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ASEAN ANALYSIS  8 October 2010

Language in Thailand

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs     8 October 2010

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An interesting headline appeared in one of Thailand’s English language newspapers this week, it read, “English to be second language.” What makes that headline interesting is it depicts Thailand’s love-hate with the English-language, a story that is probably played out in other Asean countries that do not have large English-speaking populations.

In Bangkok, there are many private language schools as well as international schools and most Thai people can speak a little. Even when they only speak a little they have a unique ability to get the message, often employing facial expressions or pantomime.

But in many areas of Bangkok, depending on the age of the population one encounters, English is not spoken. And about 20 kilometers outside of Bangkok, one had best speak Thai.

Returning to the headline, it reports that Thailand’s Education Ministry plans to make English the second language for teaching and learning in schools. That might come as a shock to the army of English-language teachers working in the public school of Thailand, some of them for many years.

The official date is tentatively set for October 22 to declare English the second language in schools.

The ministry has made concrete plans and is hoping to recruit American teachers who have retired under an early retirement program in the United States. The plan is to have native English speaking teachers for all schools for grades 10-12, while the grades 7-9 should have at least Thai teachers, who have majored in English. Elementary schools should also have more English teachers, Mr. Chinaworn Boonyakiat, a spokesman, said.

It does strike me that this approach is a little upside-down as learning a foreign language at a younger age is easier than when a person becomes older. It all has to do with the structure of the brain, according to linguists.

One can only wish the Education Ministry the best of luck as it strives to increase the English language skills of all of its public school students.

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