Megan Swanick

Grammar vs speech

Differing techniques inside the classroom

There are an array of teaching styles, priorities, and opinions when it comes to being a TESOL teacher in Thailand. 

And I've often observed that each individual teacher tends to promote and conduct the teaching style they themselves received or that is conducted in their homeland (Though, of course, personal flair accounts for a lot as well).

Different teaching styles

But as I've progressed in my time teaching here, and reflect on the different styles, I've noticed one constant difference again and again in the way that some teachers tend to teach. 

This difference is between the belief that it is of chief importance that students memorize and know all the complex and elaborate rules of grammar, and the somewhat contradictory belief that knowing the rules is not as important as basic speaking skills.

Now, of course, a balance is to be found for sure between any extreme of either opinion. Assuredly, students learning English need a balance between knowing the rules of grammar and knowing how to implement them in speech. 


But I personally feel that it's silly to teach a child complex grammatical structures when they can't have complex or even fluid conversation in English.

There is a standard- oft applauded mainly by non-Western TESOL teachers and supervisors- whereby student achievement and fluency is not based on fluency but on a student's ability to recite a rule about the blah blah blah continuous tense. And if the student is able to relay the rule, they're learning. 

But in my experience, students recite the rule or know the rule or learn the rule and maybe even vaguely understand the rule, but then you ask them a basic question and they don't understand.

Focus on the basics

Often, students that are made to memorize complex grammar rules are not anywhere near the level where they can fathom and really implement it. It seems a bit foolish to me, to be honest. I think the focus should be, first, on their ability to have basic conversation and understand basic vocabulary.

Maybe it's a matter of personal style. Maybe there is no right answer. Perhaps it varies by student, even, and some students truly will fair better and learn when they've learned the grammar rules first. (Though I personally still lean towards trying to improve speech and understanding of vocabulary.) 

Maybe it's just another chicken/egg debacle. What comes first? The speech or the grammar?


50+ years of Eng Lang Ed in Thailand. Flexible assessment - just enter random grades between 60 and 100%. It obviously doesn't work. I say "Hi" and you say "...?"

Anyone discussing the finer details of teaching practice in Thailand is shining a searchlight up their orofice. ?

By DumbandDumber, Thailand (31st January 2022)

I think the government's policy is repressive from the get go. If students are fully educated, especially in the English language, they may become too politically aware and begin to question the system.

By John Franks , Kumphawapi (22nd August 2017)

Foremost of all, Thai government likes to keep most of Thais stupid! When Thais don't know English they cannot interpret the international news. And so most of all Thai teachers like to teach grammar, because is all from textbooks and students only copy answers from the whiteboard. It's entirely a show to employ western teachers. So, move along with it. And get paid. Useless to talk about Thai education systems. Western people will never change a thing in this country.

By Michele, Thailand (30th June 2015)

According to my TEFL teacher, the majority of Thai English speakers are the prostitutes. Perhaps. I don't know. What is the purpose of teaching grammatically correct English when none of the Thai teachers can do so themselves? English is an evolving language spoken around the world with varying levels of accuracy. English came from England, and then the Americans and Irish and Australians and others put their own spin on it. Who is speaking correct English? I want my students to be able to communicate well enough to get a job and speak coherently. If they want to lose the accent, they need a speech therapist. My American niece has managed to get jobs and she has terrible grammar.

By roy, Thailand (24th February 2014)

Does anyone know why the Thai education system places such a high value on grammar? Do you think Thai culture places a high value on knowledge? I find the education ethic is quite different here in Thailand when I compare it with Korea and Vietnam (where I previously taught). When I worked in Korea the school where I was employed offered TOEIC classes, but by popular demand, all courses were taught by Korean teachers and the reason I was given for this is that the students could not understand explanations for grammatical rules from a foreign teacher. One final thought: do we expect our Thai students to develop into native speakers? What do we want - Students that speak English free of an accent, rivaling native speakers grammatical accuracy(Thai English) or students that can successfully communicate their ideas in the workplace or in casual conversation? How will majority of Thai students use English????

By Douglas Quist, Nakhornthai Phitsanulok (24th February 2014)

I am going to be teaching M5 and M6 next year. I have taught the students going into M5 for two years now and a thought occurred to me. I wondered how many actually wanted to learn English? You can't learn unless you are motivated. My classes have 55 students and I have them for one hour a week. Not really enough to accomplish much with so many and limited time. Has anyone ever separated those interested from those who are not? I would like to set up mini-English clubs within the classes and give more challenging work to the club kids and easier lessons to others.
I don't bother with grammar because they get that 3 days a week and, from listening to the Thai English teachers, they have little chance of ever getting it right, anyway. I can't add much to that.

By roy, Thailand (24th February 2014)

Teaching a morass of complex grammar structures is only useful if you are preparing your students to become grammar technicians. I've successfully taught children to communicate without ever mentioning the word 'verb.' Understanding and communication precede the labeling, but don't ever try to convince a grammar prescriptivist that it's possible to communicate without first memorizing ridiculous formulas for assembling discourse.

By Guy, Bkk (23rd February 2014)

I focus a lot on speaking clearly. What's the point of speaking perfect grammatical English but using the Thainglish style of one two tree or wor yor name? I think the Thai teachers should teach the grammar and the native speakers should work alongside them but focus on the students using the language and learning the two parts together. As far as writing goes, the hardest thing to do is to open the student's imagination when the rest of the system is teaching them 'don't think, just copy.'

By stephan cannon, hat yai (21st February 2014)

That's my point. Sorry I'm molding your debate, but I looking for a suggestion. The place I am working hasn't provided any gadgets and we are not allowed to use the computers or projectors in the classrooms. Yet blame come down to us that we are not producing results. In ours school we are doing 28 hours a week, don't you think it's way too much for a teacher.
Secondly shouldn't be there any changes in Thai educational system?
At least students should have basic idea of communication and foreign teachers could help them to polish.
Same question is popping up again, HOW TO REALIZE STUDENTS THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION? If you have some ideas or something you have tried please share.

By Ata, chonburi (18th February 2014)

Grammar and Phonic is a waste of time if they can't string a sentence together. I have a M4 student that can read at his age level- yet if you ask him a simple question like "How old are you?" With no response. Conversation is 85%, reading and writing 15 % of day to day use. Once they managed conversation- the rest will fall in place. Thai schools prepare kids for the worthless O-net exams.. rules rules rules which is pointless because they can not speak.

By Thedude, Bangkok (17th February 2014)

Well I do agree with you some teacher go on and on about grammar. In my view there's important thing is missing also, that is reading, if the kids can understand the context how can even speak or understand? I have noticed in most government school the core focus would be on grammar not on reading or writing or speaking. Isn't reading important?

By Ata, chonburi (15th February 2014)

I agree, Keep it simple, lots a of talking, writing and listening. When they feel themselves that they are able to hold a conversation. They will be able to include more complex words. My students still make big mistakes in written sentence structure. But talk with them they will hold a fair conversation. Only encouragement moves them on at their pace.

By phetpeter, Thailand (13th February 2014)

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