Phil Roeland

Sit fetch and roll over

Basic Thai commands for teaching children

Kids, who doesn’t like them? Well, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes they don’t listen to a bloody word you say. Especially when they haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. That’s why this month I’ll take you through a few basic Thai commands you might need when teaching youngsters. Some of the commands are aimed at very young learners, as you’ll find out.

Being a victim of summer school, I ended up teaching young (6-11) and very young (4-5) learners every day and I soon realised I needed more basic commands to make the kids understand what I wanted them to do.

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. And third, if you do know a limited number of Thai words, some of the students might assume you speak Thai fluently and start chattering away in Thai all the time. Not really what you want.

Besides, I have a few doubts about so-called programmes for young learners (not just the summer school programmes). At the end of the day, it all comes down to one essential question: Do the kids themselves want to learn English or not?
If they don’t, there’s really no point in trying to teach them anything, as they will only be focused on having a good time in the classroom and nothing else. Their parents will pay hard-earned (or hard-extorted) money to get them nowhere.

To my disappointment, lots of kids are learning English because they are forced to do so by their parents. Now as far as I’m concerned, forcing someone young to do something he or she doesn’t like isn’t necessarily a bad idea (they might need it later), as long as there is the right incentive to make them do it, and more particularly, make them behave in class.

Parents should try harder to motivate their children and make them respect other people, esp. the English teacher and his meagre worldly possessions he takes with him into the classroom. In spite of what a lot of Thais seem to think, we are not farang clowns whose only job is to entertain and kids should be taught this. Anyway. we’ll see who laughs last when they really need their English later for some entrance exam or IELTS/TOEFL test. It’s no secret that even university students can hardly put a three-word sentence together, let alone pronounce it correctly.

Now what about the incentive for children (or even teenagers) that parents can or should use? The incentive can be positive or negative. A few examples:
- Positive: “If you behave, listen to the teacher AND learn English well, I’ll buy you a Masked Rider VCD (pink jacket, or some other crap).”
- Negative: “If you don’t behave, don’t listen to the teacher OR don’t learn English well, I won’t buy you a Masked Rider VCD.
This is what I’d call the bribery approach. Please notice the strategically important words and/or.

There is also the more threatening approach:
- Negative: “If you don’t behave, don’t listen to the teacher OR don’t learn English well, I’ll kick the shit out of you.
- Positive: “If you behave, listen to the teacher AND learn English well, I won’t kick the shit out of you.
I’ve got no problem with either approach as long as it’s effective.

Okay, time for some commands. I’ll start with a few I needed most for very young learners, let’s call it the top-5:
- ya pit fai (don’t turn off the light)
- pert fai (turn on the light)
- ya non bon puen (don’t lie on the floor)
- tam diao nii (do it, now!)
- ya rong hai (don’t cry)

I’m not going to describe the situations when I needed these, I think that with a little imagination everyone can do that for him/herself.

Other useful commands are:
- nang long (sit down)
- luuk khuen (stand up)
- ngiap noi (be quiet)
- fang (listen)
- duu (look)
- kian (write)
- kopi (copy)
- ra bai sii (colour)
- ik tii (repeat)
- puut (say, speak)
- jab nang sue (take your book)
- jab pak ka (take a pencil)
- tob mue (clap your hands)
- mun (turn around)
- row (wait)
- tam kan baan (do the exercise)
- rip rip noi (hurry up)
- ya ta kon (don’t shout)

I found the last command (don’t shout) particularly useful sometimes. Apparently Thai kids can be put into two categories. Either they are (very) shy and hardly speak at all, or they are so loud they actually seem incapable of normal speech. Everything is shouted, which gives me a headache.

Now don’t worry too much if you can’t get the commands or the tones right. I can’t either. Remember, there is always miming, which is more effective and less time-consuming and frustrating.

Finally, when kids go (or are dragged) to a language school to study for two or three hours, let it be clear that half of the time will just be an alternative form of babysitting. Never mind. As long as the parents are happy, there is no problem. We get paid, the school makes good money and let’s face it, even the kids will learn some words and hopefully some classroom discipline, making the next teacher’s life a bit easier.


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