Teaching English to non-speakers is not that difficult, providing you do not try to spend all your time teaching Grammar. To be successful, one must learn to effectively communicate verbally, and many schools focus on teaching “Conversational English.” Whilst the students in the South of Thailand unlike those from Bangkok are taught the basic fundamentals of the English Language, in most cases it is not practiced outside of School. In Bangkok, there is every opportunity to practice speaking English due to the fact that many foreign tourists arrive there and spend time. But even in this situation, Thai students are not readily encouraged to pursue English, and often times they will refuse to speak even casually as they feel too shy, and afraid that they will make mistakes when speaking.
Several thousand native-English speakers are employed in public and private schools throughout the country. This is being encouraged by the need to develop students’ oral expression and knowledge of foreign culture; much of their time however, is taken up with remedial teaching: putting right any grammar, orthography, pronunciation and cultural background that has been wrongly taught and which leads to great misunderstanding – they see this as a greater priority.
The official version of English, although not always practical in its dispensation, is British. Qualified native teachers with a background in linguistics may ensure that students are exposed to both major variations of the language and understand them and their differences, whichever version the students choose to speak.
Language classes, sponsored by the governments of English speaking countries such as those provided by the British Council, enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, both for general English, and for the preparation for international exams such as the American English TOEFL and the British English IELTS, which are prerequisites for the entry into many professions, particularly aircrew and tourism. There is also no shortage of cramming schools, usually franchise chains, in the capital and larger cities, but although they are staffed mainly by highly motivated, qualified native speakers, and have excellent resources, they are often branded by cynics as ‘the McDonalds of English language’.
There has been a dramatic increase since 2000 in the number of Thailand-based TEFL/TESOL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language / Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher-training institutions. Some dispense internationally recognised teaching certificates and diplomas that follow the courses of established universities, and some provide courses and certification franchised from other organisations and universities. Still others dispense their own courses and certification.
Currently, to teach English in licensed schools, public or private, the minimum academic qualification for native speakers is a bachelor degree in any subject. However, the government is in the process of exercising greater control, particularly to combat the use of bogus certificates or degrees issued by diploma mills, and to prevent access to schools by persons with doubtful motives.
In 2008, the government announced plans to improve requirements for native-speaker teachers in mainstream schools. They now require academic qualifications in either education or linguistics, in addition to their bachelor’s degrees, and to complete a government course in Thai culture and language. In 2008 applications for TESOL posts in Thailand experienced a significant drop, and many posts are being taken up by second-language English speakers from Asian countries where the use of English may be of a high standard and officially recognised, but not as a first language. Parents, particularly those with children in fee-paying schools, maintain the belief that native English speakers should have Western ethnic origins.
The school year in Thailand is divided into two semesters, and for primary and secondary schools generally runs from the middle of May to March, and from June to March for higher education. It has a two or three week break between the two terms in September. The long summer break coincides with the hottest part of the year and Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year celebrations. Schools enjoy all public and Buddhist religious holidays and Christian and international schools usually close for the Christmas-New Year break.