In my Thai 1 (or Book 1) class I was able to skate by on the Thai that I had acquired from my previous year. But when I started Thai 2 I knew on the first day I would not be able to do so. My classmates were stronger, further along and my teacher was tough.

So just after two days I began to contemplate whether or not I should stick with it. A colleague of mine told me that I should, after all, she was repeating Thai 2 and teaching as well. I began to rethink my daily routine and started to weave in studying Thai. I had always planned on studying before class but it became easy to let the time slip and slide out of my grasp.

Now that we are into a new week I feel more confident and I’m diligently studying. On Monday a classmate asked how I was doing and I confessed that I felt like I was the lowest in the class. He reassured me that I was not and shared that he, like my friend, was repeating Book 2. It was like an impromptu mini pep talk.

Of course I realize I could go back to feeling like the low gal on the totem pole by the end of the week but I feel better hanging with it and making the effort to study and learn Thai. I know if I dropped the class that I would never learn on my own.

It certainly helped that we started Monday by playing a game. In the ESL world we call it Hot Seat. I had never done it with my Thai students before but after laughing and struggling with the game in Thai, I finally tried it with my English junior class and it was great.

The game is very simple. Someone sits in a chair in front of the class with their back to the whiteboard. The teacher writes a word down and the rest of the class has to make the student in the Hot Seat say that word.

For example, our teacher wrote: hông náam or bathroom. We had to use our Thai without saying any of the words on the board. Someone asked, Kuhn bpai kii yuu têe năi? or Where do you go to take a shit? I laughed so hard it was almost embarrassing. It was great to see how creative and thoughtful everyone could be and we all struggled with the game but in a fun way.

We also worked with conversation cards. Just slips of card stock with questions and answers. In small groups we took turns reading and responding appropriately. This was difficult for me because there was new vocabulary but the nice thing about working in a group is my peers could help me along.

As a student learning another language I am able to experience what it feels like to squirm and squeeze my way through the hours. I can watch myself. I noticed that when I do not understand what the teacher is saying, I react by waiting to see how the other students respond. Usually by the time I have to talk I do understand what is being said. Or if I still don’t understand I just repeat what someone else has said. And if I am doing this then I think it’s fair to say my English learners are too.

I also know that when I’m corrected repeatedly my confidence drops. So I make sure to not correct my students too much. You have to let some things go for the sake of moving the class along and keeping the students talking. Otherwise, like a bad date, it will be far too easy to hold your breath and wait for the time to be over.

And as I learn more about Thai culture and why Thais choose particular phrases or words I am able to bring those similar comparisons to English class too. For example, in English we prefer the phrase pass away over the word dead. Knowing that Thais use language that is softer sounding I can explain that in English passed away sounds less harsh than dead.

While our cultures may seem vastly different they have things in common too. I want to use as many tools at my classroom experience disposal to make connections because I know that it is the connections that will help build the bridge between the two languages.

Differences I feel are highlighted and pointed out enough and while these are important, second language learners all share the same stumbling struggles that teachers should pay attention to.

(That’s right, I ended the sentence with a preposition.)

6 replies on “Learning Thai is making me a better English teacher

  1. Lani, It is difficult to crack the books sometimes and as my classes get tougher there are some days that I just feel completely useless. Luckily they are offset by days when the light bulb goes off in my head.Also I have a great teacher that really gets the class involved and he seems to know exactly when I don't want to be called on.Just think, maybe in a year from now we can have a whole conversation about this in Thai.


  2. I hear you. Some days I feel like a zombie just staring at the teacher as if she just arrived from Planet Thai and I don't make a peep because I'm too busy trying to absorb it all.But you are learning reading and writing which is what I REALLY want to do next. I hope we do have this conversation completely in pasa Thai next year!!!


  3. Lani, I can completely see how learning a second language would help you teach one, to others. With Stray doing his course, I've had TEFL in my ear for one month and can see the same tactics being used on me, in my Thai class. It would give you an understaind from the inside, so to speak.


  4. Hi Lani, I think what you said about not correcting every mistake is so important. It can really demoralise a student if too many mistakes are pointed out to them in one go – I always avoided doing this. In one school where I worked there was a foreign teacher (Asian but not Thai) who was always correcting my Thai. He could speak Thai fluently and at the start I took his corrections in good spirits – I thought he was trying to help me, but it soon became obvious that he was just trying to put me down. After a while I stopped speaking Thai in the staff room completely because I couldn't bare his constant nit picking. Working with him really knocked my confidence with the Thai language.


  5. Lani,I love your blog. I have been reading you since you were here in Cuenca. I can really identify with your struggle to learn another language. Thanks for brightening my days.Hugs,Nancy


  6. @Snap: Yes, one of my colleagues says that learning Thai is so insightful to teaching English and I have to agree. During my TEFL course we did a mini-lesson on this idea on being an L2 learner but going to class everyday is quite another experience.@Paul: I completely understand. Last year it seemed no one corrected me and this year it's like the opposite. That one day in class where the teacher was ON me was so disheartening. Honestly I was close to tears.@Nancy: It's too bad we never met! Jenny at Kooks told me that we should meet but it never happened. No tengo tiempo! Glad we're friends in the blogosphere 😉


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