This month I’ll highlight a number of possible mistakes using a fictitious (?) conversation between a teacher and a student, followed by some explanations concerning the errors. I didn’t analyse all the mistakes in detail; instead, I focused on a small selection. I think it should be clear by now that with a little improvement in pronunciation, better use of verb tenses and a basic grasp of essential structure, many students’ ability to communicate efficiently could indeed improve significantly. It just takes some motivation, dedication and a lot of practice. Is this too much too ask to become a proficient speaker? Becoming fluent in English is within anyone’s reach; I suppose some students just don’t try hard enough or give up too quickly.
(S = student; T = teacher)
S: Hi Teacher, I want to ask you about how can I improve my Englit.
T: Well, there are different ways to do this. I think one of the best and most efficient ways is to use English as often as possible. Do you have any friends that you can practice English with?
S: Well, I hab many friend, but they all Thai. I only speak Thai with them.
T: I see. Do you have any online friends? Do you use the Internet to chat or send email? Maybe you could find an online friend to talk to or write to in English.
S: Yes, I play computer many time. I play game, check email and chat with friend. My friend are usually Thai but I have friend from Japan too. He not speak Thai, only English.
T: That’s a good start. Why don’t try to find some more friends? Dor you like to go out and meet people and make friends from around the world?
S: Yes, I like.
T: Good, the more friends, the merrier. Also, if you want to improve your vocabulary, it might be a good idea to read for pleasure in English. There are lots of materials available on the Internet and you can buy a wide range of books for language learners, called graded readers, in most major bookshops. Do you like to read?
S: Yes, I like.
T: What kind of stuff do you like to read?
S: I like to read cartoon. But they all in Thai only.
T: Well, you might want to try some English comic books then. By the way, I heard that your little brother speaks English very well. How come? How old is he?
S: Yes, my brother go to international school and can speak English very well. He sick.
T: What’s wrong with him? I hope it’s not serious.
T: Your brother. You said he was sick.
S: Yes, he sick and my sister she nigh.
T: Oh, you’re brother is six and your sister is nine. I see. Why don’t you talk English to them sometimes? I’m sure you’ll improve quickly if you do that every day. It’s not too late yet, but if you want to go to that university in Australia next year, there’s no time to waste. Have you ever been abroad?
S: Yes, I ever went to Australia a long time ago and I also used to go to London with my family. But I not speak English because I go with my family.
T: Tell me some more about yourself. It’s a good way for you to practice socialising skills and this is a conversation lesson after all. What do you do in your free time? What do you like to eat? Where do you live?
S: I lib in a tao hao. In my fee time I go to shopping. I like CenTAN too much. I like to eat fied lie. I also like fith too muth.
T: Tell me something about your last holiday.
S: On my last holiday I go to the Mall.
T: No, no, I mean a real holiday, when you travelled somewhere, to the beach or to another country for example. Where did you go? What did you do? Where did you stay? Who did you go with?
S: Oh, I go to Pattaya last month. I stay in nigh hotel with my family, in a suit. I sleep a lot. Sometime I play banana boat.
T: Okay, now why don’t you ask me some questions? After all, a conversation is always two-way street. It’s important to be able to ask questions. What would you like to know?
S: I no question.
T: Come on, I’ll give you a few minutes to think of some questions. You can write them down in order to remember them better. Think of questions you could use to get to know someone; you might need those if you ever study abroad.
(An eternity later)
T: Okay, let’s hear them.
S: I make these question.
• What your name?
• Where did you come from?
• Why you come to Thailand?
• How long you stay Thailand?
• What you like to eat?
• Can you eat spicy?
• What about your family?
• Do you like dog?
T: Alright, those are very interesting questions. We’ll have to work a bit on the correct structure, but let’s leave that for next lesson. Are you feeling okay? You don’t look too good.
S: Yesterday I go to birthday party my friend. I drink many bottom of beer and no have beckfas this morning, only appun. Eckuse me, I hab to go toilet.
T: Okay, see you next time.
Feedback for some mistakes
I want to ask you about (…)
Redundant. Just ask what you want to ask; there is no need to beat around the bush, just say ‘How can I improve my English?’ If you insist on using it, however, it should be followed by a noun or noun phrase instead of a verb phrase (e.g. I’d like to ask you about ways to improve my English).
I hab many friend
Correct pronunciation of v-sound and final –s would improve clarity significantly.
There wouldn’t be any problem with this statement if the speaker was talking about someone who’s ill, but there definitely is a problem when the speaker is talking about a six-year old. Thai students (and many teachers) seem incapable of pronouncing the x-sound (actually the final –s sound, to be correct). Try harder!
I ever went to Australia
The word ever is never ever used to talk about a single event in the past, except in a question form (e.g. ‘Have you ever been to Japan?’ or ‘Did he ever tell you he went to Japan?’). Just leave it out, use the word ‘once’ or another time marker (e.g. last year, a long time ago, etc.) instead.
I used to go to London
‘Used to’ can only be used when it refers to something that happened frequently in the past (e.g. ‘We used to go to the zoo every Sunday’) or was true for a long period of time (e.g. ‘I used to have a car’). This speaker, however, used it mistakenly to describe an event that happened once in the past.
I lib in a tao hao
If you’re unfamiliar with Thailand, you might not have guessed that the speaker is referring to a town house.
I like fith too muth
It’s almost impossible to like something too much, unless you mean you’re addicted. Speakers should use other expressions such as ‘I like’, ‘I really like’, ‘I love’, ‘I adore’, ‘I’m into’, ‘I’m keen on’, ‘I’m fond of’ etc. Notice also the difficulty some speakers have with the fairly straightforward ending sound –sh and the slightly more difficult –ch.
I drink many bottom of beer
Thai doesn’t have the ‘l’ as a final sound. Whenever a word ends in –l, the letter is pronounced as –n (e.g. Ubol is pronounced Ubon). Unfortunately, most Thais seem to think that this rule is universal and also apply it to English, thus drinking bottoms (bottles) of beer, eating appun (apples) and shopping at Centan (Central).
I stay in a suit
Of course the speaker didn’t sleep on the street in an Armani suit. In Thailand, most local hoteliers seem to call a suite either a suit or a sweet room (sic).
I hab to go toilet
Can you believe it? They go TO shopping, but they go toilet.
A final word of advice to Thai (and other) learners of English: don’t be afraid to speak out, try to speak as clearly and loudly as you can, and repeat what you said if someone didn’t understand you and asks for clarification. All too often, when I ask a Thai student to repeat what they said, they start thinking they made some terrible mistake; they think hard and long and are reluctant to repeat what they said. Please forget about the losing face issue! If you make mistakes in English that means you’re at least using the language; as an added bonus, you’ll learn from your mistakes. By the way, maybe I didn’t understand you because I wasn’t paying attention or a loud noise interfered with what you said.