The Thai Minsitry of Education has announced that 2012 will be ‘English Speaking Year’.
In preparation for 2015 when the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is due to create The ASEAN Community (with the aim of building economic, security and socio-cultural ties between the member states) the Ministry of Education has begun work on a programme “to make Thailand ready to be a part of the ASEAN Community in 2015, because the English language is a major medium of communication among ASEAN member countries.”
In a Bangkok Post article The Minister for Education is is quoted as saying that when Thailand becomes a part of the ASEAN Community the English language will be very important for communication. He then describes some of the activities they will be recommending to schools, such as one day a week to be designated as an English speaking day and the setting up of English corners in classrooms.
The minister goes on to say that the he wants students to ‘dare to speak English’ without worrying too much about grammar. A great message to send to learners of English (or indeed of any language): that this is about communication first and foremost, and that worrying about the fine detail too early will only reinforce any reluctance to have a go.
This sentiment is echoed in another Bangkok Post article by Professor Saowalak Rattanavich, a languages lecturer at Srinakharinwirot University, who urges the programme to “…start with real usage of speaking, reading and writing the language in daily life first. Grammar can come later.” She makes the excellent point that “Language classes must focus on content relevant to learners’ daily lives. The content must be practical.”
A part of our guiding statement at Shrewsbury International School is that ‘we are a community of language learners that recognises that the speaking of English brings our international community together‘. As Professor Saowalak rightly states, creating authentic situations that are relevant to learners’ lives is really important in developing language acquisition. What a fabulous opportunity we have therefore to hi-light the aspirations voiced by the Ministry of Education for the proficiency of Thai speakers of English and frame them in terms of the aspirations Thailand has for participation in the exciting venture of the ASEAN Community. A more authentic reason to encourage, inspire and guide our ELLs at Shrewsbury one could not hope for.
UPDATE: In a related Bangkok Post op ed, a rather bleak picture is drawn as the author considers the current levels of English proficiency in Thailand and how they compare to our ASEAN neighbours.