Teaching English as a Second Language in Thailand
Although the teaching of English as a second language has been present in Thailand for quite some time, there are still many issues that arise as it pertains to teaching English in Thailand. In some ways it may appear that English language pedagogy is still in its infancy. For instance many people in Thailand have low degrees of proficiency in English (Laopongharn & Sercombe, 2009). This is particularly true as it pertains to the speaking and writing of English. The problems present in Thailand as it pertains to Teaching English as a foreign language has many different causes (Laopongharn & Sercombe (2009). For the purposes of this discussion, Thai culture will be explored as an impediment to the teaching of English as a second language.
Thai Culture as an impediment to Teaching English as a Foreign Language
There are obvious cultural differences that exist between Thailand and nations that are part of the Inner and Outer Circles of the concentric model. Nations in the inner and outer circles have been immersed with English culture since their inception or through years (centuries even) of colonial rule. According to Jahan & Roger (2006) this exposure to English culture has an impact on the ability of a nation to embrace English as a language. For instance, in researching other nations within the expanding circle the authors found that
"On the basis of the focus group data, one gains the impression that in countries such as
Korea, Indonesia, and Japan there is a degree of ambivalence with respect to the acceptance of cultural connotations that are seen by many as inevitable accompaniments to the English language. In Korea and Japan in particular, students tend to learn English from materials that present American norms, and apart from classroom instruction they primarily receive exposure to English through television or videos. However, from the data one can gain the impression that the Koreans and the Indonesians to a certain extent are struggling to incorporate what they see as the cultural phenomena associated with the English language into their own contexts (Jahan & Roger 2006, 9)"
There are several scholars that have asserted that "in many contexts of language teaching and learning, students seem frustrated and subsequently fail in language learning where the curriculum and teachers fail to take intercultural communication (ICC) into consideration (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009, 59)." On the other hand, there seems to be some chanes occurring as it pertsint to the way that the English language is taught throughout the world and these changes have made their way into Tahiland.
One of the primary changes occurring involves the idea that the learning of English is not just about understanding grammar but also a new form of communicating with others. Learning the English Language is also associated with enhancing the understanding of cultures that used to be unfamiliar to the learner. The authors further explain that "Since communication is related to context, and culture is context dependent, communication cannot be culture-free (Cortazzi and Jin 1999). Consequently, it seems undesirable and impractical to separate language learning from learning about target cultures (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009, 59). Lustig and Koester (2006) describes ICC as "a symbolic, interpretative, transactional, contextual process in which people from different cultures create shared meanings?, or at least attempt to. ICC may break down, for example, "when large and important cultural differences create dissimilar interpretations and expectations about how to communicate competently (46).
From a historical perspective, ICC focuses on the supposedly problematic characteristics of the communicative process amongst people from different cultural upbringings as demonstrated by Piller (2007), as well as other researchers (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009). On the other hand, confusion may also occur for reasons not related to cultural reasons. In addition this confusion can occur between people from comparable language and cultural settings (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009). As a result of the connection between language and culture, this interrelationship, present in ICC, can be measured in the Thai context.
Culture is important in any context. People are deeply affected by their cultural surroundings and as such cultural norms become a part of everything that they due, the learning of new language is no exception to this rule. In addition, language in and of itself is an important part of culture. According to Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009) "Culture is in language, and language is loaded with culture (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009)." With this understood the primary objective of "ICC pedagogy in relation...
Byram and colleagues (1994, 1997, 1998), among others (e.g. Kramsch 1993, 1998), have contributed substantially to the study of language and culture, and indicated that it seems difficult for language teaching to occur without teaching about the cultures of the languages being taught, largely because language invariably connects to a speaker-s knowledge about and perceptions of the world which are shaped by culture, among other influences (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009).
As it relates more directly to Thailand and the learning of English, in an effort to comprehend a text or utterance Thai learners of English should not only learn about relevant cultural norms but should also have the capacity to disseminate cultural knowledge. This knowledge should be derived from the language utilized in the discourse (Byram 1989; Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009). For example, such awareness can help learners in understanding how a literary text embeds and reflects the cultural positions of its characters (Zarate 1991; Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009).
Conversely, while studying or reviewing a text, learners will have to deal with their own frames of reference, which may be quite different from the frames of references of non-native speakers, such as Thai learners when compared to native speakers of English. The authors explain that these cultural differences may cause Thai students to approach other cultures from a Buddhist perspective because Budhism is a dominant theme in Thai culture. In Thai culture Buddhism is believed to be the primary source of knowledge, values, beliefs and behavior, serving as a foundation for Thai society and education (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009). This belief system is in marked contrast with America which tends to have a Christian perspective as it pertains to religion and spirituality. If a Thai learner is not made aware of this difference in cultural beliefs he/she may not have the capacity to fully grasp the language. Failure to grasp the language will lead to the inability to become proficient in the language.
In addition to cultural perspectives related to spirituality and religion, there are also other cultural differences that can complicate the acquiring of the English language in Thailand. For instance
"Saengboon (2004, p.24) states that Thai education seems to value "cooperation to preserve a natural, hierarchical, and social order?, which is founded on Theravada Buddhism to which approximately 95% of the population subscribes (O'Sullivan and Tajaroensuk 1997). In this respect, it seems appropriate that English language teachers, both native and non-native, are aware of these influences on language learning in order to enable them to acquire a sufficient understanding of Thai learners? attitudes towards learning, as suggested by Adamson (2003, 2005) and Brown (2004). The process of using and expanding learners? first culture for interpreting a foreign culture is simply part of their expanding knowledge of the world (Laopongharn & Sercombe 2009).
In other words, Thai learners may not understand all of the subtle nuances present in English because cultures where English is spoken such as the United Kingdom and the United States have cultural underpinning that are wholly different from that of the Thai learner. Because culture shapes language it becomes critical that Thai learners are given information about the cultures in which English is the dominant language. Indeed instructors must recognize these differences and be able to explain these differences in a manner that is effective.
Cultural differences can often be seen when teaching English in Thailand. Forman (2008) explains scenario in which "A text taken from a post-beginner class, at a point where the teacher was eliciting from students vocabulary related to rooms in dwellings. The lesson was conducted bilingually: students could provide an English term if it was known to them; if not, they offered Thai, which the teacher would then translate. At this point in the lesson, one student had suggested hong pra, a room which exists in Thai culture but not normally in Western culture. The phrase hong pra translates literally as "room + Buddha image," and the teacher responded as seen in Table 6. When a second student offered Monk room as a possible translation into English, the teacher explained why this would not be appropriate, and continued in Thai and English (Forman 2008)."
In this example of cultural differences between the Western world and Thailand, the cultural barriers that exist are evident. Although these differences may not seem significant, they shape the manner in which people view the world. Because there are blaring cultural differences…
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