest indigenouspeople of Brazil (yanomami indians), Thais are BY FAR the worst English speakers I have ever come across. They are a lovely people, and friendly, but God are they terrible at English - Fact!!

By daniel beran, bkk (25th December 2015)

I am so bemused by so many people commenting about the lack of ability in spoken English in Thailand. I have been going there for over a decade, sometimes for many months at a time, and lived there for a continuous period of one and a half years. I have learned to speak Thai because it seemed the right thing to do, but is really not neccessary, as almost everyone has near perfect English. How many times was I told by Thai people whilst learning Thai that there was really no need to do it, because it is a difficult language to learn and everyone speaks English anyway. Yes, I have occasionally met a few people with little English, but it is not the norm. I have never been in any other country where people have such diverse language skills. Many foreign people think I am a bit of an " odd ball" because I speak to Thai people in Thai. The last time I was in Isaan, Udon Thani, I did not meet one single person who was not fluent in spoken English. In tourist areas, many Thais also have fluent German and some, Swedish. Try going to Indonesia, and you will find a majority of people with virtually no English, not Thailand. I speak Thai to Thai people because it is a quaint thing to do, not through neccessity. All the people who complain about poor English in Thailand, I am baffled by this. Their main difficulty, if any at all, is occasionally writting a word in the singular where it would be more correct in the plural, e.g" fish and chip". Also, spelling the word harbour occasionally as harbor. ( I,m sure we all know who,s at fault for that one!).

By Ronnie Pilkington, Currently Malaysia (18th December 2015)

Having taught at government and private schools I echo the frustration of NES. I had been queried by the Ministry of Education once as to remedies. I made these recommendations:
First: Lead from the top to the bottom. This means enforce the laws and rules from the national to the provincial and school levels.
a) Cease the 'No student fails" philosophy and make it plain to the parents and students it is by their individual efforts where they will pass or fail in class.
b) Get the parents involved in the education through regular parent-teacher meetings. These meetings should be where the parents are shown the students performance in the records of grades in class performance and participation.
c) Use the Thais desire to play games to learning experiences. Incentivise the participation of the students and keep records
2) The funding from the national office should not be dog robbed to the pockets of the school administrators. Truly designate separate funding for teacher, school administration, and classroom supplies salaries.
a) Pay the teachers for demonstrated and recorded performance. Scale the pay to training, years experience and performance.
b) prosecute the administrators at provincial and school levels who pocket the 'extra' funds designated for teacher salaries
3) Drop the 'save face' attitude in lessons. Effectively teach when asked a question listen, understand the question and answer the question. Do not just say 'yes' . Saving 'face' by telling the questioner any answer without understanding the question is not acceptable to a NES. This is going to be a battle of Thai culture and asian custom with NES culture and custom. It will force a different frame of mind thinking process.
4) Go on a sincere and honest teacher search recruitment outside of Thailand with emphasis on finding master teachers who could take sabaticals to teach in Thailand for 1-3 yrs. Make the criteria for selection be degrees in science, mathematics and humanities from Canada, America, England, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Then when hired place them with schools and teachers in the schools, province offices and national office who really speak English to work as a team to produce curriculum at the appropriate level. Push the curriculum from the schools up the chain of command. Supply them with housing appropriate to the standards the teacher left.
5) Most important, Communicate without intimidation. Lead with honesty by example from the top. Nothing will get or gain support and cooperation for these policy and cultural changes than honest sincere leadership from the top of the chain of command down through the provinces to the schools and classroom.

By James, Korat (27th November 2015)

I taught kids that had learned English most of their school lives yet their English was virtually non existent and yet noticed some Thai's working at resorts or places with multitudes of farangs, their English speaking was far more adept

By ry, New Zealand (26th November 2015)

There's two reasons Thai students lack English fluency despite having years of instruction in school:
1) The government hasn't created an immersive English environment. Requiring all businesses to post all their communications, including signage, menus, marketing materials, ads, etc. in Thai and English would be a good start. Promote English language television broadcasts and film showings. All government notices must be in Thai and English.
2) English instruction in schools must be geared towards having the students actually produce English conversation and writing. Rote memorization, multiple choice exams and grammar lectures don't promote fluency of a foreign language.

By Mark, Bangkok (12th November 2015)

What I am about to say may sound rude and controversial, but deep down many will agree with it (although they might not say so out loud).

Thai students are totally uninterested in anything. Ask a random student what they do at the weekend and the most common answer is sleep.

Apart from their mind-numbing comic books, Facebook and copying homework they aren't willing to do much. None of them are curious about what is going on in the world and never watch the news. Their lakorn or soap opera can't be missed of course. Mind you, many are now into similarly silly Korean soaps.

Might as well throw in the towel because it is a total waste of time.

By John Stirham, Formerly Bangkok (12th November 2015)

I could not agree more with what you have said. Everything you mentioned is spot on. I love my school, the teachers are kind and welcoming, and the students are as sweet as they come. But when it comes to the classroom, I find myself getting periodically frustrated with how little they know. Some of my Pratom 4 students cannot even play a simple game of hangman. Some cannot even say a letter for me ( I assume it is a mixture of them not understanding/knowing the alphabet and the culture of kids being shy). It makes doing the simplest things so difficult and exhausting. Some days I don't even want to come and teach because I get so frustrated. The kids don't seem to want to learn and as you stated the most frustrating part is that many of them have been learning English for years... so how is it that they can't speak more than 10 words (monkey, banana, blue among the 10 that they know). I have been here for two months and can honestly say that I speak more Thai than some of the students and teachers! Help me! I want to stay motivated because I do want them to learn how to speak English, but I have lost hope. I have resulted to games while I sit on my computer because I find it pointless.

By A teacher who needs advice, Kamphaeng Phet (3rd September 2015)

I would be curious to see what would happen in Thai schools if they made english with foreign teachers a 'must pass' subject, and also if it contributed towards their grades for university.

Presently students are free to breeze through english class, knowing full well that it means nothing towards their GPA or passing. If this was reversed I believe the level of attention given by students in class would skyrocket, attendance would consistently be 100%, and more respect would be given to foreign teachers.

I would be interested to know from people why this change in policy would not work.

By Scott Fraser, Ubon Ratchathani (28th August 2015)

If the Internet had not come on the scene, Esperanto would have limped along as it always had since its beginnings in the late 19th Century.
The inventor/creator was a brilliant Polish linguist, Ludwig Zamenhof.

BTW, Googling "Esperanto" yields about 108,000,000 results.

Although there are only about 10 million fluent speakers worldwide, it is truly the only language that could rightly be considered "global" in scope.

By Kevin, People's Republic of California (19th November 2013)

Esperanto! Interesting, very interesting. I heard of it in High school while learning Latin. The one thing I teach my students is that language, any language, has music to it. The indication of how to speak it is in the punctuation.
Esperanto, I'll have to look up that and reacquaint myself with it.

By James, Korat, Thailand (17th November 2013)

English is too illogical and idiosyncratic. Perhaps having Thai students learn a perfect constructed language like Esperanto would help.

While I was in Phuket, many of the students were following the French language fad that seems to be sweeping Thailand. This is crazy. French is so difficult even many native English speakers have trouble with it!

Esperanto teaches grammatical structure in a logical way. Learning it will help ANY speaker of ANY language learn another language.

By Kevin, People's Republic of California (17th November 2013)

You make some disparaging, hurtful but somewhat accurate points. Thai students range in effort from bored to extremely interested in learning English. Why, and here I think you are correct. They do not understand that having the ability to speak English furthers their chances of improving their lifes. This is a short sighted view not uncommon for a people who see no need to travel beyond the province they live in for a career. It is unfortunate but a truism.
Now let me ask a question within the original question: how many of us thought when we were in school of living, working in a foreign country?
I know that even through my years of college earning my degree I had no inkling of living, working in any country but my own. My family was there, the language I was most familiar with was there -- spoken with different dialects of course but understandable by myself -- and my customs/culture was within the boudaries of my nation. Even while in the military visiting foreign countries I did not see myself living permanently outside of my native land. And I visited some interesting coutnries: Japan, Philippines, Germany and Thailand to name a few. My vision of the world at that time was not cosmopolitan but provincially focused on my own country.
So, let us not disparage the Thais for thinking, seeing of themselves in the same manner we grew up looking at the world.

By James, Korat (14th November 2013)

This is a very interesting article and very true but it would be wrong for a foreigner to assume that Thai school students are not intelligent or lazy because they cannot communicate effectively in English after 10 years of learning it.
The main problem is that Thai students don't know how to study and have never been encouraged to think, to use logic or analytical skills or to even be curious or inquisitive. For some strange reason the Thai authorities believe that simply being in the presence of a native English speaker will magically improve the English skills of Thai students. The students never practice and never use any of the skills they pick up from their foreign teachers.
Another factor is that English is just another in a long line of subjects that the students must endure and score points in so that they can enter university. Very few students have any intention of using acquired English skills in their later lives and even fewer have any idea at all about what profession they will choose in the future. Most will live in Thailand, work with Thai colleagues and never meet or speak to a foreigner, so what's the attraction of English for them?
Thai students do not even realise (which means that no one has ever told them) that 97% of the websites in the world are written in English and that there is an enormous world of information out there and only a minuscule amount of it can be read and understood by them.
Thai students will never be proficient in English while they are still taught by ineffective and outdated methods. What's baffling to me is the no one in Thailand has ever thought to investigate how other countries in the region manage to outrank Thailand and what they are doing to achieve this. They just prefer to carry on as they always have and nothing will change. It seems that they are more concerned with not upsetting those in authority rather than doing what's best for the future generation of Thai citizens.

By Tony Mitchell, Pathumthani (14th November 2013)

Thanks for the best answer.Because some Thai students can't speak English.
But they practice very long time.And when the ASEAN is coming in Thailand.
How will they life be different after ASEAN in 2015 if they don't know English.

By Harry, Thanks for the best answer. (20th June 2013)

Thank you for the expression of your experience. I will definitely try to remember it while teaching English. We, and I have to count myself as one, English speakers presume that the manner of speech is normal. But, we forget that normal is a value judgement which is not absolute. I had a Latin teacher once who influenced me as much as my parents. Why? He was a funny, fun little guy. He spoke over 30 languages fluently. I took his class because after miserably trying Spanish, German and French I need at least 2 years of a foreign language to get into a reputable college or university. I thought if I could just pass I would be doing well.

What I learned in his class was there was a relevance to a dead language -- Latin by hime was made alive. He taught me there was a mathematical, musical structure and logic to it. When I got that locked into my brain -- the music and logic of it -- learning it became easier. So much so, that as I traveled in my life, listening to other languages I saw the same lessons in my mind. It wasn't accurate, it wasn't pretty but, I could get my thoughts across to others. Clumsily yes, but understandably also.

So, Thaigirl, you keep trying. Know you will make mistakes. But, you will learn, develop the music and logic of it with practice. Also, if I may be so bold, remember please -- we English speakers will destroy the logic of the Thai language, too. We will make mistakes, too.

By James Hutchins, Nakon Ratchasima (13th May 2013)

Hi everyone,
Apologies that we all Thais including me ignore importance of learning English.
We have been stuck in the TEACHING environment that try to put GUILT into students. I remembered having bad experience speak wrong english word in english class and the TEACHER herself try to make me feel funny in front of other pulpils.

It takes me three decades to learn myself that WE ALL CAN MAKE MISTAKE and LEARN from it. As long as Thais do worry about their face more than the experience of making mistake. We will never ever learn. ANYTHING : )

By ThaiGirl, Ubon,Thailand (13th May 2013)

For the same reason that most native-English speaking Americans can't speak Spanish. It's a combination of nationalism + laziness + pride.

I'm an American from the Los Angeles area and I know all about this phenomenon. The "white" people in America refuse to learn Spanish despite the fact that almost ONE THIRD of US citizens speak Spanish now.

Recently, Obama half-heartedly urged Americans to "learn Spanish".

Yeah...good luck Obama. Most Americans can't spell English words let alone learn another language.

By Kevin, Phuket (20th April 2013)

Everyone makes some valid points. I am a retired American aerospace quality engineer who faced the xenophobic attitude towards other functions in projects (e.g., system engineering, reliability, configuration management, project management, etal). Breaking down those phobias (attitudes) are not easy. Can I offer an observation? If not, then read no further. If I can, then continue.
I developed a course in two aerospace companies where I recognized that even though we spoke a common language we put different meanings, some dramatically different, to the words spoken. It is those meanings that caused project conflict at times. Understanding them made myself and those I trained fluid in movement between the functions of the project. They could interpret what wasbeing said so others could grasp the intent of the wording. Thus, smooting the way to successful projects and programs.
Now, a further question is, how can this be leveraged as a lesson for us -- the teachers of English to thai students. If I may, as a good quality engineer one must first assess where the level is of the students being taught. Then, as that good quality engineer do a gap analysis -- now what that means to a teacher is recognizing the gaps between what the subject is and the knowledge is. Deming, a long time guru in Quality, ( and I paraphrase here) once postulated that to know the problem is to understand how to resolve it. Now, he was a statistician but the principle he taught applies.
In teaching English I ran into the same problems mentioned here by others. I did my assessment and found that the students while not proficient in English were in math. Math has a logic to it. What I mean by that is there are many ways to solve a math problem. Use the examples of math to show the students they can say what they want many ways also. The English language is difficult enough to grasp but if we show where it is concurrent in logic with math it can become a leverage learning tool.
The last school I worked at in Phimai, I used this to interest the students. And I worked alone with students 99% of the time. Now, I am not a linguist by any means but using math logic I was able to reach the students who were even 'slightly' interested.
Oh, and I made a game of the math and language combination later leveraging that in teaching American culture and some Native American indian phrases. On a scale of 0-4 grading, over 80% of my students scored at 2.5 or better in English (combination of comprehension, speaking, reading and writing).
If people want to discuss this feel free to contact me at my skype ID: JamesLHutchins or in email: james_L_hutchins@yahoo.com
If you live in or near Korat, my wife and I might meet with you at the Korat Mall Starbucks on a Saturday sometime by arrangement.
I have to admit it is not easy but, as the son of teachers myself and a U.S. Marine, I learned decades ago -- life and living are not easy but an adventure if you accept it.
I await anyone interested.
James L. "Hutch" Hutchins

By James "Hutch" Hutchins, Nakon Ratchasima (30th March 2013)

Alicia, if you're in Australia, you should have come in contact with some Malaysian/Singaporeans. Don't you envy then at all for having the chance to learn so many languages since a young age?

In Europe as well, people do know more than one languages. Actually one person I met in a language class knows 8, and she's learning the 9th one.

I regret growing up a country where there is such idiotic xenophobic tendency, and I regret not knowing enough about the world when I was young, not knowing how important and useful a 3rd language can be. I only started learning a 3rd language when I was 25. Now I'm learning my 5th and 6th (simultanously). To me it is very enjoyable to have a new world open up as I learn a new language.

By Paul, Hamburg (21st February 2013)

Very interested in your post Alicia. As a linguist, it would be exciting to know your language background. How about an article on learning English for ASEAN people.

By John, China (2nd February 2013)

@Alicia, what you say is true about many of the ASEAN countries other than Thailand. The British might have had more to do with the other countries learning English as they managed to rule a number of them. English was and is becoming perceived as the language of those in power as was Latin many centuries ago. Thais have been self-sufficient for the most part and haven't been invaded quite so often as other places. Learning English is a means to an end. If there Thais don't perceive a gain in learning English, why bother?

By Roy, Chiang Mai (31st January 2013)

To Alicia ... I'm a farang. I can speak, read and write Thai reasonably well. Why? Motivation, interest and non laziness. Something the bulk of Thais do not have in regards to learning English. Simple as that.

By MarkC, BKK (31st January 2013)

@Alicia What viewpoint should us Westerners broaden? Do use excuses to not learn a language. It is true that where things are easy and food is plentiful there is less reason to learn a foreign language. Most people here do not starve so they are ok with their own language, but go to Laos, go to China, where people are very hungry and you will see more English spoken. It's ok that Thai don't learn English, just like it's ok that Americans don't learn Spanish but in the long run, will you be ready for your future?

By ble, Udon Thani (30th January 2013)

There is a number of reasons why Thais can't speak English.
1. Economical reason, lots of poor families cannot afford to send their children to good schools coming English language in their curriculum.
2. Some Thais only just survive the cost of living day by day, lots of them get jobs using labour.
3. Corrupted Thai politician and governments which have been going on for years.

I am Thai, I encourage westerners to broaden your mind and viewpoint. Sometimes you need to understand that yourself can't speak other language either, why blame others. Thank you.

By Alicia, Sydney, Australia (30th January 2013)

Just to say one or two things...
1. (to Al) Thais do have tenses, it's just that they don't use them that often...
2. (to Carl) You are very right when you say that Thais love their country. By this you mean the monarchy. I say this because; they are not 'house-proud'. Their country is filthy. Where I live, they pour oil down the drain every day, as if there is nothing wrong with it. The place is littered with rubbish, and no one bats an eyelid...

There are so many reasons why Thais cannot speak English...but in a country, where freedom of speech is not an option, I will remain silent...


By djb, Bangkok (2nd December 2012)

Speaking as someone who's currently working in Pattaya, but has worked all over the country, the level is largely dependent on where you are. In your tourist hotspot the kids do grow up with a higher level of english, this isn't to say that they're good at it but they are better then those out in the sticks. Of course, a good school with a strong english program (which has the kids seeing their foreign teacher 3 times a week or more) is going to do the best regardless of where it is.

My theory is that the reason why English isn't taking as it should primarily caused by the Thai culture. Thai's are alien to westerners in ways I'm still struggling to understand (and I've been here 2 years now) and they're completely different in their core understanding of the world. Yes, we see education as means to a future. They see it as... well I don't really know for sure. Something to pass the day with?

English is also not the only subject lacking by any means, Thai students are far behind leading east-asian countries in all the core subjects. It doesn't help that English is a very difficult language to learn, and completely different to their own. Hell, they don't even have tenses!

I honestly do not see there being any quick solution to this issue, T.I.T. But I do believe that the general standard is improving, albeit at a pace that makes a snail look fast.

By Al, Pattaya (30th November 2012)

on my observation with this scenario, these people have a great pride that their country has not been conquered by other nation( too much patriotism ) that's why they don't want to learn other language specially English language. Some teachers also telling (specially these history teachers) learning this language "English language" is not being loyal to their Mother Country. One teacher also said " We are Thai people. We are in Thailand. Why should we learn English language? "......... this was the one I understood on what she shouted. One time, there was a program wherein they should present ASEAN program in English. These teachers don't know what to do now. So they had a meeting for this problem. They now confronted us English teachers to help. Yes we are willing to help so that they could perform very well but some teachers again said "We are Thai people so we must perform the program in Thai language." At the program proper, many were impressed with so many programs for this ASEAN, but there was someone who commented during the program, "Where is now the theme of this program, "English Towards ASEAN Community" ".A big question mark to the Director of this zone.
He didn't further give comment for this, instead just praised for the performance. I guess he let it go to avoid gossips with his fellow countrymen. My conclusion with this problem is that, they are not open to learn this language because they are Thai. They are been overruled with this pride. I don't know what pride do they have.

By carl diamond, watnongkankrao school, klaeng, rayong (28th November 2012)

Spot on Kanadian. You've hit the nail right on the head.

By Rob, Thailand (26th November 2012)

Most expats such as myself know the facts.. Thai's have no interest to learn anything that will improve their future, end of story ! 3rd world countries are 3rd world countries based on the poor educational system and the TOP DOGS who like everything just how it is !

By Kanadian, Toronto Canada (26th November 2012)

You school director wasn't ranting and raving in "pasa Thai", he was ranting and raving in Thai. Am I correct, chai mai? I find it really find it irritating that English speakers use Thai words when speaking or writing English. Could this be one reason why kon Thai can't speak English?

By Simon, Bankok (25th November 2012)

English Official Language , ??
Mr Biggs and co upset because English has not been afforded official status by the Thai government ..? Well I remember a few years ago how some deluded Monks where also very upset when Buddhism was not given the status of official religion in Thailand by the government , so beats me why English should be afforded any such status and of what use it might be .
Where one comes from , does to a large extent help to see where others come from . It often takes someone outside of a group in order for the group to see themselves . I remember watching an editor of a local English newspaper being interviewed on T .V , he was asked to comment on the perception that foreigners could never understand Thailand , he replied that it is the Thai who can not really understand Thailand , due to bias and vested interest .I reckon he hit the nail on the head .

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (19th November 2012)

I'm not sure teachers can fix this issue, it's more of a society thing. As for good or not so good teachers, that self fixes itself if the society thought changes.

I have taught English in Laos for 3 years. The students there are more interested and motivated, and as a result can speak English at a higher level. Why are Laos students more motivated then Thai students ? Well it comes down to the society group thought or lack there of.

In Laos they have a thirst to talk and communicate with foreigners, genuinely interested, and are eager to learn about other cultures. They are open. Why ? I don't know, maybe its because its a smaller country, lack of solid national identity, isolated. The wanting of traveling to other countries, to explore. Lack of society group thought governed and pushed by their government to instil a particular idea. Maybe the need to expand and grow, to evolve. Lack of Laos written books/novels/magazines and Laos TV/movies.

In Thailand they have a genuine disinterest to talk and communicate with foreigners. Not eager to learn about other cultures. They are closed. Why ? who knows. Maybe its because its a big country that houses everything that you'll ever need in your lifetime. No need to go outside the country, to travel, to live. Super strong instilled national identity. The abundance of everything Thai spoken and written. Strong society group thought governed and instilled by the governing forces to produce a singular idea and path.

It has to impact daily life to be truly learnt. Do you remember all your secondary education of statistics ? or chemistry ? Well probably not, because if you don't actually use it in your daily life it will be eventually forgotten.

My thoughts are that Thai students don't absorb as much as we'd like because they never use the English language (no use, no need). Never read, write or communicate in the English language. They are perfectly happy with everything Thai language, which is perfectly reasonable since they have an abundance of material in their language including technology gadgets.

I think there are 2 basic needs to learn and use the English language. English outside Thailand, and English inside Thailand.

1) English outside of Thailand:
This one is tricky. Speaking Thai outside of Thailand, won't get you very far. So the obvious blanket answer would be English is the most accepted form of international language from all the countries holistically. Great ! But are your students even thinking about traveling internationally ? Living and working in a foreign country ? Probably not, even if they say yes, its a half-hearted yes at best. They are young, eyes closed, and everything Thailand, which is reasonable.

So to give them the need to learn English, you have to open their eyes, show them the world outside of Thailand. The opportunities, the enriching experience, the tastes and delights of foreign cultures.

2) English inside Thailand:
Very difficult but shouldn't be. There are two reasons to speak English inside Thailand.

2A) Jobs and careers ! Seems simple doesn't it ? You'd think by simply explaining to your students that if they excel at the English language they will be provided with a greater opportunity in the job market. Their wages will be generally higher, and would have preference over others that can't speak English as well.

Maybe try actively showing them the opportunities that lie ahead. Clip job postings for an English speaking/reading Thai national. Create a job board, and continually post the clippings, showing all the different employers, from NGO's to government and private institutions. Show the difference of wages. You can do an in-class exercise if you have access to the internet or assigned homework, asking each student to find 5 jobs requiring English and 5 that don't. You can bring in guests, either employers or employees explaining a real life application of their English skills in the job market.

Also actively explain that everyone can get a A+ in English class, or get a degree or certificate without actually learning the subject. It might look good on your CV, and get you an interview, but probably won't land you that job when you have to demonstrate your English speaking and writing skills.

2B) Communicate with foreigners within Thailand:
This one is extremely difficult to instil. As it is now'ish, it's kind of like 2 worlds, no wait, more like 3 worlds in Thailand. You have Thais that speak with Thais, you have Foreigners that speak with Foreigners, and then you have the Foreigners that speak with Thai bar girls. 3 totally separate worlds within one country. The "average" younger and middle Thai generation don't generally speak with foreigners at all. I don't know, its a weird societal singular thought process that is going on. Whether its construed as bad, improper, or whatever. Thais always worry about what other Thais see and think, you have to keep to the norm or fear reprisal.

Open your students up to the possibilities of engaging in communications with foreigners. Actively explain that foreigners that are traveling here or staying here would love to talk with a normal local outside of the immediate tourism scene. Talk about anything, food, weather, people, activities, daily life, etc. Excite them about learning about other cultures, being inquisitive, exploring worlds with words and pictures. (this one is difficult to instil in your students, I only know that there is a universe of difference between Laos and Thai students, and this being the essential lynch pin of difference)

Long and winded yes, but the Thai culture and logic is baffling.

By Steve, Chiang Mai (18th November 2012)

@john it's a bit funny to note that the point of discussion is why can't Thai speak English and a raised question on how to solve the issue.It's difficult to comprehend why you as an expert with flair in writing draw an out of context statements. The first link is obviously a respond to your assessment about teachers of south China sea yet your posting a link which does not show any connection with the above article. Having said that I have no idea if there's a Labour industry that sells labour, but let's say you're right that means your country that employs these no quality laborers/shall I say professionals is becoming "Greece" that couldn't afford to pay a quality individual like you that's why you ended up in Thailand. I rest my case here.

By banok-banok, Isaan (15th November 2012)

This is a cultural problem, not a language problem. Teachers routinely get frustrated about the issue but you cannot solve it alone as a teacher. Culturally, the attitude about adopting English as an official language and the motivation to excel at studying it must be changed. That will not happen soon. I've made formal proposals to 2 well known Universities in Thailand and the Ministry of Education outlining how to move forward. They refused because the solution requires bold initiatives and aggressive change. Instead, they need 20 years to face reality. Between 2015-2020, educated and fluent foreigners will begin flooding into Thailand taking high paying jobs away from Thai graduates. Companies will no longer be restricted from hiring Vietnamese, Burmese, Malay and other ASEAN workers who are fluent in English. After 2020, some Thai leaders will begin to wake up and identify problems that need to be addressed. They will need a few years to implement strategies. Those efforts must begin with children around age 6 as it will be largely too late to begin with older kids who will not be motivated to catch up. Therefore, the current generation of children is transitional as East meets West and is largely lost. The next 10 years in Thailand will show dramatic change as borders open, government changes and attitudes shift toward western ideals. It will be an exciting time but it will also mean the end of the "Land of Smiles". Adopting western mentalities, Thai citizens will largely lose their childlike innocence which we find so endearing and I fear it will become the "Land of Smirks" soon enough. I cherish this time teaching in Thailand right now and love my students! When that love disappears, it's time to change.

By Ted, Bangkok (15th November 2012)

@Syner I would be happy if the Thai teachers even spoke broken English instead of Thai. My students only get one hour a week of native English which is too little.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (15th November 2012)

I've been there for four years. I've seen the same facts. And unless the Thai teachers themselves show that they can speak correct and proper English, the general studentry will just welcome hasip hasip English as they see from their own mentors.

By syner, jeddah, KSA (15th November 2012)

A bit difficult to interpret, but interesting link from “banok banok, ISAAN on 2012-11-14”. As the web page concludes, Taglish (Tagalog-English) is likely to confuse students in the Philippines, but it is cheap – and you only get what you pay for.

Selling labour is official government policy in the Philippines so you would expect them to promote their product, but it is sold on price – not quality. An interesting link is: http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=191 which is still correct even if it is a bit dated. Who will be the “Greece” of ASEAN in years to come I wonder?

By John, England (14th November 2012)

I read a couple of years back, an article by Andrew Biggs expressing dismay that the Government had rejected outright the notion of placing English as an official second language. He said it was because the authorities were frightened that English would overtake Thai as the preferred language. This would go a long way toward explaining why Thais are not serious about English acquisition for the masses, why foreign teachers are treated shabbily by immigration and labour ministries and students treat teachers as entertainment for "sanook".

By Robert, Nakhon Pathom (13th November 2012)

"Budget English Teaching" ... You get what you pay for I guess.

By MarkC, Exile (13th November 2012)

I don't think my question was answered, by pointing out the "non-standard English" or "Non Standard English" you're the expert right? Have you pointed out also the wrong spelled words that most non-thai teachers committed in their teaching, attending their classes late, or entering the classroom wearing sun glasses (both native and non-native speaker teachers).
You might try to look at this link, commending or criticizing group of teachers from South China Sea (http://www.interaksyon.com/article/47814/the-filipino-is-the-worlds-budget-english-teacher-bbc-says)

Again, a simple question of what strategy/solution have we done to fix this. Did it work? Am no grammar expert.

By banok banok, ISAAN (13th November 2012)

Public service announcement.....
Please put a space after a comma. Do not put a space before a comma:
xxx, xxx correct
xxx ,xxx incorrect
xxx , xxx incorrect

By captbruce, Bangkok and U.S. (13th November 2012)

Here is the answer to your question "banok banok, ISAAN on 2012-11-13"

I point out the "non standard English" that teachers, mostly from a large group of islands in the South China Sea, demonstrate quite apart from unimaginative teaching. I try to do this discretely but it is still taken as an affront. This includes such jewels as "lay it out in details" (pronoun? plural?) and the many other errors ("divulge"?) in your post.

Some of my favourite experiences are "Good noon"; "Which student untidy made the desk of teacher Elise?" and "Thailand" with Th pronounced as in "thigh". In the first and last case, the teacher told me I was wrong because they had “a PhD from the University of the Western Visayas” and as far as I know, is still teaching the offending items. DELTAs it seems are worthless.

By John, England (13th November 2012)

Krashen has been mentioned, and that his theories have been contradicted (Krashen is best known for "The natural approach"). Krashen was not well received initially (80s), but has gained credence because largely, he is right. There is evidence to show other methods ALSO have value, but not that Krashen is wrong, and a good teacher needs to know a fair bit of theory (it can be learnt intuitively, but not by everyone) and be able to adjust EVERY LESSON like a conductor managing an orchestra.

One of the most derided approaches is the "grammar translation" method, but Karl Marx taught himself English that way and wrote in English - and you only need one example to prove something is possible (millions to prove it is impossible). Most of the posts on here are correct to a degree, but the lack of motivation by the system (the state and schools) and the fear (of the 'system') of being proven to be fools and Charlatans is the biggest in my experience. There is 0 political will. Thailand and the Philippines will be the Spain and Greece of ASEAN but it will take 5 or 10 years.

There is just so much wrong with Thai education, it is hard to know where to start. Perhaps that is the value of total loss in society - like Germany, Japan and Cambodia and China which rose to dominance. When you are at the bottom, UP is the only way you can go.

By John, Cambodia (13th November 2012)

All said, anyone could lay it out in details over and over again. Here’s my question what have you done as a teacher in Thailand that change or improve the irregularities inefficiencies of teachers and the irresponsible behavior of the kids? Are we good of merely pointing out what’s the problem is? Despite all those odds, what good thing have we done that was proven as a viable strategy that help students? The "no failing policy” is really big factor and the less or no enthusiasm or vigor of the kids just to mention the least.

We can divulge a lot of things about this issue but without measures to fix it... I don't think it make sense...

By banok banok, ISAAN (13th November 2012)

As long as no student can be allowed to FAIL any exam or assessment, there will never be many students who are motivated to learn.
It's not just the 'teacher expounds, students ask no questions' methods still used everywhere (though this is a really crap teaching method).
Plus it is considered bad teaching (by Thai schools) to get the brats to attempt any real conversation.

By Mr Tim Hadfield, Pattaya (12th November 2012)

Lots and Lots of Thais speak and read and write English very proficiently. I had a gentlemen from Surrin working for me who could speak read and write and he had the English nick name Doctor as in a doctorates degree. He had only had a very basic pratom ประถม education. He could read aloud, converse and translate for those at work who did not speak Thai or did not speak English. The tradesman that I became friendly with had a daughter who practised her English with me. They taught me Thai, reading, writing and spoken in under two years.

Everyone was motivated, they were all trying to make the best for their family and I was obsessed with being able to answer the phone in Thai and be mistaken for Thai. I achieved that goal.

Maybe it is context, motivation, teaching skill, time and some aptitude.

By แอนดรูท่าวนซ่นด์, Sydney Australia (8th November 2012)

I studied French at school. I had no interest in it. I was too lazy to learn it. Today ... I can't speak French ... but I guess ... according to NPB ... that's the French teachers fault. Really ... if anyone is to blame ... it's the Thais themselves. Simple as that. But I guess that's not "trollish" enough.

By MarkC, BKK (5th November 2012)

Fact 1/ How many native English speaking people expect other countries to speak English and do not attempt to learn that countries language?
Fact 2/ How many Native English teachers can actually teach English?
Fact 3/ Thailand is well know around the world for the 3 s's only.
Fact 4/ Thailand educational qualifications are not worth the paper they are printed on.
Fact 5/ Thailands social class system ensures that only the wealthy will succeed.
Fact 6/ It is very easy to buy any qualification in Thailand and then use that qualification.
Fact 7/ Thailand's people do not see the need to learn English so why should they.
Fact 8/ For a foriegner who can not read or speak Thai, even a little bit, it can be a dangerous place if they become ill or need a prescription as a lot of pharmacies will give them the wrong medication which is easily bought over the counter due to the lack of English skills.
Fact 9/ Thailand has far to much corruption in all areas.
Fact 10/ When 2015 comes many Thai's will loose their jobs due to the lack of education due to the system and the Asean community laws and regulations.
Fact 11/ Employment law has to change in line with the Asean community.
Fact 12/ Many international schools in Thailand will have to change and will not be able to make fraudulant claims as to what curiculam they teach, which they do now.
Will Thailand join the Asean community?

By Keith, Bangkok (5th November 2012)


No shovel needed.

Though the average is poor, not all Thais speak terrible English. I have met several Thais who speak English quite well. I assume that most of those who speak it well have had good teachers. When I myself did corporate training in Thailand, my students improved rather quickly.

As a teacher, if one's students are doing very poorly, one must look at oneself. Sure, many may lack motivation and have very poor study habits due to the state of the Thai educational system and this may affect the student's ability to learn. I was very lucky in that I was able to construct an incentive system and dealt with students who could use what they studied on a daily basis at work.

I would suppose any teacher who manages to provide good input, communicate well with the students, keep them motivated, is able to immediately suggest improvements to output, and can explain things so that they truly understandhow to construct and pronounce proper English and see the value of doing things right will have better students. Sure, Thai culture may make this a difficult challenge and many schools may prevent teachers from doing the best job possible by refusing to let them fail students who don't do any work, having oversized classes, etc, but Thais can learn how to speak English well. If they don't, it seems quite logical that the quality of the teachers have something to do with it. NNESTs may have very poor language skills and NESTs may be unable to connect with the students and help them truly understand. After all, Krashen's theories on language acquisition have been contradicted by scientific evidence and belief that students of a 2nd language should learn just as children learn their first language is contradicted by empirical studies. Therefore, being able to speak like a native speaker (which is rather unspecific) is not the only criterion by which a teacher should be evaluated. However, due to the influence of people like Krashen, many assume that a native speaker is always the best choice, regardless of other characteristics.

By NPB, Sweden (5th November 2012)

Just to put my oar in again... I agree largely with NPB on native speakers. Native speakers can be great teachers or terrible ones... as can NON native speakers. The problem is definitely partly due to the government and schools assuming that native speakers are the only correct option.

Years ago, when I first came to the country to work on a conservation project, then looked for a way to stay here, people told me to teach English, to which I replied that I didn't know how. "Of course you do - you come from England!" "Well, by that rule, all Thais should be capable of teaching Thai language..." To this, most people then had to concede that they couldn't in fact teach Thai despite being Thai.

Despite my self-confessed lack of teaching ability, I got a teaching job, and probably messed with a lot of kids' heads in the early days. But I learnt how to teach, and am now in a position to look at other teachers and comment on their abilities.

And I have to say that there are loads of native speakers out there who have no idea how to grade their language to an appropriate level for their students. There are even plenty of qualified teachers who may have been great at teaching, say, biology, in their home country, but cannot accept that to teach it to non native speakers, they have to change their methods and the way they introduce both concepts and vocabulary.

So it's not where you come from, but how well you can grasp where your students are coming from.

But it's true, I'm sure, that part of the problem is the students' lack of motivation, especially in areas of the country where there are less foreigners. I look back to my own experiences of learning languages at school in the UK - I didn't see German as very useful - after all, I had never been, and never planned to go, to Germany!

And then a big part of the problem still lies with the Thai concept of learning. Someone said that all their students say "I want to learn English", and yet seem to put in no effort - well, the education system has taught them that 'learning' is just remembering a set of facts or figures. They expect that learning a language involves sitting there and letting the teacher pour the language into their brains. The concept of active learning does not exist for most Thai students of English, and that is the fault of the system, not the students.

Despite this, an increasing number of Thai people DO learn to speak and write English very well. Hats off to them for realising what they have to do, and doing it. I will continue to teach as well as I can, because just a few of my students look like they're turning into those self-motivated learners - and it's my job to encourage them.

By Lucie, Ubon Ratchatani (5th November 2012)

@NPB On the other hand. If you can get all the girls to sound like Ingrid Bergman, I support your efforts. :-)

By Roy, Chiang Mai (5th November 2012)

One thing i would like to say. How can a Thai teacher/ head teacher afford a nice big house. New car every year, well nearly every year. But not all though.
Only one answer and that is corruption. Not many Thai teachers speak English let alone read or write it. Why do they give extra lessons to students when they finish work and then teach them what they should be teaching during the day?
These are all facts. Why is it a degree etc from Thailand is worth nothing in many other countries? It is the education system which is full of corruption. many university students pay people to do their course work for them. Adverts for such can be seen on jobrapido every day. It is not just teachers who are corrupt but most people who work for the government departments also. Having seen the bribes taken for visa's. Only the wealthy in Thailand get the best jobs and even then they do not know what they are doing. They have little regard for the law and money will resolve all issues. In other Asian countries they would be in prison for some of the things they do.How did these people get wealthy? corruption in about 95% of cases. The Dia here will have a field day with teachers etc. When 2015 comes i can see what will happen if Thailand joins the Asian community it wll be bye bye teachers,government officials etc due to the corruption. Also wealthy people actually going to prison for the crimes they commit. But i have a feeling that Thailand will not join the Asean community as these people will make sure of it.

By Keith, Bangkok (5th November 2012)

Quote "The reason is that Thais rely on NESTs who have no concept of how to teach English,"

Now you are saying not ALL NESTs are like that. So that means you think that just a hand full of "concept less" folk are responsible the for an entire nations shoddy English abilities.

Would you like a shovel?

By MarkC, BKK (5th November 2012)

Dear Roy and mr.m.ed

I am not saying that all NESTs are inept, but many have never studied a foreign language and certainly never EFL. I do not believe a NNEST is necessarily better than a NEST or vice versa.

NNESTs have learned the language themselves and may therefore have more insight into what it takes to learn a foreign language. NESTs are usually more able to provide exposure to high quality input. This is important, but far from being the sole determinant of how well a language is learned.

A NNEST with native speaker proficiency or a NEST with the ability not only to identify areas where improvement is needed but also to help students address their problem areas systematically in a way that helps them see general patterns ought to be the best teacher.

The students' L1 is also a useful tool, and any teacher who has mastered both the target language and the students' L1 has this tool at his/her disposal. Grammar is likewise a useful tool, and grammar does not have to be separated from spoken practice, one can teach grammar whilst focusing on spoken communication and one can even teach it without using grammatical terminology. Grammar is the system of a language, rules that help students to improvise without making mistakes.

As for origin of the teacher, it does not necessarily predict quality. The foreign language skills of most native speakers are notoriously poor, so why should teachers of EFL from those countries be presumed to be better than other teachers? The best speakers of EFL are from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and The Netherlands. Therefore, a teacher from one of those countries ought to be highly sought after in the TESOL industry.

The strong point of NESTs is proficiency and intuitive grasp of English. The strong point of NNESTs is that they have actually succeeded in learning English as a Foreign Language and are therefore more able to relate to the process the students are going through.

I myself have learned English both as a native speaker and as a foreign language. I am a US citizen, a Harvard graduate, and have a degree in TESOL from The University of Edinburgh. Though realising that there are many good NESTs out there and that many NNESTs are unsuitable to teach since their English skills are very poor, I believe that requiring certain citizenships for employment is unduly discriminatory.

By NPB, Sweden (5th November 2012)

NPB... "The reason is that Thais rely on NESTs who have no concept of how to teach English". Wow... are you for real? That's quite a broad statement to make my friend. Sounds to me as if you're a wee bit prejudiced and I really wonder why? Can you please elaborate why you assume I have no concept of how to teach? I am a native speaker of English with a Masters Degree in Education and 20+ years' experience teaching in the US, Asia, and Europe AND I speak fluent - yes fluent - Thai (though admittedly cannot read and write it). You state the reason Thais can't speak English is because schools hire NESTs like me instead of non-natives like you from Sweden?? Sorry, I seriously can't seem to wrap my head around this one. Please elaborate!

By mr.m.ed., Surin (5th November 2012)

@NPB Yes, grammar is good to know and certainly lets people communicate better. Still, I would be happy to get a few words beyond Hello Teacher and Did you eat yet? When we learn a language in the US, we start entirely with conversation and vocabulary. Grammar is added in small portions along the way and then emphasized greater when the students are comfortable speaking.
My Mat 3 and 4 kids have been getting grammar since Anuban and still can't understand a word of English. Parents teach their children to speak clearly at an early age. School then gives more structure. I will teach grammar when the need arises, but as most of my students can't even answer simple yes and no questions, I see no point in having them learn about dangling modifiers and such.
Get the Thai teachers to speak English so the kids can hear it.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (4th November 2012)

The reason is that Thais rely on NESTs who have no concept of how to teach English, relying solely on their intuitive grasp of the language. Many NESTs are unable to communicate with the students in Thai (which excludes translation excercises) or teach them grammar (which explains why things ought to be a certain way and gives general frameworks instead of specific sentences to be individually memorised). Many NESTs in Thailand say things such as "I teach CONVERSATION, not GRAMMAR", illustrating their ignorance of how grammar can be useful to a language learner and is an integral part of conversation whether explicitly taught or not.

Furthermore, Communicative Language Teaching often let's students experience success without feedback on needed improvement as long as the general meaning is successfully conveyed. This means that students see no need to 'fix the details' and are later unable to qualify for jobs requiring correct English (yes, I'm aware of the illusiveness of that term). In a way, this may be similar to the fossilization one sees in long term ex-pats in Thailand whose grasp of Thai is rudimentary at best but who do not care since they can use it well enough to successfully communicate their most immediate needs.

By NPB, Sweden (4th November 2012)

I will post a more detailed comment later - in the mean time I could not stop laughing you guys are killing me i almost wet myself. hehehhehe - It is like hearing my self talk it is all so true and sums up the teaching experience in Thailand.
Just briefly - it is about perception money and politics and education is a distant cousin.
I think to survive one needs to avoid seeking absolution when the (yes) thais complain heheh despite the attitudes you guys articluated so well above. It is incredible but the Thais will break all the norms we expect to teach effectively or learn effectively and then hehehe teacher too serious - mai sanook - (replace teacher) teacher too funny - (replace teacher) teacher funny accent - and on it goes.
Just once it would be great to see and hear someone take responsbility for their own success or lack thereof.
No, you are not teaching in Thailand you are hehehe heading for a breakdown - if you try - just mi sanook - and remember how r u fine thanks and u - And hey rote learning works heheeh i remember every note of the Thai national anthem but not a word.

Over and out good nite

By Stephen, Australia - Agree with all the above comments. (1st November 2012)

The Thai education system is made for students to memorize things. What do you usually do when you have to memorize? You memorize it for the test and after the test, it goes bye-bye. My wife is Thai and is very intelligent. She learned things, how they work, what you do with it ,ect.... My daughter struggles because she has my memory. My wife teaches her to understand and she does well. Anyway, students are pressured and called stupid or retarded. My daughter was called pretty but stupid by the teacher. I struggle to teach the students in Kindergarten to enjoy English ,so they'll want to study. In long term, the constant badgering by teachers and students about being stupid wear the student down. They stop wanting to learn. They also don't have an honor code. Cheating is ok and hard to stop. But if they would start singling out those students they catch out. The others might think twice. I had students that rushed me and said I missed them. There was so many. I knew I did't miss that many but I had to give it to them anyway. Well, my worse class ended up with the highest scores. The class that didnt even know vocabulary beat out students that could speak English but couldn't discuss anything in English or Thai i'm sure. They aren't taught to think. There teacher is an expert and they are taught they are to respect the Thai teachers.

By Monte, Rayong (26th October 2012)

Phil , So sorry for the delayed response , sorry you could'nt follow my last post .I will use less yak yakity yak this time.
In response to Del's post whereby She opines that South Africans are basically unfit to be teaching English .Eleven languages , what language may I ask do the people speak as they communicate with each other ? Take as long as you want to answer , I realize that mono linguals might 'see' eleven language as liability but in actuality it is an asset . English is definitely not the fifth most spoken, so "ava noother coopa tea me loov"
As stated by an American in another post , the argument against South Africans teaching is pitiful and pointless.
Del , you yourself have used " mother tongue" as a synonynom for "NES." Like , why do we use I see as a synonynom for I understand . . ?
Randy , Chase, Chip and Chuck , ya'll Canadians French is an official language in your country , this according to Del renders you unfit to be a TEFL teacher . Yak yakity blaah .
So sorry to go off the topic of the blog , the reason I posited the South African factor was in response to Del's question " How many of us can speak another language. I used three languages on a daily bases back home . No South African will be issued a matric certificate unless they pass at least two languages .
Mother tongue suffices thank you. Being brought up surrounded by many languages and cultures,, even better .
Oh , and Del you opine that I seem to have a beeega chip on my shoulder ,could you please elucidate ? ?
Go on me loov rooon for the boes me loov , 'ava noother coopa tea me loov . .

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (17th October 2012)

I taught at the California School for the Deaf and, upon my retirement, moved to Thailand. Unable to just sit in my rocker and do nothing, I have been teaching English at the University and High School levels in Thailand for over six years. I agree with some of your conclusions but the biggest area of agreement I have with you is in your closing statement

"I don't have all the answers, but I think that Thai people will continue to put in a very small amount of effort as long as they don't see any real need to learn English."

During my tenure as a teacher in Thailand, the decided lack of interest and effort (despite assertions of "I want learn speak English) has been my single most frustrating issue with teaching here.

By Yindee, Roi-Et, Thailand (11th October 2012)

The culture of face also has a part to play. When I taught at tertiary level in Thailand, it was impossible to get the university to implement any kind of international benchmarks for measuring student progress. It wasn't the cost that was the problem - we were going to steal the tests anyway. The problem was that the university would have lost face if it had become known that the vast majority of its students tested out at A1 or A2 elementary level (which they would have done).

It was far easier and 'better' to continue the farce of teachers pretending to teach absurdly inappropriate level material and students pretending to learn it. And at the end of the course everyone passed.That way students got to look important with their complicated tomes and the university could boast about its wonderful syllabi. Face was everything. The fact that students learned next to nothing wasn't an issue!

By Nodrog, Middle East (11th October 2012)

Thais don't learn English for the simple reason that they don't learn anything at all at school - period. The Interchange coursebook has a unit in which students are asked to come up with some general geographical knowledge - 5 famous rivers, five famous mountains - that kind of thing. In four years I never encountered a single class that could do it. The Mississippi? Never heard of it. The Congo? Never heard of it. The Amazon? Maybe fifty percent. The same goes for history. In a business English class of bank employees, not a single one had ever heard of Pol Pot or the Khmer Rouge. So much for regional history.

The education system in Thailand is not designed to educate. Its primary purpose is to be a cash cow, milked by those who administer or work at the higher levels. How else can it be explained that a country which spends more than twenty percent of its not inconsiderable GDP on education (the highest percentage in the world), has an average school class size of fifty students whose sole learning resources consist of a few badly photocopied knock-off books?

The whole culture of ignorance is endemic and almost worn as a badge of pride. That's why 'mai roo' is always said with such satisfaction.

By Nodrog, Middle East (11th October 2012)

They don't know the sounds or how to copy those sounds before the system starts hitting them with B.S. grammar. When I went to grade school we had at least 10 years of listening practice and maybe 7 years speaking practice 24/7 before we got into any serious phonics or grammar. Many kids in my school in Canada failed grades 1 and 2 because they couldn't read and write well enough to move on. They were 7&8 year olds who already had large vocabularies, spoke well but couldn't grasp the written work. In some parts of rural Canada some 40% of adults can't read or write at a high school level. Where I lived there were a lot of French families and that number is 60%. Thais need to learn to make sense of the words and how to say them and leave the boring parts of learning English until the Thai teachers and students have a basic understanding of the sounds.

By John Houghton, Bangkok (10th October 2012)

Comments i will make Corruption, Money talks,Culture,social class.
Why is it, that a degree in Thailand is not worth the paper it is printed on in other countries?
2015 comes' a lot of Thai's will have a big problem. Schools employ people who can not speak or understand english. But they are employed to teach it.
look at the government forms. The english on them is so bad it's unbeliveable.
It is very common indeed that Thai families do not expect their children to learn english. Why should they, is the attitude. It is not just in government schools but in private and international schools also.

By kiki, Bangkok (10th October 2012)

I have to agree with Barry. As a Thai, I often found myself being judged by many of my classmates when I tried to answer questions in class (simply because I didn't like awkward silence). They asked me how I learn English, I told them, but none of them really wanted to put as much effort to learn it as I did. Shame. Some of them were actually better in grammar than I was (not that my grammar is that good or anything, but I think it's now a lot better than it used to be :P)

Back to the article's ending question, I'd make them see simple facts why English is important to make them want to motivate themselves. I told my boss at Wall Street Institute (where I used to teach) during the interview that you'd open up so much more dating opportunities if you speak English (I gave him hypothetical numbers of viable dating partners if you can only speak Thai vs being able to speak both Thai and English, is just about the math! He laughed, and I got hte job)

By Pai, BKK (9th October 2012)

After living in Bangkok for over a year I would add these observations:
- English is EVERYWHERE, on billboards, shop signs, street signs, etc.
- Police and government officials, such as immigration officers more often than not, do not speak or understand any English

By captbruce, Bangkok (7th October 2012)

I am an English teacher at a secondary school here in Thailand. I have found that in my school you have some parents telling their son or daughter that they don't need to learn English. I don't know if this problem exists elsewhere but it can be a general problem in rural areas because the parents expect the children to remain farmers or shop owners with no need for English. I know from experience that teaching English here can be a daunting challenge. I wish all of the teachers who are teaching here the best and thank them for their work. My family is Thai and they do speak english.

By Ken Webster, Nong Hin Thailand (5th October 2012)

Thai people have trouble learning just about anything for the reason any country has trouble learning. Not hungry enough, being held back by culture. This is happening in my country (America) as well. Being sub par is the new norm. People are simply just not hungry enough.

By Barry Easley, Sri Racha (4th October 2012)

It’s very obvious that this is one sided coin article, where flaws inefficiencies or unsatisfactory performance of the above mention teachers and reluctant students to learn English or speak language are the subject of this cause… why don’t we add up the irregularities, indolence and incompetence of “farang and other foreign teachers”?
I believe the question is not why can’t Thai speak English… but what can “non-thai teachers do” to help student speak English. Does that make any sense?

By banok banok, Thailand (3rd October 2012)

It doesn't matter foreign teachers or Thai teachers pass down English to Thai student,because no English teacher is considered "perfect". It depends on their attitude
to English

By Mr.Lee Thongjeel, ไทย (3rd October 2012)

Andy Scoopman, Thailand on 2012-09-23 - It is not correct to say in England students must learn a foreign language by law. A foreign language must be on the curriculum and taught - whether the students learn it or not is a very different matter - some do some don't. There is no penalty in law. It is very similar to Thailand in that respect.

By John Cable, Laos (28th September 2012)

This really boils down to two simple questions, you can all try asking your students next time.

1. Do you like English? (low murmers in the class, followed by a couple of "nid noi"s)
2. Is it hard? (In unison, "yaaaaaaaaaaaaak")

End of discussion 555 (questions courtesy of Chis Wright)

By Del, Thailand (28th September 2012)

In response to the last post- honestly, we should be teaching how to communicate, not remember a complex grammar point. Before anyone has a go at me, yes, you can't have a very good one without a very good other, but conversational communication is the main goal, and a reason this is not achieved is because (mostly Thai) teachers teach the students grammar as a priority over communication.

To be honest, most students don't get much beyond past continuous level grammar. Better to teach them how to use everything from that level down well, than confuse them with yet more grammar. You don't necessarily need a fully qualified teacher to teach them that- it's not rocket science.

I learnt French in school. I can't remember much, and I didn't get all that far (GCSE syllabus). However, there wasn't a pressing need to learn French in order to be competitive, unlike Thailand and English...

By jbkk, BKK (25th September 2012)

I might be wrong in saying this please correct me if I am. Is it not the law in England that pupils must learn a MFL?

I think it is also a statutory requirement for primary pupils to learn a MFL?

I don't remember ever meeting any British teachers in the role of French or Spanish teacher who could speak the language even close to fluently!

On the flip side, i don't remember any pupils who could speak French spanish or German fluently when they left school.

I do know that those pupils who had a second home in France, spoke the languge much better than the others.

So maybe we just need to buy every Thai pupil a cottage in Cornwall?

I have met a large number of British teachers in Thailand and I have yet to find one who understands the complex system of tenses which we use in English, perhaps this is part of the problem. British teachers are often not taught the structure of their own language either in school or uni how can they possibly be expected to disseminate knowledge or understanding which they themselves don't have?

By Andy Scoopman, Thailand (22nd September 2012)

to Paul. It's not just English, for every subject the belief is that "class time is enough". I have noticed a disturbing trend at matayom level, especially upper matayom: students literally and figuratively confine "school" to the hours of 8am-3pm (Mon-Fri). Anything outside of that is "their time" -- and they don't expect/accept their time to be inconvenienced or impinged upon in any way. It is a nation of people which has divorced experienced from education. They believe passive observing is enough.

to: Dennis. Well... Thais accept foreign ideas when it suits them and when the ideas are "fun". Witness the rise of TV dramas, music, and so forth from other countries.

to TimC. I am curious... who did you write to? And did you get any answer?

By MarkK, BKK (18th September 2012)

As long as cheating and scores not counting are allowed, I don't care what subject or country, the learning process will be impaired. I think this is a great place to start. In general, Thai students will look for the easy way out first. Cut the problem off at the knees. Why are there other countries that don’t cheat as much? It is because the students have consequences. Maybe slapping the student on the bum is not effective anymore. Maybe keeping them after school and having detention time, or taking something away from them that they want, is a step in the right direction. Or maybe embarrassing them or cutting their grades (if grades counted) can help. Maybe writing to the Thai Department of Education, and asking them to reprioritize on what is important in Education. Tell them that discipline habits, class sizes, grades counting, and efforts to minimize on cheating through consequences, are all changes that need to be made. It is not a lost hope. The system just needs a kick in the pants. You know, a movement by the foreign teachers. I already wrote my letter. It’s your turn.

By TimC, Bangkok (18th September 2012)

For me the thing that can be considered here is the culture of the people on how do they accept foreign language or western ideas in general. We have to note that this country is very nationalistic considering they haven't been colonize by any foreign powers. Thailand has been Thailand ever since. I think the history of this country can explain why these people has difficulty in learning the English language or even consider a bit of western ideas. Their are really factors to be considered to explain this conundrum. I'm sure in the near future the government of this country or the Ministry of Education in particular can ameliorate the situation to improve the learning and speaking the English language.

By Dennis, Roi-Et (17th September 2012)

The answer to this is so obvious, it isn't funny. In my 10 years of teaching English in this country, the vast majority of Thais who come to learn English actually believe that attending classes is like drinking a magic potion. They really think that that's all they need to do. They don't realise that they have to practise English in their free time. If they did practise in their free time, their learning would increase tenfold.

By Paul, Bangkok (17th September 2012)

Why Thai's can't speak English?

Well, I don't think it's only English that they have trouble with. I could accurately replace "English" with a list of many other subjects in a sentence that starts with "Why Thai's can't...".

Two root causes that I see (as a teacher in a secondary school)....

1. Students arrive at upper secondary school without any real study skills. No one has taught them HOW to study and how to make the most use of their study time. Anyone who has a glimmer in this area has come across it themselves by chance. The vast majority apply inefficient brute force methods that make learning pure drudgery. Also, they are uninterested in learning study skills (I tried teaching them a few times).

2. When it comes to subjects, such as English, their approach to learning them is dabbling. They don't really crack the topic and ingest it, as I remember doing as a student. Instead it is very surface; like in the way we try on clothes or apply nail polish. It is temporary and something to be changed and discarded later. Therefore, for most, it never really becomes part of their reality.

By MarkK, BKK (13th September 2012)

Laziness and arrogance goes both ways. A few of the notes here tell me that teachers can also be lazy in managing their class.

I understand the comments about classroom management. A universal challenge for teachers everywhere is classroom management. If you can't manage the class, you aren't going to teach them anything. I was shocked at how much talking went on in my classes at the beginning but I am getting them quieter now as I gain more experience and confidence. I am not in favor of throwing things at them as this can quickly backfire. Silence from me seems to be effective in most cases. That and rearranging a few students who seem to be teacher-deaf. I have taught a few classes in the US, as well, and ran into the same problem. Teacher friends there tell me that schools measure competence by how well teachers are able to manage a classroom. If you can't do it, perhaps you should work in administration instead.
I read much anger here toward Thai schools and students. Anger comes from frustration in our own abilities rather than the people around us. I suggest if you are having trouble managing a class, walk around between classes and look for the quiet classes. Chances are you will find some of your own rooms are able to actually sit and listen when given the right guidance from their teacher. Teaching isn't a one way process. We need to learn as much as teach.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (11th September 2012)

Why can't Thais speak English? The same reason long term expats can't speak Thai.

Laziness and /or arrogance. ("Why the Hell should I?")

By MarkC, BKK (11th September 2012)

Del , Please read my comment properly , I open with commending Thais for their ability to speak English without formal training , is that hating ? Note that many in this blog have expressed far , far more negative, hating statements.
You say you disagree with me as to disipline but then go on to make statements that in fact indicate that you are in agreement with me ,
Where is it in my comments that I say I don't like Thailand , huh ? Just because I'm saying it like it generally is does'nt mean I don't like it , i fact I love the challenges involved , please Del , don't think that everybody thinks like you do.
Naturally , it goes without saying that my comments as to 30% of being a good teacher here has nothing to do with teaching,is a generalization , as is the discipline comment , some schools and tutorials of course do have disciplined students .
I at no stage whatsoever said that the situation as to non teaching skills being a criteria as to what makes a good teacher is unique to the TEFL industry ,

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (11th September 2012)

@Kieran- you sound like you should be sharing an airport taxi with Mark - you seem to have a massive chip on your shoulder. Do you really hate it here so much?

Your comment, "about 65% of what makes a good teacher here is the ability to discipline students, 30% depends on everything but teaching skills and about 5% on your command of the English language"
It seems then that you are wasting 95% of your time! I do agree that about 30% depends on everything but teaching skills, but that applies in any walk of life in any country in the world. In the service industry the percentage is even higher - think air hostess, receptionist etc. Unless you are working online or locked in a cupboard somewherecalled there is always going to be an element of the "face fitting" involved. The onus is then on the individual to ensure that their face fits. (suitable attire, appropriate behavior, no visible tattoos etc)

However, on the subject of discipline, I disagree completely. A good teacher, who has the respect of his students won't have to spend much time enforcing discipline. Good classroom management and a clear setting of standards, expectations and students' responsibilities at the start of term should be enough.

Oh, and something soft to throw at them too!

By Del, Thailand (11th September 2012)

A member has made a valuable comment here , " Thai's English not so bad." Well observed , The French , Russians , East Europeans , even those of the mighty economy Japan , is their English any better ? ? As I've said before , many Thai people with no formal education in English can converse in English , this is commendable indeed.
Many comments here indicate , mainly by virtue of the complaints as to ill discipline by Thai students, that they are deluded as to what comprises a " good " teacher , is it not a teachers duty to ensure discipline ? Many think teaching English here is all about having a good command of the language , not so , about 65% of what makes a good teacher here is the ability to discipline students , particularly if employed to improve listening skills, 30% depends on everything but teaching skills , like do your farts stink , what vehicle you drive , do you support a local girl( family) etc etc , and about 5% on your command of the English language .
As for employability , well very little has to do with your experience , dedication , qualification, etc. etc. Most of it has to do with your visa status and how exploitable you seem to be .
Gratitude , results , ? Learn not to have any expectation in this regard , not only within the industry , but within life itself .
Yours in You.

By Kieran, Nakorn sri Dhammarat (11th September 2012)

Mark, I am sorry, I did not mean to give a flip comment on you post, I understand your frustration. I think if you stay away from schools in Bangkok and go out in the province it might help improve the situation.

It is unfortunate that you ran into the typical students, don't listen, don't care, and don't get it. I hope you don't throw in the towel just yet, there are some good kids out there that want to learn, you just have to find them. And when you do, even if it is just only a handful, it will be worth your effort.

If it will make you feel any better, here in the US, I have to deal with a similar situation all the time, doesn't listen, doesn't care, and doesn't get it, it called a boss.

By nida, us (10th September 2012)


That is good advice. In fact, I am looking for a different job now. Is "Thais not learning English" a punching bag? Maybe, but it is still true.

And your advice about learning the Thai language is also good advice which I am doing. What concerns me is the new younger foreign teachers that are coming into Thailand are pretty good at learning Thai but they are teaching in Thai. They teach like the Thai-English teachers. 99% Thai and just insert English when necessary.

You see, we are right back to the "Thai won't-can't learn English". They like learning English when all they hear is Thai being spoken. Good job security for the new foreign teachers especially when a large number have fake diplomas. I have witnessed this myself.

Just My Thoughts


By Mark, Bangkok (10th September 2012)

@Peter Evans - Well said. Thank you.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (9th September 2012)

Children are not lazy! They might seem that way to an unqualified observer but they are not. They might not like you, they might not like the way you are trying to teach them, they might consider the amount of preparation and effort you put into the lesson not worthy of their participation or the level of English used by the teacher is much beyond their ability and so they are totally bored due to the fact they don't understand anything.... but they are far from lazy if the teacher is smart enough or qualified enough to understand their situation.

By Peter Evans, Bangkok (9th September 2012)

Having followed this discussion for weeks, I couldn't resist complimenting Rob Gall's observations. I would second that both Thai teachers and Thai students expect the foreign teacher to behave like a chimpanzee at least some of the time. So when schools and Unis advertise for a 'fun loving' teacher, you know you are in with your monkey pranks.
I would like to also add that, appreciation of what good the foreign teacher has done for the Thai institution or its students is non-existent, in my experience. Having written one course book during each of the years, with a lot of effort and originality, didn't count for anything and other foreign teachers who couldn't care less about course books were never called up to explain. So at the end, even in a hard working honest teacher, complacency sets in, which does no good in getting Thais to speak English.
Also, gratitude is a gesture most Thais, teachers and students, are unfamiliar with. Once the semester is over, some students try very hard to avoid you as you are of no importance to them anymore.

By Sir Heath, Harrow, Mddx (9th September 2012)

There are many reasons why Thai's can't speak English. The incredibly poor teaching method is one big reason right away. Learning canned phrases off by heart without actually knowing what the individual words mean isn't a great way to build a foundation of speaking any language. The children are lazy beyond belief also. They are taught zero initiative in any of their subjects and so can't even be bothered to look up the meaning of a word if they don't know it. In fact the use of dictionaries is frowned upon by many of the Thai teachers.

There is zero respect for the foreign teachers also. The children see it as a joke when they are being taught by a foreign teacher. The noise levels in the class are as if I am not even there most of the time.

The only way I can teach anything is by playing competitions to see who can remember words better than others or playing team games.

But this is only good for learning words. As soon as any thought beyond recounting one word is required (e.g trying to make a sentence) their brain switches off.

Add on top that everyone passes and therefore there is zero insensitive to even try.

It takes a while to get your head round it. But once you learn that it is futile trying to stimulate their brains and just do it the Thai way it is actually quite fun sometimes.

Be the entertainer that they want you to be and don't get too concerned about results and its all ok! Rather meaningless. But ok.

By Rob Gall, Bruriram (9th September 2012)

I like Phillip's comment, if you hate living in Thailand all you have to do is just get yourself a one way ticket, easy & simple. Isn't the Thais can't, won't, and will never learn English an old punching bag by now? Mark, there must be something that keeps you in here.

Instead of dwell in the mind set what the Thais won't do, why don't you ask yourself, what is it that you can do? To me, you seems to have a few options, catch the next flight out, learn Thai language and the culture and see if it will improve your outlook, or look for a new job.

Just a thought.


By nida, us (8th September 2012)

Lost my job in the US after doing it for 25 years. Couldn't find work so decided that, since my wife is Thai, we should move here. As the only thing Thailand will let me do is teach, I am doing it. I guess that makes me an economic refugee. A surprise to me is that I enjoy teaching, especially high school. I come to work some days tired and frustrated from the day before. But when I enter my classroom and am greeted by 50 happy smiling faces, my past melts away and I am happy again.

I would love to make more money here. I would love to make more money anywhere. The market is only allowing the salaries we get and what I am paid is allowing me to support my wife and myself and still put a few baht into savings. I don't expect to get rich, just fed and sheltered.

I don't understand the bigotry here against Thais, Filipinos or any other group of people, let alone individuals. I have met many Filipinos who can speak perfect English and hundreds of Americans, Brits and Ozzies who can't put together a single intelligible sentence.

The question was why can't Thais speak English. And then I found at least a temporary solution. Appeal to their capitalistic needs. Students want a good grade. I want them to speak. Thus I give minimal value to tests and very high value to classroom participation. Some classes still suffer from don'tgiveashititis, but others are knocking me over to get their number in my notebook. I will focus on the latter.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (7th September 2012)

Mark, Bangkok (2012-09-07)
You must absolutely hate leaving here man. Is there any one single reason that prevents you just catching a taxi to the airport and heading straight for the departure lounge?

By philip, (6th September 2012)

I would like to comment on John Cable's statement "...who are basically economic refugees..." which seems to underline most foreigners' purpose in coming to Thailand. Mr. John Cable, what do you do here in Thailand? Be sure you are teaching here for FREE, otherwise, you are an economic refugee yourself. And I would be far different from you because I came here to teach while learning the Thai language and culture. Also, I came here to finish my PhD studies. On top of all these, I am here to look after my family. Thank you.

By NESTOR D. FERMIN, Thailand (6th September 2012)

Thais do not have a serious bone in their body. Their culture is primarily to have fun. In my opinion school is more for culture indoctrination and not necessarily education as the west sees it. And within the indoctrination Thais are taught that they are superior to other countries and people while looking down on their foreign teachers as a necessary evil. Foreigner teachers are just entertainers in the classroom. Jesters. It is generally passed on to foreigners that Thais are bashful and don't speak easily. Again, in my opinion, nearly all Thais dislike foreigners for whatever reason and that is where the nonspeaking comes from. Not being bashful. Thais mask their dislikes for foreigners with smiles. Taking all this into consideration, Thais will not learn English anytime soon. Thais are in complete denial about the consequences of the ASEAN agreement but they will learn quickly when they discover they are far behind the curve.

By Mark, Bangkok (6th September 2012)

Goodness - even poor English would be desirable in contrast to what little or nothing comes out of a Thai's orifice. 12 years of English and they don't know the word "daughter"? Something is rotten in Denmark.
When they take an honest look at what works and what doesn't work maybe they will get somewhere. For starters - institute a culture of silence in the classroom with zero tolerance;like they do in most decent schools in the west. How can they possibly learn with all that loud chatting in Thai? When you follow the trail of failure it always leads to poor management - and while most government school managers are preoccupied figuring innovative ways to fill their own pockets with public money , they aren't on the 8-ball with figuring out how to manage the masses of students.
I know for a fact , 50 students to a class doesn't work for language classes but the money to half that has gone towards paying for the director's new SUV. Show me a well managed school in Thailand and I'll show you a foreign managed, bona fide International School with a tuition of $25,000 and up. It really doesn't take that , but somehow , the Thai Ministry of Education has an affinity for things that are hair brained and don't work - like throwing in road blocks to keep the foreigners they want to hire out of the system. From there, it goes down hill.

By Avi, Bangkok (5th September 2012)

Firstly, there are not 1000s of English teachers. Very few people working as teachers are teachers by training or profession. They are people on "extended holidays" or in Thailand for "other reasons" and only a few of them are effective teachers. Then there are the Philippines nationals who are basically economic refugees and most have little knowledge of the English language (e.g. phonics) and less motivation. Finally, there is no culture of excellence in education and in most of the country little incentive for the students, i.e. no job prospects outside the family business, 7/11 or Big C. These are sweeping statements, and not what "Thai Education" wants to hear. However, I have done small scale research in several different schools (the type of research most teachers are encouraged to do in English speaking countries) which supports these claims.

From the salary viewpoint, three months teaching in the UK produces (after all expenses) a higher remuneration than 12 months teaching in Thailand at 40000 per month and 50 THB to 1 GBP.

By John Cable, Cambodia (5th September 2012)

Sorry. Usually, I would not criticize grammar in posts. However, the comment below is having a go at NES, and how they teach so badly, and how they aren't needed, so I thought I might as well say something. Maybe this guy shouldn't comment on grammar skills that he seems to lack. Do you think your teaching system has really "worked", or has it worked in as much as the students make the exact same mistakes as you?

Why can't the existing NES teachers teach Thais better English? Well, look further down the comments for ideas; however, most (not all) NES teachers are limited in terms of how successful they can really be, as the schools, government and general people place learning English at a low priority compared to other things. Here's a native speaker phrase you might not be familiar with; "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink". Or, "you can't polish a turd".

I won't pretend that hiring habits in this country are often related to (racist) preconceptions. White faces are, and have been, what is wanted to teach English (not sure about the future, though).

As often happens, it seems that a non-NES is attacking the wrong people if he wants to change things. How about you complain to the people who actually hire the teachers, or the parents who (at this time) want this paradigm to continue? No, this won't happen, because you have a massive chip on your shoulder...

By JBKK, BKK (4th September 2012)

I agree with you on certain points. And often ask this same question to myself and my friends? Desapite the fact that majority of the schools in Thailand hire Native English Speakers (I realy can't understand this prhase) and spents lots of money on their comfort paying much less salary to the so called non NES, Why, Why, Why the innocent students from kindergarten to University graduates can't speak atleast 10 percentage like their native english speaking Teachers? I wonder how the students and people of non native English speaking countries like Sri Lanka, India Pakistan Philippines can speak English much better than the so called native english speakers. They can read write understand and deliver speeches in English.The answer and reason is the above said countries recruit teachers based on therir qualification skills and experiance not according to .... Next They teach grammar right from KG whcih NES dont. Teach to be creative not to memorize what somebody wrote.Give assignments,.make students to read. Not simplly teach some formal and informal greeting which lazy people teach (In my country school drop out study these) Thailand should change the srtategy
I work in a Matheom or government school, with my prvious teaching experiance I teach grammar to students, I teach even the teachers. I give them class works, gives assignment and never teaches others materials which Some objects have created. There is a great dislike for Thais to learn grammar which is influenced by the present western trend. They say don't learn grammar and these rules, only learn phrases. Ho many phrases they can remember After all we are humans not computers, I teach the teachers also by the same method. I teach grammer make them to use the grammar rules, I correct them. I make them speak and write applying grammar rules. It has worked.

By the grace of God no teachers nor students in my class play face books nor games when I teach because I involve their active participation. You can't say they are not of any help to you as if yoiu are greater than them. You can ask them to explain the meaning of what you teach in Thai to the students which I do .I give the Thai meaning for all vocabularies. and explaing the definition by some Thai speakers. Now even those who couldn't understand English can speak speak English. I am sure and I can guarantee that my students who listen carefully and all my student teachers can and will speak English by March 2013.
Wordsworth, Shakesphere and Wren & Martin (who wrote High School English Grammar) world wide studied in high schools were not fools. athey know the importance of grammar. Do you think a native english speaker can learn Thai, Hindi, Singalese, Japanese, Chinese or any language without learning grammar?
At last the parents are not stright with their children. In my country, the students wo study in grade 10th - 12th gets up early in the morning at 4 studies for 2 hours goes to school. attends special tuition after school comes back home and study and does assignment before sleeping. They don't go to internet cafe to play games. Here young and old goes to internet cafe either to play games, facebook or listen youtube. Here the students are reluctant to assignments.
In my country the teachers have a lot of work both at school and home like preparing lesson plans, model question papers, once in a month PTA etc.
Here it is easy going. Do you think that through out the world English is being taught by NES? Don,t you think Thai teachers can teach English?
Of course they can. We all should change the strategy. I strongly believe that Thai students and people can speak better English in the coming days but they should be self esteemed and not over depended onNES. There is a feeling in Thailand English is the birthright of NES and non others can master it. By this feeling Thais are degrading themselves. I say with little effort and by self esteem Thais can speak better that foreigners (NES). Lets say like the great philosopher Rene Descarte 'I THINK THEREFORE IAM". Together lets strive to make our profession more lively. Let's be dedicated teachers instead of blaming others.

By AMOS PHILIP, near Bangkok (4th September 2012)

PJ, The overwhelming majority of Thai students do not excel at any academic subject. Compulsive education is a very recent development in Thailand, as is the abolition of slavery (Thais enslaving Thais). "Thainess" is a careful political construct to keep the different social classes in their place. "the Thai way" is the "Thais know best" cognitive dissonance that maintains the old while rejecting all, but the superficial of the new. Thais look at Thais for answers, NOT foreigners. Besides there's always time to learn English in the next Buddhist life.

By AsPwDr, Bangkok (4th September 2012)

Not all. some have hope for a better future with English language as the mother language of communication. All we need to do is to give them our support positively. Perseverance and tolerance should be our key factors.

By Tino, UD (3rd September 2012)

life is hard when you compete negatively. Identify a problem and strive for a solution than backing up when the is no need for such. where is the English level of Thailand as compare to the Asean community. Are you helping by telling them their problem or you are helping them by justifying why they should continue to be like this. Be part of the solution not the preoblem Jeff. It will help them for good when you identify and provide a possible solution than telling them how other countries and like them in the negative way.

By Tino, UD (3rd September 2012)

@ken. As my gardening teacher used to say, you can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think.

By Roy, Chiang Mai (3rd September 2012)


People have egos all over the world.

Khmers, for example, have much more delicate egos than Thais.

But the Lonely Planet doesn't tell you this.

By Jeff, Thailand (2nd September 2012)

English is an international language with an international culture. If you meet some where with a Filipino or Singaporean if you find no difficulties in communicating because they have the international culture. All you see is you in an open conversation as a foreigner with this people from this countries and if the happen to be a thai person beside, may be in a buss they will be astonish seeing two or three of you in a conversation as if you knew each other.
The major problem with Thai people is the EGO on their faces. They believe English will change their culture some how which i think its not true.
All i wish them is to develop a creative thinking idea in their career for it will help them a lot to meet up with the world at large. Thailand can be a better place than others if they integrate their system of education and take out the ego from their faces.

By Tino, UD (2nd September 2012)

@Ken. A gross generalisation.

Bad workmen always blame their tools.

It's as simple as this: you either are competent at a given subject or you are not.

I fall into the latter category where second languages are concerned.

By Jeff, Thailand (2nd September 2012)

You can take a horse to the stream but you won't force it to drink water. Thais are so much attached to their culture that they don't even see the need for English language. They need to be willing to study English and also change their educational system.

By ken, KK (2nd September 2012)


Thanks for giving me the opportunity to plug one of my blogs!



By Geoff Richards, Isaan (31st August 2012)

Thais can't speak English for the very reasons the author of the article states. If the Thai teacher can't speak English, how can we expect their students to learn it? Sure, they may learn some grammar rules and vocabulary, but to actually engage a foreigner in an English conversation other than giggling and running away after shouting, "hello!" is not likely. I blame the Thai's antiquated ways of book teaching. Do you know anyone who carries around a book when speaking to someone? Or one of those electronic dictionaries? They are useless. Why do Singaporeans speak English so well? And the Filipinos, too? Perhaps that's the question Thais should ask themselves. English is not those countries national language, yet they seem to speak it well.

My 10 year old Thai step son was in a years worth of English classes from his school in Issan. A Thai teacher taught him. After the course, my stepson couldn't produce the simplest of English phrases. Neither could he count to 10 in English or say the alphabet. What crap instruction! We pulled him from this expensive "elite" private school and put him back in the country school where the teachers run lessons from TV consoles placed in cages. The English teacher at that village school couldn't say an English sentence to save his life, but he gets by because no one else in the village understands him, so they think he must be speaking English.

But this is not just an English language problem. Thais need to change their whole education system. Then perhaps you'll see a change. But don't hold your breath.

By James Piper, someplace else (31st August 2012)

I agree that some cultural knowledge is necessary, but I don't think a lot is necessary to do the job. To be honest, a lot of Thai culture is more what is thought to be true rather than what is demonstrated, and most of my students don't fit what I was "taught" on the culture course (or at least to an extent that would differentiate them from students from other countries).

Am I obliged to take an interest? If you define interest as showing some knowledge, fine. I don't think anyone should be obliged to like anything, though...

Language- yes, it is useful, but my personal circumstances mean I don't really interact in Thai. Almost everyone I know in my personal life in Thailand speaks reasonable to good English. I know that I need a formal setting to learn a language, and that is just not available to me. I don't think learning how to order food from daily interactions isn't going to help me in the classroom (I'm not being snide).

I don't get out enough either...

By JBKK, BKK (24th August 2012)

"Just being in the country should be enough for any reasonably intelligent person.to pick up a working knowledge of the language. It’s a far greater advantage than learning in a classroom situation"

Hmmm....I don't think it's as straightforward as that to be honest. Whether we like it or not, we are all responsible for our own learning. I've lived in Thailand over 20 years and it's only the past 6 months or so that I have decided to really focus on improving my Thai.

I plot my course, I design the lessons, I steer the teachers in the direction I want to go in. And my spoken Thai has improved more in the last six months than I would say it has in the previous 15 years. That's 15 years of just relying on the same daily interactions. Or maybe I just didn't get out enough.

By philip, (24th August 2012)

@JBKK Your comment - "Many foreigners in Thailand aren’t in a position to go to a school and get taught by a professional teacher (without paying a lot)"

Just being in the country should be enough for any reasonably intelligent person.to pick up a working knowledge of the language. It's a far greater advantage than learning in a classroom situation. You say you are employed to teach English and not to be interested in Thai culture, but actually you are obliged to take an interest in order to fulfill the criteria for a teachers licence (Thai culture course and professional knowledge) You are employed primarily to teach English, that's true, but you can't do that in a vacuum! You need to have some understanding of the students you are teaching or you are wasting your time. (and the school's money)

By Del, Thailand (24th August 2012)

I'm kind of on side with JBKK.

When in Rome, so to speak.

Just be polite, friendly, helpful, avoid go-go bars and lewd public behavior and you can get along just fine... in any country in the world.

I really don't see the purpose for this ongoing obsession to analyze Thailand to the nth degree.

By Jeff, Thailand (20th August 2012)

I'm not sure that Lorna's post deserves an answer, but I have yet to meet a foreigner in Thailand who couldn't say ANYTHING in Thai. I have met Thai people who could not speak a comprehensible word of English. Remember, most Thai people get a lot of mostly free and compulsory English classes (and still can't speak English). Many foreigners in Thailand aren't in a position to go to a school and get taught by a professional teacher (without paying a lot). We have jobs, you know.

I am employed to teach English. I am not employed to be interested in Thai culture. If Thailand decides it does not want my services, or the services of English teachers in general, I don't think it will regard the arrangement as having been anything except purely business (regardless of any roots I may or may not have put down). That being the case, I will do likewise.

If you mean I should be forced to appreciate, or shamed into appreciating the culture, I reserve the right to make my own positive or negative judgments, on this or any other culture (including my own).

By JBKK, BKK (20th August 2012)

For me it's simple... Level up without failing is so odd.. they should do something about their curriculum... i can't imagine a country that all graduate students never been failed... i only see them crying when they fail on EXTRA curriculum..

i bet most of the foreing teachers are trying thier best....


By jet, pathumthani (20th August 2012)

To Laura and others
I have lived in Thailand 17 years
I can speak Thai - enough for most Thais to understand
I use Thai in the classroom and youngsters understand - motivation as I can do my job better
My criticism is based on my experience being here and also my observations on the government's lack of commitment to invest in the future by educating the students to acquire English to a high level - surely smart business sense internationally

By John Vicary, Chonburi (20th August 2012)

At Phillip: You think the Thais need to "feel less intimidated". How can this be done when my very presence intimidates them? Thais are scared of everything from dogs to foreigners to ghosts. They have been taught to fear all things in order to keep them ignorant and controlled. Good luck getting that opportunity to practice, it makes it difficult when you're scared of the shadow of the person you speak with as much as the person themselves.

By Calan, Chachoengsao (20th August 2012)

I've traveled all over Europe and North America and have worked in 4 countries in SE Asia.

It's only in Thailand that I've met such a bevvy of self-appointed experts on local culture.

Why this is, I will never know!

By Jeff, Thailand (20th August 2012)

I have been living in Thailand for 8 years and I have found that everywhere I was able to find people who spoke (broken) English!

I have been living in Thailand for 8 years and I have found that everywhere I was able to meet Foreigners, I mean long term resisdents in Thailand, who couldn't speak more than a word of Thai.

same same...no motivation!

Also, the teaching of English in some schools by native speakers is not always the best either! Backpackers (and qualified teachers) walking into Thai schools with no awareness (and interest) of Thai culture and a feeling that they are above everybody else just because they happen to be born in a place where English is the first language, surely doesn't help!!!

if it bother you that the world is not speaking YOUR language well enough, then please don't travel!

By Lorna, Rayong (20th August 2012)


Sorry, but what you've outlined is a whirlwind backpackers version of what the picture really is.

I have to bore you with my experience first to prove my point. I've been teaching in SE Asia for 10+ years now, and have worked in 4 of the countries here.

Outside of Thailand, where English is not a compulsory subject (Singapore being the exception because it's the first language!), the people that you encountered were mainly products of private language centers, which meant that they actively chose to study English.

There are two exceptions. Vietnam and Laos, both of which were communist countries and to have been part of a superpower, you had to have been really good. And this is why you come across so many older people and teachers who can speak English because they worked in intelligence, or speak Russian or German (meaning East Germany), because they were trained there during the Cold War.

Your summary of Thai culture and history reads like something out of the Lonely Planet. If you want to understand how things really work here, then you need to live with the people, speak some of their language, ideally have had a significant other and not frequent tourist and expat hot-spots.

And the fact that you're based back home really means that you have very little to add to this topic.

Have a nice day, y'all.

By Jeff, Thailand (13th August 2012)

Has anyone mentioned the complete disregard or non-existence of monitoring quality of teaching in Thai schools and universities? At least that was MY experience during 5 years in Thailand. At first, like spanking new brooms, all foreign English teachers are at their best in all paperwork (course syllabuses, teaching TT, lesson plans etc) and teaching. Then, due to the absence of anyone taking notice of anything, good or bad, complacency sets in. So no matter how harder you try or how more committed you are, you are seen as just another foreign teacher. So, even a small blip or slip outside the teaching activity (from attire to non-involvement in luncheon parties, etc.etc.) that's causes involvement by the native Heads would be sufficient to condemn you to be castigated, as they don't have a system of credits for English teaching. This of course is very convenient for the Thai administration but sure enough detrimental to the future of English teaching in Thailand, in my opinion.

By Sir Heath, Harrow, Mddx (13th August 2012)

The Thai people are (very correctly) a proud people. As I am sure you've heard, Thailand was the only Southeast country that was NOT colonized by Westerners (or something to that effect). This national pride and feeling of independence is, in my opinion, what makes it so they have less of an effort to try to learn in the first place.

If you go to the neighboring countries, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, etc., they all speak significantly better English even if they are a poorer country. Again, I believe it is the pride of the Thai's that came before their "fall".

By Tyler, United States (13th August 2012)


You've unintentionally hit the nail on the head with your with your comment about 'grammar and punctuation'.

English is a compulsory subject in Thailand, which means that good teachers here are very much edutainers because a fair proportion of students will never really excel. I had competent French teachers when I was at school but the subject was not for me and I dropped it as soon as I hit 13.

Whereas teachers who incorporate your two woeful words into their lesson plans and bring them into the classroom are usually boring and tedious to learn with, and deter many students.

I've seen this happen in reality and some of the worst culprits were teachers back in their home countries.

By Jeff, Thailand (12th August 2012)

"If they were taught by Filipino teachers then it is not surprising that their English is deficient...." Excuse me? The question was "Why can't Thai's speak English?" (blanket, sweeping statement that I happen to agree with) and not whether they're proficient or deficient in the language. Filipinos can and do speak English at varying levels of proficiency, thankyouverymuch. Way to use this venue/forum to denigrate Filipinos and their English language skill. Your vision is as myopic as those who advertise "Caucasians only" for teaching jobs.

By Charles Rivera, Chiang Mai (12th August 2012)

I am not surprised they can´t speak correctly, considering the lack of English skills most English speakers have! Another issue is that many of those who "impart" English are not qualified teachers, meaning that they are certainly not au fait with grammar and punctuation, of which both are evinced above. I think that English speakers need to realise that yes, our language is international but that 92% of the world does not communicate in it or require it at all.

By PhilipII, Mamucium, Britannia (11th August 2012)

I spent 6 yrs in bkk, now 3 in huahin, and 2 in korea
thais do ok, compared with koreans who spend a gazillion$ and still cant talk

Go away for a length of time and then come back, they really are not too bad, not perfect but not bad

Hell , if they were good why would they need us????

By Rick Rezac, huahin (10th August 2012)

Dear Sir Heath from Harrow,
Thank you for correcting my mistake to 800.000 Baht, yes we have many accents from the UK I left Glasgow in 1958 with a very broad accent, I had to learn to speak the Queens english, in London at 16 years old but I was very street wise, I had three bosses in my life and I learned from all of them they were all jews German jew Scottish jew Russian jew they all spoke good english with accents from scotland and london, so it should not be hard for youngsters to learn here in Thailand.

By charles Wilson, Khunhan Sisaket (8th August 2012)

Charles Wilson: You meant 800,000 Baht should be in your Thai Bank account three months prior to your application for Thai retirement visa? (If you have a pension coming in equivalent to 65,000 Baht per month or a combination of funds in Bank & pension = 800,000; that should do as well).
PhilipII: Don't children in countries where English is their first language LEARN English at all, say like grammar, pronunciation and of course writing? By the way, there are countries where more than one language is considered as first languages. Canada for example is officially bi-lingual at the federal level and Singapore has four 'first' languages.The children here, learn primarily and fore-mostly, like anywhere else, the language spoken at home - it could well be English, with a slant of course. But then, how many slants or accents do they have in England for example. It is as diverse as a Glaswegian's is to a Manchurian's; from West Country to London. Within London itself there could be as many as a dozen and half accents. (GBS - "My Fair Lady")

By Sir Heath, Harrow, Mddx (8th August 2012)

Sean of Paris comments,
I think your last sentence says it all as far as I am concerened, they rely on the tourists, and teachers with tourist Visa they make more money from the visas.

They make it very hard for a teacher with Visa work permits etc also for retirement visas you have to have 8000 baht in bank for 3 months before, yet a thai can go to the UK buy a house and OWN it and does not have to go to immigration every 90 days to sign it.

By charles Wilson, Khunhan Sisaket (8th August 2012)

If they were taught by Filipino teachers then it is not surprising their English is deficient as English is a learnt language in the Philippines certainly not a native one. I have met Filipinos that speak better Spanish!!!!

By PhilipII, Mamucium, Britannia (8th August 2012)

First of all I agree with Jeff's comment which is sub-standard NES teachers. During my 10 years of teaching in Thailand I have seen that many government school want a fair skinned,coloured eyes, blond hair specimen to be their teacher, they don't care if the person has any qualification apart from being fair-skinned.I have seen Russian ,French , Spanish teaching who r really poor in Grammar and speak incorrect English and can't even write a lesson plan.Thai teachers who teach English grammar use only Thai and lack in English skills.Also the big size of the classes between 40-45.

By sabahat guyot, bangkok (8th August 2012)

It is partly the nature of SE Asian languages--Thai, laotian, Cambodian, and even Mandarin, Korean and Japanese that make it hard for them to learn English. These languages have tones and sounds very different from English. Malaysia and Philippines are different and have the benefit of English and American influence. Same with India. but equally important, as evidenced by some responses is that the Thais don't want to learn English. They can't and instead of making an effort they say they don't want to. The result is poor English all around Thailand. I agree it is baffling given how much the country depends on tourism.

By Sean, Paris, France (7th August 2012)

Well said. We are dealing with a bit of a culture clash here, though, as Americans tend to fight against anyone who tells them, "resistance is futile." Thus the method you speak of would fail with someone like myself and applying such a system to Thai kids is not going to work.
If someone can communicate in English with another person, they are speaking English. Filipinos speak English and should also teach. The frustration I have with Thailand bringing in Filipino teachers is that the Filipinos are willing to work for half what the rest of us get. It is a common tale around the world of countries bringing in cheaper labor to save costs and annoying the old line. As ASEAN grows in strength, the labor may come from places like Laos and Cambodia, for perhaps even half the Filipino wages. It is the law of supply and demand at work, and other economic rules I barely remember from my college days.

Thus endeth the lesson.

By RDF, Chiang Mai (6th August 2012)

I am a Filipino and this is the way we are taught English in our country. Our dedicated Filipino English teachers teach us very systematically. We don't jump to conversation right off the bat; instead, we study grammar that encompases word forms, word order, sentence patterns, exercises and composition/writing. In addition, we also enrich our vocabulary and drill on correct pronunciation and intonation. We do both oral and silent reading and have to answer discussion questions in the literal, critical, and analytical levels. Furthermore, the educational system reinforces the already very effective ways in learning English by not considering such a laziness-inducing No Fail Policy ( Once you failed to meet the course standard in any subject, you get a failure grade which in turn prompts you to take summer classes or repeat the year level) and by giving power to the school to implement a very strict implementation of school rules and regulations, and to the teachers to demand adherence to classroom rules from the students. These in turn create the fear of uncompromised consequences in the students, cultivate in them a sense of responsibility, and enable the students to push their limit and realize their full potential. Last but not least, the mindset that once the teacher enters the classroom, let alone starts teaching, students have to drop everything and give the utmost attention to the teacher.

By Oliver, (6th August 2012)

I'm getting a little fed up with everyone stating that the general level of English here is poor! Others compain that Thais don't understand that they need to speak English! Well actualy the majority will never have any use for the English language - so they don't!

Even in countries which are considered to be very good at English, such as Holland or Sweden, don't believe for a second that all students graduate from high school fluent English speakers - NOT TRUE! That comes later, usually from foreign travel - yes, they suddenly realise that if they want to go anywhere in the world no-one is going to speak their language so they have to speak English.

People who don't travel rarely have any use for a foreign language! Of course others will be motivated to speak English for other purposes such as a specific career, or interest in English/US music - but that doesn't really include many Thais. Your students may tell you they want to travel around the world, but actually most prefer to stay in their own country, and nowadays the preference amongst young Thais is K-Pop music!

Please remember that English is a school subject, one of many school subjects in a long school day. Here, as everywhere in the world, students are expected to pass their subjects, and that is their primary aim. Of course it would be great if all students wanted to excel, but that is never going to be the case, regardless of where you are in the world and how good the education system is!

As teachers we can only help our students to achieve their aims, to facilitate learning rather than force it down their throats. Maths and science teachers don't get all frustrated when most of their students don't want to become mathemeticians or scientists - why should language be any different. We can only provide our students with skills that they may (or may not) choose to develop in later life. Similar to Maths or Science skills, they will have a latent knowledge of the English language which will stand them in good stead when the time comes that they need or want to speak English. Of course we hope that along the way a proportion of students will become so interested that they will become fluent, but it can't be forced.

When our current and ex students reach a stage in life when they realise that English is important to them, and want to learn further, that knowledge will still be there, and can be refreshed quite quickly. I have seen this in so many students who come to me for private lessons, years after their last English lesson. They have come to the decision that they want to learn, and are prepared to pay for it too, so their motivation is high. The English that they learned in school soon comes flooding back and can be built upon.That, along with confidence which comes with age and a willingness to actually speak the language results in very quick results!

So to those who continue to bemoan the poor standard of English here, maybe your expectations are unrealistic!

By Del, Thailand (6th August 2012)

Poor students are the products of sub-standard NES teachers who adhere to dreary general English programs.

By Jeff, Thailand (6th August 2012)

The government show no great commitment towards assisting population in grasping English, Little or no TV in English. Thais mistakenly think they can do without and so their children adopt same attitude. No financial investment in native speakers teaching students. Let's get a cheap alternative - Filipinos. Thai teachers are not motivated as they see acquisition of English by the next generation as reducing the Thainess in Thailand. So a number of things that may be a reason why English is so poor here. An overall parochial attitude is the main obstacle

By John Vicary, Chonburi province (5th August 2012)

hmmmm, that statement really does implicate teachers really, if teachers are of a poor quality, then the communities will reflect this...

so what are we saying about the majority of recruiters and schools in Thailand right now?

but don't sweat it, I'm back in the country kids and things are gonna change !

By Teacher Robert, omnipresent buddhist (5th August 2012)

You should get 7-Eleven to sponsor some sort of cider competition, Philip.


By Jeff, Thailand (5th August 2012)

Tony, you're not even making sense any more. You're coming across as someone who shouts at commuters late at night in a bus station after slugging three litres of supermarket cider.

I think we need to get the comments back on to the reason why Thais cannot speak English well and ditch the arguments that have kind of sidetracked things. Thanks. Phil / Ajarn.com

By philip, (4th August 2012)

yes, you were corrected when you were mistaken when you were young. Who corrected yr language? I know yr mom and dad or your neighbours.
I think it is too difficult to correct when ESL students make mistakes because they dont have mom and dad or their neighbour who can speak English well.
I did not learn grammer when I studied or write my mother language cos it is the same issues just like you.
May I ask you a question if no NES don't make any grammer mistake.I know some of the NES have never been to any university. Yes their English writing or speaking is alot better when they compared to ESL . But when compared theirs with highly graduated people from their own country.
So I mean we have to think it positively.

By tony, (4th August 2012)

"What is this trend I’m seeing of putting spaces both before and after commas - is it some new innovation in language teaching?

I was asking myself the same question Del. I seriously hope someone puts a stop to it soon.

By philip, (4th August 2012)

"I also think only native speaker are needed in all advertisement for teaching position are not the best solution.Because most of NES are not teachers. they just speak the best English,but most of them don’t know how to teach."

Well Tony, regardless of how good a teacher you are, you should NOT be teaching English. As shown in your post, your command of the language just isn't good enough! Everyone can make occassional typing errors, but your post is riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical and punctuation errors! I pity your students - maybe you should take a few English lessons yourself.

Note: What is this trend I'm seeing of putting spaces both before and after commas - is it some new innovation in language teaching? 555

By Del, Thailand (3rd August 2012)


You're defending instead of responding with anything concrete.

And the correct spelling is "mathayom".

I'd love to see how biased and generalised your supposed research was!

By Jeff, Thailand. (3rd August 2012)

"Consider copying and pasting your notes into Word to make corrections before sending"

I think a lot of the teachers who contribute to the comments section would do well to heed that advice Roy - not just Tony.

By philip, (3rd August 2012)

Tony, is English a second language for you or do you just have trouble writing grammatically clear sentences? Consider copying and pasting your notes into Word to make corrections before sending. It is difficult for me to take your arguments regarding grammar seriously when you use such poor grammar yourself.

Grammar doesn't help with speaking as much as it helps with writing. It is easier to teach than conversation which is why so many poor English speakers focus on it. Also, Thailand likes to use multiple choice tests to evaluate students and conversation skills don't fit into such tests. We didn't learn grammar from our parents from books. We were corrected when we misspoke and, if our parents were educated, heard proper grammar in use. Trying to get kids to learn from a book without hearing it in use is pretty useless.

By RDF, Chiang Mai (3rd August 2012)

Yes , of-course,English teachers should speak English well.As far as I know ,most of the teacher don't try to speak proper English with clear pronunciation . When they teach in the classroom , they don't care basic grammar in use.Some even said "I hate grammar".Wol, some English teachers say this words in front of the students. But,luckily I also met a few enthusiastic teachers. well, I surprised English skill of the one from Sukhothai wittayacom school.But Good teaching method is still in need.
I also think only native speaker are needed in all advertisement for teaching position are not the best solution.Because most of NES are not teachers. they just speak the best English,but most of them don't know how to teach. Look at your neighbor-countries not even 0.1 percents of their English teachers are NES.But their English is a lot better than English Speakers from Thailand.
please think positively ,just forget your nationalism when people are commenting.It is for your country!!! I am sorry.

By Tony, Bangkok (3rd August 2012)

@ Kieran from Nakhon Sri Thammarat. Regarding the last comment you sent - no disrespect but could you proofread it a little and send it again? The spaces either side of each comma make the sentences difficult to read and.......well, the whole thing was difficult to follow. Sorry. (Phil, ajarn.com)

By philip, (3rd August 2012)

As far as I know there are 11 officially recognised languages in South Africa, of which English is only the 5th most spoken. Given that, how can South Africans claim to be native English speakers! On top of that, South African English is littered with words and phrases from Afrikaans, isiZulu, Nama, and other African languages. You might as well call a Singaporean a native speaker of English - . In fact they probably have more to claim to that title!

By Del, Thailand (2nd August 2012)

@ Jeff

Jeff...was French your second language? Because, being given an explanation for the learning of a native language is usually not necessary. Secondly, if you would of read the first sentence of my comment adequately, you wouldn't be asking questions or thinking my comment(s) are generalizations. I did actual informal research, disguised as mid and final term testing, with literally hundreds of Matayom students about 4 years ago...

By Frankie Bishop, Chiang-Rai (1st August 2012)


1. And I was never told why I should learn French when I was at school.

2. A gross generalisation. How long have you been working here and did at least three Thais of some authority tell you this?

By Jeff, Thailand (1st August 2012)

Del , Now you really have me confused , Oh superior one , please help me overcome this confusion.Your definition of a NES, where do you get it from ?? So if one speaks only English at home , was educated in English , even has a degree from an English varsity an internationally recognized degree, receives all religious instruction , all military instruction in English, and even their bloodlines are English , then what should they state , if asked , say in an official document what their native tongue is ??
What language do you think South African Indians speak , what language are all government documents printed in and what language do their president and politicians speak,??
So Paddy and Taffy, even Bruce and Kiwi, , what is their official language , because aboriginal languages are spoken in their countries , , please help us, what language what must we all state as our official , Oh 'Red Indians , their language is still spoken. For legal purposes these'native languages are recognized as official . please enlighten us Del

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (1st August 2012)

- I actually did some informal research on this very subject and probably the two primary reasons in order are: 1.) They are not told 'why' they should learn English. They are just told...'learn English'. They are not told of the impact of the English language on Modern Day Thailand. 2.) Deeply embedded dislike for all things foreign as a result of 'Nationalistic' indoctrination and the effects of colonialism of surrounding countries during recent history. Fortunately, the Thais are quite proficient with written and spoken English...thus, 2 out of 3 isn't bad.

By Frankie Bishop, Chiang-Rai (1st August 2012)

"About 70% of South Africans of European heritage, and 100% of Indians are in FACT 100% NES*

555, I think you are a bit confused, a native English speaker is someone who has English as a first language or "mother tongue", learned in a country where English is the ONLY recognised national language. How many Indians does that include? Only Indians born and raised in the UK, USA, AUS etc are native speakers! Being of European heritage also makes no difference, unless of course you are fortunate enough to have been born and raised in the UK or Ireland., as they are the only English speaking counrties in Europe!

By Del, Thailand (31st July 2012)

Del , Many is not the same as all About 70% of South Africans of European heritage, and 100% of Indians are in FACT 100% NES , and as mentiond before multi lingual, so your comment " I would not put South Africans in same sentence as NES" How is it that you define yourself ? ? ?.
Another fact Del , South Africans are no longer dark horses here I can point you to agents and schools that are now reluctant to employ any other nationality .Agents that exclude South Africans do so out of ignorance. Moreover I can also point you to Europeans , non native speakers who are definitely better teachers than many NES teachers , why , ? because they are multi lingual , Oh and they don't say " Me moother roons to joomp on the boos" Mee loov, so relax and ava noother koopa tea me loov. .
Yours in Dialect.

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (31st July 2012)

If someone teaches LANGUAGE , and cant be bothered to learn the lLANGUAGE of the students they teach or the people they live with , it behoves many a question, mainly what is that persons natural propensity to the core subject matter being tought, that being LANGUAGE , the deepest part of any culture ??Religion is also a very deep part of culture, should one take time to study Buddhism , we will notice that it offers a very practical way to enlightenment , to overcome suffering , however its face is all ceremony , " Up to you "" Sound familiar ?? Well you see its the same here with English and anything else , if the student wants to (motivation), he/she has everything needed at disposal.Buddhism pushes not itself on anybody.
I think Thais in general are not given credit where its due as far as English ability is concerned, look at the amount of TAPSAP in their language ( English in Thai} Eg I,
sa cweem, sa take ( steak) Seafood , plastic etc etc , and the ingenious way they use it Bat for battery , moreover , the amount of Thai's who can speak but not read and write English, IE who have learned by way of "up to you" I speak here not only of bar girls but also of,Hippies taxi drivers etc etc .Furthermore many Thais understand English far better than we would like to believe, and far better than they can speak. .
Yours in You,

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (31st July 2012)

You know, Thai isn't the easiest language to learn, especially if you have a full time job and responsibilities. "Ashamed" of myself for not knowing Thai after a few years? Well, it would make my life a little easier, but not by much, as my wife speaks perfect English and there's not much of interest around me. It's not necessary for my job either, though I know a few words/phrases.

I will learn Thai properly if and when I see a real benefit to me to doing so. Before someone says I should do so out of "respect", sorry, but it is highly unlikely I would ever be able to get the same rights as a native, even if I was able to become a Thai citizen. I don't do the respect thing if it is only a one-way street.

By JBKK, BKK (31st July 2012)

In answer to jacks comments we are not here to learn to speak thai I have been here 9 years I speak little thai but where I live they speak 4 languages, its very difficult when you have 59 students in a class and you have one 45 minute lesson a week your success rate is very low.

Yes and as for me to speak thai makes no bloody difference I can motivate kids here without your lesson, thank you very much.

By charles Wilson, Khunhan Sisaket (30th July 2012)

"Yes , I hear you saying “ But many South Africans are not NES”. Fact is that the modern Afrikaner is basically fluent in English. "

555, being fluent in English is a very long way from being a NES! Sorry, but I wouldn't mention NES and S.Africans in the same paraphraph (never mind sentence) in that respect. I see a lot of employers here are of they same opinion, and exclude S. Africa from the list of acceptable countries on their job ads!

By Del, Thailand (30th July 2012)

At the end of the day, if you want to speak a language, you have to be motivated enough to learn it and there has to be a purpose for learning it. It doesn't matter if you're a high-flying businessman, easily distracted teenager, closet tranny, butcher baker or candlestick maker. There has to be reasons.

I would love to be able to speak Spanish well and every year I pick up my Spanish textbooks and 'have another bash'. But I'm always doomed to failure because I don't know any Spanish people, I never bump into any Spanish-speaking people and when I go over and see my parents in Spain (as I will this October) they are always butting in and completing my Spanish sentences every time I chat to a local Spaniard. I may as well just toss the phrasebooks in the bin and take a back seat.

What little Spanish I get to speak - una cerveza por favor / donde estan los servicios? - is hardly worth the effort of studying for hours and hours.

It's the same with the Thais studying English isn't it?

By philip, (30th July 2012)

What I see from this is that most of you clearly haven't lived in Thailand for very long.
And those that have and don't speak Thai should be ashamed of yourselves.

By Jack B Stalk, Bangers (30th July 2012)

Del, I agree the most effective language teacher is one that is multi lingual and obviously the grandest teacher is fluent in the same language as the students, but , as mentioned in another comment, being a good , albeit limited teacher is possible sans knowledge of the language of the students but,, subject to the level of the students.Multi lingualism breeds people that can see " around things," see "things" from a different angle , this is what made Einstein so great for he had a below average I.Q.
Del, in response to your question , ' how many of you can. . second language ?" Ever increasing is the number of teachers who are NES and fluent in a second and often a third language becoming, because more South Africans are joining the "profession." .The big diffs with them and other NES is that they use(use it or lose it) these languages on a daily bases, moreover they stem from a multi cultural society , have lived as minorities all their live's, have been called 'Soutpiel' ( salt dicks) or 'Mlungu" (white scum) all their lives and are hence very adaptable and can handle being called a Fa rrrang etc etc .
Yes , I hear you saying " But many South Africans are not NES" . Fact is that the modern Afrikaner is basically fluent in English. Teachers complaining about large class numbers and indiscipline , , , I say upgrade your skills , get a grip !! As I've mentioned LISTENING and DISCIPLINE are primary, yak yakity blaah.
Del , in response to your,answer to my query as to the final comment in your previous post. . . . The U K is not the only place that produces NES . . " Am I proud to be a NES", , far more suitable blaah yak yakity yak .

By Kieran, Nakorn sri Dhammarat (30th July 2012)

It is clear that there are reasons peculiar to Thailand, that doesn't encourage Thai students or most adults to learn English. Comparatively, Thailand has all that's necessary to live fairly comfortably. Food and clothing are affordable to a vast number of natives unlike many Asian, South American or African countries. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap almost throughout the year. Still, one needs a regular income to get by without much hassle. For that, any job would suffice. Why bother about advanced education or learning English to get there?

The mentality of the average Thai youngster is: if thousands around them are doing OK and are happy going about their business using only Thai, that should jolly well work for me too.
In my experience, not many Thai students are driven and motivated to seek positions of status. Peer influence may be there in some cases to break-away from this. But, by and large, they toe the line of their friends and colleagues for a future filled with joy and simplicity.

The Thai teachers, particularly those who call themselves English teachers, must bear some of the blame for not encouraging their younger generation to learn English and thus widen their scope for a better future. The reasons are too numerous. But to pick out the more glaring ones:

1. Most Thai English teachers aren't knowledgeable enough themselves to teach English to anybody and more than 75% of their time in English class they speak in Thai.

2. Nor are they professional in approach, attitude or in their dress code. The latter applies very much to many Thai lady teachers, who seem to thrive on the opportunity to display their over-decorated bodies and dresses, whose appearance therefore are far too extravagant (and cheap!). For them, everyday is like attending a fashion parade. Students, especially the females, therefore think that 'a good teacher is a beautiful teacher and a bad teacher is a .....". The boys do too, which must be why many opt to copy the 'beautiful lady teacher!'

3. They and the educational institute devote large chunks of academic time during the year for parties, celebrations and festivities, that everyone who cares about a brighter future can do without. In addition to the time lost, the message these wasteful events project is that learning anything is secondary.

4. The Thai teachers' natural temptation to be pompous about petty appointments and ranks received in rotation, which requires no test of character or knowledge, contributes to the further decline in perseverance in uplifting standards of English education.

5. To promote English in schools and Universities, English must be made visible. When even the floor numbers and class room numbers in most cases are in Thai writing and even 'Coke' is written only in Thai, what can one expect?

At the end, the foreign teacher can only do so much, as the managerial and decision making powers are always in the hands of the native teachers. The foreign teachers are invariably been frowned upon even if they think about a constructive suggestion. Their job is just to teach.

By Sir Heath, Phitsanulok (30th July 2012)

Dear Lucie(Ubon)
I agree with everthing you said, yes you are have the right to say what you have said you have been here a long time, your school are very lucky to have you, like myself you have seen many come and go in your 16 years here, I know you are a very good teacher, from what I have heard from parents of some of your students, I wish you well for the future I think my time as a full time teacher is over, so I will stick to being an MC at english camps from now on

By charles Wilson, Khunhan Sisaket (29th July 2012)

I came to Thailand 9 years ago I was not a teacher, but I got involved with an american peace cor worker, at my local obertaur office in Bakdong Khunhan to help him to teach the locals english, most of them were young woman, who just wanted to learn the basics, so they could go to Pattaya to meet farangs, it was so easy for them we taught 2 mornings a week, and I am happy to say that a few of them have done well for themselfs.

On the other hand about children learning english at school, my wife is a retired school teachers who taught at a primary school, which is the best time for kids to learn, but a primary teacher is not accepted as an english teacher unless she teaches at a secondary school, we live in area 4 of Sisaket and I can safely say my wife is the best english teacher around here.

We have both taught at our local hospital to doctors nurses pharmacist dentists, and also at our local Krung Thai Public Bank, people have to want to learn, I have worked at 5 schools in Sisaket Det Udon Kalasin, but I must say in Ubon they start young with kids from Primary they are lucky they have good schools to go onto.

I have found the teaching easy, it you that has to sell yourself to the kids and if they are confident with you you are half way there, also a lot of schools expect a miracle that you have a magic wand to wave and they can speak english in fluently in 3months and of course the schools think after 1 semester they will get shot of the teachers and save money, it also goes the other way with young teachers who are back packers they mess things up as well they have no idea most of them.. I was not a teacher back in the UK I was a salesman who owned 2 shoe shops I retired at 60 years of age ! am now 69 all you need is a good personality to teach here.

By charles Wilson, Khunhan Sisaket (29th July 2012)

How many of you are fluent in Spanish from your two or three years of high school Spanish? Or French? Or any other language you got in school? In my Spanish class we had one kid who went on to actually learn the language. The same is true here in Thailand. In each of my classes I have a few students who actually want to learn English and they go to classes on the weekend. Your one hour a week with them is not going to change many souls.
The only way to learn a language is to listen carefully and again and again. When you are teaching 50+ kids in rooms with concrete walls and glassless windows, the noise level never comes down to where someone could actually listen...except maybe the front rows.
The only thing that will motivate Thais to learn English is to see that competition from ASEAN countries will start to eat into their finances. Money makes the world go round.

By RDF, Chiang Mai (29th July 2012)

Here's another take on learning English. About 5 years ago I taught at a school in Lat Phrao and was told by a snotty 20 something female Thai teacher whose English was at best poor and at worst crap, that I as the native speaker should just play games as she and her other Thai English teachers were the real English teachers.
This is the reason Thais don't speak English most of the Thai teachers think they are better than they are, but as we all know most of them should leave English to people who use it as their first language.
Good luck to all of you native English teachers trying to make a difference, but you really are wasting your time.
I am going back home to work in England as an engineer. No losing face there, not like here in this totally two faced society were never being wrong is the best policy and never being criticised is the only way.

By Steve, Bangkok (29th July 2012)

"Ironically, many of the bar girls in Pattaya and Ban Chang actually speak much better conversational English than most of these Thai teachers, and some of them make extra money by doing evening and weekend English tutoring"

Surely English tutoring can't make more money than lying on your back - even in Pattaya?

By philip, (29th July 2012)

I work with Thai English teachers of which most cannot speak English well enough to carry even the most basic conversation. Ironically, many of the bar girls in Pattaya and Ban Chang actually speak much better conversational English than most of these Thai teachers, and some of them make extra money by doing evening and weekend English tutoring.

By the way, if your Thai teacher disciplinarian even shows up for class, you're doing much better than I usually do. Nothing more fun than doing a class in the middle of a circus.

By Robert, Ban Chang (29th July 2012)

I think this article and many of the comments miss the mark. The fact is that ALL Asians struggle to learn and become proficient english speakers. Korea has invested billions into learning english and Japan has had the 'jet' program for nearly 20 years and yet Koreans, for example, make the same mistakes over and over ('Nice to meet you"/ changED/ orangEE). Chinese too struggle as do their brethren across the strait in Taiwan.

I think much of it has to do with how different their language is from ours, how little they get to practice speaking english, and finally on the quality of language instruction both from native and non native teachers. Having said that, my students are at incredibly high level for their age, enjoy speaking and usually complete what is set for them. They are as good and in many cases better than my Korean and Chinese students.

There is no easy answer on how to make Thais into better english speakers but perhaps not categorising them as 'the worst in Asia' which I heard elsewhere, would be a start. Recognising the differences in their own language to ours (comparative analysis) would be helpful and realising that english here is in many cases to be used as a 'lingua franca' where 'native-like' ability is neither the goal of learners and shouldn't be the aim of instructors.

By Si Knight, bangkok (27th July 2012)

How can someone be a good language teacher without properly learning a second language themselves?

Easily, it's called empathy, or even common sense through doing the job. I don't speak another language, but I had noted the obvious problems Thai students have within a few months, and modified my teaching practice to compensate. It's not rocket science.

It can be more involved and advanced than this, obviously, but I really don't think you need to be fluent in another language to teach the present continuous with any success.

Additionally, Thailand doesn't pay enough to attract that kind of specialism, at least from native speakers. If you can speak another language fluently, you could probably manage to get a good bit more money than you can by TEFLing. Beggars can't be choosers...

By JBKK, bkk (27th July 2012)

P.J. has touched on a situation that any teachers of English is likely to encounter. Senior students with barely basic Prathom level English. Even after 100's of hours of English language study over ten years. Having taught English in Thailand for 10 years until recently I would like to make a couple of observations. Student from 'middle class' families who can afford to send their children to International Schools (that's with a capital 'I', not the many schools that prefix 'international' on their name for prestige and added revenue). tend to have a higher proficiency in English overall. I have found this over and over again with the students I have taught.

Secondly, is the 'losing face' of lack lustre Thai teachers feeling NES teachers are showing them up. Though I have known some outstanding Thai English teachers over the years, so many will undo the good work you do as an English teacher un-correcting your students written work to something completely wrong after you have checked it. Or after spending considerable time on spoken English and correct pronunciation to have students come back into class the next week saying it all wrong. Why? Because their Thai English teacher has told them the 'farang' is wrong. Thus if a student expects to pass English, its the Thai way or the highway. This I think goes a long way to explaining the poor standard of English in Thailand.

By Ajarn John, Australia (27th July 2012)

I have been teaching here for only three months at two different schools, however what I have noticed is that either (depending on your school location) the Thai teachers will attempt to either micro-manage what you teach or not even care. Many of the Thai students have no clue what, Hello, how are you or how old are you even means. They are just taught to mimic words and sentences without learning the basic fundamentals of what the words actually mean. My 3 year old parrot can do the same thing and his vocabulary is much better than theirs!!

Another problem I noticed is that many of the students are either not paying attention, being unruly, or doing other work. Many of them are just plain lazy! Another major issue is one hour of being taught English by a natural speaking teacher is surely not going to help the few students that really want to learn, and I emphasize the word, "few," as it is counter-intuitive to teach attempt to teach English for 45 minutes only to speak in the vernacular all the time! How does this help them??

I find it VERY, VERY, frustrating when I try to teach a 16 or 17 year old lessons from 1st and 2nd grades when they should have learned them years ago! If I give an English test, over 95% of them fail! This to me make absolutely no sense and is VERY, VERY aggravating!

By Rob, Bangkok Area (27th July 2012)

In answer to Kieran, I made that final comment because I do consider myself fortunate to be a NES - I can make a living just about anywhere in the world I choose to live, simply because of my mother tongue. I also believe that English should be taught by NES - but ONLY by those who have taken the trouble to learn a second language themselves. It doesn;t even have to be the language of the country where you are teaching (although that would be the ideal situation)

.Simply to go through the process helps to appreciate how incredibly difficult it is to reach any degree of proficiency in a foreign language. Those who have never done that will find it very hard to appreciate their students problems, and to empathise with their learning difficulties.

I think Thai students are great, and those who are genuinly interested in learning learn very quickly. Ok, very few get it 100% right all the time - but have you ever listened to Italians, Germans or French trying to speak English! There are certain constructions that Thais consistently get wrong, but then again so do the Dutch and Swedish (who are generally considered to be good at English). These are usually down to the way their own languages are constructed

I agree with you that the Brits are the laziest when it comes to learning a foreign language - much lazier than Thai people! People here talk about immersion in a culture to facilitate language learning, yet how many "teachers" here can only just order a beer in Thai after 10 years of immersion. Maybe the students are just being dilligent and following teacher's example!

By Del, Thailand (27th July 2012)

RJ is correct. A half-decent EP should produce students able to produce a much higher standard of English communication and understanding than the average Thai student.

I work in one, and it is quite easy to see that even the worst-performing students are able to at least match the top 10% of students from the much larger Thai programme. This may have something to do with a reduction in class size, but I think it has much more to do with the fact that the students have to deal with a lot more English, which would be blunted if the language of instruction was changed to, or incorporated more, Thai.

I would imagine at International school level a similar jump in ability can be seen, due to exposure to the language.

By JBKK, BKK (26th July 2012)

You have raised a very valid point. But I fail to understand your final comment , in relation to the point you have raised. . ??
I hope you could elucidate on this , because I have never come across a group of people so reluctant to go beyond English , so inept in any language besides English as the Brits ... ? ? !

By Kieran, Nakorn Sri Dhammarat (26th July 2012)

Probably for the same reason that after four years of French classes, I can barely string together a coherent sentence. Let alone get the verb conjugation right. When English is being studied an hour or two a week in a Thai government school, it's simply not enough for the majority of students who won't speak any English outside of school, or are not enrolled in additional English lessons. That's the same as it was for me in high school and college French class. I learned the basics - Days, numbers, "How are you?" "My name is...," but I wouldn't be able to last five minutes in a French conversation.
Take those same government school students, and put them in an English Program, and they'll do better. More immersion should yield better results. However, depending on the demographics of the student body, most likely they'll be speaking solely Thai as soon as they walk out of the classroom. Now, put those same students in an International School where the lingua franca of the playground is English, and you'll see a sharp rise in their English fluency.
At the English Program I work at, I notice that the classes with students who have native English speaking parents are better as a whole, largely because the other students in the class will try to converse in English outside the classroom.
One of the students who left my school two years ago to attend an International School came back to visit this past week. While she was a good student at my school, she was by no means fluent. When speaking to her this week, her conversational English seemed to be pretty much fluent. Students can adapt quickly to their environment. More English classroom time is good, but I think the key really is to put them in an environment where they're more likely to speak English in a relaxed setting with their peers. Just my two cents.

By RJ, Bangkok (26th July 2012)

i would like to applaud dels comments something i touched on in a previous post.The whole ESL situation is a joke and will never work what they should do is educate the teachers by learning with a native speaker or fluent english speaker and then that teacher will pass his or her knowledge to the students using english and when needs be the students native language.This would be at a fraction of the cost and would solve the problem.The students are not the problem.

By john, bangkok (26th July 2012)

im not a native english speaker but learning english aint just takes place in a formal place but also at home. application is really important. just switch all the thai medium into english, let us see what will happen. learning english is just a common sense, just imagine and remember how they learned their own native tongue, same with english.

By alberto, maesot (26th July 2012)

I argee, in part, with some of the comments made here, but would like to be slightly controversial. In danger of upsetting a large proportion of members here, what makes you think that you can teach English if you have never learned to speak a foreign language yourself? (and I dont mean a bit of pigeon Thai or phrasebook French) Those who are not at least bilingual have no idea what it takes, and how difficult it can be for your students. especially those outside of Bangkok who have no access to the English language outside of the ESL classroom.

A whole industry has evolved from NES "teachers" who want to earn a living teaching foreign students, but are too lazy to learn the language of their host country! This has given rise to the concept that the only way for students to learn effectively is to use ONLY English as the language of instruction. If this were really the case don't you think our own education systems would adopt it? Then they would only employ native German, French and Spanish teachers who don't speak any English to taech in our high schools back home?

That's never going to happen - so when will the ESL, TEFL, TESOL bubble burst? That's probably never going to happen either, so they whole industy, built on a misconception, will continue to trundle along, providing an easy living to NES!

Do I consider myself fortunate to have been born in the U.K? You bet I do !

By Del, Thailand (26th July 2012)

Carl, in a way you are correct as to listening , biological , listening being of the mind, and mind can only operate in accordance with how it has been trained, and the Thai ear is not trained the same way as ours , Eg , as Lisa pointed out final consonant endings , in learning to read Thai one will see (hear) that should they write an English word ,Eg Sweet House final consonants will be indicated as unpronounced because unpronounced letters are indicated in Thai writing yak yakity yak blaah , so this idea that foreign teachers should not use or learn Thai is absolutely absurd .Most of these comments remind me of opposition politicians always on about the governments ineptitudes , but never offering some worth of their own , so lets concentrate on what we foreign teachers are lacking, yakity yak yak blaaah yakityblaah. ..

By Kieran, Nakorn sri Dhammarat (25th July 2012)

"After 16 years in the country, I have stopped trying to change the system. I concentrate instead on my students"

Very wise words Lucie. I enjoyed reading your comments. Life's so much easier when you aren't trying to change the system. I'll drink to that.

By philip, (25th July 2012)

Apologies for the plug, but I think that my most recent blog might throw some more light on the ability of Thais to speak English: http://www.ajarn.com/blogs/geoff-richards/the-death-of-general-english/

By Geoff Richards, Isaan (25th July 2012)

They lack any motivation to learn English. They feel especially, upcountry, that there isn't much need for it as they will probably end up working upcountry also. A very few do make it abroad to study English. The vast majority know this.

Another point is the lack of exposure to English. Most students will have on average two hours a week with an English teacher. It just isn't enough for them to soak up the language.

When they go home they are again bombarded with everything Thai, including those awful Thai dramas on TV.

These are just some of the reasons plus perhaps a lack of vision by the government also.

By james, Chiang Mai (24th July 2012)

The Thai education system focuses on rote-learning, that is, just remembering facts and figures so they can be regurgitated for an exam. This works OK with a subject like maths, and it works OK for most subjects the way they are taught in most Thai schools by most Thai teachers. But it doesn't work when us farangs come in and ask students not just to learn a list of vocabulary, or the conjugation of a verb, but to learn how to judge what is being asked, and what the appropriate tense would be. It doesn't work when we expect them to be able to use what they've learnt to construct an original sentence, and it certainly doesn't work when we ask them to have a real, free-style conversation with a real person.

The key thing is that students are not just bad at English, they're bad at most subjects, if you actually ask them to take what they've learnt and apply it to any real situation. It takes a smart, dedicated and determined person to take what they learned in school, apply it, develop it and really understand it. I am lucky to have met several such people. Unfortunately, many of them have left the country to live and work elsewhere (and I don't mean on the arm of a farang man). Make of that what you will.

As someone has mentioned, what is really needed is a complete overhaul of the education system. But that system is rooted in the Thai culture, in which subordinates can't challenge the boss, it's best to have the RIGHT answer than to have thought of an original but controversial one, and let's face it, a lot of pretty paperwork and display boards are the most important indicator of a system's success.

After 16 years in the country, I have stopped trying to change the system. I concentrate instead on my students, and trying to let them see that English is not just a subject - it's a way of communicating with real people. I start my primary 3 classes each year with a world map, and they find out in which countries English is spoken. By the end of the year, maybe half of them are confident asking and answering a variety of simple, present-tense questions. That's all I hope for. I pity all you folks who have to try to drum past perfect etc into a group of hormone-ridden teenagers, or worse still, the teachers, directors and other adults who come to you saying "ASEAN's round the corner - teach me to speak English. Let's do it Wednesday evenings for 2 months."

By Lucie, Ubon Ratchatani (24th July 2012)

i find it amazing that so many people have an opinion on this matter i wonder how many of them can speak a second language .I also wonder after living in thailand for more than year how is their own level of Thai.I think its a case of the pot calling the kettle black.In response to previous comments why dont thais pronounce the ends of words properly its because in english the start of the word and the end of the word is pronounced strongly. In thai the words have a soft ending. Also in my opinion standing outside swensens and annoying people is not hard work. The real reason why thai people cannot speak English is because Thais have proved they are unable to teach English .So they have to rely on farangs. These farangs do one of two things: they play endless games and although looks good and the students enjoy it has no real result or someone who has done a celta or Toefl gives endless rules in which the students cannot follow. The reason why Europeans can speak English is because the teacher can speak English and the students native language. So my advice to all farang teachers is too learn as much thai as you can and although the school wont thank you for it the students will and you will notice a massive difference in the amount of material you can cover with your students

By john, bangkok (24th July 2012)

I agree with most of these comments that the listening skills are poor and Thais not seeing any real benefit to their learning the English language. There is also the Thai face saving motto "If you can't do it 100% correctly, never try" which prevents many from speaking because of fear of failure. All the other comments about changing teachers annually, low salaries and lack of access to real textbooks are very valid. Carl from Bangkok has it spot on - it is never going to change unless there is a complete and total revamp of the ministry of education, but that will never happen.

By Calan, Chachoengsao (24th July 2012)

I've been teaching in Thailand for a while now and I'd put a lot of it down to lack of effort and too much of a heavy workload. (A lot of students brag that they study and read books seven days a week but I can't see the results of it)

I've had countless students with good intentions who think they can simply just sit and listen to me. They think some how by sitting and listening and doing nothing at all that this knowledge can just be inputted into their brains like a computer.

I've taught some French, Israeli, Ukrainian students, etc, and they've learnt so quickly. It's been very satisfying to see their progress. Of course their languages are maybe more suited to learning English, but they put in genuine hard work which I see very rarely from my local students.

I've recently been teaching some Thai master's degree students and they've been paying out of their own pocket. They were as keen as mustard and recently scored nearly 700 on their TOEIC tests. They were like mice when they first started. By the end of the course they were telling me stuff I didn't wanna know.

If I had to sleep with a man, I'd put it down to confidence and not being taught how to learn by themselves properly.

"The only stupid question is the question you don't ask"

By Liam Gallagher, Thailand (24th July 2012)

There is not one simple answer to this question. Some of the above comments raise good and true points if a bit generalised. For example John Smiths comment about Thai people being "fairly slow" might be true for most, but there are exceptions as in any country. I have adult students at high level who are quite bright and it's their intelligence that has carried them through to advanced level (but on the whole I do know what he means). Same for the teenage "I don't need to speak another language" attitude. Most Asian countries have this kind of mild indoctrination masked as patriotism and it's as true here as it is in others (except N.Korea, obviously).

Another reason is, as Keiran pointed out, poor listening skills. But I feel this may go as deep as to be biological, in Thai people's DNA. Something about Thai people's inner ear must be different (is the only explanation I can think of). I can't be the only English teacher that has noticed Thai people's inability to pronounce, or even hear the end of English words? The "s" of plural nouns? The three different 'ed' endings of regular verbs? Down to the last two or three letters of most words in the dictionary! Even when trying they simply are unable to hear the end of, and therefore pronounce the end of English words.

Another reason I'd like to throw into the hat is the poor salaries and working conditions for most Thai schools. For these reasons no half decent English teacher stays at these places for more than a year (if that). He or she teaches the basics; "what's your name?", "how old are you?", "how are you" etc. Then they leave, the school hires another teacher who goes back to square one. "What's your name?", "how old are you?' and the cycle continues. My God, by the time these kids reach Mathayom level they're probably so sick of the same English questions and phrases that they've given up on the language all together!

Like I said there is more than one reason, and therefore must be more than one action taken to solve this issue. So basically it's never going to change!

By Carl, Bangkok (24th July 2012)

I agree with Philip, many students have retained a huge amount of what has been taught over the years, but they lack the confidence to put it into practice.

At school I have been teaching science to some new M3 students. I asked some basic questions to find out what level of English they understood, and all they could manage was some embarrassed looks around the room and "Alay wah?"

I've been teaching the same students in an English foundation class and, having started at 'to be', in just a week (admittedly 7 hours of study) they can switch between past and future perfect tenses and simple past and future from drawings on the board.

I had been had ! They just don't seem to want to do it, it's as simple as that.

I even asked the students directly. " Do you want to learn English?" Answer, "No."

By Michael, Hatyai (24th July 2012)

PJ, you answered your own question with, 'I think that Thai people will continue to put in a very small amount of effort as long as they don't see any real need to learn English.'

john, bangkok said, 'in my six years in thailand i have never seen a thai working hard at anything.' Maybe you should visit the nearest Swensen's then and see how hard the people work to get you in the door and keep you coming back for more! Look around and you'll find plenty of hardworking Thais everywhere. The ones who do manage to learn English (past the intermediate level) have done so by working hard at it.

I agree with Kieran that listening skills are VERY poor in Thailand and that is because they are switching off completely when it comes to listening. Thai educators don't seem to know HOW to teach listening. They teach GRAMMAR. That's the problem. They should focus more on listening and less on grammar.

When Thais decide that English is a serious subject to learn, they will learn it. As it stands, Thailand still treats this subject as an afterthought to the serious subjects such as Thai, Math and Science.

By Lisa, (24th July 2012)

the answer is simple learning a language requires effort in my six years in thailand i have never seen a thai working hard at anything .I find it amazing that the country works at all the problem is not only with english but all their other subjects are on a par with their english skills.

By john, bangkok (24th July 2012)

They speak badly because they listen badly . Announcements announcements all day long , they switch off .I'm yet to witness a foreign English speaker concentrating on this skil . One needs to learn and thus teach listening first . The first criteria for listening is DISCIPLINE .

By Kieran, (24th July 2012)

I have also asked myself this numerous times. I have wondered if it could be because the language is so different to their own that they cant associate with it. But as an English speaker I find Thai as foreign. I have been in Thailand for a year and I have picked up a few words and sentences. Could it maybe be a lack of interest from students.

Students are taught the basic "What's your name?", 'How old are you?", "How are you?", every single year and yet you still find Matayom students staring at you blankly when asked "how old are you?"

I am the only foreign teacher at my school and have two teachers who can speak English. I have noticed with the rest that although their vocabulary is not very good and their knowledge of the language poor, a few will try..... but only if they catch me alone in a room. the rest hardly even greet, not even in Thai. I don't think it is dislike towards me as they do ask the English speakers to ask if I like the school ect.

I haven't quite been able to put my finger on it but the topic definitely boggles the mind. How do we fix this?

By Yael, Bangkok (24th July 2012)

The problem with Thais not speaking english is two fold.
Firstly, A false nationalistic pride that is drilled into them from a very young age, making them believe that Thailand is the "best" I think the following mindset is very common for a Thai student in Matayom. "I have everything I need right here in the "land of smiles" why should I bother speaking another language. Its not like I will ever leave my wonderful country"

Secondly I dont care if Ploy gets over 10000 hours of English exposure from the best teachers in the business she will still struggle to speak English mainly because off her IQ score (yes I am saying Thais in general are, to put it nicely fairly slow)

I cant see the level of English improving in Thailand at all and Thailand will suffer the consequences come ASEAN

By John Smith, BKK (24th July 2012)

PJ, I've begun to wonder over the past few years how much of this is simply a confidence issue, and in reality do Thais actually speak far better English than we give them credit for? All they need is the chance and more importantly, the need to not feel intimidated.

I've recently joined a gym where I'm the only farang member - so I guess I'm something of a novelty. After getting sawatdee khaps and hellos and nods for a few weeks, quite a few of the Thai members have 'plucked up the courage' to chat with me. And I've been pleasantly surprised. Once they realise that you are a good listener and you are not going to belittle or laugh at their efforts, their confidence grows before you.

For many Thai English speakers, they have the vocabulary. They have a decent knowledge of the grammar. They just lack the opportunity to practice.

By philip, (24th July 2012)

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