Like many other modern mums, Arunee Tangkaravakoon decided to send her three children to an international school so that, hopefully, they would become proficient in English. However, she soon became stressed when she found that two of them were actually struggling with their native language.
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"Of course they all are good at English because they use English at school all the time. But it turned out my second and third child had great difficulty reading and writing Thai," said Arunee.
To solve the conundrum, she paid for a Thai-language teacher to provide her children with extra classes at home. The tutoring sessions, unfortunately, turned out to be a chasing game between her two children and the teacher.
"They did not even want to sit down and learn Thai," recalled the 39-year-old. "If they were forced to glue themselves to their desks and study, they would do so, but they would not concentrate. Class after class, their Thai reading and writing skills showed no improvement. And the teacher eventually gave up."
Well aware of Thai language-related weaknesses among children studying in international schools, early this year Arunee founded Thai for Kids - a Thai-language tutoring institute for children who have difficulty catching up with Thai-language lessons at schools.
A native of Nakhon Sawan's Takhli district, Arunee herself had never been involved in an English-language learning environment until she graduated as a Bachelor of Pharmacy from Chiang Mai University and won a scholarship to study for a master's degree and a PhD in industrial and physical pharmacy at Purdue University in the United States. After completing her doctoral study, Arunee returned and worked as a researcher at the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) where she was assigned to study and develop drug recipes.
The idea of setting up Thai for Kids sprung from her own worrying experience when she saw her six-year-old and three-year-old were incapable of reading and writing in Thai at the level other children their ages could. She decided to quit her job at the GPO to run her own business and improve her children's Thai language competency.
Thai for Kids aims at assisting Thai pupils who study at international schools but cannot catch up with Thai lessons at to understand more about the language as well as traditional Thai culture. The school's syllabus is based on the Ministry of Education's standard curriculum and is offered in a fun learning atmosphere which helps eliminate the stereotypical perception that studying Thai is a bore.
The school's focus is on first to sixth graders who are in international schools. Older students, however, are also welcome for extracurricular classes. Basically, Thai for Kids offers customised learning programmes in a class of no more than five students. In other words, each student is paired with a teacher and the learning approach that matches his or her personality. For example, if a student prefers sit-down study to an activity-based class, the school will assign a teacher who is good at such a teaching technique to be responsible for the child.
While parents opt more to send their children to international or bilingual schools for better English communication skills, Arunee said that it is better for parents to first evaluate their child and think about their personality before choosing a school for them.
"The best school is not necessarily the most suitable one for your children," commented Arunee. "If you go for an international school or bilingual school just because other parents do, you will lose focus of your children. Choosing a school must be a child-centred decision. Parents are the ones who know best what type of school suits their kids most. International schools, bilingual schools or even Thai schools, they all have pros and cons. So your choice depends on whether the preferred school meets your requirements and your plan for your children's future."
Sadly, however, the Thai language turns out to be the real weakness among a large number of Thai children who study in international schools despite the fact that it is their mother tongue, said Arunee.
Thais usually take their own language for granted. While they pay less attention to their vernacular, at the same time the majority of them shift their focus to English language study and believe it is the only language they should attempt since it is the global lingua franca.
"But if you are Thai and you are to work in Thailand, you would need to be proficient in Thai too," Arunee said. "If one day in the future you work for a Thai firm and become a boss, most of your subordinates will be Thai. The language used in courts, in most of the office memos and in formal agreement papers is also Thai. So it is important that you can read and write Thai properly."
Currently, Thai for Kids caters to almost 100 students, 80% of whom are Thai students at international schools. The rest are foreign children keen on learning Thai as well as Thai students who study at local schools and are hungry for more knowledge.
Despite the fact that Thai slang is commonly used among teens and that some Thais use their mother tongue in the wrong way, Arunee strongly believes that the Thai language will never be ruined. Like all languages, Thai will definitely change over time but it will not die out or go into decline.
"The world has changed. And so have languages," noted the school's founder. "We might say that Thai is getting worse, but for me I only think it is just some sort of development. Teens might use a lot of slang but these weird words or spellings will only exist for a while. In the next 10 or 20 years, we will not see such language misuse. The development of the Thai language will go hand in hand with the development of society. It will keep changing, but I am certain it will not be tarnished."
Though Thai for Kids has so far been quite a success, Arunee still has no plans for business expansion. She wants to focus on perfecting the school's curriculum. At the same time, she also wishes to see all Thais become more proud of their own language because not every country has a language of its own.
"When I studied abroad, a number of my classmates asked me what language people use in Thailand," she recalled. "When I told them Thai people use the Thai language, they were amazed to know that Thailand has its own language too.
"So we Thais must be responsible for taking care of our own language. We should take pride in the language we have. And we should do everything to preserve it. This is because having our own language is indeed a real bonus in life."
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan