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2. Languages in Thailand

2.3 The role of English in Thailand

2.3.2 English in the media

In the past few years, there has been much discussion on the level of English in Thailand and many articles have been written on the topic in the national newspaper, the Bangkok Post.

One of the main reasons for this recent interest in the language has been AEC 2015 and this topic has emerged in numerous articles.

The topic was already discussed in January 2012. The Bangkok Post published articles related to the English language skills and use in the country. 2012 was an “English-speaking year” in Thailand and students were encouraged to speak English every Monday (Marukatat, 2012).

On these English-speaking days students were supposed to use English in school. The teachers would teach subjects in Thai, but otherwise students were encouraged to communicate in English. No further regulations were given for how or how much English was supposed to be taught or used (Boonyai, 2012). This was three years before the launch of AEC 2015 and the Education Ministry was attempting to improve English skills in the country before the new single market system was launched.

In February 2012, the Bangkok Post published another article related to this topic (“Testing time for students a pain in the class”, 2012). The article displayed statistics on the English

12 skills of Thai students from the previous year (2011). The article presented the results from the General Aptitude Test (GAT), which is a standardized test required as part of the admission into Thai universities (Thailandeducation.info, 2016). Oral and written skills in English as well as knowledge of vocabulary and structure are tested in the exam (ibid). In 2011, 126,760 students were examined and their average GAT score in English was 28.43 out of 100 (“Testing time for students a pain in the class”, 2012). The highest score was 92.5 and the lowest was 1.25 (ibid). Thus, the average score for English was 28.43%, which is not even close to a standard passing grade of 50%. The scores were generally low in other subjects as well (ibid). These results indicate a low level of English proficiency among the general population of Thais.

The topics of education and AEC 2015 were discussed in the Bangkok Post in April 2012 as well (“Education key to AEC success”, 2012). The article discussed the concern ministers had as AEC 2015 approached, but most of the Thai citizens had not even heard of the economic community. Educational reforms were seen as the key for improvement. According to the article, the general view in Thailand is very nationalistic and this needs to change in order to improve proficiency in English (ibid).

Articles on the topic of English in Thailand continued to be published the following year as well. Thailand’s Minister of Education urged for the English teachers around the country to help with inventing new and innovative teaching methods in order for the students’ English communication skills to improve (“Chaturon urges English teaching reform”, 2013). The

13 Nation, another national English-language newspaper, also discussed the topic of improving the level of English in the kingdom (“Improving English skills is vital: Surin”, 2013).

The year before the launch of AEC 2015, the need for improvement in English language proficiency was again discussed in the Bangkok Post. The need for proficiency in the language was considered vital for the country’s future economy, as the other ASEAN countries are at a clear advantage due to their English language competence (“Thais face skills 'challenges'”, 2014).

The role of the English language in the media has also increased in that English names and code-mixing have become more common (Snodin, 2014). This is the case even when the intended audience of the mass media are Thai. Thus, the role of English has increased in significance and code-mixing between English and Thai has become more common. Even between people who share a common language, the importance and use of English has grown significantly. For example, almost all the magazines used in Snodin’s (2014) study were named entirely in English, even though these magazines are targeted at a Thai audience and the content of the magazines is in Thai.

Among some citizens of Thailand, the use of English has spread. Glass (2009) studied how graduates from bachelor’s degree programs completed in English in Thai public universities wrote to Thais and other nationalities. It was discovered that most of the respondents use English frequently in writing with people outside of Thailand as well as with other Thais

14 (ibid). There were numerous reasons for using English among Thais (ibid). The results of this study show that English has become an intranational language to those residents of the country that have more fluency in the language.

As can be seen, the topic of English language proficiency and the lack of skills in the language have been topics of interest in newspapers in the country. AEC 2015 has been referred to multiple times. However, this concern seems to stem only from a marginal group of people in the country. It is mainly the ministers and Thais with higher levels of education that are concerned with English language competence and AEC 2015. The majority of the people seemed to not have heard of the project before it launched in 2015, as was mentioned in one the articles. Hence, the general view in the country does not reflect the views presented in the newspapers. Thus, if the proficiency in English is to be improved in the whole country, changes must be made so that all citizens become more aware of the importance of competence in the language.

In the light of the results of this study, there is knowledge of AEC 2015 and the importance of the English language is evident at the high school level as well. Therefore, the issue is perhaps not being aware of the importance of the language but rather something else. This will be discussed in more detail later on in sections 5.1.3 and 5.2.3.

15 2.3.3 English teaching in Thailand

When conducting a study related to the role of a language in a country, it is crucial to consider the teaching of the language. In the following section, some studies related to English language teaching in Thailand will be examined. The quality of teaching and the methods used are issues that have arisen in studies related to English teaching in Thailand.

Thailand’s 1999 National Educational Act sought to change and improve teaching, emphasizing learner-centered methods and varying methods of assessment, such as portfolios, as opposed to simply using regular tests (Foley, 2005: 225). The English curriculum has been divided into “four C’s”: culture, communication, connection and communities (ibid). There is a standard set for each of these categories that should be met by the students (ibid). Teachers are encouraged towards a learner-centered environment.

Prapaisit (2004) conducted a case study of three English teachers in Thailand. According to the results of the study, the teaching was very teacher-centered and non-communicative. The teachers also felt that their own proficiency in the language was low and they did not feel confident using the target language (ibid).

In a study conducted in the Western Thai province of Ratchaburi it was found that the attitude of sixth grade students towards learning the English language improved significantly when they were learning under a cooperative teaching method rather than under the traditional Thai communicative teaching method (Chayarathee & Waugh, 2006: 120). The traditional communicative method is a teacher-focused behaviorist style of teaching, which includes

16 repeating words and phrases after the teacher. In addition to this, students work individually by reading texts and answering questions. All communication is between the students and the teacher. The cooperative method is more interactive. In this teaching method, students work in groups to complete instructional activities. The results of Chayarathee and Waugh’s (2006) study could indicate that currently students are not very motivated to learn English and that their attitudes towards the language are not very positive due to the teaching methods used.

Prapaisit de Segovia (2009) conducted a study related to the implementation of the communicative methods emphasized in the National Education Act of 1999. Grades 5-6 English classes were observed in the study and the results showed that there was no use of communicative methods in the classroom. The study included interviews with teachers, who seemed confused about the meaning of the principles in the reform of 1999 and how they should be applied. Concerns regarding their own English proficiency, insufficient training and inadequate resources also arose in the interviews with the teachers.

In a more recent study, it has also been discovered that the implementation of communicative language teaching (CLT) has been an issue and despite this method being incorporated into the national education act, the fluency and proficiency of English has not improved (Teng &

Sinwongsuwat, 2015). Teng and Sinwongsuwat’s (2015) study also discussed issues that teachers had with the implementation of CLT and reasons behind the difficulties that teachers and students have in English. According to Wanchai (2012), teachers were not successful in the implementation of CLT due to their own insufficient proficiency in the language.

Moreover, there are other studies which demonstrate that teachers often feel that they are not

17 well-enough prepared to use English in class, even if they have an undergraduate degree majoring in English (Hengsadeekul & al, 2014: 42)

Several issues have emerged from studies conducted in relation to CLT and English teaching.

In English classes, Thai teachers tend to focus on grammar skills, repetitive, drill-like exercises and memorization (Teng & Sinwongsuwat, 2015; Saengboon, 2004). In addition, classes tend to be quite large as the average class has over 40 students (Teng &

Sinwongsuwat 2015; Dhanasobhon, 2006). Moreover, there is a wide range of fluency between the different students within a class (ibid).

In Thailand, English teaching and especially the attempted implementation of CLT focuses strongly on attaining a native-speaker level of fluency and sets an Anglo-American standard as the goal (Methitham & Chamcharatsri, 2011). The teaching of English focuses on learning a Western standard in order to communicate with and understand those who speak English in this way (ibid). This has perhaps influenced the attitudes of some of the respondents in this study as well, as in some responses using the English language was related specifically to

“Western” foreigners (see section 5.2.2).

These issues related to English-language teaching could be seen in the results of this study as well, which emerged in the replies of some of the participants. This will be discussed further in chapter 5.

18 2.3.4 Tourism in Thailand

For many people, tourism is one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about Thailand. The country is, after all, very well-known for its beaches in the south. This section briefly presents some statistics on the number of people that visit the country and from which parts of the world they come from.

According to the Thai Department of Tourism, there were a total of 29.88 million international tourists that visited Thailand in 2015. From these international tourists, 66.5%

came from East Asian countries, 18.84% came from European countries and 4.13% came from the Americas. The three countries from which the most tourists that visit Thailand came from are China, Malaysia and India. From the total number of tourists, over 70% came from Asian countries.

Although the tourism industry is strong in the country, McDowall & Wang (2009) writes of some weaknesses the nation has. These weaknesses are mainly related to language; English-speaking employees are scarce (ibid). English is focused on and highlighted in the education system, which leaves other languages such as Mandarin, Japanese or German receiving less attention (ibid). Thus, Thailand needs to progress linguistically in order to maintain development in the tourism industry and to be able to keep up with international trends and changes taking place.

3 Language attitudes and motivation

This chapter will discuss the topic of language attitudes and motivation. First, the most prominent theories on the role of attitudes and motivation in second language learning and acquisition will be presented. Following this, some relevant studies related to language attitudes and motivation in the context of Thailand will be discussed.

3.1 General theory on attitudes and motivation

When considering learning a language, a major influence on the process is the learner’s motivation and attitudes towards the language in question. In fact, the motivation to learn a language is one of the most important factors in language learning and acquisition (Dörnyei 2005). Even if the learner has a weak aptitude for language learning, success can be achieved through high motivation. Therefore, high motivation can cover for weaker aptitude. On the other hand, learners with a low motivation are usually not successful in language learning, even if their aptitude would be high (ibid). When studying language acquisition, it is therefore crucial to take attitudes and motivation into account.

Attitudes are defined in Baker (1988: 114) as “inferred, conceptual inventions hopefully aiding the description and explanation of behavior. Attitudes are learned predispositions, not inherited or genetically endowed, and are likely to be relatively stable over time.” However, experience can affect and change attitudes. Attitudes are tied closely to lasting knowledge of a language. Baker (1988: 112) considers language attitudes to have two variables: the causal input variable and the outcome or output variable. When examining an attitude as an outcome

20 variable, it could be considered that a positive attitude towards the language in question will produce more efficient and longer lasting learning than a simple want to pass an examination (ibid). The content studied simply for a test will not last long, and this could result in the language abilities not being as successfully maintained.

Attitudes cannot be simply split into positive or negative attitudes, as there is everything in between as well (Baker, 1988: 115). They can also be a combination of negative and positive, as learners can view one element of a language positively and another negatively (ibid).

Laine (1987: 10-12) considers there to be seven different aspects of attitudes. These are general school learning attitudes, attitudes towards the target language (TL) group, attitudes towards the TL culture, attitudes towards the target language, attitudes towards the TL course, attitudes towards the teaching methods and attitudes towards the TL teacher (ibid).

Attitudes between these different attitudes can vary and although a student can feel positively towards one aspect, another might be viewed less positively (ibid). However, it is most likely that different aspects also affect each other. For example, a negative attitude towards the teacher will most likely also result in a negative attitude towards the teaching methods and the course (ibid).

In addition to attitudes, motivation is another important aspect in language learning. Baker (1988) makes a distinction between motives and motivation. Baker (1988: 143) defines a motive as “a hypothetical construct used to describe the stored potential or predisposition to behave in persistent fashion.” Motives are also not activated, but rather they are more like potential that is waiting to be used (ibid). Motivation is “the activation of that motive” (ibid).


Gardner (1985: 10) refers to motivation as “the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favourable attitudes toward learning the language.” In this definition, motivation is a sum of multiple elements. Effort alone does not mean motivation and neither does a favorable attitude by itself. Motivation is defined in Laine (1987: 7-8) as “a tendency to act, to approach a goal, or to refrain from action, to turn away from the goal.” Motivation is described per three parameters: direction, strength/intensity, and orientation (ibid). Laine (1987) presents three orientations: integrative, instrumental and intellectual curiosity. Gardner (1985) also refers to motivation as being either integrative or instrumental in orientation. Integrativeness in language learning refers to assimilating into and communicating with a community that speaks that language (ibid). Instrumentally oriented learners wish to learn a language because of the advantages the knowledge in that language brings (Dörnyei, 2005: 70).

Both Dörnyei (2005) and Gardner (1985) consider integrativeness to be an important element in one’s motivation to learn a foreign language. For the participants of this study, this is most likely not the major motivation for learning English. As can be seen in the results of this study, the participants have very little exposure to the language outside of school or the media. Therefore, their motivation is mainly not integrative as they do not have a community to assimilate into. On the other hand, the instrumental motivation of Thais to learn English should be increasing due to AEC 2015, as proficiency in the language might be important for them in the job market.

22 However, integrative motivation is more effective in producing long-lasting language learning and integrative motivation produces more successful language acquisition than instrumental motivation does (Baker, 1988: 155). Those with integrative motivation are perhaps more likely to have more exposure to the language as well, which would, in turn, also improve their language skills.

Gardner’s Attitude/Motivation Test Battery (1985: 177-184) was examined to obtain an idea on a possible way to test attitudes and motivation. Gardner’s battery has been used in many studies related to second language attitudes and motivation. The battery was designed for a bilingual setting; it tested attitudes and motivations of English-speaking Canadians towards the French language. For this study, the questionnaire used in Kitjaroonchai’s (2013) study was more applicable. This questionnaire was influenced by Gardner’s (1985) battery, but it was designed to test attitudes and motivations of English teachers in Thailand. Due to the Thai context being rather different from the Canadian one, Kitjaroonchai’s (2013) study was more relevant as a source of inspiration for the questionnaire of this study.

3.2 Previous studies on language attitudes in Thailand

The following section will discuss some relevant studies related to language attitudes and motivation in Thailand.

Kitjaroonchai (2012) studied English major students at the Asia-Pacific International University and the kinds of motivation they had towards the language. The correlation

23 between their motivation to learn the language and their academic success was also tested.

The results showed that the students’ integrative and instrumental motivations were both high. However, it was discovered that their instrumental motivation was slightly higher. The findings of the study also showed that the grade point average of the students correlated positively with their motivation. Thus, those that were successful in their studies were also more motivated towards their studies.

Draper (2012) conducted a study in Northeastern Thailand in which he analyzed community language experience, attitudes towards, and ability in the English language. The study examined the largest minority in the country, the Lao Isan. This group was chosen because the region of Northeastern Thailand is ranked the weakest region in English in national testing. The findings of the study showed that the participants considered their abilities in English to be very low and they did not feel the language was important to them. Moreover, they had very little exposure to the language. There was a difference between the older and the younger generations in both self-reported language ability and experience in the language.

This study was conducted in a rural area, where exposure to English is very limited which could be a factor explaining why the language was not seen as relevant to the participants of the study.

Kitjaroonchai (2013) studied the motivation of high school students in the Saraburi Province in Central Thailand towards English language learning. It was discovered that both the integrative and instrumental motivation of the students was high. In addition, the study tested