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The myth of native English speaking teachers in Thailand – OPINION

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OPINION from guest writer Dr. Mariano Carrera

There is a myth in Thailand that one must learn English from a native speaker. Propagating this myth are the many beneficiaries of the practice, which does not include learners. Ignoring research that shows to learn English, one does not need a native English speaker (NES) only emphasises the myth-makers dominance. After all, if the students were to use English, they would encounter the concepts of competency, dynamism, and evolution.

Or “a NES or European NNES” means white. Businesses, class creators, and teachers promote the idea, hence the recent MOE bold plan to recruit 10,000 NES to improve Thai students’ ability to communicate in global business. This and other projects fail because they are based on myths, not facts.

Who are native speakers? There are about 18 countries that are classed as native English speaker countries. Yet, many recruiters in Thailand cannot name more than five passport holders with a certain look. South Africa is not one. Job boards regularly mention the big five, yet there are more countries to choose from.

Recruiting companies show that they are not aware of who are native speakers—limiting oneself in a small pool.

Why native speakers is another question, many recruiters fail to answer on closer inspection. Refrains usually echo around that NES would teach the student “proper” English. What is “proper” English? A pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is easier to find. Institutions such as the BBC mentioned that NES are the worse communicators and have used Ang Sang Su Ki speakers to train their staff on using English.

So, if the English are comfortable using non-native speakers to learn to communicate and use English, why not Thais?

What type of English is another question that uncovers the myth. The two major forms of English, American and British, have their own grammar, punctuation, and word usage rules. MS Word gives 17 forms of English. Imagine Thais using the Jamaican form. Promoters do not provide clarity on a form. Some schools mention the form, US or UK, but many do not and employ a mix of staff without guidance. No wonder some Thai students are uncomfortable with the language. They are trained to be handicapped from the start.

How should Thais be taught is another issue. Native speakers rarely go through the process of learning a language thus are unable to empathize with new learners. Hence, despite some theoretical suggestions (assuming TEFL or CELTA), NES cannot deliver that crucial push required. Non-native speakers are better positioned to lift the standards of beginners. NES might have the edge in terms of nuances and idioms. Still, global English requires using a few words properly and asking questions. Reading Aesop’s fables, other storybooks are a good place for language students to understand many English phrases.

When should native speakers be used in teaching English? When the learner is in a proficient state. In need of rounding. Learners need to practice what they are exposed too. Yet, rarely would you hear a Thai speak to another Thai in English (visit any Thai university’s English department). The teaching reinforces the concept that English is only required when talking to a native speaker. Hearing a Lebanese use three languages in one sentence increases confidence to use two.

Where should English teachers come from? A mix of countries. Competency, training, enthusiasm, willingness to learn and qualifications are what the British Council suggests. The MOE should learn about English first; then, some staff members learn English before embarking on improving the nations language use. Students learn more in their mother tongue unless proficient in a second language (UNESCO). Selection standards have been flouted before but experienced as a passing fad.

Proficiency comes from regular use, which comes from confidence, which comes from everyday use, which comes from being comfortable, which comes from exposures to various speakers. Perhaps instead of buying into the myth, Thais and educators need to start using their language, read about language, ask questions about language instructions and then think about recruiting. Designing proper selection criteria for foreign English teachers would help attract and improve Thais’ ability to communicate globally. First, some myth-busting on NES is required.

Dr. Mariano Carrera

 

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    45 Comments

    45 Comments

    1. Avatar

      RR

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Times ago I had an Aussie colleague. I had often to correct his poor grammar, although English is not my first language. NES does not necessarily mean high quality.

      • Avatar

        Andrew

        Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 8:42 am

        While you are correct in saying that NES doesn’t necessarily imply high quality, non NES very likely implies low (or lower) quality.

        That’s why a lot of teaching positions require a degree in addition to being a NES. The fact of having a degree helps to ensure the person has an excellent command of the English language, including good grammar.

        Let me ask: if you wanted to learn Thai, would you prefer to learn from a Thai person or a farang who could speak Thai quite well?

        • Avatar

          Charlie

          Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 10:09 am

          Answer is A nativyEnglish speaking person who can speak Thai. You say farang (which is slang) to direct your only opinion. I have taught English since 1988 and so what…does not mean I am a good teacher.
          The writer is completely wrong as the easiest and fastest way is consulting the native sounds, habitat and culture. Pronunciation is the key hence “ TH L R W etc.

      • Avatar

        GeoffQB

        Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 11:29 am

        If you want to communicate in some version of english, learn it from anyone capable of teaching it.

        But “native” english speaker implies the teacher has english as their mother tongue, that means, it is the first language they use It has nothing whatsoever to do with their colour or ethnicity.

        My daughter is half-Thai, half-English. She has the IB and a degree from Oxford,both taken in English. But her MOTHER tongue is Thai. I’d advise anyone to learn Thai from her, but not english. It’s not her native language no matter how fluent she is.

    2. Avatar

      Mike Lloyd

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      Your response to this topic seems highly academic and somewhat emotional.
      The REAL question is this : To whom would you like to communicate ? A person in London, Dublin, Singapore, Sydney, New York, ?? Or where. When you are clear on the answer , then you can be clear on the teacher —- regardless of their native origin,

    3. Avatar

      gosport

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 2:53 pm

      I LOVE THIS PARAGRAPH

      Proficiency comes from regular use, which comes from confidence, which comes from everyday use, which comes from being comfortable, which comes from exposures to various speakers.

      Narkhon Which.

    4. Avatar

      Brian

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 2:56 pm

      The terminology “native speaker” is not so great. It doesn’t matter if the language is the speaker’s first, as long as they speak it fluently. The problem is, most Thai people can’t tell whether someone is speaking English with some accent regarded as sounding good. So they specify native, when what they really want is just someone who sounds good. This sounds like an idea for a service to offer… accreditation as a person whose English sounds good.

    5. Avatar

      Bob Franklin

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 3:18 pm

      I think this is utter nonsense. I am a British English GCSE & A Level teacher (not ‘white’ – by the way.) Seems like you are adding to some of those myths…If I want to learn Thai – I will hire a Thai person. The truth of the matter is that in most British and American teachers are not hired because they are ‘white’ or because they are ‘what is expected’. They generally have a good standard of education that links directly to those in international schools. They also serve more functions out here. They promote tourism and contribute to the economy, they often spend the lions share of the money they earn in Thailand – in Thailand. Don’t sit there with your doctorate pretending that native language, trained teachers are not generally more effective in teaching their language. No matter the language – no matter the colour skin – no matter the country.

    6. Avatar

      Dave Williams

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      Perhaps if the author had learned from a native speaker he would be able to write in a manner that would allow the reader to understand what he is talking about.

      • Avatar

        Jean-Pierre

        Friday, October 9, 2020 at 11:04 pm

        Strange. I am French, English is not my “best” language, and I understood the article.
        And perhaps it is the point : in order to be easy and simple, you do not need to be a NES, but simply be understood by all other non NES …
        And on this planet, there/we are many.

        I think with your observation, and my counter-feeling, the article has a point: when learning a language, what will be your audience ? You can then learn targetting a specific audience, even if it is “pidgin” English.
        The main issue when learning a language is to be afraid of making a mistake when interacting and speaking. Relax with NES as they went it too good for what is needed in a relaxed way !

    7. Avatar

      Toby Andrews

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 3:40 pm

      Learning English from a native speaker gives the student the right accent.
      Imagine a Thai who has learned English from a Jamaican and seeks work as a presenter on a English TV show. The Jamaican accent would not fit the requirements of clarity, respectability, and pronunciation.
      However learning English from teacher who have a pronounced Bronx accent or Glasgow accent would be just as bad.

      • Avatar

        Leigha

        Friday, October 9, 2020 at 4:10 pm

        That of course raises the question of what is “the right accent”….which really depends on where you live and who you interact with.

      • Avatar

        RR

        Friday, October 9, 2020 at 4:40 pm

        Yeah, the right accent, especially oz and kiwi ones… LOL

        • Avatar

          Tom

          Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 10:22 am

          I am an Australian yet it’s claimed that the best accent and preference is Canadian. I personally agree. Asian countries also like Filipino’s as its USA accent but an Asian look and culture, similar and compatible

      • Avatar

        Cyril J

        Friday, October 9, 2020 at 7:30 pm

        I disagree, you don’t spend enough time with the student to give them your accent, and who told you that your accent is the right one? The accent -intonation- is learnt through tv, series, audiobooks, youtube, etc. where the learner can spend as many hours as they want.
        A person who speaks only one language will never teach anyone how to learn a foreign language, that’s not hard to understand (if you have learnt to speak fluently a foreign language)

      • Avatar

        Mark von Heisenberg

        Friday, October 9, 2020 at 7:45 pm

        What is the nationality of the writer? Filippina? Not native English.

        • Avatar

          Davide

          Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at 8:30 am

          Mariano Carrera is an Italian name, Mr Von Heisenberg, Bist du eine pifke oder? Quite straightforward to understand, especially when he is referring to Aesopo’s fables to learn english, quite easy insight on the Nationality.

      • Avatar

        Yan

        Friday, October 9, 2020 at 8:22 pm

        When I did my exam for TEFL, not being a “native speaker” I looked around and listened people speak “Cocknee” and “Welsh” and other dialects….Are these the ones who will teach Thai students? I believe that “non native speakers” with a good education and high level can add a lot more in teaching than many “native speakers”….

        • Avatar

          Peter

          Monday, October 12, 2020 at 10:47 pm

          Yan, In my humble opinion, yours was the most sensible reply to date.

      • Avatar

        Andrew Graham Field

        Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 8:56 am

        Let me guess: the writer, who judging by her poor grammar and expression, is clearly a non NES, is bitter that she can’t easily find an English teaching position, or alternatively, is restricted to lower paying English teaching positions.

        As all NES know, we have an expression relevant to this type of scenario: “sour grapes”.

    8. Avatar

      GioTraveller

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 3:46 pm

      NES or not what matters most is the ability of the teacher to impart knowledge in an engaging and thoughtful manner. There are plenty of both excellent and terrible NES English teachers here in Thailand. Likewise, there are plenty of both excellent and terrible non-NES Enlgish teachers here also. As a NES I don’t assume I’m better at teaching English than others. Frankly, most Thai English teachers (and older Thai students) know far more about grammar than I will ever know. That said, my students always come to me first for pronunciation guidance. Why? Because I am a NES from the USA and will give them a ‘correct’ way to pronounce a word or phrase. It may not be the only way (ex: aluminum) but they know I will offer a pronunciation that is understandable to most English speakers, native or not.

    9. Avatar

      J Scrivins

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 4:52 pm

      18 countries really? Well not in Thailand

      This article was written by a Filipino national and perhaps cannot be unbiased and why I’m in no way deriding Filipinos as teachers, as I native speaker in the classroom, I have frequently heard them making grammatical mistakes in spoken English. The esteemed writer of this article must acknowledge that Filipinos have no pronouns so I’m told. So they frequently mix up him, her, his etc. I have also looked at my Filipino colleagues tests in the past and found them littered with mistakes. Whether this was down to laziness or lack of English grammatical ability I don’t know.

      I agree with what the author says about the different types of English, in my time I’ve seen eastern Europeans, Russians and even French teaching in English in Thai schools as the schools simply want a Caucasian face, until the Thai staff realise he or she can’t really speak English. Some schools like American, some Australian and some British English in their schools.

      I’m sure Jamaican English would be funny, but they aren’t NES in Thailand anyway.

      I don’t think this article should be complaining about NES vs NNES where Filipinos outnumber NES 50-1 this article is probably REALLY about the fact they routinely get paid less. Something which could be remedied if they all refused to come until the wages were at the correct level.

      I understand the official understanding with the Thai government is at least 30,000 per month, but that Thai schools frequently cheat the Filipino staff. I personally have seen my Filipino friends actively ripped off by schools to their face and its tragedy.

      One last thing about the British council mentioned in this article, when I was in a government school they were training the Thai teachers in a 3 or 4 week bootcamp, but no NES were allowed to go. Now as the course was about teaching techniques, perhaps that could have been useful for all these unskilled NES the article is referring to. What do you think??

      • Avatar

        Perceville Smithers

        Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 4:21 am

        I completed a TESOL course and received the certificate (never did anything with it) but on the last day when meeting with the director, she said certain there’s difficulty in placing teachers of color in certain countries because they prefer a white face.

    10. Avatar

      Ynze Bakker

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      In my opinion, there are two main requirements for teaching ANY subject, whether that is a language, mathematics, physics or whatever subject you can think of.
      The first requirement is mastery of the subject. So in this case, it would be a requirement to master the English language, which is indeed a huge challenge, as English and English are many different things. If a Thai person is fluent in English, and the would fulfil the second requirement, they certainly can teach English.
      However, the second requirement, that is equally important, is that a teacher masters the art of teaching. For this, many more additional knowledge and skills are required. In my opinion, this is something that is overlooked too often in Thai schools. Any foreigner who speaks English, is considered as a potential English teacher. I have been in Thailand for more than 20 years, and it’s amazing how often people have told me that I could teach English. However, I have always told them I cannot, because I don’t have the proper training and skills to be a teacher, no matter how well I can speak and write English.

    11. Avatar

      Patrick larkin

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 5:48 pm

      Dr. Mariano Carrera, you have a picture of my teacher friend column header, She might not be too pleased with that

    12. Avatar

      lorlen

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 9:39 pm

      The grammer in this article is evidence of the need to learn English properly

    13. Avatar

      Sam

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 10:01 pm

      All this coming from ‘mariano carrera’. Figures! Not supported her thesis very well ! Grade D

    14. Avatar

      Sam

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 10:49 pm

      And what was your accent ‘yan’ ? It’s pronunciation that’s important and previously lived in an English speaking country also matters !

    15. Avatar

      Randy

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      You would not hire a surfer to fix your TV would you ?
      Native speaker is a must no matter what.
      Also the Filipinos really need to check their grammar. Notorious for making mistakes.

    16. Avatar

      tom arnold

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 11:59 pm

      Just look at those Facebook groups swarming with men from the Arabic and European countries desperate to get into Thailand and you have the new face of NNES in Asia, and Thailand. This is driven by lots of single men, some wanting adventure and some wanting a date.

      The Filipino author of this article will be complaining soon about the low standard of other NNES vs NES, when all the NES have left due to low wages.

      Then you can pen another article no doubt titled “The myth of European and other NNES vs Filipino NNES”

      I will look forward to that amusing article.

      NES might not all be trained at university with a degree in education but after a few years they are trained on the job.

      Once these other nationalities take over, you will miss all those polite NES, from those four or five countries. Take my word for it.

    17. Avatar

      Spaz

      Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 1:35 am

      Poor article, poor English, poor communication. Great irony the author purports to understand this subject. Unintelligible poorly conceived waffle. Underlines the need for true native English speakers (or TRULY highly fluent near native speakers) both with concrete credentials to be training people in language and communication. The author themselves could do with a few classes.

    18. Avatar

      David Jackson

      Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 9:48 am

      According to Thai law only Thai can teach Thai otherwise no one would learn the strange vowels and tones which are unique to this country.
      Anyone can teach English here but 99% of Thais attempting to speak it cannot flick the tip of the tongue to pronounce most final consonants clearly. R and L only work with an exact tongue location too.
      If you want to learn to communicate in English rather than just pass exams always go native.

    19. Avatar

      Don R

      Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 1:48 pm

      TBH, Thailand is one of the worst countries you could teach English in. Don’t bother. You’ll make 2-3 more teaching online. 3-4 times more in Vietnam, Taiwan, S Korea, or China.

      If you teach ESL in Thailand, you’re practically a volunteer.

      • Avatar

        Jim Scrivens

        Monday, October 12, 2020 at 7:02 pm

        FACT CHECKING this untrue statement: I was making $1399 in Thailand in a non international school per month

        The money in Vietnam is maximum about $700 more than Thailand $2000 is the highest I’ve seen for regular jobs or language centers
        Teaching online pays maximum $25 per hours if your doing over 40 hours a week, teaching in Thailand is normally maximum 20 hours of contact teaching a week. That isn’t three times Thai salaries and its a lot more work. Double the work, no sitting at your desk there relaxing after two hours stressful lessons.

        China can pay double Thailand in my experience but I guess some top international schools could pay around $4000 a month but thay would be a lot.

        Japan and South Korea about the same as China.

        The problem with teaching in Thailand isnt the money, its the facts the kids can’t fail anything contrast that with China, Japan etc and you will see why Thailand is not doing well in any leagues. You always get your bright kids, but then the slow ones get close to the same grades.

        • Avatar

          Don R

          Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at 12:07 pm

          Glad you found something you like, stick with it.

          But most people will be surprised to discover how horribly unpleasant teaching ESL is in Thailand.

          $1400/mo is unusually high for Thailand. People often make half that much at jobs that advertise 20 “teaching hours”, then find out that they’ll be spending 45 hours a week in the school, “office hours”. Do the math, you’re making $5/hr at that point. You’ll be expected to wear a dress shirt, slacks, and a tie in Thailand.

          I hear Vietnam pays around $20/hr, the cost of living is lower than Thailand, and you can wear casual clothes. My goal was to get over there, but now it seems like it’ll never happen.

          Prior to Rona, you could *easily* get $15/hr online. It’s really easy work. Materials are usually provided, or just get a text book and teach out of it. I receive a weekly schedule from my manager, teach at home in pajamas. Zero hassle. Unfortunately, it’s become more competitive with more people working from home.

    20. Avatar

      Andrew Lum

      Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      I’ve seen homework given to Thai college level students in an English course, it was not good. Perhaps this was an isolated incident in a particular college I’m not certain. I do think that English should be taught by someone that received their education from an accredited Western school where English is a first language.

    21. Avatar

      richard barker

      Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 10:27 am

      you only have to read comments on Face Book now to find that most so called English speaking people cannot spell the “english” words correctly. So, how can those who speak it teach it if they can’t spell it.

    22. Avatar

      WillyWally

      Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 11:24 am

      It’s the same for all languages. You can learn Thai from someone Chinese and German and French from a Polish person. You can learn English from a Laotian. You can learn Japanese from a Russian. The best way to help people learn language in your country is to find the cheapest teachers who have ability with the language. Hire Myanmar people to teach English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Russian in Thailand. They would be the cheapest in this area. Chinese English majors could also teach.

    23. Avatar

      British NES

      Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 4:51 pm

      Listening to a Thai person taught by an American NES I find quite amusing. Sentences preceded with the word “like” are most laughable.
      Bad habits can be learnt very quickly.

      • Avatar

        Jeff

        Monday, October 12, 2020 at 7:51 pm

        Some of the worst English teachers in my school have been British. The Americans and Canadians are far superior…and none of them begin sentences with “like”. More than anything that indicates the poor quality of people that your school(s) hires. Try thinking a little.

    24. Avatar

      Dean

      Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 7:26 pm

      Language, first you have to decide if you are going to learn a language or gain acquisition of the language. Pay attention to the articles being used in the previous sentence. If you can explain why that sentence has been written in that way, your ownership of the English language is reasonable, provided you did not have to stop and think about it.

      You are able to learn a language, but may never acquire it. You don’t have to learn a language to acquire it.

      Language is far more complex than one thinks.

      Pronunciation is extremely important in a language!

      To cut it short, the native speaker is the cheapest and fastest way to acquire a language, speaking a language is the highest level of attainment in language.

    25. Avatar

      LongTermEx-Pat

      Monday, October 12, 2020 at 11:37 am

      Firstly, I am not a teacher. I did study five languages at school where only one teacher was a native speaker (Russian); Mrs Smith if you can believe that. My verbal Thai is rather excellent…

      I’ve been hiring Thais for just over 30 years. I’ve rarely found a fresh-graduate who could speak English well enough to impress. However, many have had quite passable functional written English skills. Good comprehension of written English is as much as I would ever expect from someone applying for a role in sales or software development where reading is critical.

      The precision needed for correct pronunciation of Thai means students will typically mimic the accent of teachers of foreign languages. My Thai wife learnt English from Catholic Philipina nuns here. Her accent was atrocious and it took some while to eradicate all traces. Just reflect on how most Thai people say ‘teachER’; they can’t handle the concept of emphasis or that words can be pronounced in various ways without changing their meaning.

      Going out on a limb, I’d guess that the country of origin of a teacher is less important than the use of a body of material that is ‘standardised’, leans heavily on audio material of sufficient quality, and most importantly clearly shows that there is significant flexibility in the pronunciation of English. This is key because Thai people are easily embarrassed about mistakes and would prefer to be silent than to err. More latitude might encourage them to try and with more practice comes more confidence.

    26. Avatar

      Paul

      Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

      A fact, not a myth, I haven’t met till this very day a Thai English teacher with a degree in English, that can speak, use or pronounce English correctly. The arrogance, the holier-than-thou attitude it’s so aggravating to me. You are depriving the students of the benefits of NES. The six countries that you need to care about, America, Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, and Ireland. Why do you teach grammar to students that can’t even read, speak, or understand English, this is the problem. I am not a teacher, I am a trainer for the past eight years that is all I have been doing is retraining students. I have to retrain and starting with the ABCs, you won’t believe this but trust me all of them can’t even say the alphabet correctly. V_W_X_S.it is so very sad. My mother was my grammar teacher her grammar was impeccable she was taught, for 12 years in a Catholic School in Boston. Please stop depriving your students in Thailand of the benefits of being with a native English speaker, nothing, I repeat nothing beats being with a NES, no degree is needed. What does a degree in English do, I have yet to meet even one student that can carry on a conversation they can’t even tell me what they had for breakfast. And just to remind you, they are being taught with teachers and Thai teachers that have degrees in English, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, you are depriving your students of confidence and the ability to speak English correctly. I only use the Natural Approach

    27. Avatar

      Mark

      Monday, October 19, 2020 at 3:40 pm

      It is simple: you don’t need a “NES” or how you call it. You need a qualified one. This can be also a person who learned how to teach on a good university and which has not as mother language english. The problem: such persons expects good salaries. Everywhere in the world.

      I don’t want to put all “NES” in Thai under one hat. But I assume some of them just want to live an easy life and might not be that qualified. And Thai enables it.

    28. Avatar

      Lone Ranger

      Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      No doubt the best result is achieved by using both native and non-native speakers as teachers. A competent non-native teacher is usually better in teaching basic grammar, whereas native speakers should be used when teaching advanced students.

      This is what happens in Finnish schools and universities. It goes without saying that no one is a good teacher unless they have a good command of English.

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