Experience counts when it comes to teaching English in Thailand but thanks to a recently instructors stand to recent report by Tuong Hung Nguyen, even first time teachers have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants. In Thailand: Cultural Background for ESL/EFL Teachers, there is a wealth of information that can help current and would-be teachers as they prepare to work in the Land of Smiles. Some of the important points that Nguyen illustrates provide valuable insight on some of the difficulties Thai learners often face in the classroom.
Like any language learners, Thai students have difficulty producing sounds that do not appear in their native language. Common examples that are unique to Thai students, however, include many common English-language consonant pairs such as “dr”, “fl”, “sl” and “th” and are frequently cited as being particularly troubling for the country’s language learners.
In a similar vein, proper Thai pronunciation – which places equal stress and timing on each syllable – is fundamentally at odds with the idiosyncratic pronunciation style used in English.
Thai and English grammar are quite different. Where English would modify existing words to reflect changes in number or gender (his book v. her books) Thai employs separate words for such purposes. As a result errors in subject-verb agreement are particularly common. By the same token, while both Thai and English have a Subject-Verb-Object sentence structure, Thai employs implied subjects and objects far more frequently than the conventions of English grammar allow (meaning that sentences that would, for example, require pronouns in English do not need them in Thai).
Finally, a note on “face” or pride. Because of these differences and a a fear of being wrong in front of their peers, Thai students may not feel as comfortable asking questions or participating in classroom discussion. Lesson plans should be, as a result, designed in such a way as to minimize conflict as much as possible.