Do You Need to Speak Thai to Teach English in Thailand?

Imagine trying to learn Thai and your teacher can’t speak a word of English.

You’d be in for a long and confusing course in Thai language. And you wouldn’t get any value in return for your time or money.

You might learn some basic Thai, but imagine how much more productive your course would be if you could ask and answer important questions in English? Or if your teacher could explain to you important Thai language rules in English?

This sounds weird since we learn our mother language through full immersion from birth, all with no reference points. But full immersion doesn’t always work for adult learners. Some of your students will be motivated enough to stick out the class. But not all of your Business English students will be motivated.

Remember Part 4 of the Teach Business English in Thailand Audio Guide? I explained that companies force some of your students to learn English. So taking the full English immersion approach won’t work. You need to speak Thai. At least the basics.

But how do the human resource managers feel about hiring English teachers only to have them drop the occasional Thai word or phrase in the classroom?

Human resource managers look at it from two angles when it comes to speaking Thai in the Business English classroom.

On one side, I’ve had managers tell me never to use Thai in the classroom when teaching their employees. They’ve told me to do everything in my power to communicate English to them without using Thai.

There are ways to do this. You can show pictures and videos or act, for example. But as the saying goes: a picture’s worth a thousands words. And when you’re looking for that one specific word a picture might not be enough. And if you’re a better teacher than you are an actor, then you’re in trouble.

Other managers have had no problems when I need to speak Thai to teach English in Thailand. Especially when my English explanations aren’t working. Why would I go through the trouble of puzzling my Thai students with pictures when I can just tell them what it is in Thai? Remember, teaching is about your students, not about you. If they can pick something up quicker because you can speak Thai, better for them.

Don’t get me wrong, using photos and videos or acting in the classroom is a great way to elicit vocabulary. I do it all the time. Especially when I get a new teaching contract and I want to check the level of my students. But speaking at least the basics of Thai is valuable in the classroom. For more reasons than I listed above.

Why you need to speak Thai to teach English in Thailand

Speaking Thai shows Thais you’re interested in their culture.

Thais are nationalistic. They’ve managed to keep most of their culture in tact because Thailand was never colonized. Thais are very proud of this. Thailand is also a small country compared to some countries in the West. When English teachers take an interest in learning Thai it makes Thai students happy. When they’re happy, they’re more likely to open up in the classroom.

You will find it easier to build rapport with your Thai students.

Thais will feel much more comfortable trying and failing at English when you try and fail at Thai. Even if you’re Thai isn’t any good, if you can say one or two words you will impress Thais. “Teacher pood Thai gaeng mak! (The teacher speaks Thai very well!) they’ll say in excitement. Thailand is a far cry from a place like America where we criticize non-native English speakers for making one tiny mistake.

You can surprise students with the occasional Thai word or phrase or joke in the classroom.

Thais love to have fun in everyday life. The Business English classroom is no different. It’ll be hard to make Thais laugh with your English sarcasm and humor and jokes. But drop a one-liner at the perfect time in Thai and you’re students will explode with laughter. I often tell people teaching Business English in Thailand is like being a comedian on stage. You need timing and wit. And when you nail the punchline in Thai it’s a natural high.

But all joking aside, if you speak Thai you can know how to help beginner students more easily.

When you start teaching, beginner level students make up for a good part of your Business English classroom. Your students won’t know how to put a question or sentence together in English. If you know the basics of forming questions and sentences in Thai, it’ll help you explain how to form questions and sentences in English.

What if you can’t speak Thai or aren’t interested in learning Thai?

You can still teach. But life in Thailand will be harder to navigate. Not only inside the classroom, but outside of the classroom.

Westerners have been coming to Thailand close to 140 years to teach English. But because Thais tend to be shy and don’t like losing face, they won’t use English much unless in the tourist areas.

So if you plan to work or live in Thailand long-term you need to speak Thai to teach English in Thailand.

How will you explain to the mechanic what’s wrong with your car or motorcycle?

How will you tell the taxi driver how to get from one side of Bangkok to the other when he doesn’t know the route to your condo?

To live and teach in Thailand it’s going to take more Thai language skills than it does to order a hot or cold coffee from the local coffee shop while in Thailand on vacation.

Do yourself and your students a favor and learn the basics of Thai.

P.S. This is only 1 of the many topics you’ll find out about in the Teach English in Thailand Audio Guide. Download it now and learn the Ins and Outs of becoming a teacher in Thailand.

By | 2016-11-13T22:56:21+00:00 October 20th, 2016|Blog|

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