Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Word in English if I may

Who am I to talk about language proficiency? A spattering of French and Thai still leaves me hugely humbled when I teach my international students in Bangkok. Students from Germany, France, China, Nepal, Sweden, Thailand and many other nations master the nuances of my northern English accent to produce stunning marketing presentations – equal to the best I have seen in over 30 years in academia. To do the final part of an undergraduate programme or an MBA in your second language is an immense achievement – these students deserve to go places! However not all is well with the teaching of English in Thailand and the Government [once they get one] is keen to do something about it. Thailand, along with other South East Asian economies, will form a huge trading bloc in 2015 [ASEAN] and English will be the language of commerce. But Thailand is ranked the lowest in English competence amongst ASEAN countries. Why is this? A friend who teaches English as a foreign language to Thai school children reckons it is down to two main reasons. Firstly, and this is something common to all disciplines, children aren’t taught to think for themselves. Linked to this is the emphasis on memorisation as opposed to reasoning. The second is, children are expected to sit quiet and absorb knowledge – those that ask questions are penalised in subtle ways. It is not surprising that this teacher/student relationship stays with Thai students throughout their life. It was brought home to me very forcibly in my first year teaching Thai MBA students in Surat Thani. Groups of students were making presentations and where they used an unattributed statistic I would try to seek an explanation of its origin or the basis of their calculation. The students became alarmed at ‘my aggressive line of questioning’. To me I wasn’t being aggressive at all – on reflection I thought I was a paragon of patience and understanding. Oh to understand the culture code!!!! From that day forth I realised it was down to me adjust my behaviour. ASEAN, Thai parents increasingly aware of the importance of English and dissatisfaction with state-run education suggests a huge opportunity in Thailand.

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