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.

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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

OpinionThai LifeThailand News
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