Most expats who have been in Thailand for more than 10 years, will tell you that, in general, there are more English speakers than there were in the past. Thai people sometimes put themselves down when it comes to their overall English skill level compared to some other countries, but there are many reasons why Thai people should be proud of their ever improving English skills. Here are a few reasons why . . .
Most Thai people now embrace English as a second language. They see it as their duty to try to communicate with tourists or expats in English. This is not the case in many other countries. Take Spain for example, a lovely country, but if you don’t speak Spanish and end up going to a hospital or want to speak to a government official, you’d better bring an interpreter as sometimes they’ll even refuse to speak to you. In France there have been many cases where if you don’t speak French, even if the French person understands English, they will not speak to you if you haven’t shown respect by learning French to visit France.
Disclaimer: We’re not saying that all French people or Spanish people are unwilling to engage with you in English. 😉
Chalk and Cheese
The Thai language and English language are very different from each other, so taking on a second language that is so challenging is something to be proud of. Any Thai person who has learnt English, or English speaking person who has learnt Thai will know that it is really difficult at first to make the transition to speaking such a very different language. Thai is a tonal language with no articles, whereas English language tones are driven by emotion. Thai has a rolling ‘r’, whereas English uses a completely different ‘r’, there are ‘s’s galore in English and the syntax is often in opposite order.
End Consonants & Other Tricky Stuff
Switching from speaking Thai to English has numerous obstacles for a beginner to overcome. Again, there are ‘s’s on words that are easy to miss out when reading aloud. To an English speaker if an ‘s’ is missed out it stands out like a sore thumb, but to a non-native speaker it may hardly be noticeable. There is the new ‘r’ to learn which at first is tempting to replace with the Thai version of ‘l’, the English ‘v’ and ‘th’ are totally new sounds to learn and all those articles and knowing when to use ‘a/an’ or ‘the’ must be a real headache at first. There are three end consonant sounds in Thai that are unvoiced, whereas in English end consonants are mostly pronounced strongly.
Granted, it is hard for most people in Thailand to find native English speakers to practise English with, so fluency is always a difficult skill to boost; however, if you’ve ever seen Thai teachers teach English grammar in schools you’ll know that they really study grammar in depth. The grammar is so in depth in fact that the white board content sometimes resembles equations, like a kind of ‘English – Math hybrid’. Thai student’s knowledge of English grammar is very high compared to many other countries. Teachers of English in Thailand will be familiar with in-depth questions about tenses and the structure of sentences; so much so that teachers in Thailand need to know the tenses in English by heart, which is not easy considering native speakers don’t even think of tenses when they learn English from an early age.
Thai Language Courses Internationally?
So, in a nutshell, there are more and more English speakers in Thailand and the new generation are clearly taking on English language as a second language almost instinctively. However, there is arguably one thing that is being neglected in the process, and that is that the Thai language is taking a back seat in international exposure. Granted, English has become the main language used in worldwide business communication, but most English speakers also like to learn a second language. Around the world you won’t find many native English speakers who choose Thai as a second language to learn for fun and interest, as the Thai language is not promoted, in fact hardly at all, internationally. There are tons of Spanish, French, German and more recently Chinese language courses in Europe for example, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a Thai language course unless you are very lucky. There are no IELTS or TOEFL equivalent exams to pass in the Thai language; you’ll be lucky if you can find a Thai language course that is solid and respected, with strict test conditions, where you can earn an internationally recognised certificate. You may ask “So what’s the big deal about promoting the Thai language internationally? What’s the point and where’s the benefit?” Well, arguably, by promoting the Thai language more tourists will want to travel to Thailand to practise Thai and more people will take an interest in Thailand’s culture and history. Anyone from Europe or America will know that a few people when you mention Thailand will not even know where it is on the map; some people will even ask you if it is part of China, or ask you if it is in ‘Siam’. Promoting the Thai language would help in raising awareness in people’s minds of Thailand being a unique country with a fascinating and challenging language to learn.