Phil Roeland

Phil Roeland's blog on Ajarn.com


Ways to improve Thai education

This should be the first government priority

So how can Thailand improve its education? In a nutshell: train the trainers, put fewer students together, motivate them better, hire the right foreign educators to help this bring about, and involve parents more.


Clock, peanut and frog

The problematic pronunciation of many Thais

I try to have as much empathy for my students as I possibly can and I am becoming rather good at understanding the unintelligible. However, there are limits to everything and I am not a mind-reader. If a person says for example /sa-pye/, I know he or she means “Spy” (the wine-cooler or James Bond, doesn’t matter). But if someone says “kye”, I don’t automatically think of cry.


Learner autonomy

Encouraging learners to be more responsible for their own progress

There are various ways to speed up the learning of a language. First of all, students should try to develop the habit of using the language they’ve learnt in the classroom outside the classroom.


The Filipino issue

Are they native speakers?

In my opinion, Filipinos sometimes get agitated because of the general attitude towards them. I agree that it can get frustrating when your umpteenth job application is turned down. You pick up the phone to try to find out why your services are not wanted and you are told that the school doesn’t hire Filipino teachers.


Interviewing Foreigners

Being interviewed in the street by English students

Taking to the streets and talking to complete strangers is something no Thai student would do out of their own volition. It is clear that most – if not all of them – do it because their English teacher imposed it as a mandatory assignment.


It does matter if you're black or white

The blatant discrimination in TEFL job ads

Although it is rarely mentioned in job ads, most if not all Asian recruiters on the lookout for teachers are after whities. And let’s make no mistake about it: the prize specimens are Caucasian white, not some locals having overindulged in skin-whitening products.


Whinging farangs

Foreigner moans and groans

I have started to realise that a considerable part of the Western community in Thailand thrives on complaining and grumbling about the way things are done in the Kingdom. Is their moaning justified? Do expats have a right to criticise everything they don’t like about Thailand? Do they have any rights at all?


Death by worksheet

How worksheets can spice up any lesson

My favourite kinds of worksheets are conversation worksheets, pair and group work, creative writing worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, and ESL board games. The right mix of these makes communication possible, keeps students' attention going and puts some fun into learning.


Great Expectations

When parents of students are simply too demanding

The demands and expectations that some parents burden their children with are alas often too great. At the moment I’m teaching a kid who hasn’t even turned six, yet his life revolves solely around learning.


What's in a nickname?

Boom, Bomb and Bam Bam don't like Beer and Porn

How do Thai parents choose these nicknames? Sometimes a nickname is just a short form of an official name. If your name is Jiraporn, you'll probably be called Porn (this is a frequently used Thai nickname and has got nothing to do with being able to perform in X-rated films)


The Ideal Student

What qualities and characteristics make the perfect student

This blog doesn't focus on teachers and how to achieve near-perfection, but on what the ideal student would be like. Let's keep in mind though that nobody's perfect and that most teachers would probably be over the moon if only a slight majority of students showed some of the traits mentioned


The Ideal Teacher

What makes the perfect teacher in the Thailand EFL classroom?

Let me point out that this list is based more on personal experience than large-scale research. Also, while most qualities on the list are probably appreciated worldwide, some are considered particularly important in the Land of Smiles.


Money matters

Are you financially sound?

Without any savings or benefits from either a public or private pension scheme in your old age, you might be forced to opt for the ‘Go Native scheme’ (the fried rice & Sangsom approach), the ‘Bangkok Pension Plan’ (wait for moneyed relatives to expire) or go out with a bang aka ‘The Flying Club’.


Travel phrasebooks - blessing or curse?

Sometimes a phrase book can be the one thing you wish you had left at home.

I’ve been doing some travelling in China lately so I dusted off my travel phrasebook to make sure I’d be able to practise some useful language and not feel too alien in this country with more than one billion locals.


Time flies

What events changed the world in the last decade?

The 2004 tsunami that hit South and Southeast Asia, cyclone Nargis (2008) which battered Myanmar and hurricane Katrina (2005) that destroyed New Orleans are some of the most devastating natural disasters of the last decades.


My great escape

How are things working out in China?

Lack of inspiration this month made me decide to participate in ‘The Great Escape’ survey found elsewhere on this site. Here are my answers.


Bear Hugs

Observations from Chengdu

China hasn’t escaped globalisation. Multinational chains or franchises can be found in every big city and most foreign products are readily available. Restaurants like McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and the like have become popular but thankfully make up only a small portion of the thousands of restaurants.


Ni Hao

Travels in South-west China

visited Southwest China for the first time some five years ago and was surprised how advanced and modern China had become. As a traveller, my first impression of China was quite positive.


The Golden Land

A regional sight-seeing trip to Myanmar

Myanmar doesn’t welcome a great many visitors these days, so the country isn’t geared towards tourism like its Thai neighbour. Although people won’t exactly stare at you, you’ll generally have little interaction with locals, apart from hotel and restaurant staff.


ESL Printables

A great website you really should know about

ESLprintables is a website where EFL teachers from all over the world upload and share their home-made worksheets. Thousands of spiffy worksheets are available for download, all for free. Now don’t stop reading at this point to visit the site, eagerly expecting to siphon off all those materials, because you won’t be able to. Let me explain.


Things To Do Before You Die

Some of my favorite lists

Although I’m not a die-hard fan of these ‘list-books’ and feel there are too many already, I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon and provide you with some lists of my own. Contrary to the authors of most – if not all – of the books, I decided to include only what I’ve experienced first-hand.


Making The Move

How to prepare yourself for life in Thailand

In this month's article, I'll address some issues that may worry adventurers pondering a move to Thailand to become an English teacher and give some practical advice that might come in handy either before or after the move.


The Growing Pains of the TEFL Industry

My take on another ajarn.com writer's column

I can understand Steve's disillusion with someone he probably trusted and looked up to. I also think part of his criticism is justified; teachers, administrators, recruiters and policy-makers alike should question themselves and the industry they are in more regularly. I do not, however, agree with the overall image that Steve paints of the EFL industry.


2008 - A Year To Forget

Another year has gone by and unfortunately it hasn't been one to remember

Looking at the 2008 headlines, most Thai news was bad and gloomy. The political battle fought in Parliament as well as in the streets and the courts divided Thai society more than ever. Political foes, together with intolerant battering-ram organisations like the PAD (yellow shirts) and UDD (red shirts), made absolutely sure the country became even more polarised thanks to their respective hatred and reverence of ousted PM Thaksin.


Vietnam: failed, Cambodia: passed

Travels in two SE Asian countries

This column will mainly focus on Vietnam. Would I ever want to work in Vietnam? Absolutely not. There is no way whatsoever anyone could convince me to work in Vietnam. Although the country has a lot of beautiful sights, many interesting tourist destinations and is relatively cheap to live and travel in, not once did I feel the urge to inquire about job opportunities or settle down there.


Bangkok getaways - Petchburi

An historical park on a hill, lots of temples and some monkeys thrown in

I went on this overnight trip to the scenic town of Petburi a few months ago. Tourist maps and road signs often refer to this city as Petchburi or Petchaburi but the believe me, the correct way to pronounce it is definitely Petburi. Unfortunately, transliteration of Thai script into the Roman alphabet is often neither clear-cut nor logical


Goodbye Thailand

It's definitely time to leave

So the question remains why? Why leave Thailand, the Land of Smiles, the best country in the world if Thais are to be believed? The short answer is that I didn't have enough reasons to stay.


Bangkok getaways - Lopburi

This month it's Thailand's monkey capital

A town located just a few hours from Bangkok that's worth definitely worth a visit. Lopburi, famous for its ruins and monkeys, lies some 150 kilometres north of the capital and can easily be reached by either bus or train.


Ignorance or arrogance?

Students and their lack of proper test preparation

Teachers who have taught TOEFL or IELTS courses can attest that for non-native speakers, doing well on these tests translates into a lot of hard work. Apart from becoming proficient in English, students will also need to fine-tune their test-taking skills and build up their endurance and concentration, as these tests usually take about four hours to complete.


Back to school

A brief overview of primary and secondary schools in Thailand

There are three main kinds of schools in Thailand: government schools, private schools and international schools. Internationals schools are the most expensive, with average yearly fees ranging from 200,000 to 600,000 baht, depending on the quality and reputation of the school.


My songkran escape

What better place to escape the madness than Singapore!

This year, the missus and I decided to go on a 10-day trip to Singapore and Malaysia, partly to avoid the songkran madness. I had been to the southern part of Malaysia (Langkawi and Penang) before but never to Singapore. She hadn’t been to either.


Bangkok getaways - Kanchanaburi

An idea tourist destination that's not far from the capital

Although I stayed 4 days/3 nights, Kanchanaburi can be visited in just a day or two if time is scarce. It's definitely worth it if you're in dire need of some low-cost rest and relaxation in unspoilt green surroundings.


How to motivate students

Keys to improving language learning

Motivation can either be internal or external. Students who are internally motivated usually learn English because they want to, because they enjoy learning or because they want to achieve a certain goal, not because they have to. Examples of personal goals could be pursuing a promotion at work or planning to enrol in a foreign university’s graduate programme.


Goodbye 2007, Welcome 2008

So what happened exactly? And what will happen next?

Many Thais had the impression that, economically, 2007 was a bad year. Although Thailand lagged behind most other ASEAN countries in terms of growth, the country’s economy still grew by about 4 per cent. I suspect the people’s unfavourable impression was especially fuelled by rising oil prices and the realisation that the government wouldn’t keep bailing out its gas-guzzling citizens and industries any longer.


Land of a million elephants

A recent trip to landlocked Laos

Contrary to visiting Thailand, which is only a package tour away for most international tourists, holidaying in Laos takes some more time and planning. Also, it isn’t (and will hopefully never be) the ideal destination for tourists seeking to stay exclusively in four or five star hotels.


The tools of technology

Using the internet to improve your English

For students looking for more educational content and online courses instead of authentic materials, a myriad of websites provide free English lessons for all levels, ranging from beginner to advanced, from IELTS preparation to business English, from Pidgin English to skid row slang.


Sightseeing in Bangkok

Ideas on places to go in the capital

I'm going to put my tour guide hat on this month and let you in on some well-known tourist attractions and some that are a little more off the beaten track. There has to also be a mention of the dreaded double-pricing system.


An inconvenient truth

Bangkok environmental issues

Bangkok had its own initiative to reduce global warming a few months ago. Governor Apirak called on everyone to switch off non-essential lights from 7 to 7.15 pm one weekday evening. This small-scale, almost insignificant campaign supposedly decreased the amount of CO2 or carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a staggering 143 tonnes.


Full-time teacher, part-time thief

Light-fingered shenanigans in the teachers' room

Don’t start thinking that these highly skilled education professionals resort to stealing luxury cars or become successful pickpockets in busy Bangkok. It’s much simpler and a lot less lucrative than that: some ‘teachers’ seem to think there’s nothing wrong with nicking books and teaching materials from the schools they work at. In a few cases teachers have even run off with computers, but let’s focus on the issue of disappearing books because that’s my main reason for writing this article.


My friend he sick

Frequent Thai student mistakes (part two)

Communicating well in any language just takes some motivation, dedication and a lot of practice. Is this too much too ask to become a proficient speaker?


I go to shopping

Frequent Thai student mistakes (part one)

If you've taught in Thailand for any length of time, you'll be familiar with these errors. In fact you've probably heard them more times than you care to think about.


Belated April fool's jokes

Humorous Thai news stories

You'll find it hard to believe but these stories - taken from Thai newspapers - are genuinely true. You just couldn't write the script!


Songkhran getaways

Escaping the heat and the madness

Songkran officially lasts for three days, from April 13 (Friday) to April 15 (Sunday), although many people start celebrating early and finish late. If throwing water and being doused several times a day is not your cup of tea, it might be a good idea to flee Thailand for a week or so. Here are some ideas on where to go.


Gogo loves neeps and tatties

A study of language oddities

What kind of English should students learn? British or American? Maybe Australian or South-African English? According to me, this is really a non-issue. It doesn’t matter what kind of English Asian students learn; as long as they attain a decent level of fluency and proficiency in any kind of English, they’ll have achieved their target.


The academic debate

Does a degree make a good teacher?

Now what if a teacher has a degree, but no teaching certificate? Would that be okay? Probably. What about having just a teaching certificate and no degree? Maybe. What about no qualifications at all but a lot of experience? Possibly. And finally, what about schools hiring people with no qualifications whatsoever and no experience, would that go well? There’s the odd chance that it might, but I doubt it.


Thailand 101

101 things you perhaps didn't know

The first column of 2007 (or 2550) is a collection of cultural trivia for people unfamiliar with Thailand. I guess most long-stay residents or frequent visitors can add a few lines of their own. I admit that what follows is not all there is to know. It’s only a small part of an endless collection of local pieces of knowledge and experience which I randomly jotted down.


Teachers and textbooks

A love-hate relationship

There are a lot of excellent books on the market; most of them are produced by major publishers such as Oxford, Cambridge, Longman and Macmillan. The problem a teacher can encounter during an English lesson in Asia is that these books are not always culturally suitable for the learners.


Thai news

It's funnier than comedy

Latest news before this article goes online: the government will agree to compromise and raise the age for buying alcohol to 20, instead of the planned 25. Cheers!


Where is Brian?

The search for a missing teacher

I’ve kept this article rather vague as to where exactly Brian lived, where he hung out, where he worked and who his friends were. I did this partly because I simply don’t have all that information and I don’t want to invade too much of his privacy. People who know him will surely recognize him by the facts mentioned in this article. If any of you have relevant information, feel free to share it with me. This is not a witch hunt; it’s just one worried farang looking for another.


Rubbish!

Please keep Thailand clean

If you ask yourself what this article is doing on a teaching website, it’s because I’m convinced that we should start teaching our children a lot more about all kinds of pollution and instil in them more respect for the environment. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a special course, why not have an English lesson once in a while debating the issue and asking students to come up with possible solutions.


Holiday in Thailand

Singing the praises of Hua Hin

I’ve been to Hua Hin a number of times, I think five times in total, and I have to admit I quite like the place. It’s easy to get to and not too far from Bangkok.


How to land a job

The very basics

If you send your application and don’t get a reply, it means that you didn’t make the shortlist. It’s usually useless to call the employer and try to find out why you weren’t contacted. There a big chance the employer found someone more qualified for the job or maybe you didn’t meet the job requirements.


Water wars

The infamous Songkhran festival

The Songkran festival, which could also be called Water festival, is the Thai celebration of the Buddhist New Year and officially lasts for three days. Although it seems to be immensely popular with Thais, many foreigners, especially expats, thoroughly dislike it. Why is that?


Person of odd jobs

Let's hear it for the good old head teacher

Why is the head teacher the topic of this month’s column? Because I became one at the beginning of this year, CE* 2006, at a newly opened branch of the language school I work for. Instead of giving a mission statement in this article and explaining in detail what my job involves and what the difficulties and the perks are, I have tried to make it a little more interesting and easier to read by putting on paper what others say about me.


My teacher is a computer

The role of the computer in the EFL world

If someone is really eager to learn a language (any foreign language, it doesn’t necessarily have to be English), a computer is the ideal tool for self-study. Actually, a computer is nothing more than a modern combination of a notebook, a pen, a dictionary, a phone and a fax machine. Without the communicative infrastructure called the Internet or the software to make everything happen, a computer is basically worthless.


Teaching the kiddies

Do they learn anything at all?

Although weekend courses have to be fun for everyone involved, meaning both children and teacher, I think that fun and learning should be balanced. If the parents pay good money to get their kids on a course, the least a teacher should do is make sure that they learn some English. This can be done using fun and games, but not exclusively.


How to improve your English

Tips for students

Communication is all about using a language to transfer a message and to make yourself understood. If the students can’t say it, if they can’t get their message across, if nobody understands them or doesn’t even bother listening to them anymore, their knowledge of English is virtually useless and all the hours of studying it have been a complete waste of time.


Rote learning and Thai schooling

Improving student language skills

To improve Thai-language skills amongst youngsters, Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng plans to cut rote learning and introduce more reading and writing. Mr. Chaturon said Thai-language teaching needed to undergo a radical change since children were not good at their mother tongue.


The magical land

Where no student fails an exam

Yes, dear readers, students in Thailand simply cannot fail exams. This probably comes as a very big surprise for the people unfamiliar with the Thai situation, but believe me, it is true. Well, it is still true at the time of writing, but maybe not for long anymore.


TOEFL woes

How Thai English speakers measure up

The Minister of Education apparently thinks it’s possible the revamp a whole educational approach in just a month. It made me wonder if he’s got any idea at all what he’s talking about. Everyone with more than a pea-brain should know that change – especially a change of this magnitude – is always a slow process


A bit of culture part two

The concept of face and other things

If a waiter in a restaurant screws up your order and brings you fishballs instead of the fried pork-skin on rice you ordered, most people won’t send it back or make a fuss about it. The waiter might lose face. So what? Well, by embarrassing him this way, you too will be considered as having lost face. It’s really a lose-lose situation. You can either eat your smelly fishballs or lose face.


A bit of culture part one

Loud music and slouching

Now let me first get one thing straight. I like Thailand and I like Thai people. They are very friendly and I usually don’t mind their strange behaviour and views. They say it’s culture. It’s not a problem for me, but the question is: can you handle it? With ‘you’, I mean the newly arrived farangs who are still in the so-called honeymoon period and think Thailand is heaven on earth


Never mind fluency

Here comes the grammar teacher

I think it is quite absurd to reward students who are good at cramming grammar rules – and may not be fluent at all – and punish students who can speak English fairly well but aren’t very accurate. English is a language. The main purpose of a language is communication.


Sit fetch and roll over

Basic Thai commands for teaching children

Let me get a few things straight first. First of all, it doesn’t really matter if the kids understand everything you say. Even if they do, they still won’t listen to you. Second, even if you know the commands in Thai, you’ll probably get the tones wrong and no one will understand you.


Wishes

Reflections on the Thai TESOL conference

Okay, I have to admit that there are a number of good, dedicated Thai teachers of English who do make a difference, but there aren’t merely enough. As long as the government keeps teachers paying a pittance there never will be enough.


Monty Python returns

Teaching can be rewarding, stressful, frustrating, or even downright funny

What follows are a few (slightly adapted) classroom conversations. Although they might be familiar to you, I hope you’ll find them entertaining.


A teacher's lot

A week in the life of an English teacher

As Friday is my day off, I consider Saturday to be the start of my working week. Yes, that’s right, I work six days a week, not unusual if you work for a language school. Unlike Thai schools, the weekend is the busiest time for language schools.


The visa run

One man and his trip to Penang

Going to Laos or Cambodia by bus might have been a bit cheaper, but unfortunately one needs a visa to enter those countries. Not so for Malaysia. Anyway, I heard from a few colleagues that the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane is staffed by frequently obnoxious personnel (however another colleague told me he didn’t have any problem at all there).


Heaven and Hell

Tips for teaching kids

Don’t think teaching kids is easy, it’s not. Tie everything down that’s yours. Keep it in your pocket, your bag, briefcase, socks, travel pouch, wherever. Learn to enjoy singing.


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The Hot Spot


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Can you hear me OK?

In today's modern world, the on-line interview is becoming more and more popular. How do you prepare for it?


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Contributions welcome

Contributions welcome

If you like visiting ajarn.com and reading the content, why not get involved yourself and keep us up to date?


The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

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Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!