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Why Thai students do not like learning English Print E-mail


At the start of every semester, I ask my students to fill out a questionnaire and take a placement test, so that I have some administrative data of my own to work with. The questionnaire has evolved over the last fifteen years since I first decided to use one and I try to offer different questionnaires for different occasions.


The questionnaire has evolved over the last fifteen years since I first decided to use one and I try to offer different questionnaires for different occasions.


Most recently, I decided that I wanted to find out how my students learned English whilst in primary and secondary school. So as well as the normal name, address etc. I decided to ask them to write about what English they learned, when they learned it, the good, the bad and the ugly.


One pattern that has emerged is that they all started to learn English in Prathom 5. Learning English in the 5th and 6th grades seems to have been an enjoyable process. This was explained by the students as being because their teacher used to play games and sing songs.


The learning of ABCs proved exciting and words such as cat, sat and mat were taught and fully understood by all concerned.


The problem occurred when moving to secondary school. A cloud of depression seems to set in as students are confronted with a foe so great as to make them hate English for the rest of their lives (well, at least to Mathayom 6 anyway). Yes, you guessed it, GRAMMAR.


So, what’s the big deal about grammar? Apparently, grammar is not interesting and does not hold much of a “sanook” factor. It is difficult to understand and boring. These are comments written by my students and I happen to agree with them.


Some educational commentators would argue that I was rather lucky with my teaching load as I have only ever had one grammar course to teach in five years at my current place of employment. Apparently, luck doesn’t come into it, as foreigners do not get allotted grammar courses unless they specifically ask for them.


My one grammar course I taught was because I did ask for it. I wanted to test myself to see if I was up to the task. I don’t seem to remember learning grammar at school. I’m sure I did at some time; however, it was intrinsically integrated into the English course to such an extent that I didn’t realise that it was there.


I agree with my students. Grammar is boring and definitely not “sanook.” Imagine my frustration and apprehension at trying to prepare my lessons when I know that the majority of my students could probably define English grammar far better that me. It took me three hours to prepare for a three hour lesson. Thank you, but no thanks.


In my opinion, Thai students of English don’t use the language enough. Multiple choice tests do not prove that a student is good at English. Only by using it in the correct context will students find that they learn.


Of course, by doing this students will make mistakes; however, this is all part of the learning process and should be encouraged because without making mistakes or students will not learn.


In primary school students were able to sing songs and recite their ABCs and basic words that rhymed. They were using the language for their own purposes to sing songs and make simple sentences.


When grammar is taught with no context to the use of English by the students in their daily lives, it ceases to have any relevance to them and they find they cannot use it for any purpose.


I believe that this is why some Thai students do not like to learn English and it is up to teachers to use more innovative ways to get the message of grammar across without demotivating our students to the extent that they hate the idea of learning English.


If grammar is taught intrinsically and students can use English in real life situations then they should hopefully be encouraged to continue their studies in the language. Rightly or wrongly, English is now taught from the first year in primary school through university and if students enjoy the learning process there is more chance that they will achieve success.


Thai students at an English Camp


The Thai government has identified that English camps are one of the best ways that students can practice using their English language skills learned in the classroom.


(Unedited article published in The Bangkok Post, 1st July 2008)

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