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3 Reasons Why Thai Students Have a Slow Progress in Learning English

3 Reasons Why Thai Students Have a Slow Progress in Learning English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Having seen Thailand being ranked 64th globally and 16th in Asia in the EF English Proficiency Index 2018, it triggered me to look back on how most Thai students including me learned English in schools. Based on my experience as a student who studied English both in a bilingual-program private school and a Thai government school, plus my experience working at Wall Street English and Shrewsbury International School, I would like to group the major problems for Thai learners into 3 main topics, i.e. the quality of the teachers, the teaching approach and the attitude of the students towards English.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Pannee W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

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1. Teachers’ Skills and Qualifications

To start with, the quality of the teachers plays an important role in the students’ English proficiency. I went to primary school at Sarasas Pitthaya School and was lucky enough to study in a bilingual program from grade 2 to grade 6. There, all subjects were taught by both Thai and English speaking teachers separately (except the Thai subject!) By studying with native English speaking teachers since a young age, I was regularly exposed to the correct English [pronunciation]( Experience in Teaching Multilingual Classes in the US-in-el-salvador/) and naturally learned how to pronounce correctly. When I finished grade 6, I had to move to a Thai government school due to the family’s financial issues. Here, I noticed a big difference in how English was taught. It was taught by Thai teachers and there were countless times that they mispronounced some English words. Given the fact that Thai students are not living in an English speaking country, teachers might be the only real live source of English for most of them. Therefore, teachers’ mispronunciation of English can lead to students’ poor listening and speaking skills. Thai students often find it difficult to understand and communicate with native speakers because they are not used to the correct pronunciation.

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2. Teaching Methods

The second difference I experienced was the teaching approach. If we look back on how we learned our first language, which we use fluently, we will see how effective the natural learning method is. Children started to learn their mother tongue by watching and listening to their parents and copying the sound. Before going to school and learning any grammar, they were already communicating in their first language. That was how I learned English at primary school. The lessons were very visual and interactive. Students were exposed to the correct usage of English and practiced using it through a lot of communicating activities. Most of the students were able to communicate in English correctly without having to think about any grammar rules and to be honest, I didn’t even realize at that time that I had learned any grammar at all. While at my Thai school, the teachers focused more on grammar rather than the communicating skills. Most of the time, students were told to copy the grammar structure written on the board, memorize it and complete the worksheet. The teachers also used Thai a lot in class and kept translating back and forth. As a result, students always took so much time before speaking English because not only that they had to translate what they wanted to communicate from Thai to English but also had to think about all the grammar rules. English grammar is quite different from Thai, e.g. the tenses, the different verb forms, etc. Having to memorize all the grammar points can be undeniably challenging for students. Instead, if there are a lot of speaking activities in class, students will get a chance to use the language over and over again and will be able to communicate naturally without having to think about all the complicated rules. Many students at Wall Street English told me in the advising sessions that they were not confident when speaking English because they were afraid of making grammar mistakes. This fear had obviously been with most Thai students since a young age. It is also important that the teachers try to set the right mindset for them that it is okay to make mistakes as we all learn from mistakes.

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3. Learners’ Attitude

Last but not least, the attitude of learners is not any less crucial. I remembered being the only person in my group of friends who loved studying English. My friends always said English was difficult and they didn’t see the point of learning it. Whenever they had difficulties communicating in English, they would simply say, “Well, it’s not my parents’ language,” and just gave up trying. When I worked as a personal tutor at Wall Street English Corporate, where our students/clients were from different companies, I had a chance to prepare the questionnaire for them to do at the beginning of the course to find out about their interests and objectives for studying English. Our team always referred to the questionnaire to tailor the course for each corporate client. Some of our students were sent by their boss to take the course so they came to class involuntarily at first. It was so amazing to see how they started to enjoy studying English and gradually made progress throughout the course. This proved that by doing a needs analysis and creating varied and interesting lessons relating to them could have a great impact on their attitude towards learning English and help them study better.

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In conclusion, to tackle these chronic problems that have been holding Thai learners back for decades, it is necessary that all schools take it seriously on recruiting qualified teachers to teach English, apply the natural learning method and try to create and maintain a positive attitude in students towards learning English by making the lessons fun and useful for them.

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