Any expat living in Thailand can tell funny shopping stories where cashier officers will put on a shy smile before running away to fetch a colleague as they approach the payment counter. Is this because they are afraid of foreigners? Perhaps not. More likely, it’s because they are scared of speaking English in public.
Despite how multicultural and tourist-flooded the country is, English language proficiency is still so poor in Thailand. Why is that? Here, we will take you through Thailand’s shifting attitude towards learning English, and how this presents a key career opportunity for expats, even if you’re not looking for a career in teaching.
A sign of the times
Thailand’s English proficiency level has stagnated in recent years, with no clear signs of improvement. Some reports have even suggested that the country’s English proficiency level has been declining.
Thailand came in 74th out of 100 countries with a score of 47.61 in the global English Proficiency Index, slipping in rankings for the third consecutive year, according to the Swiss language-education company ‘EF’. Regionally speaking, Thailand had the third-lowest score in Southeast Asia and ranked 17th out of 25 countries in Asia. This puts Thailand’s English proficiency level in the ‘low’ to ‘very low’ category.
Thailand’s approach to learning English
The vast majority of public Thai schools offer English lessons at least twice each week, some even more. So the problem with Thailand’s poor English proficiency isn’t that Thais aren’t learning English. Instead, it’s that English is being taught poorly in schools. To put it briefly, here are some ineffective English learning approaches many Thai schools are still fixated on.
An over-emphasis on grammar
Thailand’s approach to learning English is similar to that of learning maths. Master all the rules, and you will be able to solve the equation, so master the grammar, and you will be able to speak English correctly. But as we all know, this isn’t how language learning works.
Understandably, Thais do have to focus on grammar as English grammar is clearly more complex and nit-picky than the grammatical rules of their native tongue. However, English teachers overcorrect this to a fault, leaving their students with the knowledge of English grammar without a big enough vocabulary bank to even make simple conversation.
Lack of interactive learning
Any English teachers will tell their students that learning a language goes beyond the classroom. This brings us to a wider educational problem in Thailand that leaves Thai students ill-equipped to continue learning English when they leave school.
Ask any foreigner who’s been in a Thai classroom, and they will tell you how authoritarian and ‘spoon-feeding’ the teaching approach in Thailand is. This results in a lack of interactive sessions in the classroom, preventing students from practicing what they’ve learned. Students simply sit there, repeat after what the teacher says, and forget everything they’ve learned in the next few hours.
Lack of skilled English teachers
Even though skilled English teachers can be found in Thailand’s international and bilingual schools, there is still a serious lack of skilled English teachers in most public schools, even in big cities.
In many cases, grammar, spelling, and structural mistakes are made by English teachers, which are then passed on to their students. This perpetuates the wrong use of English in Thailand, passing the trait from one generation to another.
Usage of English in daily life
Many students seldom use English outside of their classroom or in the workplace when they grow up. Although they may read English and watch shows in English on a daily basis, they rarely speak it. So what happens when the time comes for them to use English in their daily life, whether it’s giving directions to tourists or speaking to expats at the counter? They shy away from the opportunity to learn.
A fear of speaking English
This shyness comes with symptoms that many expats misidentify as anglophobia. When that restaurant server runs away to call his senior to your table, it’s not because he’s scared of you, it’s that he’s scared of having to speak English to you! This can be a combination of factors, whether it’s feeling embarrassed that they have a Thai accent, being worried that they will not understand what you’re saying, or being scared that they will say something wrong.
This fear keeps Thais from practicing English when the opportunity arises, further hindering Thailand’s level of English proficiency. However, all this is quickly changing, presenting expats with a prime opportunity to move to the Land of Smiles.
Changing attitudes towards learning English
With the influx of tourists and the increased availability of online English media in the past few years, attitudes towards learning English are changing, especially among the younger generation. Today, Thais are becoming more courageous and willing to use English in public.
Moreover, Thais are starting to recognize that learning English is an important part of their career future as more employers are starting to make the ability to communicate in English a baseline entry requirement.
This shift in public attitude towards learning in English has yet to show in the test scores, which remains extremely how for a middle-income country with an aging population. However, big cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai are witnessing the blossoming of language schools and English-based work environments.
An opportunity for Expats
Thailand’s growing discontent with its English-language deficiency presents a timely opportunity for expats from all walks of life to move to Thailand, from teachers to those looking to work in an international company.
As Thailand’s awareness of their need to learn English becomes more widespread, educational institutions around the country will start searching for those who are qualified to teach English at their schools. If you are looking to kick off your teaching career or elevate your career as a teacher, then moving to Thailand is now a more realistic option than ever before.
For other expats looking to further their professional careers, it is becoming increasingly easier to land a high-paying job in Thailand. Local and international businesses are starting to recognize the advantages of an international, English-speaking work environment. As locals who are skilled enough to conduct business entirely in English are hard to come by, expats are currently in high demand.
However, moving to Thailand requires a lot of preparation. There is a lot of paperwork to do. For example, making the appropriate healthcare preparations can be a big hassle when moving to this beautiful country. Thailand’s private healthcare system can be extremely expensive, especially given that the strong baht is stiffening the value of your local currency. Furthermore, the Thai government is continuing to place stricter health insurance requirements on expats in the country.
Recent legislation requires all foreigners entering the country with an O-A long-stay visa to show that they have valid health insurance to cover their period of stay. This effectively puts a mandatory health insurance requirement on older expats who are looking to stay and retire in the country.
Navigating your way through the health insurance landscape in Thailand can be tricky, especially when many insurance providers do not gear their services and resources towards foreigners, requiring you to fill out piles of paperwork on your own.
To help you find the best health insurance options in Thailand, you can talk to health insurance brokers like Pacific Prime Thailand. As brokers, Pacific Prime will be able to offer you entirely free consultation sessions and health insurance price comparisons, to help you find the best health insurance plan that suits both your health-related needs and budget.
As one of Asia’s biggest health insurance brokers, Pacific Prime currently provides health insurance for over 120,000 individual clients and 2,000 corporations. To do so, they partner with the top insurers around the world, such as Aetna Health Insurance, Luma Health Insurance, and Pacific Cross Insurance.