This study aimed to discover the attitudes and motivations of Northern Thai high school students towards the English language. It sought to answer the following research questions:
1) Do the students feel the English language is important for them currently and in the future?
2) How much exposure do the participants have to the language outside of school and in what contexts?
3) Did the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015 have an effect on the views and motivation of the respondents to study the language?
4) Are there significant differences between the attitudes of students from different schools?
Overall, the results of the study show that the majority of the participants feel that the English language is important for them both now and in the future. This could be seen in both the Likert items and the open-ended questions. Many of the participants would like to improve their English skills, because they feel they have a need for proficiency in the English language.
The results of the study show that the respondents have quite limited exposure to the English language outside of school. These limited extracurricular situations for language use included the media, customer service, meeting foreigners and traveling. A few participants also said they had international friends they used English with. However, overall, most of the participants were only exposed to English in school and possibly in extra English lessons. In
66 addition to this, some of them had the chance to use the language every now and then in extracurricular contexts, but this was quite rare and even these occasions were often limited to quite simple language use. In some cases, the participants would have had a chance to use the language, but did not dare to because they felt their language skills were insufficient.
Thus, overall, most of the participants do not have much exposure to the language outside of school.
Some of the participants see the English language as even more important than before because of AEC 2015. However, for many of the respondents the launch of the economic community has had no effect, as they view the English language as a global language that is important with or without ASEAN.
The differences between the responses from different schools were tested and the responses differed for some of the items. There were three items for which the differences between the schools were highly significant and two items for which the schools differed significantly.
For the remaining eight items, there were no significant differences between the schools.
Thus, the school at which the participants study influences some of the aspects of their attitudes and motivation. The school that seemed to have the most positive attitudes in almost all areas was School SS. The students in this school clearly see education as a privilege and this attitude is also reflected in all other aspects of their attitudes and motivation.
67 School SS is a government-funded private school, where most students represent minority groups. Many students from a similar background do not have the chance to go to high school. Therefore, these students probably see this as a true privilege and they appreciate the chance to go to school more than the average high school student. This attitude is reflected in all other attitudes as well, resulting in them being more motivated to study English.
One of the issues with the English language seems to be grammar and rules and the fear of making mistakes. This is evident from both the responses to the Likert items (see figures 5.5 and 5.10) and the responses to the final question of the questionnaire (see section 5.2.5).
Many participants consider their own language skills to be inadequate and they feel like they need more practice. Some also feel that the studying of English in school is focused too much on learning rules and they do not feel like they are learning how to actually use the language.
This causes them to feel timid about speaking the English language as they do not feel like they can successfully communicate. This reflects the findings of Draper (2012); self-perceived language ability is not at a high level, as many of the participants in this study wrote that they do not feel they can use English due to a lack of skills.
Overall, the participants’ attitudes could be said to be positive and English was seen as important. Based on the results of this study, the students are motivated to learn English. This is similar to the findings of Kitjaroonchai (2013), as in this study it was also discovered that high school students in Thailand had high motivation towards learning English. The motivation to learn English is present and the importance of the English language is understood by teenagers. However, the methods of teaching have a large impact and influence the way students feel about studying English and can influence their motivation.
68 With respect to instrumental and integrative motivation (Dörnyei, 2005; Gardner,1985), the motivation of the participants could be regarded as mainly instrumental. Most of the participants do not have much exposure to English outside of school and this results in them not having a group to integrate into. However, there is interest in communication with others and interest in integration. If the participants had more exposure to the language outside of school their integrative motivation would perhaps increase as well.
Some of the participants openly criticized the teaching methods which they reported to be one of the reasons why people do not learn the English language. These findings reflect those of previous studies, in which it has been found that there are numerous issues in the teaching of English in Thailand (see section 2.3.3). The issues in teaching could be due to the poverty in the country and the school system in general. Moreover, the training of the teachers is most likely inadequate, which in turn leads to the teachers being insufficiently prepared for their tasks. Currently the teachers themselves do not feel confident about their own language abilities.
There is a different view on education at the ministry level and at the actual school level. At the ministry level, there are numerous plans, changes and reforms that need to be done, but at the school level it is unclear what is wanted. It is pointless to change the educational system and the way English should be taught if the teachers lack the skills required for this form and style of teaching. A future direction of study could be current teacher training and the school system. It would be interesting to discover how the training of the teachers prepares them for
69 their future work. Based on this information, changes could be made to the current teacher training program, which would lead to teachers being better equipped for the tasks ahead.
In order to obtain a better overview of the attitudes and motivations of an average Thai school, the data used should be more representative of the average. This study included two private schools, one government-funded private school and two public schools. Although this varied data gives a chance for comparisons between different kinds of schools, this was not sufficiently discussed or used in this study. In the future, a wider data sample would give a more comprehensive idea of the average Thai high school student. On the other hand, if the data were to include schools from both the public and the private sector, there should be more comparison between the different sectors. Moreover, rural and urban schools could be compared.
In addition, there were some communication issues between the researcher and the translator.
This led to, for example, the discarding of some of the data because the layout of the questionnaire was unclear. The questionnaire provided a lot of data and the data could have been used more. Comparisons between the attitudes of those speaking different first languages could have been analyzed, for example, which might yield interesting results that may be beneficial towards the teaching of English in Thailand’s future.
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Appendix: The questionnaire in English
A questionnaire on the English language
The purpose of the study:
This questionnaire is part of a study concerning the English language. The study is being conducted by an English major MA student from the University of Eastern Finland and the data collected through this questionnaire will be used only as data for the master’s thesis.
Taking part in this study is completely voluntary and this questionnaire is entirely anonymous.
Please mark your choice with an “X” in the column which is the most applicable to you. Read each statement carefully. There are no right or wrong answers.
1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = agree, 4 = strongly agree,
Items on Attitude 1 2 3 4
I think going to school is useful and helps me learn new
English is a fun language to learn.
English is a universal language for communication.
When looking for a job in the future, I’m going to need to know English.
I do not like to speak English because I am afraid of making mistakes.
The Thai English teachers at the school that I go to are expert and knowledgeable.
I don’t need English in my life now or in the future.
I think studying English is boring.
78 I think I can still find a job without knowing English.
I think knowing English is useful, because it helps me communicate with more people.
Knowing English can be helpful because it will give me a wider access to movies, books, information, etc.
English grammar is quite easy.
Knowing English is more important now than before because of the ASEAN Economic Community 2015.
Please mark an “x” by the choice that is the most applicable to you.
79 1. What level do you feel your English communicational skills are?
( ) very good ( ) good ( ) average ( ) needs improvement ( ) not acceptable
Please fill out the following information about yourself.
1. Gender: ____________________________
2. Age: _______________________________
3. Grade: _____________________________
4. Mother tongue: ______________________
5. Since which grade have you been studying English at school?
6. If you had the chance, would you take extra English lessons outside of school?
7. How often do you use English outside of school?
80 8. If you use English outside of school, what situations do you use it in?
9. Do you have foreign friends? If yes, do you speak English with them?
10. Have you heard about the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015? If yes, do you think knowing English is more important now and in the future than before because of AEC 2015?
81 11. Do you have any other comments regarding the ASEAN Economic Community 2015 and its choice of English as the working language?
12. Do you have any additional comments regarding the English language?