For many students around the world, it’s absolutely essential to learn English.
Thai students are no exception to this unspoken rule.
Due to the fact that Thailand’s primary schools have been teaching English for years, you might think that your Thai ESL students will be relatively proficient in English.
However, in my experience, this doesn’t seem to be the case for a majority of students.
Meanwhile, English fluency holds the key for Thai students to succeed in an increasingly globalized world. Knowing English well will help them in both their professional and personal endeavors.
In some countries like the Philippines, students are required to speak English in all of their classes. By the time they leave high school, they’re highly employable abroad simply because of their proficiency in English. While this level of immersion education might not always be an option in Thailand, this underscores the importance of preparing students for the world as it is today—and as it will be in the future.
This is why it’s vital for Thai schools to start putting a stronger emphasis on teaching students how to speak and write in English.
This is also why your ESL teaching skills are in high demand in Thailand right now!
Even if you don’t have previous experience teaching English, it’s very possible to find teaching work there. SEE TEFL offers regular 4-week TEFL training courses in Chiang Mai with a job guarantee, as well as paid internships twice a year that get you teaching in as little as 2 weeks.
To better prepare yourself to work with Thai students, keep the following problems—and the simple solutions I’ve got for them—in mind.
Teaching English to Thai Students: 5 Common Problems with Simple Solutions
1. They’re Accustomed to Rote Memorization
Many Thai schools use a simple rote instructional method that students must follow closely in order to receive passing marks. Teachers don’t often stray from the books. Instead, teachers are typically instruments through which English lessons are passed down from a more formal source, like an approved curriculum or publication.
In general, English grammar and conversation lessons are simply comprised of a worksheet or a list of rules with examples that students must memorize and/or copy. Thus, they may not have interactive opportunities to make English their own and learn it in an individualized way.
When it comes to teaching students how to speak any foreign language, there’s no substitute for practical experience. The best way for you to give your Thai students this much-needed experience is to create situations where proper communication in English is a must.
With the amazing power of modern technology, a wonderful solution could be to find students in English-speaking countries that would be willing to interact with Thai students via Skype and/or Viber.
While monitoring these online student interactions, you could require students to convey certain verbal messages and then verify the perceived content of the message with their foreign counterparts.
By allowing their foreign counterparts to offer suggestions related to grammar, word usage and more linguistic details, the learning process can be enhanced. Your students will get more feedback from native English speakers, and students are generally very receptive to learning from peers.
Another excellent method is to expose your Thai students to native English forms with fun video content from the FluentU library.
2. They Get Minimal English Writing Practice
Although Thai students are required to write essays in class, they don’t get plentiful opportunities to practice the whole writing process, that is, brainstorming, drafting and editing an essay. They simply go through the steps of preparing an essay and perhaps looking it over once before turning it in for a grade.
Conversely, native English students in many other countries, including the United States, are taught the writing process from an early age, which encourages them to review and revise their work in order to make it stronger before submitting it for a grade.
Without knowing how to form their ideas properly, some students use the Google Translation tool to help them finish their English essays, wrongfully adopting the results.
Drafting, proofreading and self-editing activities go a long way towards helping Thai students to develop mastery over the writing process. These activities can teach them the steps they need to take to become better writers.
You’ll also need to create opportunities to write practical things in English. Consider all the kinds of writing a native English speaker might do on a daily basis, such as: emails, text messages, letters, social media posts and reports. A great way to address this, and to keep students writing consistently, is to require that each student write a daily English-language entry in a personal journal.
By taking the emphasis off formal writing and putting it on establishing practical writing skills, you’ll get your students to seek out ways to better express their personal feelings, thoughts and opinions in a manner that any English-speaking person can understand.
With an eye on their futures, teaching high school level students to write resumes and fill out job applications in English can also go a long way towards giving them much-needed writing experience, while also giving them an opportunity to understand why English skills might be important to their future.
3. They Place Limited Focus on Editing
While students are taught to proofread and correct their pieces before turning them in, there’s little emphasis placed on things like self-editing checklists and other options that could help them to actually re-visit their ideas and catch sizable mistakes earlier in the writing process.
There’s little emphasis placed on spending time carefully editing and correcting errors or rethinking ideas, which will make their writing stronger overall.
Instead, a cursory proofreading requirement allows them to find the most obvious surface errors right before the essay is due.
Editing before turning in an assignment or after getting it back with a grade already affixed would be a good way to reinforce the value of reviewing writing and correcting mistakes. It would also allow the students to improve upon their writing skills and enhance their writing style style in real time.
Unfortunately, the lack of emphasis on review and deeper editing leaves students with few opportunities to think carefully about writing excellent English, especially in terms of things like semantics and syntax.
It’s much easier to find errors when reviewing fresh material.
In order to give students more experience with the editing process, it’s beneficial to allow students to edit each other’s writing assignments. In many cases, the students with stronger writing and editing skills are given the opportunity to help students who aren’t quite as far along in the English learning process.
The material will be fresh to each student’s eyes. Knowing that their work will be seen by their peers, there’s a real possibility that students will put forth extra effort to indicate that their own English skills are indeed becoming stronger. During editing, they’ll do their best to provide good input so their English knowledge is apparent. This turns out to be a great way to appeal to each student’s competitive side.
4. They’re Used to Getting Grades, Rather Than Full-on Feedback
While students do receive some feedback on their writing assignments, mostly in terms of a grade, they may not fully understand their weaknesses. They may not always receive guidance as to how they can improve their English grammar on an individual level.
Your Thai students may also be accustomed to receiving feedback from their teacher, and nobody else.
However, without greater emphasis on high-quality English writing skills, these students may not get the chance to realize their linguistic potential, nor properly utilize it. The reality is that they need feedback from other sources outside of their English teachers.
There are several viable solutions to this particular issue.
First, you’ll want to introduce a mix of teacher-student conferences, individual feedback sessions, small group meetings and peer feedback.
This variety of feedback can be instrumental in teaching students how to write and speak English effectively. Interactive support and peer learning are essential tools in any classroom. Many students in this part of the world don’t typically get exposure to these types of learning tools, which are far more prevalent elsewhere in the world, like the United States and Canada. However, they’re excellent tools for learning English.
Another way to create opportunities for feedback can be through the sponsoring of mandatory writing competitions with some type of awards on the line. By creating competition among several different learning institutions and having independent English experts serving as judges, there’s a high likelihood that most students will put their best foot forward and think seriously about what they’re writing. The anticipation of getting feedback from independent judges could also be a motivating factor. If you can’t arrange such a large event, then make it happen in your school, or even just in your classroom!
5. They Don’t Feel Confident in Their English Skills
Most high school students understand the need to learn how to write with great English grammar for college and career purposes. However, they may feel they lack the means to do so on their own and must rely on their institutions and teachers.
Without confidence in their ability to communicate in English, many Thai students will avoid doing so unless absolutely necessary.
The good news is Thai students seem to be eager to learn ways to improve their English writing skills. A more intensive English writing curriculum and teachers who are more involved with each student’s progress, along with interactive assignments and peer learning opportunities, can help students to learn how to have English proficiency in a more effective way.
The more proficient they get, the more confidence they’ll have in using their English skills.
As you can see, teaching English to Thai students is much like teaching English anywhere.
Your usual educational repertoire will more than serve its purpose in Thailand.
Just keep the above notes in mind, and focus your lessons accordingly.
Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to building a successful ESL teaching career in Thailand.
And One More Thing...
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom!
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!
Sign up for a free trial and bring FluentU to your classroom today.
Riya is an overseas teacher. She has been spending her years teaching in ESL countries i.e. Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. She is also a freelance writer for Elite Editing, Australia’s most trusted academic editing service.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.