English as a second language? | Bangkok Post: learning

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English as a second language?

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A recent subcommittee on education standards development has urged the government to announce English as its second language. 

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

My English 'is no good'

The impetus behind having English as a second language in Thailand is its membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which intends to integrate as a single community in 2015.

Nearly every Thai I speak to tells me that his or her 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 probably do not want to sound like the Queen of England and that perhaps a better, more easily achievable goal would be to strive to sound like a well-educated Thai person speaking English.

English is merely a tool

The majority of English-language users globally are not native speakers, so how to sound when they speak English for many is a personal choice. Some think the British English version is the "correct" style to adopt, others prefer the American, Canadian or Australian sound.

In my opinion, English is merely a tool used to convey information, but for effective communication to take place, information must be sent, received and understood. Once the information has been processed, the process can be reciprocated.

Therefore, the style or sound (American vs English, etc.) is not that important as long as understanding takes place and the purpose of the communication has been achieved.

Use it or lose it

A problem 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 actually used as a real 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.

A very few street signs around the country are in Thai and English. However, that is probably as far as it goes.

Lat Phrao is spelt three different ways within 100 metres, 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 the 2015 deadline fast approaching.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Mr Steve Graham, who is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. If you want to discuss matters related to this article, you may write to 'In My Opinion' at

education@bangkokpost.co.th .

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