POLITICS IN EDUCATION
What are we going to call English in Thailand, and on what basis?
Now, to any genuine teacher of English, the distinction between English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is quite clear and straightforward. This has been the case for several decades now. Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theory and practice have become the science of second language teaching and learning.
But now, the Ministry of Education does not like the term "second", and for a very interesting reason: nationalism. To it, "second' means "colonialism"! And, of course, Thailand has never been colonised. So, what are we going to call English: the "main foreign" language?
By the way, Thailand is not the only country in the world that has not been colonised. There are others. Many. Let's take one as an example: Switzerland. It already has three official languages: German, French and Italian. Yet, most Swiss learn and speak English. What is English called in Switzerland? A fourth language? No, it's a second language. No fear of colonialism there!
Second language is a process
For language learning/teaching purposes, second language is not just a petty nationalistic issue; it is a process. Any language you learn after your first language/mother tongue, is a second language. And, if you learn two or three, they are all second languages. No need for nationalism here, either.
In my opinion, in Thailand English is a second language whether the MOE likes it or not; and it is doing pretty well, much better than in Japan or China, for example. And this is because most Thais are very talented, very friendly, and more outgoing than the citizens of many countries _ all good qualities for language learning.
More home-grown teachers of English needed
Also, Thailand's English-teaching/learning problems cannot be solved by simply employing foreigners to teach English.
And by the way, Switzerland and many other mainly European countries where teaching/learning English is a success do not rely solely on native speakers but mostly on their own teachers of English. But those are highly qualified teachers of English _ graduates of universities who majored in English.
If the Ministry of Education (MOE) is genuinely interested in improving English education, then it ought to do the following: Improve the professional skills of Thai teachers of English. Good Thai teachers of English can serve as an inspiration for their students: "If my teacher could do it, I can do it too."
If you really want to employ a foreigner to teach English, he or she, too, must be a well-qualified language teacher, not merely a native speaker. He or she also must have a high degree in language and linguistics and should have formally learned at least two foreign languages as second languages.
In Thailand, most doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals speak English well and the majority of university graduates have some level of communicative competence in English. This is often not the case in Japan, for instance, where frequently the only two words many people will know are "no English"!
So, instead of wasting its time deciding what to call English, and for whatever reason, the Ministry of Education should really be engaged in, and be concerned about, improving the quality of Thai teachers of English and of English-teaching programmes in Thailand.
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Mr Sorin M. Popovici, who is a full-time lecturer with the Institute for English Language Education (IELE) at Assumption University. He has an MA in Tesl and an MA in English. He has been teaching ESL/EFL for 30 years in Europe, North and South America and Japan and is now teaching in Thailand. He is currently a doctoral candidate in eLearning Methodology at Assumption University. He can be contacted at
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Mr Sorin M. Popovici, who is a full-time lecturer with the Institute for English Language Education (IELE) at Assumption University. He has an MA in Tesl and an MA in English. He has been teaching ESL/EFL for 30 years in Europe, North and South America and Japan and is now teaching in Thailand. He is currently a doctoral candidate in eLearning Methodology at Assumption University. He can be contacted email@example.com .
About the author
Writer: Sorin M. Popovici