Give Thai Children A Real Gift

Give Thai Children A Real Gift


Thailand's English proficiency is on the decline for the third consecutive year, according to a global survey conducted by Education First. The survey, which was announced in November last year, ranked 112 countries that don't use English as their official language in order of their English Proficiency Index. Thailand is No.100, being the lowest ranking country in Southeast Asia. In 2020, we were at 89 and in 2019, we were at 74. Not so promising.

Coincidentally, tomorrow is Thai Children's Day and, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, I'm worried about their future.

Instead of annual Children's Day mottos penned by the prime minister, which are essentially a variation of the same message for kids to know their duties (aka be obedient), be patriotic and love the country, Thai authorities should have pushed for English as Thailand's second official language already.

That would be the real gift for Thai kids so they'll have a better chance of making something out of their lives in the future.

Don't get cold feet like when the Ministry of Education scrapped the plan to make English Thailand's second official language in 2010 for fear that the country may be viewed as being previously colonised (y'know, since people can't look up Google to realise that it isn't the case). Make it make sense, you aptly named ministry.

There's no denying that English skills can increase anyone's marketability in the job market and, in my opinion, and as equally important, it can enrich one's mind and intellect. The language gives you a magical door -- and I don't use the adjective lightly -- to access knowledge and viewpoints from different cultures around the world. You can learn about various aspects of Japanese culture even though you don't know the Japanese language because they have already been written about in English. The same applies to many other countries. I also learn about overseas Chinese around the world and kinda helps me realise where I fit in the world. I believe English makes people whose first language isn't English well-rounded since they are exposed to different ways of thinking.

Also, it's just more fun when you can watch series and movies without Thai subtitles. You may even pick up cool puns and wordplay in the process.

Thailand's lack of progress -- or should I say degress -- when it comes to the education of the English language is nothing new. And the usual three culprits are too much emphasis on grammar and syntax, memorisation of a huge amount of vocabulary and the study-for-exam approach of Thai education. As a result, your average Somchai and Somying with a bachelor's degree can't converse in English.

While I don't think the three culprits are entirely to blame, I agree that there should be more opportunities for Thai students to practice English in real-time and real-life situations. Much more emphasis should be placed on listening and speaking skills with native teachers in a judgement-free environment. As a Thai of Chinese descent whose first language is Thai, I still ask native speakers to repeat what they have just said sometimes and I feel unashamed about it.

I see no harm in teaching kids what are possessive adjectives or pronouns, and correct names for English tenses but they also should be taught the correct pronunciation from the beginning so they won't have to "unlearn" Thai-style pronunciation of English words later. You can teach them to memorise often-used words but also reassure them that they can always check the correct spelling with the numerous online dictionaries out there. Well, unless they aspire to be a Spelling Bee champion.

I also would like to highlight the self-teaching aspect of learning English, as well. You almost have no excuse to pick up another language especially in this day and age where the exponential growth of technological advancement gives you easy access to learning materials anytime and anywhere. The power to learn is literally in your hands.

Are we celebrating Children's Day right? I think we could have done better.

The dinosaurs at the Government House and the army's flexing of tanks and weapons may be fun gifts but they amount to very little to the development of Thai youth and their future.

I really look forward to the day when stories of Thai kids speaking fluent English aren't reported in the media. g

Pornchai Sereemongkonpol

Guru section Editor

Guru section Editor

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