Blake Sibbitt

I'm very interesting. Please message me!

When language help and correction isn't always appreciated.

As a real estate agent, in my downtime, I'll regularly scroll through the various Bangkok Facebook groups looking for people who are looking for housing.

Recently, as I was scrolling, I came across a guy that had posted a lease-takeover. It was a beautiful condo at a great price, so I planned to send him a message to let him know I'd be happy to co-ordinate with the owner to get a new tenant in the condo, on a new lease, on the condition that he could maintain his deposit.

I never did get to post that message as I never got through the comments.

Scrolling through...

"I'm interested"
"Great place!"
"I'm interested"
"Beautiful condo"

And then the show stopper....

"I'm interesting", to which the guy responds, "I'll message you"

Well it certainly tickled me

A younger Thai woman leaving this short-and-simple comment, along with its reply. I have no idea why I found it so funny, but I did. A little "Tinder-esque" exchange, courtesy of either auto-correct or a slight grammatical error.

Reading it as it was written, this random girl who was just popping in to let everyone know she's interesting and to then have the guy respond, "Well then. In that case, I guess I'll message you!". I was in tears. My sides hurt from laughing so hard.

I left a reply, "This is hilarious. Thank you for this", along with a laughing or smiling emoji or one of those things that I have no business using as a 35-year-old man.

The gentleman gave the comment a like and that was the end of that. I put down the phone, put on a movie and settled in for the evening. For that brief moment, I forgot the country I live in. We weren't done. We were far from done.

I touched a nerve

Phone buzzes.

A notification that Ms. Interesting has replied. "Why this hilarious? Can you explain?"

So, I did. I explained the difference between interested and interesting in this context, why it was a funny comment and what the correct usage of both would be. Put down the phone, returned to my movie.

Phone buzzes.

Ms. Interesting isn't happy about being corrected. I reply, "I'm not here to correct. I simply appreciated the humour of the comment". Put down the phone, return to my movie.

Phone buzzes.

Now there's a message request. Ms. Interesting is a having full-blown temper tantrum. "EXCUSE ME! I don't know what is a problem with my comments but I think it not your business...." and on and on.

And on.

And on.

De-fusing the situation

It's 9 or 10 in the evening. I'm trying to watch a movie. All I want from life right now is to wind down from a long day. And now this. In just a few minutes the situation has gone from "This is adorable" to "Would you please just go away?". "Go away" were not the words going through my mind but I try not to curse often.

I click "view profile". To make matters even more entertaining, she works for a real estate company. A big one.

I reply, "I didn't correct you. You asked for an explanation. You got one. You're welcome to continue saying whatever you want. You're welcome to continue working for a real estate company and incorrectly use THE MOST commonly used real estate sentence. Now you have an opportunity to not be wrong every time you use it. That's a much preferable course of action than this child-like temper tantrum."

She began typing again. I blocked the conversation. My level of patience had been reached.

Attitudes to correction

I'm not an educator. I wouldn't advise any teachers to handle a situation like this how I did. But it does highlight a challenge that I'm sure many of you face. A large number of Thai people seem to have a complete inability to be corrected. The advice of "Here's how to say that right" always seems to be interpreted as "you're wrong".

Even in my own office. Completely unrelated to language. If I need to address a member of staff regarding process being executed incorrectly and proceed to train on more effective or efficient methods, I can expect absolute zero productivity from that member of staff for the remainder of the day. Or they just quit!

'No improvement'

Language related, I continue to see no improvement in the English language skills of the Thai population. Many of the same syntax and grammatical errors continue to be used regularly. Instead, I see and hear much of the expat community resorting to what we endearingly call "Thinglish".

A brief and humble request to the expat community of Thailand: Please no speak like this, okay na! Natural and immersion learning will always be the most effective method(ology) for language. Continuing to speak in broken English only ensures the perpetuation of it.

To those taking on the challenge of learning a new language: If someone pays you the respect of taking the time to help you, please just say "Thanks".


Well, a sensitivity to being corrected is not limited to just Thailand. Even in the Philippines and China, where the English skills are quite a bit higher on average than in Thailand, I have noticed a great sensitivity to being corrected, especially amongst the educated.

This being said, I actually rarely correct people directly, as I'm a teacher and I have found that this is often not effective; rather, I usually repeat the sentence back to them correctly, letting them deduce the error themselves. The only time I might correct in a direct manner is when a great misunderstanding has just occurred due to an English error.

Also, I would like to add that foreigners do not necessarily have to adjust to the native environment (in any country, not just in Thailand) if the particular custom, habit etc. in question is destructive. For example, I have been told in a few countries that hitting one's wife is acceptable in their native culture and that I would just have to deal with it.

Now, unwillingness to improve one's language or work habits is, of course, not as severe as being OK with striking one's wife but a lack of a good work or study ethic can be undermining or destructive in different ways, and other people do not need to adjust to this propensity. In terms of a lack of a good work ethic, I'm not trying to make a sweeping generalization about any nationality or ethnicity. There are always those who work hard and those who do not in every country.

By Lynken , Bangkok/Hangzhou (30th June 2017)

Blake: Even in my own office. Completely unrelated to language. If I need to address a member of staff regarding process being executed incorrectly and proceed to train on more effective or efficient methods, I can expect absolute zero productivity from that member of staff for the remainder of the day. Or they just quit!

Jack: I see you blame this problem on the local culture and not your own lack of understanding fo the context and management skills. I suspect if you continue to blame others for your failures you will not go far in your chosen profession.

You can try to change everyone in Thailand to conform with your expectations, or you can adjust your approach. Which one do you think is more likely to be successful?

Or will this attempt to "correct" you make you angry?

By Jack, Closer than you might think (30th June 2017)

"He will simply say the correct word or phrase back at me in a low voice and then move on straight away. He never dwells on it..."

Yep, that's the best way to do it... that way you can choose to be corrected and improve your language skills or just ignore the advice. Nobody gets hurt!

This aproach works well with small groups of adult classes or in general conversation with chums.

By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (28th June 2017)

Attitudes to correction and how you receive feedback when you are a language learner are so important. My Thai pal at the gym is brilliant at correcting me when he notices I have said something wrong a time or two and it's in danger of becoming a fossilized error.

He will simply say the correct word or phrase back at me in a low voice and then move on straight away. He never dwells on it. And nine times out of ten I start using the correct word and I'm grateful for his help.

At the other end of the spectrum - and it pains me to say this - is my wife. She couldn't correct me without making me lose confidence if her life depended on it. She'll often begin her sentence with "Thais wouldn't say that" or "what are you trying to say? Nothing makes you lose confidence faster.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (28th June 2017)

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