For decades the Thai government has attempted without success to reform Thailand’s education system and better prepare Thai students for the demands of the modern professional workplace. This failure continues to impact all areas of Thai life, and is among the root causes of recent political instability.
The frustration felt by those government officials in charge of reform was illustrated a few months ago by Thailand’s Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat, who on hearing recent teacher test scores wondered publicly, “Even teachers fail, so how can we raise the quality of students?”
Writing for the Bankok Post, Dr. Sawai Boonma (a former economist at the World Bank) recently offered one answer, stating that now is the time for Thailand’s wealthiest citizens to stand up and contribute substantially to education reform and social development, much in the way Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Star Wars’ George Lucas have done in the United States.
Such private intervention is undoubtedly needed when we consider the inability of successive Thai governments to enact and enforce meaningful education reforms. It has been over a decade since Thailand’s National Education Act (1999), which aimed to finally make the break from traditional Thai educational norms, such as lecturing and rote activities, to embrace a more creative, questioning approach to learning. The Act also set out to decentralize finance and administration, giving individual teachers and institutions more freedom to set curriculums and mobilize resources, which in turn would increase accountability and ensure that funds are targeted in the right areas.
In reality, little, if anything, has changed in Thailand’s education system since 1999. Rote learning continues to be the norm and schools rarely have freedom when it comes to curriculum and the allocation of funds provided by the national government. More often than not funds are required to be used for building projects and the purchase of hard assets such as buses, even when such projects and purchases are unnecessary.
The failure of the National Education Act to result in any fundamental changes in the Thai education system is often attributed to resistance among teachers and administrators, as well as a lack of training in new teaching methods. When training sessions are conducted, they are usually simply cut and pasted (and translated) from material used in the West and do not take into account Thai culture and the unique hurdles which Thai students and teachers face.
Education reform is obviously a complex issue that involves many factors. But there are some simple things which could be done to get the ball rolling. At the Ysaan Institute, we suggest that serious education reforms should begin with the following: 1) The establishment of new teacher training programs; 2) The creation of meaningful incentives for teachers and administrators; and 3) The recruitment of skilled teacher trainers and new teachers. We refer to this as a three prong TMR (Training, Motivation, Recruitment) approach which could be conducted rather easily with help from the government and private sector.
TMR: Training, Motivation, & Recruitment
- Current problem: The failure of past teacher training in Thailand is due to the fact that real training has never taken place. In many cases, teachers have only been handed books on new teaching strategies—ones which have simply be translated or copied from English texts, with no thought as to how they can be adapted to the unique Thai classroom setting. In other instances, teachers have attended workshops delivered by Thai trainers who spend most of their time lecturing on theoretical issues rather than providing the practical tools that teachers need to become better educators.
In all cases, the vast majority of teacher trainees (being products of a failed system themselves) lack the thinking and language skills to fully understand what they are being taught and how these new teaching theories can be applied in their classrooms.
- Suggested solution: All teacher training programs should be activity based rather than lecture oriented. These activities should not only surround the implementation of new teaching strategies but also on the development of 10 Basic Thinking Skills: 1) Observation and Recall, 2) Comparing and Contrasting, 3) Grouping, 4) Labeling, 5) Classifying, 6) Sequencing, 7) Inferring causes/effects/qualities, 8) Predicting, 9) Imagining; and 10) Questioning.
Trainers should be hired who do nothing but travel their province training teachers. Training sessions at one school should last a minimum of two weeks (depending on the size of the school) and include two parts. The first part of the training should involve activity workshops for teachers. The second part should involve the trainers observing the teachers implement what they have been taught in the classroom, providing helpful feedback and assistance when needed.
An online teacher training forum should be established where teachers can seek further advice from their trainers online after they have left the school. This forum will also be a way for trainers from different provinces to discuss their experiences with each other and develop new ideas.
MOTIVATING TEACHERS & ADMINISTRATORS
- Current problem: There is an old adage that says, “Without necessity, nothing budges.” This is especially true of human behavior. For education reform in Thailand to succeed, teachers and administrators need to feel that reform is a necessity—not simply because their students truly need it but because they need if they want to succeed in their careers and keep their jobs. Currently that feeling of necessity does not exist. In fact, the situation at most Thai schools is quite the opposite. Many young teachers who are reform minded are either ignored or quickly brought into line by their colleagues, while others simply quit and leave the teaching profession altogether. Meanwhile, foreign educators are often viewed simply as token figures, and thus rarely are involved in decisions related to curriculum development, much less awarded leadership roles.
- Suggested solution: Increase competition between schools by attaching funding programs to 1) the implementation of education reforms and new curriculums; 2) improved student results; and 3) increased academic and extracurricular competitions between schools at the provincial level.
Offer fast track associate professor and professor status to university teachers who develop innovative curriculums that are proven to enhance thinking skills and creativity in Thai students. Additional teacher rewards should be given to those teachers who write truly original textbooks designed specifically to meet the unique needs of 21st century Thai students.
Credentialed foreign teachers who make long term commitments to Thailand should have full access to all the rewards and professional advancement opportunities allotted to Thai teachers.
- Current problem: On starting employment at a school, new Thai teachers have three primary complaints: 1) The salaries are insufficient to meet their basic needs; 2) They are overworked due to excessive administrative duties and have little time to prepare classroom activities; and 3) Classroom sizes are so large and unruly that it is impossible conduct the teaching activities they learned while at university. Due to these three factors, more young teachers are quitting and fewer new teachers are entering the workforce—talented education majors often choosing to enter a business related field instead. With regards to foreign educators, many who arrive hoping to make a positive impact leave after a year or two, disillusioned by the knowledge that they likely will always be treated as an outsider and never be treated as an equal colleague with equal professional opportunities.
When it comes to the administration of Thai schools, the main problem is the tendency among administrators to create a cushy and unaccountable existence for themselves, one that is detached from student results and first-hand experience of what is happening inside the classroom.
- Suggested solution: Salaries should be increased to the point where non-professional service and retail jobs do not look like attractive alternatives to new teacher candidates. Additional financial incentives should be attached to the creation of unique education materials that encourage thinking skills and creativity. More part time and full time teacher assistants (no university degree required) should be hired to handle simple administrative tasks and disciplinary measures, thus providing teachers with the necessary time to develop classroom activities and learning materials.
The government should create an inexpensive, fast track path to permanent residency for credentialed foreign educators who make a long term commitment to Thailand and achieve intermediate skills in reading and speaking the Thai language. Equal professional opportunities and rewards for these foreign educators should also be guaranteed, as well as long term open-ended work permits.
New administrators should be recruited by attracting professionals who possess strong academic credentials and a track record of success in the business world, including those who may have retired from their business careers and are looking to “give back” to their communities. All financial bonuses should be directly attached to school/students achievement levels and the successful implementation of reforms.
How can Thailand’s private sector help?
As Dr. Sawai Boonma mentioned in his Bangkok Post article, it is time for Thailand’s wealthy citizens to become philanthropists and help education reform become a reality. They could begin by funding a Thai Teacher Training Institute to send Thai and foreign trainers at no cost to schools and universities across Thailand. They could fund financial incentive programs for the creation of new curriculums and innovative textbooks that focus on the development of thinking skills and creativity. They also could fund innovative “new school” projects like the GREEEN School initiative. Lastly, retired business professionals could donate their time by becoming teacher trainers themselves or donating their services to the administration of local schools undergoing reform.
The Ysaan Institute & LivingHour.org continue to rewrite the book on English teaching and education in Thailand with the release of student workbook versions of its popular paperbacks Generation Next (Slang & Colloquial Talk) and The Original Thai-English Cognate Dictionary & Learning tool.
The workbooks are for English students in Thailand, as well as expats learning the Thai language. The release of the two books follows the Ysaan Institute’s production of two online Thai Scholars English Reading Programs that take science and liberal arts students from a 3rd grade reading level to the college level over the course of one academic year.
“English and Thai language students both face the same problems,” says Ajarn David, an English specialist who has taught for ten years in Thailand and is an adviser to the Ysaan Institute. “More often than not the Thai and English books they use are littered with mistakes, lack word for word literal translations, and/or are filled with material that wouldn’t be spoken in the same way by the average Thai or English person on the street.
“Spoken Thai and English are much different than the written forms, yet most Thai language books and English books for Thais ignore that fact. In addition, Thai and English students both struggle with the very different ways that the English and Thai languages arrange thoughts and words, yet current language books rarely show them the differences.”
The Generation Next and Original Thai-English Cognate Dictionary workbooks address these problems by using both figurative and word for word translations with all of its material, by including sentences and dialogue that both Thai and English speakers would naturally use, and by having professional Thai and English editors work on the books together. While some English teachers in Thailand might think that their young students need to be taught more formal English first and that idiomatic talk and slang is best left for advanced students, Ajarn David disagrees.
“The current methods of teaching English in Thailand are a total failure for the vast majority of students. This isn’t only my opinion. This failure was something talked about quite publicly a number of years ago by a former Thai Education Minister, who said that everything about teaching English in Thailand needed to be radically overhauled. One could say the same thing about the teaching methods applied to learning the Thai language. Unfortunately, English and Thai language students continue to be taught in the same ineffective ways.”
“As all experienced English teachers in Thailand know, it is often difficult trying to get students interested and motivated to study English. Students often find the material either too difficult or too boring. They get frustrated easily and think that they’ll never be able to learn English. As teachers, we are continually trying to help students get over their frustration, shyness, and confusion, and have fun learning English. The book Generation Next (Slang & Colloquial Talk), which was co-authored by Sam Kittayapong, helps teachers do just that.”
“The important thing about both the Original Thai-English Cognate Dictionary and Generation Next books is that they engage students with material that interests them. You must first get students interested before any learning can take place. And just because both books focus on colloquial Thai and English, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be effective in helping teach these languages at a more formal or professional level. In addition, we don’t expect teachers to only use these books, but to use them as a valuable supplement to other language learning material.”
The Ysaan Institute provides English teachers in Thailand with free help should they decide to use either The Original Thai-English Cognate Dictionary or Generation Next (Slang & Colloquial Talk) in their classroom. The following are a few suggested sample activities:
1) Write some of the word for word English translations on the board. Then have the students try to figure out (without looking in the book) what the sentence is and how to write it correctly. This is an important activity because it gets students thinking about how thoughts and words are arranged differently in Thai and English.
2) For the Thai vocabulary words which are derived from English words, show students how the pronunciation and stress changes when the Thai language adopts an English word.
3) Have students learn the transliteration system of spelling Thai words phonetically for English speakers and randomly select different Thai words found in the book to spell phonetically. Learning to visualize the Thai language in English helps students better visualize English words too.
4)Place students in small groups and have them write new sample sentences using the slang or colloquial English words. Write them on the board and correct as needed.
5) Rewrite sample sentences and/or dialogue using more formal English, instead of the slang or colloquialisms that are used.
Contact the Ysaan Institute today at living(at)livinghour.org to order your copy of Generation Next (Slang & Colloquial Talk) or The Original Thai-English Cognate Dictionary. Teachers who order ten copies or more pay only 110* baht per copy, which is over 50% off the 225 baht price for a single copy.
*All proceeds from the sale of the Generation Next workbook is either being donated to The Foundation For Underprivileged Children in Chachoengsao or used for development of free learning material at the Ysaan Institute.
LivingHour.org provides outstanding Thai-English and English-Thai translation services for corporations, small businesses, and private individuals at competitive rates. Every project is handled by a native Thai fluent in English and a native English speaker who can read and speak the Thai language. LivingHour.org’s experienced staff has consulted with and edited material for such large Thai advertising agencies and corporations as Young & Rubicam, Dentsu, King Power, East West Siam, and Blue River Diamond.
Whether it is a commercial script, press release, brochure, website, or private correspondence, you can be assured that our translations are accurate and precise, and capture the nuances of both the Thai and English languages. We are especially good at translating the colloquial aspects of spoken Thai and English, and are accomplished speech writers. In addition, we are familiar in the traditional and modern forms of Thai poetry and short stories, and welcome literary translations.
No project is too small or too large.
Prices vary depending on the translation project and the speed at which it needs to be delivered. If you would like a free quotation for a Thai to English or English to Thai translation, please send us the material and a message stating how quickly you need the translation finished by to:
living (at) livinghour.org
We also provide English editing services for Thai scholars, scientists, and academics who are working on dissertations or submitting papers to international peer-reviewed journals. We have broad English editing experience across the arts and sciences, including everything from pedagogy, business management, and social psychology to nanotechnology and biophysics. Contact us to today to let us know how we can help you complete your dissertation or successfully achieve publication.
Payments for our Thai-English translation and academic editing services can be easily made via ATM transfer or Paypal.
When it comes to finding free resources for learning Thai, the blog “Women Learning Thai” is a great place to start your search. The blog is loaded with links to free Thai language resources. The site is also filled with interviews with farangs who have conquered the Thai language, conducted by the blog’s creator Catherine Wentworth.
A quick browse of the top posts on the “Women Learning Thai” website shows the following as the most popular blog posts:
* Learn Thai Online for FREE
* Review: Thai Language Schools in Bangkok
* FREE: Quick & Dirty Thai Vocabulary Download
* Thai Language Cheat Sheets
* Thai Language Phrase Books: A Mega Review
* Google Books: Thai Learning Resources
* Top Thai Language Learning Resources
* The Easy Way for Beginners to Read and Write
* The Thai Alphabet Poem
* Thai-English Readers with Mp3s
* Thai Typing Tutors: aTypeTrainer4Mac
* Recording the Thai National Anthem
* Google Translation & Thai Dictionaries
The site also covers recent events, and includes a new post on learning Thai with the red shirt crowd. In that post she takes a Thai language article on Thaksin and the red shirts from Voice of America, and translates every single word, as well as transliterates all of it for the Thai language learner. There is then a Thai audio that is almost identical to the script, as well as an identical article in English. In total, the material runs about 24 pages long.
So, as you can see, there is a lot at this blog to get you started on learning the Thai language and “acquiring a new soul” as they say of those who master a new language. And don’t forget that over at Amazon.com you can purchase The Original Thai-English Language Cognate Dictionary & Learning Tool for your Kindle.
Or you can purchase the Smashwords Thai Learning edition for your Palm Pilot, Sony Reader, Nook, iPhone, or other portable device. More info soon on buying the print edition.
The following material dealing with the Thai language and the expression of emotions and feelings is excerpted from the new easy Thai language book and eBook The Original Thai/English Language Cognate Dictionary & Learning Tool, which includes loanwords as well as similar sounding words to help you learn colloquial Thai in the quickest possible time. Within the book you’ll find hundreds of easy Thai sample sentences not included in any other Thai learning book. You will quickly and easily be better able to express your emotions and feelings with your Thai friends and colleagues.
love (think luck) v. – รัก – rák
He said it was love at first sight.
เขา บอก ว่า มัน เป็น รักแรกพบ
Kháo bàwk* wâh man bpen rák-râek-phóp.
lit. he say that it is love-first-meet
*The word wâh (ว่า) can also mean say/tell
angry adj. – โกรธ – gròt
I’m angry because there is no co-operation in this place.
ผม โกรธ เพราะ ที่นี่ ไม่ มี ความร่วมมือ สักนิด
Phǒm gròt práw thêe-nêe mâi mee khwahm-rûam-meu* sàk-nít.
lit. I angry because here not have cooperation* even a little
The word khwahm (ความ) is a prefix added to a verb or adjective to form an abstract noun. In this case, it is added to the verb cooperate rûam-meu (ร่วมมือ), which literally means join-hand, to form cooperation.
bitch (complain) v. – บ่น – bòn
Are you gonna keep bitchin’?
แก จะ บ่น ไป เรื่อย ป่ะ เนี่ย
Gae jà bòn bpai rêuay bpà* nîa
lit. you will go bitch always (question) (emph.)
*The word bpà (ป่ะ) is an informal question particle used in or not questions. It is commonly used by young Thais.
bored adj. – เบื่อ – bèua
What do you mean, you’re bored?
หมายความ ว่า ไง คุณ เบื่อ
Măi-khwahm wâh ngai khun bèua?
lit. means* that how you bored
*means (หมายความ) = măi (หมาย) mean/intend + khwahm (ความ) meaning/sense
Add 100s of easy Thai words to your working vocabulary in a week’s time with our Original Thai-English Language Cognate Dictionary & Learning Tool.
Or pick up the eBook edition for your Palm Pilot, Sony Reader, Nook, iPhone, or other portable device by clicking on the following link:
In Thailand the ubiquitous phrase “mai pen rai” is well known to foreigners who have visited the Kingdom. Used in a variety of situations, mai pen rai is often translated as “never mind” or “it’s no big deal” in guidebooks, but a more accurate, albeit wordy, translation would be “this matter is so insignificant, let us not give it another thought.” Mai pen rai encapsulates much of what is admirable in the Thai character, and it is a phrase that one expects Jesus would have used liberally had it been available to him.
Mai pen rai1 is perhaps most commonly used as a substitute for “you’re welcome,” a phrase which basically has no equivalent in the Thai language. You’re welcome is also a phrase that we never see Jesus using in the Gospels. The reason for this is that you’re welcome is really a command. You are welcome to do what? You’re welcome to return my kindness some day; that’s what. In other words, you’re welcome carries with it the feeling of “you owe me”.
That is not how Jesus (or Buddha) taught us to perform kindness and charity. Instead the prophet taught us to act kindly with no expectation of anything in return. We are to behave kindly because that is what we are expected to do as Sons and Daughters of God. Kindness is part of our divine natures, thus when acting kindly and generously we are tapping into that divinity.
It is for similar reasons that Thais never developed an equivalent phrase for you’re welcome. Behaving with kindness and generosity is expected of you because that is the way good people behave, and you are expected to be a good person. Mai pen rai is thus the perfect response to those who thank us. It takes the ego out of our charity and kindness, erasing the idea that there is anything special about it, and casting away any notion that we desire something in return.
Mai pen rai is ultimately an SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) term, and one which all Westerners (especially Progressive Christians) could benefit by using daily.
Go to Amazon.com to purchase the e-book version of LivingHour.org’s book for Thai language learners by clicking the following link: The Original Thai-English Language Cognate Dictionary & Learning Tool.
Or purchase the Smashwords Thai Learning Edition for your Palm Pilot, Sony Reader, Nook, iPhone, or other portable device. Come back soon for information on buying the print edition.
- Also spelled mai pehn rai, mai ben rai, and mai bpen rai [↩]