I was asked by one of the companies I work for to help out with an English camp last week. Although I work during the day at a government school, my other employer was desperate, and I thought... why not. I only had to have a few classes covered, and it was a good excuse to try something new!
The client: the Thai Ministry of Labor. Apparently, they were sponsoring an event for workers in the hospital industry to practice English as ongoing governmental preparations for ASEAN in 2015. I must admit, although I initially thought the whole ordeal would be a snore, I had more fun teaching the camp than I've had doing anything else in Thailand!
The basis of the camp was to teach English in a fun manner, not your typical sit-in-a-boring-classroom type of deal. There were sections on English specific to hotels, spas, and restaurants, but the 2-day camp catered to anyone in hospitality or customer service. The camp emphasized pronounciation and simply SPEAKING in general, not worrying so much on total correctness but rather focusing on confidence. I must say, especially for a good deal of the 150+ attendees, this approach was ideal.
Obviously, there are times when there simply is no avoiding a (potentially) somewhat boring grammar lesson. But for this camp, luckily, my fellow teachers and I were able to help the students work on communicating in general. Yes, I thoroughly enjoy having my students progress from the basics to quasi-correct English, but let's face it: the vast majority of people simply need to "get by" in English, and you've got to start somewhere!
The attendees were divided into five groups that attended one of five sessions about various aspects of hospitality-related English in rotation, with many speaking games and activities in-between. I've attended conferences and seminars similar to this, and know that such events can go one of two ways: wonderfully fun or disastrously boring. Luckily for us, the teachers and the students had such a high level of enthusiasm and energy that the whole event, albeit two long days, was a blast!
It's nice to have students who actually WANT to learn English. I've helped with programs that are paid for by companies before, and although there are students who are excited at the prospect of learning English for free, there are many who are only there because they want the free snack that comes with the lesson. Here, though, the majority of people really wanted to be there. After the camp ended (and after a million pictures, as always), the other teachers and I had literally countless students coming up to us begging to keep learning. It's a nice change!
I commend the Ministry of Labor for initiating this "pilot" camp program; it's nowhere near enough to get Thailand to the competitive level it needs to be for the pending "no-borders" ASEAN community coming up, but it is certainly a fantastic start. The fun, hands-on approach that my company took when teaching this camp, alongside the high energy of all of the teachers and students, resulted in a highly enjoyable (albeit exhausting) two days.
Personally, I love these kinds of things; I love the energy of large groups, the excitement of a fast-paced, all-day event with many things to do. If I could do things like this full time, I would. I don't know that I could manage doing more than 3 days out of every week, though; it is genuinely exhausting. But in the end, also genuinely worth it.
Just in two days of teaching average, ever-day Thai workers, I saw more enjoyment in learning English than I've seen in the past year of teaching various school, adult, and corporate classes. Especially in Thailand, this fun approach is what is really needed to get people motivated to try their hand at this go-between language that ASEAN has adopted.
I certainly hope the Ministry of Labor continues to sponsor these events; if nothing else, it's a great networking opportunity and way for everyday Thai workers to get a bit of practice speaking English. I hope to get the chance to help out again soon!