Because of its natural beauty and relaxed ambience, Sichang island - located about 12km off the western coast of Si Racha district, Chon Buri province - attracts hordes of tourists eager to explore the remains of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn's summer palace, which was vacated in 1893 during a conflict with the French over the control of Laos. The palace was named Chudadhuj, after HM King Chulalongkorn's son, Prince Chudadhuj Dharadilok, who was born on the now-bustling island.
The children of Sichang island sit in a double circle as they prepare to do warm-up exercises before engaging in their intensive English conversation drills. COURTESY OF UNITHAI.
The constant presence of foreign travellers creates perfect opportunities for youngsters, shop keepers and unofficial tour guides to speak English. Indeed, some of the younger villagers earn extra money serving as tour guides as they dart around in "sky labs", similar to a tuk-tuk on steroids, as the preferred local transport. Students who work in restaurants have daily talks with foreigners.
But to be proper ambassadors for their island, they need to polish their English, and to do that they must learn the fundamentals of English and develop competent verbal communication skills.
Not waiting for the government to realise these goals for the residents of Sichang island, two major firms - Unithai and CUEL - exercised their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and held an English camp on the island from Jan 23 to 24 under the banner "A School Camp - English for Young Guidance".
Feels good to volunteer
I was happy to serve as one of the volunteers to lead the eager learners in English-building activities and games, and to work with them to develop self-confidence when interacting with tourists. Other key personnel who contributed to the camp were: Suraphol Chunhabundit of Chulalongkorn University; Boonya Chacuttri of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment; Capt Chookiat Chayangkur of Unithai Group, the principle leader of activities; and volunteers from Autoliv (Thailand) and Meyer Group.
The camp organisers and team leaders introduced activities that promoted safety awareness and respect for the local ecology. The vision of the organisers was perfect because the two-day camp was directly relevant to the learners' daily environment and every lesson was tailored to "language they can use" when communicating with foreign guests.
For example, one of the language skills taught was how to give perfect directions in English, certainly a valuable skill to have in a tourist destination.
In addition, many of the activities were designed to inculcate in the youngsters an awareness of natural resource conservation and the safety precautions to be taken when acting as a local tour guide.
English where it counts
Many of the 10 groups adopted the name of a popular tourist attraction on the island, such as the Chudadhuj (pronounced "Juthathut") group (after Chudadhuj Palace), the Chao Por Khao Yai group (after the Chao Por Khao Yai shrine), and so on. This was a great idea because it forced the students to properly pronounce the famous place names repeatedly throughout the day, and it also reinforced their strong sense of pride in the treasures of their island. Pride in heritage is important if you are going to act as an ambassador to welcome visitors.
After a volunteer and a local teacher had been assigned to each group, the learning began in earnest.
I was in charge of the Krarok Kao (white squirrel) group. It was tasked with learning the English words for family members, occupations, marital status and hobbies. Later, I helped to teach them how to read a map and offer street directions by using terms related to cardinal coordinates (east, west, etc.) and landmarks.
Everything was specifically designed to be useful to the young villagers when they encounter visitors and to give the students tools to engage in "small talk" with the island's guests.
Checking the lesson To reinforce each lesson, students engaged in role play, pair work, group work and painting exercises; and lots of word games, such as using English cue cards, participating in speaking circles and touring Sichang island with a focus on using English to talk about the various tour sites. After my group finished drawing pictures, I handed these to students of another group who had to describe, in English, what they saw. This activity was aimed at improving vocabulary through speaking and listening.
Soon, kids began to shine in their new abilities to communicate confidently in a different language. The English camp produced remarkable results in such a short time and every socially conscious company should adopt a deserving school or location and make a difference.
To test comprehension, I role-played as a foreigner. "Which restaurant on Sichang serves the most delicious food?", I asked and got this diplomatic reply, "All the restaurants here serve delicious food." These little ambassadors are sharp, I thought.
Finished! To test their directional comprehension, I asked, "Can you tell me the directions to Chong Kao Khad?", to which they retorted jokingly: "Take the sky lab. Finished." They had bested me again, but eventually I got them to say: "Go in that direction until you reach the first intersection, then make a left turn into A Street. Walk along that street, then turn right at the third junction, and go straight until you get to Chong Kao Khad."
Clearly, the little ambassadors of Sichang island had learned their lessons well. Finished!
Srinuan Bunharn is a graduate of Rajabhat University, Mahasarakham, where she specialised in English, and she is presently a senior staff member at PG&P (Process Gases and Packaging). When she's not volunteering to teach English, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
About the author
- Writer: Srinuan Bunharn