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Giving directions in English

Teaching directions

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Getting around Bangkok is not all that difficult. All you need to do is get an address, take the train at the nearest BTS or MRT station, get into a taxi and hope for the best. However, what happens when a) places are not near a station and b) few, if any, signs are in English? 

Starting from your home or school how would you tell a friend, in English, directions to Bangkok’s iconic Chang (Elephant) Building on Phaholyothin Road? Caution: While good for a few laughs, to simply respond, ‘‘Take a taxi’’ is not permitted. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD

Fax it to me

The first question students need to ask when giving directions is whether the person has a fax machine. If they do, as when giving directions in person, it is easiest simply to draw a map and mark on it various landmarks needed to ensure that the person receiving the directions doesn't get lost.

However, if a fax machine, a hand-drawn map or a map from the internet are not possible solutions, and in particular when giving directions over the telephone or in writing, it is important to make certain directions are clearly understood.

Signs in English

It is surprising how many signs there are in English and how many easily-recognisable landmarks can be found throughout Bangkok or Thailand. Many signs at banks, convenience stores, department stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations are in English.

In addition, a wide variety of restaurants, pubs, shops and offices, while their signs are not completely in English, use one or two words in English that can be used as useful clues to other landmarks.

When teaching directions, ask students to plan directions from a central location in Bangkok to a few places important in their lives: office, university, favourite restaurant or pub, or perhaps home. They can then travel along a route, making notes of the English signs that they come across and paying attention to whether the signs will remain visible when the facilities are closed.

Directions in English

One of the keys to remember when using directions is to make certain each individual direction contains one important step. Rather than employing one sentence in which to say it all, such as: "Take Rama 4 to the 7/11, which is about five blocks past Tesco Lotus". Instead, divide the instructions into easy to say, and easy to write down components. Make sure your directions are easy to understand.

In addition, despite how far someone might need to travel, it is important to limit the vocabulary needed: "Go past ABC Market. Go until 7/11. Turn right. Take the street between the ATM and the 100 Pipers sign. Go until you reach the Bangkok Bank."

"Take" can be used for the train, road or exit: Take Rama 3 Road, Take the BTS to Nana Station, Take Exit 2.

"Go past" is used to confirm that the person is going in the correct direction and can be used a number of times, depending on the distance driven or walked and the number of identifiable landmarks in English.

"Go until" provides a clear instruction as to when another direction needs to be followed.

Finally, "Take the street between the ... and the ... ." is used when an intersection is complicated and might offer confusing choices.

Producing directions

Students are then told to write a series of instructions based on these simple rules, as well as to draw a map they would use if they could. Working in pairs, sitting back to back ("telephone seating"), they share their directions, and when finished, they compare maps and determine where they had trouble.

If they begin with favourite restaurants, pubs and stores, students are often quite interested as they want to visit places mentioned by other students. Once they have finished and made corrections, collect their work, correct it and ask them to finalise their directions neatly so that they will have a document they can email or fax to someone at a later date.

This simple exercise provides students with the need to become aware of how much English they are surrounded by, the opportunity to practise giving easy-to-give-and-understand directions, and information on a few more places they might want to visit after class.

Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through , through his

website at,  at, or on 081-834-8982.

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