Thailand

ESL teaching resources and observations about teaching in Thailand

songkran-class
Songkran summer class, Chiang Mai, 2013

I can’t believe I’ve been teaching in Thailand for almost 4 years now. And I’m rather pleased that I have had the experience of teaching in three different cities here: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. I’m not sure if I can count Bangkok since that is where I got my TESOL training, but I did student teach and watched all of my colleagues do the same. I got to experience a lot of observations, so, yeah, it counts 😉 And even though they were all at the same language school, the students, in general, varied in age and sophistication.

Bangkok students were older with more Thai Muslims. Chiang Mai had a good mix of ages leaning more towards teenagers with the occasional international student. I had Korean, Chinese, and European students there. Chiang Rai, on the other hand, so far, seems to have more teenagers, and fewer adults. But what has been really striking me is CR students have far better pronunciation than CM students.

And I have no idea why. If they are better speakers, they must be better listeners, right? My guesses are because they are closer to neighboring countries and hill tribes, they are used to different dialects and languages – maybe the Christian influence up here has something to do with it as well??? Of course, they could have better English programs at their primary schools. I saw one of my stronger students with a blue Interchange book and I know the Interchange series to be a good one.

Their writing is also better, but I don’t want to get too excited about that one yet. I need to see if those students are a true representation or not. It’s just crazy because I want to know why they are better speakers! You just don’t get as much of that “Tinglish” pronunciation. Fascinating.  I know a fair amount of older students here have studied abroad, too. I wonder if there is something in that as well.

Nevertheless, I wanted to share some links that I have collected. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from my previous teaching tips posts, and I’m afraid I’ve been remiss. I’ve been heavily drafted in the lesson planning world since we have new textbooks. And I asked for different levels so I can see how the curriculum flows. So, without further ado! Teaching resources (hope you find something useful):

1) Check out the “sample games to be played in the classroom” on the right side bar. I like how the Indiana University of Pennsylvania took popular American game shows and crafted them for teaching and learning!

2) I got this link from my MOOC course on Principals of Written English. The instructor recommended it for expanding vocabulary.  They have a lot of word lists under teacher resources.

3) Related is this link from ESL Trail, sight words, or words that need to memorized by EFL students. Heidi actually has a great deal of resources for honing in on your teaching and lesson planning.

4) Ah, yes, this Randall guy is crazy – as in, WOW, he has all these recorded themed read-alongs with different ideas for building upon them. It’s nice to have a more advanced resource out there because I feel like there is a lot of elementary materials already out there.

5) Innovate my school found me via Twitter, so they must be cool, right? They seem geared into using tech in the classroom which I don’t have much experience in because my old school didn’t have the resources. But the school I am at now does, so I’m looking forward to experimenting.

6) And lastly, I’d like to leave you with an inspirational post on 25 things successful educators do differently, which is really quite standard, but a nice reminder, nonetheless. The site has other solid articles as well.

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26 thoughts on “ESL teaching resources and observations about teaching in Thailand

    1. Maybe it’s the age factor? With my Korean students, it seemed like how early they started studying English was a big factor in terms of their accent.

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      1. That makes sense. My daughter speaks a little Thai and a little mandarin and can repeat with a perfect accent, me on the other hand… 🙂

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      2. Age is not be ruled out. Hmmm. Maybe combined with CR being a small town, good pronunciation gets recycled 🙂

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  1. Judging from your summer class photo, your students look very happy. You must be a good teacher and connect well with your students. For students who are better speakers, they are more confident…not necessarily better listeners. For all you know they might want to show off what they’ve just learnt and entertain.

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    1. Oooooo. You have hit upon something very interesting. Yes, CM students are definitely confident, but not necessarily better speakers. Listening to a foreign language is most certainly a special skill!! Thanks for the compliments, so nice to hear! Hugs.

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      1. Oh yes, Listening to foreign language requires skills, and a lot of patience too. Listening to foreign language on tape is one thing, listening to someone speak it with their own accent is another. No wonder learning a second language is hard – languages as spoken more differently than we think.

        Interesting that you mentioned MOOCs briefly. I hear that it’s very popular online learning resource platform, but they tend to be used within science-focused teaching in Australian universities.

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  2. How about recommendations for the reverse, teaching Thai to desperate grumpy old men?

    I loved the margarita commercial. Except it gives away my recipe (instead of adding water I add ice and blend). Because it uses beer I have always called it the poor man’s margarita.

    Cheers and good teaching.

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      1. Interesting links, thanks. I will let you know how this works out for me.

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  3. The resource link #6 is a good one, Lani. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about students, life and yourself there. Within last 3 wks., I found out from a good friend that she taught ESL in Japan for almost 2 years. And I’ve known her for the last 3 years.

    Yes, she found that the Japanese expect Caucasians to have best English fluency, even she herself is Canadian-born and had lived in Canada for most her life (except Japan).

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    1. Thanks Jean. Teaching abroad has given me a deeper appreciation for teaching in general. It’s seen as a “gap year” job, but honestly, it’s a big exercise in humility, patience, flexibility and humor.

      What I enjoy is the cultural exchange…it helps me feel connected and more and more I believe teaching and learning is a relationship.

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  4. Will check out those links when I have more time. But I already like your post. Sometimes, I fancy teaching but I am not sure if it is my calling. It was may parents’, though. She was a high school teacher, he was a grade school teacher. Crazy Trivia: She was a Geometry and Trigonometry teacher; he was, among other things, a grade school Math teacher. So guess which one of us two sisters got the Math genes correct?

    NADA…LOL!!!!

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    1. Hahahaha. Your parents used up all the mathematics. How interesting. I don’t think any child of a teacher goes on to be a teacher, too. The children probably hear and know of too many of the problems 😀

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      1. Oh I do know of people who followed in their teacher-parents’ footsteps 🙂

        To be honest, when I was a kid, I would hear that many of the female teachers were single because they became teachers. That kind of alarmed me, LOL!!! Although I really wasn’t dreaming of becoming a teacher then, anyway. Then in high school, I heard that kids of teachers also become teachers so the old worry came back and I determined I wasn’t going to be a teacher!

        LOL!!! Kids can be so naive and even biased…

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      2. I’m always surprised when student tell me they want to be a teacher. It’s definitely not glamorous or portrayed in any exciting way in Thai schools. In fact, most students believe teaching is a boring job…if they only knew. ;P

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      3. Definitely, it’s not as boring as it seems, what with handling 40+ kids on weekdays, sometimes more when you handle different sections. Sometimes the stories I hear are good, sometimes bad, so nothing really boring there. I have a friend who now also teaches English to foreign students in the US and she is very happy doing her job. My parents were loved by many students. Particularly my mother, so much so that in her last months that she needed medication and I had to bring her to the hospital, and then when she passed away, the donations of her past colleagues and especially students actually took care of the expenses! I was so glad and grateful because if it were only me, I wouldn’t know where to get the money anymore…

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  5. Read the other comments. I’m not sure if this adds well to the discussion, but just to share, based on my own experience and a bit of Philippine history:

    I think I have shared this before, but anyway,…We were under Spanish rule for around 400 years so many of everyday terms now (not really sentences) are in Spanish and we don’t even realize it. Back then, though, Filipinos were considered second-class, third-class, whatever-low class citizens in their own country and the conquistadors did not really want us to learn Spanish. Ironically, it was when we sent the conquerors away and after the World Wars that our parents and grandparents actually studied and learned to speak Spanish more fluently, using it in conversing. That was why many of our elders (well, those who got to study) could understand it. Same can be said in a way when the Americans came to the country and taught us English. It has become our second language. Unfortunately, due to our economy that failed in the recent decades and families being unable to send kids to good schools, if they can at all, many are not able to speak it fluently unlike before.

    I don’t know if this insight helps or if this even an insight.

    Perhaps it has to do with a place’s history? Meanwhile, I write good English, methinks, but more often than not, my tongue twists or I forget my vocabulary when I have to speak to foreigners, English-speaking ones in particular, orally. I’ve read somewhere that it’s because we’re still naturally shy and self-conscious, afraid we would mess up our English. That observation sounds about right, I think. And that kind of supports Mabel Kwong’s about your students being more confident (of course, there’s still a story behind the reason they are confident).

    Did I even make sense???

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    1. I’m not sure. Hahahaha. But it was interesting to hear, nonetheless. Thailand is notoriously lazy when it comes to learning English. I’m not sure why. Neighboring countries are either hungry to learn or excel at English. I think it’s a “we can get by with Thinglish” mindset. But maybe the shyness/small town-ness of CR makes them better listeners?

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      1. Basically, we both believe it has to do with the place. I think it has to do with a place’s past, however short or long, whatever the nature (political, cultural, traditional) that affects a place’s personality, so to speak. So something in how these kids were brought up (like shyness/small town-ness, as you said) have probably made them better listeners, like their elders.

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  6. This is great! I’m going to have to check out those resources. I need to stockpile while I can. >.<

    I was thinking about why your CR students might be better at pronunciation, and I think you hit on it when you said they have more dialects. Now, I'm not expert, but in my Linguistics courses, we've talked a bit about how exposure early on to various sounds can help you all your life. Babies are born knowing how to produce every single sound in every language, but as their brains develop hearing only a certain set, they lost the ability to distinguish differences.

    Maybe that has something to do with it or maybe it doesn't, but either way, I bet it's rewarding for you!

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    1. That makes sense. I’m so glad you shared this. In CM, you are more likely to hear Western languages because it’s an international city. But I’m not sure if everyday kids are exposed to this because this phenomenon is a touristy and expat thing.

      But here in CR, there are more hill-tribe neighbors which could mean the children are exposed at an earlier age to these similarities/differences. Hmmmm.

      I hope you find something useful within the links. Thanks Otter-girl!

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      1. There maybe truth in that. Here, we have many dialects as well. I unfortunately only know one, Tagalog, which is what is considered the “official” dialect (the language is called Filipino, like the people). So many have come to speak in Taglish nowadays, which I think is much like your Thinglish.

        Going back to the dialects, there are parts of the country (like those with tribes) that have not been as developed as the others but you’d be surprised that aside from the dialect their forefathers taught them. people there speak much, much better English like it’s their second skin than people from supposedly more modernized places. It has to do with American presence there before so it is the elders who speak good English. Ironically, modernization diminished their people’s fluency and many of the younger generation either do not speak/understand it at all or use wrong grammar more often. My best friend is from one of these places and has actually lamented that her parents speak better English than her and her siblings.

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      2. You might be on to something there. CM is a much bigger city and more “modern” but they definitely don’t speak better English. *taps chin*

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