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A Few of the Inevitable Problems
in Teaching English Abroad to Thais

Professional ESL/EFL Teacher Paul Thomas
By Paul Thomas

Veteran ESL/EFL Teacher and Previous Distinguished Trainer of TEXT-AND-TALK Academy's TEFL for Target Learner Groups Course

2014: Some Inevitable Problems in Teaching Thai Students

I am writing this short article to discuss the pros and cons of teaching English in Thailand and to detail some of the problems Thais have in learning English. I am also writing because it is my pleasure to contribute to the TEXT-AND-TALK website, as TEXT-AND-TALK has given me numerous opportunities since I began working for them in August, 2000.

First, let me give you a little background on myself to help define the extent of my experience in Southeast Asia. Then, I will briefly outline my career with TEXT-AND-TALK towards the end of this piece.

I have been teaching English and several other foreign languages since 1996. I have taught in New Orleans, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam and the Philippines. I have a bachelor’s degree in communications and German, and I have three ESL teaching certifications: the CELTA Certificate from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea; the TEFL International Business English Certificate (BETT); and the TEFL International TESOL Certificate.

Having worked in this region for fifteen years, I must say that Thailand, especially Bangkok, has a lot of advantages over other countries in the area. It is probably the most modern country in the region with the exceptions of Singapore and Hong Kong. The cost of living is very low — for example, rent, food, clothes and health care are all a fraction of the cost in the U.S. or Europe. Public transportation is also convenient and cheap.

The people here are mostly gentle and friendly but are often a bit shy, which can affect their performance in class, as they’re sometimes reluctant to guess at answers. This stems from the fact that most people here are Buddhists, and they have a very strong sense of “losing face”.

Thai students may feel that they could lose face by giving the wrong answer, so they say nothing.  They are usually respectful students, except for certain groups of teenagers and the occasional 'bad' kindergartener; and they are cooperative and happy to be learning English. They are rarely demanding or pushy and are actually quite pleasant people to teach.

Thais do, however, have particular problems with listening comprehension and pronunciation when called upon to distinguish between certain consonant pairs — 'l' and 'r' for example. Thus, several of my Thai students thought the sentence, "It looks like rain” was possibly the most difficult thing to say in English!

They also have a lot of trouble with the “th” cluster, as this does not appear in the Thai language, and in Thailand, it is considered very impolite to stick out one's tongue (which is what they feel this cluster requires). Thais therefore try to make the “th” sound with their tongues inside their mouths. The best way to deal with such problems is to know how the sounds actually are made by the mouth and tongue and to be ready to explain and demonstrate this (hopefully, without causing too much laugher in the fun-loving students)!

Also, in the Thai language the final consonants of words are often dropped or omitted, so Thais tend to pronounce English words in the same manner. Thus, as one example, getting students to pronounce the final 's' of a word can be challenging.

Sometimes I have had success teaching students to overcome such problems, and on other occasions have met with utter failure. In some cases, our unfortunate students have had such bad teachers in the past that their speaking habits are so deeply ingrained that they just can’t be changed, at least very easily. I have a couple of business English classes now, and so far none of the students can say the word “pounds.” It always comes out as “pow”, e.g., “15 pow, please.”

The most important thing to realize about Thai students is that they are not at all used to our style of teaching. They’re
also not really used to interacting with the teacher. Thus, eliciting answers from them can often be like pulling teeth, so to speak — either we spoon feed them or we have to be very patient. They are used to learning by lecture or just memorizing facts. Interaction with teachers isn’t encouraged by the Thai instructors in their schools.

Well, now that you’ve had a brief glimpse at some of the problems Thais have learning English, I would like to say a word about TEXT-AND-TALK and the owner, James Parmelee, who really helped me along in my teaching and teacher training career. I started working for TEXT-AND-TALK in 2000 as a sales representative selling English courses to local businesses and as an English teacher. I helped the school with a couple of recording projects as well. For example, I did the voice-overs for the pronunciation CD for the teacher training course and recorded a TV spot which aired in Pattaya in 2001.

After my first year at TEXT-AND-TALK, James asked me if I would like to become one of his teacher trainers and eventually I did become the teacher trainer for the Chiang Mai branch of the academy. In preparation, I taught two TEFL course classes in Bangkok and then became the founding director of the Chiang Mai branch.  Again, I would like to thank James Parmelee for giving me my first opportunity to do ESL/EFL teacher training — thus settling me into a profession which I really enjoy and that has since taken me to so many interesting places.

I have been back in Bangkok now for the last four months, and, again, I’m very happy to be teaching at TEXT-AND-TALK. I’m teaching Business English and assisting with the teacher training program.

So, if you’re looking for an EFL/ESL TEFL Course certification program, or if you’re a Thai looking for excellent English training, or if you’re a trained teacher just looking for work, I have no hesitation in recommending TEXT-AND-TALK Academy, for a bright future in the Land of Smiles.

A few of the problems our delightful
Thai students have with English!
Would you like to help them?

Look no further! Any additional information you might need about our course
(or any other question or concern you might have) is fully addressed right here!