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Catch me if you can!

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The pilots in Wing 23 in Udon Thani are once again "beefing up" their English-language skills to cope with the international scope of their duties. 

Needs analysis

It has been more than three years since I was involved in English-language training at my local Royal Thai Air Force base. Some of the pilots who used to fly Alpha jets are still there. I have always been interested in conducting English for Specific Purposes (ESP) for Thailand's military, especially since I once ran a course at the Royal Thai Air Force Military Academy in Bangkok for students who were passing out of training.

From left: Flying Officer Rukpong Thuannadee (call sign ‘Megatron’), Flt Lieut Sukhothai Somsisai (‘Hooligan’) and Flt Lieut Chatree Pimarn (‘Kirov’), pilots who are extremely competent in making speeches and giving presentations in English. STEVE GRAHAM

I was conducting the training with three Thai colleagues, and my area of responsibility was speeches and presentations. Our team leader, Dr Supatra Wanpen, had conducted a rigorous needs analysis in order to find out exactly what our students needed (and wanted). The pilots and technicians were taught separately due to the results of the needs analysis, and training was squeezed into their busy schedules as everything was dependent on military commitments and the weather. More than one time we had to amend our schedules as "Rain stopped play!"

A tasty treat

The pilots participate in many exercises with the US and Singapore armed forces, so they wanted to be able to give their speeches and presentations in English. The subjects we concentrated on were speeches that are made when somebody is leaving, speeches for when someone receives an award, and, most importantly, presentations on the history of the 231 Tactical Fighter Squadron and its association with Alpha jets. The squadron had just celebrated 10 years of flying this specific aircraft type, and there were various functions at which presentations and talks had to be given in English.

The idea was to use the "hamburger" model for speeches and presentations.

Hamburgers usually have bread on the top and at the bottom. Speeches and presentations always have an introduction at the beginning and a conclusion or summary at the end. All that differs is the filling, the main body. It could be chicken, fish or beef. In the case of speeches and presentations, the main content would depend on the occasion.

Adapt and overcome

As they had just completed the tasks that were required by the course syllabus and a section that I had introduced on military slang, I wanted to see if the pilots had the confidence to play around with their English language, and so I asked them to complete similar presentation and speech tasks, but more personalised according to their individual circumstances, and to make fun of their colleagues at the same time.

The reason behind this was that I have found that it takes a good understanding of a language to insert humour into a conversation or speech, and I wanted to see how they would cope. Well, they didn't let me down.

Some of the speeches were so funny and vivid that I couldn't possibly write the details down in this column. Suffice it to say that they all accounted for themselves brilliantly. Moreover, I haven't laughed out loud so much since.

My involvement with those pilots took up only 10 hours, but they showed me how dedicated members of Thailand's armed forces can be when committing themselves to improving their English-language capabilities.


Steve Graham is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. You can contact Steve at steve@steves-english-zone.com if you have something you would like to discuss.

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