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Could English really become a second language in Thailand? A recent subcommittee on education standards development has urged the government to announce English as its second language.

The idea behind having English as a second language in Thailand is its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which intends to integrate as a single community in 2015. Although the Chinese language is increasing in importance within business areas, English still remains the dominant force.

 

Nearly every Thai I speak to tells me that their English is no good. In fact, it is normally the second sentence they say to me. I usually let them listen to my bad Thai pronunciation and grammar for a while and ask them to reconsider their English language evaluation. After they stop laughing they normally agree with me that their English is not that bad and that they are just lacking practice and confidence.

 

Just how do Thai people want to sound when they are speaking English? Everyone seems to use the native speaker as the ideal model. I would suggest that Thais do not want to sound like the Queen of England and that they would like to sound more like a well educated Thai person would speak.

 

Now that we are in a situation where the majority of English language users around the world are not native speakers, it is important to understand what type of English should be used in Thailand.

 

For many, it is personal choice. Some think the British English version is the “correct” style to adopt; whereas others are used to watching American television and media and believe that US English is more popular. Notwithstanding the previous examples, we should not discount Australia, Canada and all the other countries that use English.

 

In my opinion, English is a tool used to convey information. For effective communication to take place, information must be sent, received and understood. Once the information has been processed, the process can be reciprocated, just like a game of tennis.

 

The important thing to bear in mind is that those involved in the process have to understand the meaning of the information that is being passed, so the style is not that important as long as understanding takes place and that the purpose of the communication has been achieved.

 

The biggest problem my students have is the lack of English language practice. They don’t use English at home and to be truthful, they don’t use it much around the university either. If Thailand is looking to have English as a second language, then it would have to be used more often.

 

Thailand does not have any colonial connection to English, so I find it difficult to see how it could be used as a second language. In India, for example, it is used when there is federal government business to discuss. I very much doubt that this situation will replicate itself here in Thailand.

 

Street signs around the country are in Thai and English; however, that is probably as far as it goes. Lard Phrao is spelt three different ways in a 100 meter radius, so some form of continuity is needed too. If English is to become a second language in Thailand, then it would have to be integrated into daily life, which seems extremely doubtful, especially with a 2015 deadline to achieve.

English as a second language in Thailand


English will have to be integrated into daily life, if it is to become a second language for these students from Bantatprachanukoon School in Ban Phue district, Udon Thani.

 

(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 16th November 2010)

 
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