Benito Vacio

On teaching classroom language

Getting students to use simple English all the time

I admit for some time I was one of those language teachers who failed to teach classroom language in an authentic way. When teaching the topic, I just followed the syllabus given to me by the school for mere compliance.

I would cover it and would teach it in a very ordinary way like providing pictures of classroom language like, may I go out, may I borrow your pen, thank you, goodbye, may I come in etc., drilled students and required them to memorize the structures.

On several occasions, I would overlook the teachable moments when the students could learn the language naturally. Look at some instances which I rectified when I learned about teaching classroom language authentically.

1. While writing on the board, students would say, "Teacher, yabung." (Meaning the student can't see the writings on the board for his vision is blocked by the teacher.) My response was to continue writing and moved to the side so that the student could see. I would only say, "Wait I am still writing."Just that.

2. When students said "pasawa" I would say okay. For I understood they wanted to go the toilet to urinate. Just that.

3. When I asked, ‘Have you finished?" They would answer, "Yang. " And I would leave it like that.

This was one disadvantage of knowing Thai that I took things for granted when students communicated with me. As a result students were unable to use the classroom language they learned.

Thanks to Mr. David Gaily, a speaker in one of our seminars in Chulalongkorn University who talked about teaching the communicative way. His lecture woke me up from my deep slumber and gave me the idea of teaching classroom language in an authentic way. Therefore, whenever confronted with students who speak Thai in class, I considered it an opportune moment for teaching them the right structures. So, these are now the ways how I handle them.

1. When students say "Kin num." I insist that students say, "May I drink, Teacher."The student can't go unless he/she can say the right sentence in English.

2. When students receive worksheets, colors, pens, notebooks, spelling notebooks, or their plastic envelopes, and when I hear, "Khop khoon krub." I tell them, Thank you. And the rest say thank you.

3. When I ask, where their books are? They answer, "Yoo ban. " I tell them. "I left it at home." Surprisingly when this situation comes again, they answer "Sorry teacher, I left it at home."

4. When asked, "Where is your pen?" and they answer "Hai law." Ah, lost. Say, "Teacher, it's lost."

5. When they come late, I ask," Why are you late?" They answer. "Tam ti hong." So, you worked in the room. Say "I worked in the room."

6. When I want them to work fast I erase the words right away. So they say, "Cha cha, Teacher." I teach them. "Slowly, Teacher." Next time, they say, "Slowly, Teacher."

7. When they ask, "Wanee wanti tao aray?" I tell them. "Teacher, what's the date today?

8. "Teacher, Yang lob mi mai?" "Teacher, may I erase?"

9. "Teacher, yeam dictionary." I say, "May I please borrow a dictionary?"

Once students are taught what to say they believe it because it is the teacher saying it. So it is important that even simple structures are to be corrected so that they get used to the correct language.

Of course, knowing the language of the students helps too, but it is more helpful if we teach the right structure to our students in English.

If we provide more opportunities for students to apply this in their daily activities in the classroom, it becomes a part of them and without any effort they speak correctly, grow confidence in speaking, and enjoy the ability to speak English.


Thanks, Lou Mak for the ideas. Yes, as language teachers, when teachable moments arise, let us try our best to exercise our function for these are learning opportunities that students shouldn't miss.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi. (2nd February 2016)

Is this not self evident? You are there to teach English. When Ss cannot ask to go to the toilet or state they they have forgotten/lost their book - it obviously becomes a personal 1:1 teaching moment.

I've even corrected pronunciation while the kid is waiting to go to the toilet. Most of them are just nipping out for a bit of freedom anyway - especially the girls who 'need' to use the toilet in pairs (funny how this is the same in womanhood as well as being an international phenomenon).

In my lower levels, I will let the HS Ss piss themselves before I allow them to use the toilet by asking in Thai. After we sort out the issue (in Thai) we will work that into English. I simply do not allow being spoken to in Thai., I will always sort out the need and ask the student to parrot (hopefully learning/understanding in the process).

Contrary to Thai teachers wishing us to use zero Thai in the class, I think I am more respected and certainly when you know what they student is saying and can correct in English inside of standing there pulling our slacks out of the crack in your ass - works far better. Very effective IMO.

Also the hackneyed, but fun can-may:
Teacher can I go to the toilet?
I don't know can you?

PS: Ss have not lost their books, the texts vanish thru magic, it's the book fairy. He takes all the books from the students not using them and brings them upcountry to the students that want them.

By Lou Mak, Bangkok (30th January 2016)

Thanks, Weera for the correction and for reading.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi (19th January 2016)

Great for reading and informative, but I have a second thought about situation number 8. It goes....

8. "Teacher, Yang lob mi mai?" "Teacher, may I erase?" (Teacher, do you have an eraser?)

By Weera, Rayong (14th January 2016)

Your article is a great reminder to all ESL/EFL teachers to take advantage of this teachable moment to emphasize in the leaders the need to use the correct structure in responding to situations appropriately . Simple responses that present clear messages indicate that they are already acquiring some linguistic skills. ( as taught to us back in the old ICMC days at the PRPC, Morong Bataan. , ) I enjoy reading your blogs . Keep it up kuya!,

By Mitch Torrejos, Manila (14th January 2016)

Thank you for the reminder about how to get students to use English, and the easy lesson in Thai (for me), I hear the phrases you mentioned in my classrooms a lot, but I didn't know what all of them meant.

By Ethan, Waritchaphum, Thailand (13th January 2016)

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