TEFL Problems faced by Thai students learning English

gIf the English language made any sense, catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.?h (Doug Larson)

Before delving into problems facing Thai students learning English I?fll outline some of the positives. Many students prefer farang (foreigner) teachers partly due to a more informal teaching style, but also because a speaker of the native tongue can address pronunciation issues in a way that a non-native speaker cannot. Added to this a lifetimes knowledge of conversational English is more relevant than the rigid, sometimes rarely used, vocabulary and structure of textbooks. Native speakers are employed extensively in schools, businesses and colleges throughout Thailand. Initially the main problem facing students is that the Thai alphabet is entirely different to the Roman alphabet. Fortunately this is taught in secondary schools so most Thais are familiar with Roman script from quite an early age. Thai speakers learning English often have problems pronouncing /??/, /??/, /??/, /z/, /ʒ/ and /v/ as these letters don?ft occur in their native language. They also find it hard to pronounce consonant clusters such as /dr/, /fl/, /fr/, /sl/, /sp/, /st/ and /sw/. Added to this, Thai learners often drop final consonants (e.g. bunch becomes bun). To correct pronunciation errors 3x3 choral drilling is used. The teacher says a problem word three times, then the class as a whole says it three times, then students say it individually until the right pronunciation is used. Thai grammar is very different to English because Thai is an uninflected language. So, nouns and verbs do not change their forms for number, gender, case or person. Instead separate words are used. The use of inflections is therefore confusing for Thai learners. Also, within the subject-verb-object structure the subject and object are often left out in Thai. Often students apply this to English so sentences are rendered objectless or subjectless. There are no articles in Thai noun phrases so adjectives occur after a modified noun. Confusingly, many adjectives in Thai behave like verbs which can lead the student to omit the verb ?gto be?h in English (e.g. that food good). Many Thai students suffer from the learning method adopted by the education system. Students tend to focus much of their attention on memorisation of grammar rules and vocabulary. Consequently, students have better reading and writing skills than oral and listening skills. Adopting maximum student talk time will help to re-balance this issue. These are some of the problems facing Thai learners of English. Hopefully, with the help of the ESA methodology, many of these problems will become a thing of the past.

References: Yule, George. 1998. Explaining English Grammar. Oxford University Press; www.onestopenglish.com; www.hmongstudies.org

Author: Richard Scott

Date of post: 2006-08-25