Foreign English Teachers in Thailand: What Thai Students Think

Teachers in Thailand, and the rest of the world, are often motivated by the desire to make a positive change for children. There are so many ways to enrich the lives of students, but obviously the main objective is to advance their education.

Most Thai public schools have mandatory English classes, even if the school doesn’t have foreign (native-speaking or fluent) English teachers. These courses are taught by Thai teachers who typically can’t speak English conversationally. Because they aren’t entirely familiar with the language, their lessons focus on vocabulary and grammar directly from the book.

If you took Spanish, French, Italian, etc. classes in school, then you know this isn’t exactly an effective way to learn a language. The main purpose of teaching English to students is to provide them with practical skills that will help them get into a better university or land a more rewarding job.

foreign english teachers in thailand

I had a Spanish teacher who wouldn’t let us speak English at all during class. Although it was extremely challenging, I learned how to use the language in regular conversation and was really engaged in the material. The following two years, I had to study with a different teacher who didn’t put the same level of passion and investment into her classes. We read books in Spanish that we were expected to memorize and were taught grammar rules that we had to regurgitate on generic book tests. I went from considering studying Spanish in college to barely caring about my language class.

Since Thai-taught English classes don’t include a lot of conversation or activities that make students interested in learning, few Thai kids can actually speak the language without extra classes or lessons taught by foreigners.

While I’m here to explain the benefits of teaching English abroad for teachers and students alike, I can’t speak for Thai kids when it comes to the ways foreign English teachers in Thailand affect their learning. To give you more insight, I spoke to several of my students at Chonradsadornumrung School in Chonburi, Thailand about why they value having English classes taught by native speakers.

Note: I didn’t change the grammar or wording in their responses to keep the feedback authentic, but I did add a few notes to clarify what they wrote. I’m also aware that polling students at one school in Thailand does not make this a representative sample of the country.

foreign english teachers in thailand
The author, middle, with two of her Thai students.

Net (Nickname) – Grade 11

I think it’s a great opportunity to meet and talk with foreign people. No stranger is willing to speak English to me, unless the person is a teacher, of course. I think studying with a foreign teacher is more challenging than a Thai teacher. If the school has the resources and the parents are willing to pay for [foreign teachers], then I think it’s a great idea.

Ninnart Ninnartnont – Grade 11

Thai teacher always teaching grammar instead of vocabulary and common usage. Their accent also very Thai so that is why lots of Thai student that didn’t have any opportunity to study abroad speak English like Thai accent. So, that is why lots of school want foreign teacher to help student with it. In my opinion, is good for school for paying foreign teacher for making students’ English skills better.

Denita Charoenthanakitkul – Grade 10

In my opinion, I like to study English with foreign teachers more than Thai teacher. I think like that because in my real life, I’m not going to use much English with Thai people, but I’m use English with foreigners. And study with foreign teacher are having lots of advantages, such as learning different English accent, got lots of tips in learning English and I think foreigners can make English more simpler to study.

Pai (Nickname) – Grade 9

I like it because for some reason, I feel more confident when speaking in English and because [when] you learn with foreigners, it’s basically learning science with a professor. Foreigners speak English so they obviously know the lesson, plus you can sharpen your skill from talking to them. It’s good for our country to pay for them.

Pluem (Nickname) – Grade 8

I like having a foreign teacher because it better for Thai student to get better accent and when the students ask questions, [the answers] are better. The difference [between Thai and foreign English teachers] is the accent and how accurate the English is. I think it’s good for the school to pay the foreigner because it’s better for our education.

It’s better because some students feel more confident speaking English to foreigners and answers to questions are better and more accurate.* Words that we don’t know how to say can be helped by foreigners.

* Our answers are more accurate and detailed because we know and understand the specifics of the language as native speakers, as opposed to Thai teachers who only learned from books.

Thanakorn Kedjinakul – Grade 8

I think it’s really good to have American or British being English teacher because they can pronounce the correct sound and they have the real experiences while using English. Like when we learning English with Thai teacher, they keep talking and don’t let you share ideas. They always teach grammar and writing. They didn’t give us how to use English in daily life, just in the paper.

Something I didn’t consider about learning English as a second language until I moved to Thailand is how difficult it is to communicate with people who aren’t native English speakers. If you’re a Thai student who already has to work hard to understand what American, British, Australian and Canadian people are saying, imagine trying to make sense of English words being spoken by a European or Chinese person!

 

Students tend to prefer American or Canadian teachers because our accents are easier to understand. Most of the English-language television shows and movies they encounter are set in the U.S., so they’re more comfortable listening to it. As you can tell from my students’ responses, even more frustrating for them is deciphering English that’s being spoken with a Thai accent. There are several sounds that we have in English that Thai people struggle with, like switching “r” and “l” and correctly pronouncing words that begin with “th” because these consonants sound similar in Thai.

Stayed tuned for my next blog to learn more about parts of speech and sounds that challenge Thai students that you’ll likely focus on when you begin teaching English abroad!


Words and images by Christine Hayes.