Phil Roeland


Reflections on the Thai TESOL conference

I went to the Thai Tesol Conference the other day and saw and heard a few interesting things. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to go the whole conference, so what I’m writing here – let’s call it my two baht - might be a little distorted. Sorry for that. Can’t be helped.
Some hot topics were discussed “@ the bar”, a panel discussion organised by the British Council after the official part of the conference had come to an end. Not only was the discussion worthwhile, the free-flowing wine and excellent and the delicious snacks were widely appreciated. Thanks BC.

Topic of the night was “Changes in ELT”, and more precisely which changes the esteemed panel members would like and would not like to see. A lot was said and discussed, so I’m going to limit myself here to two points.
Sue Kay, author of the Inside Out course books, said she didn’t want any more government schemes and/or interference. She specified it was a general, worldwide wish and admitted she didn’t know the Thai situation. Never mind that, she was quite right, judging from a few of the comments she got.

Apparently people are fed up with the government telling and ordering teachers what to do without giving them the necessary resources to do a good job. It’s a very good idea to decide that Thai children should learn better English in school, but it is foolish to think that it is possible without any substantial support. How the hell can you get people to talk fluently if you’ve got one foreign teacher in a school with over a thousand students…Needless to say that some top schools in Bangkok don’t have the same problems as certain high schools in backwater locations as Nakhon Nowhere or Mahasarakham (this last city really exists, I didn’t invent it).

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.
One Thai teacher said that parents only wanted “a white face” in the classroom. I agree that if a Thai teacher does a good job, a farang isn’t always needed, but I couldn’t help myself commenting that the parents might be right. I sometimes wonder how many English is spoken during an English lesson with a Thai teacher. I suspect it’s not enough. An English lesson should be in English, not in Thai. Thai should only be used if all other means are exhausted.

I also have some doubts when it comes to the accent of the Thai teachers. Having heard some Thai teachers speak English, I’m not surprised anymore about the awful accent the kids have. We shouldn’t blame the Thai language and it’s absence of sounded consonants all the time. Some of these kids are just aping their teachers…

Learning has become a lifelong process. Obtaining a degree, following the strict school rules that were set decades ago and being complacent doesn’t do the trick anymore. Real professionals should keep trying to improve themselves. Thai as well as foreign teachers. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But there is a problem if even I have trouble understanding another teacher (and no, I am not deaf). A foreign teacher shouldn’t be idolised, but shouldn’t be underestimated either. Moreover, while some teachers criticised the parents’ attitude, others were all too keen to have their pictures taken with those foreign devils…

Moving on. Another panel member, a Thai teacher/intellectual/self-made man who had studied in England and who not only taught English, but also French and German (languages he had supposedly learned all by himself), wanted to (re)introduce the works of Shakespeare into the classroom. What a brilliant idea… NOT. The last thing I want to do is ridicule this distinguished gentleman, but I couldn’t help wondering why the hell he came up with this.
Okay, if someone studies English literature at university he should know about dear William. Introducing Shakespeare in other circumstances though seemed preposterous to me. I completely agree with someone who said that we should try to get the students reading for pleasure. But please, let’s try some other material to get them motivated first. I personally remember the time when a high school teacher shoved Shakespeare down our collective throats and I can assure you it didn’t go down well. It wasn’t until years later that I bought a discounted paperback with the Complete of Shakespeare to see what all the fuss was about.

I just disagree with teachers who want to impose a reading list. Let students decide for themselves what they like to read. It doesn’t matter if it’s Literature with capital L. Remember, we want them to read for pleasure! When I was young, my favourite author was Stephen King. I admit, not the best of prose on the market, but that was what I liked to read. That trashy author wasn’t on the list of my English Professor of course. So please, let students read what they enjoy. There is still a lot of vocabulary in every novel and Harry Potter is a lot more popular than Shakespeare is. By the way, another (Thai) teacher commented that not everyone possessed the abilities of Mr. Academic.
A lot more was said, but this is it for now. Keep having fun in the classroom and see you next time. Cheers.


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