Problems facing Learners in Thailand "English is the second language for


"English is the second language for most Thais and is taught in schools often from the first years of schooling (O´Sullivan and Tajaroensuk 1997). ... At school and in higher education English is generally taught by Thai teachers with a small number of native English speaking teachers" (NEST). (Baker, 2003)

When teaching English to Thais it is found that in almost all cases the learners have some understanding and knowledge of English already. Often this is predominantly in reading and writing and for many Thai learners, communicating through speaking and listening with a native speaker of English can be a daunting prospect. There are a number of reasons for this, mainly relating to the large differences in the sounds, grammar and idiomatic use of language between Thai and English and the lack of exposure most Thais have to native English speakers. In a TEFL classroom setting, additional barriers can arise from the difference between Thai and Western educational values, "especially concerning communicative, learner centered approaches to language teaching". (Baker, 2003) Some of these challenges are outlined below:

Pronunciation: The sounds between Thai and English vary hugely with a number of sounds exsiting in Thai that are not present in English, and vica versa. In listening, Thai learners can experience great difficulty in distinguising between different sounds, for example ´ch´ and ´sh´ formations. Producing these sounds correctly in speaking can then be even more of a challenge (ECC, 2006). When teaching English to Thai learners it is very important that sufficient attention is paid to the practice of pronunciation and teaching techniques such as oral diagrams are invaluable in this.

Intonation: Due to the tonal nature of Thai, the intonation patterns within it are very different from those used in English (Baker, 2003). As a result, Thai speakers of English can have a tendencey to sound a little bit mono-tone in their English speaking if they have not had specific help and instruction in this area and/or a significant amount of exposure to native speakers. The use of techniques such exagerrated intonation and intonation markers within lessons are highly valuable tools in assisting learners in developing natural and fluent speech.

Grammar: Grammatical elements also vary hugely between Thai and English (Baker, 2003). For example, in Thai there is no change of verb form with change of tense and tenses no not exsist in the same way as in English. Rather, they are formed either from context, such as the simple inclusion of a time marker (e.g. yesterday), or by the use of additional words, such as the word for already, to indicate whether or not something is in the past or in the future. As such, aspects of English grammar, such as the perfect tenses, can be very difficult for Thai learners to grasp and use correctly. Areas such as subject use and word order also vary considerably from English and so can also create problems for Thai learners.

Interaction in class:

´Education in Thailand has a strong tradition of teacher-directed, rote learning, while recent policy change has focused toward more student-centered learning approaches.´ (Carter, 2006)

Although there have been recent changes towards more student-centred approaches, there has also been a long tradition of teacher-centred education which can lead some students to feeling a little bit lost in the genearlly highly student-centred format of TEFL-style English classes. Having been used to lessons highly controlled by the teacher and learning predominantly by rote, then being asked to communicate more freely with a partner can be a daunting prospect for the students and can leave the teacher being greeted by silence. Effective ways of working with Thai learners in this is to ensure that the freedom in speaking is introduced gradually. For example the use of clear and simple role-play cards to guide conversation can be helpful first steps in helping students gain conversation in communicating amongst each other. Thai people are generally very creative and, if a gradual process of more to less controlled exercises is implemented, it is found that this creativity can be applied to English with entertaining results.

Another issue that can be caused by the more teacher-centred educational background of many Thai learners is a reluctance to ask and answer questions in class. A teacher of Thai learners needs to be gentle but persistent in asking the learners questions and, in turn, providing opportunities for the learners to ask questions in order for these to become natural and comfortable features of the lesson.

Thais really enjoy games and respond enthusiastically to them. These can be a very effective way of developing confidence in the students and creating an atmosphere in which students are confident to participate. The enthusiasm that they do show in learning and the respect that they demonstrate for teachers combine to mean that despite the challenges that both the teacher and the learners face, teaching English to Thai learners can be a very enjoyable and highly rewarding experience.

References:

Baker, W. (2003) "Should culture be an overt component of EFL instruction outside of English speaking countries' The Thai context". accessed 14th Oct. 2006

Carter, S. L. (2006) "The Development of Special Educational Services in Thailand" accessed 13th Oct. 2006

ECC (2006) accessed 13th Oct. 2006