Geoff Richards

Yes, it's official

Thais can be just as good at English as Khmers, Vietnamese and Laotians but


What is the difference between Thailand and Indochina?

Well, English is a compulsory school subject in Thailand. Most students study with local teachers. Therefore, the language of instruction is actually Thai filled in with English.

Observe the majority of local teachers and you will see that this is the case.

They are not knowingly at fault though. It's how most of them learned English and it was how they were trained to teach it. And not actively speak it particularly well.

And that makes sense to your average tutor at a teacher training college. Why bother modeling the language or using visual tools when you can just simply explain the material in Thai?

This is the model that most tutors and local teachers use;

1. TELL THEM WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO TELL THEM in Thai

2. TELL THEM with English content and prompts in Thai

3. TELL THEM WHAT YOU'VE JUST TOLD THEM in Thai

So, English is a compulsory subject in Thailand. But class sizes are normally large. This leaves little or no room for one-to-one dialogues.

The MoE is only doing its job and it can only do this with tangible data that comes from compliance with and results from written tests and exams.

School heads are just the same. How else are they going to meet MoE stipulations and judge the effectiveness of English teachers, student success rates and parent satisfaction? English is just another compulsory subject to them.

That most students advance through the education system learning English in Thai is a given.

But what about the students that do have native speaker teachers from P1 to M6?

Those teachers also have to deal with large class sizes and they have to cover x-amount of mandatory material so that students can pass written tests. Hands are pretty much tied here.

The key to this apparent dilemma is to build and maintain a basic classroom rapport with your students, I.E. Do you like...?

What they can actively and willingly use is always retained. And that's a fact. Try it if you haven't already done so. It really works.

For 5 or 10 minutes of every class, exploit what students are interested in and you'll soon get them talking.

Teach them how to tell English Premiership football scores properly [three nil vs. three zero, two all vs. two two, etc.,.].

Give them the ability to talk about major sporting events like the European Champions League and the Olympics, major festivals like Christmas and the latest cartoons and films like Dragonball Z and Iron Man

Thais also like talking about food, as we all do. Most native Chinese teachers will confirm this point. Ask them.

By the time that Thai students finish high school/university and begin to venture out into the private language centres, it's because they have a specific need to continue learning English. Exploit this too.

Those that need to pass entrance exams or communicate using written general or business English, are hardly going to want conversation classes.

Vice versa, those that do need conversation are hardly going to want written grammar exercises. Think about it.

I have read a good number of Internet forum posts where people have said that Indochinese are better at English than Thais because of their need to escape poverty.

Having worked in Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam, I don't completely disagree with these statements but look at most Thais. They're relatively poor too. Sure, not quite to the same extent but are most Thais in a position to lend someone, I.E. you, a large sum of money? I think not.

Thais also like talking about funny things, as we all do. Enable them to do this. And if it involves a mix of both Thai and English, then go with that too. Otherwise, why bother to communicate with a foreigner if not to tell them something about your own language and ways?!

The best Thai English speakers are those that give you hidden insights into their country and lament the woes of it. Milk that cow until it comes all the way home.

As fellow human beings, most Thais don't like to offend or cause confrontation but they do like to be able to constructively criticize things and ask for opinions and advice from outsiders.

Now, back to that lesson plan...




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