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Data Survey Part Two: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell

Say it Like a Thai Would

Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell…

This is part two discussing the survey data I compiled about Thai Studentz-From-Hell. If you haven’t read the first post, go to Data Survey Part One: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell.

Below, where I talk about the data I’ve mined, I’m going to use some specific terms. I’ll use Westerners for people from the west and Asians for people from the east, okay? If I use the word students or foreigners, I’m talking about everyone learning Thai. Also, in an effort to be a kinder-gentler (not so blatantly racist) Tod Daniels, I’m not gonna use the term white people like I usually do. Honestly, I don’t like the hate mail it garners!

Btw: I’ve included a What can you do? section at the end of each category. That’s where I offer wisdom and information to hopefully help you overcome possible limitations in your learning Thai experience.

But before I get to the survey compilation, I just want to say this one thing.

The teaching Thai language to Westerners system is broken…

I know this will ruffle a lot of feathers, but the system (method, text books, etc.) used in the teach Thai to non-native speakers (and Westerners especially) is badly broken. It has stagnated for years with schools popping up all over the city using nothing more than copied textbooks from the original Union Thai Language School. Sometimes the only difference is the cover of the book!

I’m not saying the Union Method doesn’t work. Time and time again I’ve pointed out that their methodology turns out more proficient foreign speakers of Thai than any other method out there, period, end of story. Even the illustrious uni known as Chula teaches Thai that way. Sadly (for us learners of Thai) there’s been no total overhaul of the materials for years. The vocabulary is antiquated, the lessons don’t build on each other, and the advanced materials come from the Stone Age.

In saying that … I will speak up in the defence of several schools: Rak Thai Language and Duke Language especially. They took the tired material and re-worked it, putting it head and shoulders above the old stuff. But, it’s only a matter of time before contemporary Thai study material appears on the market. The new method will use the technology of today, in a way that revolutionises how Thai is taught. It’s coming soon. I know that for a fact. I’ve personally seen some of the material in the development stage.

What can you do? Unfortunately what’s out there is what’s out there and that’s that. So you’re either gonna use what’s available or you’re gonna come up with your own way to learn Thai. And that’s what some of the advice in this post is all about: Using what’s available in this day and time.

Finally, here we go!

Age and sex of students…

One of the most interesting things found in the data was that neither age nor sex seemed to play any role in a student’s ability to learn Thai. There was a good make-up of males and females and a broad age range of people from their early 20’s to their late 60’s (even older) of both Westerners and Asians. From what the teachers told me, age doesn’t affect anyone’s ability to learn the language at all. That at every school included in this data review, old people seemed to learn as easily as the younger students.

My personal experience: The b/s excuses you read on every forum concerning learning Thai where Westerners parrot out “I’m too old”, “I’m not good at languages”, “I can’t hear the tones”, blah-blah-blah were just plain and simple not represented in the feedback from teachers at ANY school.

What can you do? Stop using your advanced age and (supposed) inability to learn languages as excuses and start learning Thai already! And of course, if you are deaf, there’s obviously going to be a problem. But for the rest of you, get off your butts and ramp up your listening time!

Hemispherical origin (a polite way of saying ethnicity!)…

What started to come to light was, hands down, Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc) learned the Thai language far better than Westerners. ANY Westerners!

On further reflection of this conundrum, in the data I did come to a conclusion of sorts. Asians as a rule are less question driven in their education systems and lean more towards rote learning. Also, Asians accept any teaching methodology without question. But, due to our question driven education system, Westerners sometimes try to buck the methods (especially rote) that are often used here to teach Thai.

What can you do? Face it. If you aren’t Asian, you’re unlikely to be able to change your learning mindset overnight. So when you do go to take in the material presented, be as open-minded as you can. Try and adopt a less question driven strategy and go for rote. Go with the flow. If just for now.

Speaking multiple languages…

Another interesting point made was that the more languages a Westerner knows that use a Latin based alphabet, the harder it is for them to get Thai to click. Now, I know some of you will come out in force against this, but again, that’s what I got from talking to the teachers. I don’t know why the data shows this but it clearly did.

I do think it’s possible that studying a multitude of Latin languages gets in the way with learning Thai somehow. It’s not so bad in the early speak via karaoke part of learning Thai (like is taught in 99.99% of the schools) because they use transliteration (karaoke), which is mostly legible to English speakers. It only becomes an impediment when a Westerner makes the leap from learning to speak Thai via karaoke, to actually reading the Thai script. The teachers mentioned that at this point Westerners come off the rails, learning far slower than their Asian counterparts.

From my study, the best Western learners are those who only speak their mother tongue, or at most another language closely related to English. The best Asian learners mostly know their mother tongue, although they oftentimes possess fairly proficient English language skills too. Compared to Westerners knowing more than one Western language, Asians who knew other Asian languages didn’t have a problem.

What can you do? Perhaps you speak more than one language that uses the Latin alphabet, and good on you if you do. BUT, do note that learning the Thai script will take a slightly different mindset than what is needed for French, Spanish, Polish, etc. So when you do enter a classroom to learn Thai, be prepared ahead of time for differences. Don’t fight it.

Impediments to learning…

The anecdotal data I gleaned in the meetings with teachers hands down showed that there were two big impediments to Westerners learning Thai. One is that Westerners often over-sold or completely overestimated their ability in Thai. Meaning, they went into the school saying, “I’m not a beginner!” “I can read Thai already!” “I want Thai script only textbooks!” Yet when the teachers tested these students, turns out the students couldn’t speak or read Thai to the level needed to keep up in their chosen class. Asians, on the other hand, had no trouble admitting they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Also, some Westerners were adamant that they weren’t beginner level students, to the point they became confrontational, even when they could see from the informal interview they were basic Thai speakers (and that, only when under spoon-fed conditions).

The Thai teachers said that even when they tried to sell beginner courses as a refresher/review, few Westerners would go for it. Conversely, Asian beginners of Thai bought right into the premise that you start learning things at the beginning, not partway thru. When Westerners forced schools to let them into the intermediate classes, they were left in the dust because they just didn’t have the foundation they should have. Rather than suck it up and admit the truth, more than a few Western students turned the blame away from themselves by putting down the methodology, the school, the teacher, and even other students.

What can you do? Obviously, don’t overestimate your ability in Thai, period. If you can’t keep up, face the truth. Instead of pretending, start on book one page one and don’t progress into the next level until you really get it. Because believe you me, you ain’t fooling anyone!

The second really big impediment was that Westerners, to a person, thought they knew how Thai should be taught to Westerners. It is true that as adults we are fairly locked into the way we acquire new information. Some people are visual learners, some are tactile learners, some are aural learners, and some use all those avenues to learn new stuff. And equally important, rote learning goes against the Western grain.

What can you do? Sometimes the rules just plain don’t apply and this is one of those times. Attempt to be open to how the information is being presented, even if you think it’s not the right way. Give it a chance, a real chance.

I’m NOT saying to sign up at the first Thai language school you wander into. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the teaching Thai as a second language system is broken, or at least in a terrible state of disrepair and neglect. What I am saying is be open to the methodology used at a particular school and see if it jibes enough with the way you learn things. Do your due diligence, but don’t discount a school’s methodology right outta the gate. Well, you can discount one school’s methodology as total b/s, but at least give the rest of the schools out there a decent chance. Because seriously, until the changes come, that’s all there is.

Education level…

In regards to Westerners and their ability to get Thai to click, education levels seem to play a VERY important role. The reverse doesn’t appear to be true for Asians because no matter what education Asians have acquired, they learn Thai just fine. The data shows that where Westerners are concerned it’s almost an inverse proportion. The more education a person from the West has had, the less they take to Thai as it’s taught in schools. Westerners with a high school education or a bachelor’s degree learn Thai far easier than those with a Master’s or PhD. It also appears that foreigners with a ‘teaching anything’ background have more difficulties with learning Thai via the methodology available in today’s marketplace, than Westerners with degrees in non-teaching fields.

My personal experience: On the topic of education and Westerners learning Thai I have to agree with the teacher’s perceptions. I’ve ran into more than my fair share of Westerners with a high level of edu-ma-cation. In talking to some (not all of course) it’s clear they think they know best on how Thai should be taught to Westerners. And rather than taking personal responsibility for their failures, that it’s possible to be their own worst enemy, they instead blame the school, the teacher, the methodology, other students, or any distraction they can think up on why they can’t learn Thai. They even meet with the teacher or manager of the school between classes to offer suggestions on how teachers can improve how they teach. They also whine and cry about this or that on breaks with other students. Now, it’s fine for students to commiserate with one another on the difficulty of learning Thai, because for one, it can build classroom cohesiveness. It’s just that this particular demographic of student has often tried many schools, all the while not learning Thai. These kinda people are the bouncers I mentioned in Part One of Studentz-From-Hell.

What can you do? As with the discussion about Impediments to Learning listed above, even if you think it’s not the right way to learn, be open to how the information is being presented. Give it a chance. Remember, if you aim to learn Thai in a classroom setting, what other choice do you have?

Group versus private…

I looked at the subject of private versus group lessons using the same methodology, but there just wasn’t a big enough sampling of annoying students in the private section. This is because at most schools, in private classes students can tailor the lessons to the way they learn. While in groups, students are dragged along with the rest of the class and are more likely to kick up a fuss.

What can you do? If you do find yourself failing in a classroom setting, then do give everyone a rest (yourself included) by signing up for one-on-one lessons. The solution can’t get simpler than that.

Thai teachers…

Another complaint from the Thai teachers (ALL of them) was that some foreigners think that the reason they weren’t learning Thai is the teacher’s fault. There certainly are marginal and even extremely poor Thai teachers out there. But clearly, not every single foreigner who fails to learn Thai can point their finger at their teacher’s lack of skills.

What can you do? If you gave it the old college try with a teacher and it just plain ain’t working, switch teachers or schools even! You’ll certainly find out right away if your problem was the teacher, or you. Either way, a change of scenery is better than sitting thru an entire module seething.

Class size…

One thing I tried to pin the teachers down on was class size versus efficacy in their methodology. This was a touchy subject, especially when talking to the owners of the schools. Most schools employ teachers on a fixed monthly salary so whether they’re teaching a handful of foreigners or a group of 15, the hard cost to the school is the same. It was no surprise to me that the owners thought there was nothing wrong with cramming in as many students as there were chairs in every classroom. Because face it, the more students per class, the more their profit margin.

The teachers, on the other hand, totally disagreed with this premise. It had nothing to do with what the teachers are being paid and everything to do with the pride they take having students become proficient in the language. They all said that the best size for a group of students (Westerners and Asians) was between six to eight people at most. Group lessons are conversation or dialog based and they incorporate practice with other students or with teachers, and large classes fall way short of the mark as far as having enough useful practice time for each student.

My personal experience: I have witnessed the detriment a large class size (more than 10 people) can be to students. There’s just not enough of the teacher to go around and they’re pulled six ways from Sunday. In those early levels of learning it is crucial that the teacher has adequate coverage to correct pronunciation and structural errors EVERY time! With too many students in a class they just can’t do it. The teachers also can’t effectively keep that many students on topic either, so it becomes more like herding cats than teaching Thai.

What can you do? If you enrol in a group class (especially an intensive one) and there’s more than seven or eight people in the class, bail out! DON’T waste your money and your time! March right up to the front desk and inform them you’ll wait until either a new class starts or the next term rolls around. Again, stand up for yourself in this regard because it’s way important early on.

In summary…

I’ve tried to present the information from the data and the feedback I got from the teachers as accurately as I could. However, as is my penchant to do, I did ride some of my hobby horses as far as what I think works acquiring the Thai language. I am nothing if not opinionated, and that my opinion differs from yours is fine by me. I had more fun going to the schools, interacting with the staff, getting this information than I’ve had here in Thailand in ages!

Remember, Tod Daniels is NOT affiliated with ANY Thai language school. I’m about learning Thai by whatever means works for you.

Good Luck,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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Data Survey Part One: Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell

Say it Like a Thai Would

Thai Schools on the Studentz-From-Hell…

Awhile back I went to seven previously reviewed Thai schools. I asked the owners of the schools, the teachers, as well as the front desk staff, if they’d be interested in participating in an informal survey. I explained that I wanted to find out what they thought were the best and worst foreign learners of the Thai language.

Now, before you poo-poo this survey as just another hare-brained idea from Tod Daniels, or try and say my study sample is too limited, please let me explain. In just one of the schools, eight teachers contributing to the survey have taught Thai to non-native adult speakers a combined 128 years! That averages out to about 16 years experience apiece. And that was just at ONE of the schools I queried. The other schools are equally impressive, so if anyone is to be believed, it’s the Thais in the trenches.

Anyway, I set up meetings after school hours because there was no time to hash out this stuff during the short 10 minute breaks between classes. At the meetings I asked what they thought were the best learners of Thai versus what they thought were the worst learners of Thai. Surprisingly, every teacher was more than happy to offer their opinion. And often in a animated, humorous way, with anecdotes and stories of the Studentz-From-Hell. As you can imagine, a good time was had by all. Taking copious notes, I phrased questions in different ways to weed out spurious answers.

Some of the time I spoke in Thai, and some of the time in English. The mountain of information I gleaned was insightful (to me at least).

After I finished with the school owners and Thai teachers I then asked the front desk staff to start obliquely quizzing new students about what education level the students possessed, what other languages they spoke, and how old they were. Now, some of the schools were already doing this so it was just a matter of handing me a pile ‘o paperwork and letting me paw thru and take notes. But some of the schools never did this before, and now many do. So when you enrol in a Thai language school and they bug you for this stuff you can either thank or hate me for getting them to pry into your personal business.

After compiling the data I’d gleaned from the teachers I waited a couple months, then went back and met with the front desk staff to see what other information they’d accrued. I also revisited the teachers to see if they had more to add. We then reviewed my findings.

Thankfully, the fact that I was going to other Thai language schools as well didn’t come up even once. You see, I wanted as much cooperation as I could at each of these schools and I found out early on that the school’s owners didn’t like each other one little bit! Even though some are in the same building, have swapped out teachers on occasion, and the owners know each other, they can be awfully prissy when it comes to mentioning other schools.

Once I had the data I put it in a semblance of order. At first everything just seemed random, almost nonsensical. But after sorting it in different ways several issues appeared over and over. What threw me at first was that the information I gleaned from the various schools was presented in different manners. Once I realised this fact, I started making real progress.

Although I’m just gonna present what I found, you’ll be glad to know the results are based on the empirical data and the feedback I gleaned from the schools. Plus, I came up with a viable criteria to sort through it all.

Trust me. I didn’t make any of this up. And you can totally disagree with my findings, and that’s ok by me.

I gathered the below data on foreigners learning Thai, because plain and simple, I’m nosy about other students. Incredible as it may seem (what with my off-the-wall personality) I have a fairly good relationship with the Thai language schools scattered around Bangkok, that made compiling data not troublesome at all!

If you recognise yourself in this post, hopefully you’ll find my tipz-n-trickz a help in skewing the odds in your favour to learn Thai.

What are “STUDENTZ-FROM-HELL”?…

Studentz-from-hell: Plain and simple, students from hell are just that. Hell. They are students who refuse to accept they’re in class to learn. They are somehow unaware that they are in a roomful of other students, with what should be a competent teacher of Thai. These annoying students do whatever they can to make the class time drag out. Other students and the teacher end up miserable as well.

Classroom Commandeer-erz: These are students who monopolise and/or commandeer a class (much to the chagrin of the other students). For every one question asked by other students, they ask five inane and often unrelated questions. They constantly interrupt, interject, and unconsciously or not, become such a detriment to the other students that they are even ostracised during breaks! They make the teacher spend an inordinate amount of time on them and their issues rather than realising the other students deserve an equal share in the teacher’s time as well. This particular student would be better suited to private lessons, and in that way, they could bother a teacher to their heart’s content.

Non-participantz: The exact opposite of the Commandeer-erz, these students do not participate in class either with teachers or students. They often act miserable. I dunno, maybe they are miserable. What I do know is that a negative attitude, especially in something that has the potential of being difficult, is a losing proposition.

Why-erz: No, I’m not talking about mindless foreigners who wander around Thailand wai’ing every limbless beggar, 7/11 worker and Soi Dog! I’m talking about students who insist on asking “why” at every opportunity. In Breaking Down the Wall of Whyz (shameless plug) I pointed out that knowing the why behind the way things are in Thai doesn’t help you become more proficient in the language itself. It does give you tidbits of the background on the language, but unless you’re ever going to be on Jeopardy and the Thai language comes up, the knowledge doesn’t really help you progress.

Laterz & Skipperz: Laterz are people who waltz into class 10-15 minutes after it starts like it’s not a problem. They don’t know what lessons are being taught, and they disrupt the entire flow of the class when trying find the right page, etc. The Skipperz believe they can miss a couple days of class and still keep up. Now, I know once in a while we all have business to attend to and need miss a class or two. That doesn’t mean we can’t study what was covered so we can semi-participate in the next class. Both of these types of students are a detriment to other students who do manage to show up on time, and are doing their best to learn. Some schools have now implemented a policy of locking classroom doors 10 minutes after each class starts, forcing the Laterz to wait until the next hour to rejoin the class.

Teaching Expertz: Not surprisingly these are foreigners who think they are experts in how Thai should be taught in class. It’s true we all develop our own little tricks and tips which make Thai click for us. And there’s nothing wrong with sharing this information with the other students at an appropriate time, like on a break. However, if you were indeed an expert, you’d already speak Thai. Right?

Know-it-allz: This particular demographic of student just flummoxes me. They clearly have taken the level at least once, sometimes several times. They know the material inside, outside, upside down, in a box, with a fox, but they won’t advance themselves to the next level. I think they enjoy making us squirm in our seats as we stumble thru sentences mangling new words. Don’t confuse the Know-it-allz with people who take a level, but want to really make it stick so take it again. They know that each level builds on the previous and bluffing your way thru just ain’t gonna cut it.

Kibitz-erz: These are students who, no matter their nationality, clump together and whisper to each other in their own language during class. This is especially troublesome in lessons at schools which have ‘Thai ONLY’ rules. It is distracting to others trying to learn Thai.

Over Their Head-erz: As you might surmise these students bluffed or blustered their way into a level of Thai which is way beyond their current ability. They drag down a class pretty fast because they don’t have the foundation of material which was supposed to be learned in previous level(s). To accommodate, teachers try to draw a happy medium by teaching to neither the slowest nor the fastest learners, so this type can easily kill the flow of a class.

Technoz: These are students who are glued, and I mean glued, to their mobile devices. They check their dictionary apps for every permutation of a Thai word and get totally lost in their searches. It results in being unable to keep up with what’s going on in class. I’m all for using tech. And there’s certainly no shortage of really good Thai dictionary apps out there. I just suggest that people use their class time wisely by getting the most out of it at the time. There’s plenty of time during break and after class to look deeper into a subject.

Interrupterz: These are not people who interrupt in class with questions. These are students who just will NOT turn off or mute their mobile devices! They’re constantly getting and responding to SMS’s, Facebook updates, and conversing with people on Line. They drive me up a wall. They also take phone calls in the classroom, walking out to chat and then wandering back in again. Now, I know that some of you are in business here, and that’s great, but you have no business learning Thai in a group setting if you can’t go 50 whole minutes without communicating with the outside world. I was sitting a class just the other day and a student got a phone call. He answered it, talked IN the classroom for two or three minutes like it was nothing. That is just plain poor form and I think at the very least the teacher should have called him on it.

Rusherz & Blurerz: These are students who have an adequate command of the vocabulary being covered in a particular module or lesson plan but for some reason spit out what they want to say so fast, so incoherently, that even the teacher has no idea what they just said. I had this particular affliction when just starting to speak Thai. It was almost as if I needed to get out what I wanted to say as fast as I could. I didn’t care if it was right or wrong, I just felt the overpowering need to spit it out. It ended up coming out like a blur of jumbled up syllables. Tip: take a deep breath, slow down and try to enunciate what you’re saying. This will let the teacher hear enough of what you are trying to say to correct you (and that’s a good thing).

Mice or Whisper-erz: These are students you can barely hear. They seem to purposely lower the volume when they’re speaking Thai. It’s frustrating to the other students and to the teacher as well. I know we’re all hesitant about having other people hear us speak Thai, especially when we are at the “I speak sucky Thai” stage. But that’s part of the learning curve. There is no wrong when learning conversational Thai. It isn’t a test. Do the best you can to practice what you’re learning, and speak up so the teacher can correct you.

Bouncerz: These students bounce from one school to another, trying method after method, book after book, and program after program, yet still can’t get Thai to click. I’ve met a LOT of this kind of students and to a person they’re primarily westerners NOT Asians. It’s almost as if the westerners are trying to find the school or the method which works for them instead of realising they have to adapt their learning to the available methods. These students often possess an eclectic vocabulary in Thai, but fall short on good Thai sentence structure.

Are you a “STUDENT-FROM-HELL”?…

Realising disruptive in-class behaviour is valuable for those trying to make their way thru the minefield that is the Thai Language. So, what can you do if you have a particular personality trait that lumps you into one or more categories? Do take note of it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it. The second step is actually doing something about it.

Anyone who’s studied Thai in a group setting has met at least one, perhaps more of the studentz-from-hell that I’ve outlined above. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below – I’d love to hear all about it!

Next I’ll cover the school data in-depth, breaking it down by category.

Good Luck,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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Learn Thai With Mod

Learn Thai With Mod

Learn Thai With Mod…

Adjima (Mod) is just as cute as can be. Agreed? So when I came across her YouTube channel, ThaiwithMod, I just had to share it with my buddy Scott, the connoisseur of all things Thai. After poking around, we were both of the opinion that Adjima’s presentation is fun and her enunciation clear, making her YouTube channel perfect for newbies to the Thai language.

Learn Thai with Mod, fun & easy!…

I recently added a Thai teachers section in the top nav on WLT (the Learn Thai via Skype: Locating Teachers and Schools link is there too). As I was chuffed with Adjima’s method of teaching, I asked if she wanted to be included. And she did. She also sent over the below information, perfect for this post:

I was born in Bangkok and grew up in Nakornsithammarat in Southern Thailand, and then later on again I moved back to Bangkok for my studies. After having graduated from Thammasat University, I spent the following four years in international auditing roles which contributed a great deal for my approach to teach my business clients. Throughout those years in the corporate environment I felt my real calling is teaching, which I first started in a language school and now with my own business for the past year.

I really enjoy the interaction with my students and meeting people from around the world. I am delighted with my students’ improvement and enjoy working together towards mutually agreed goals. I tailor my courses according to the need of the students whether they are beginner level people visiting the country or more advanced students wanting to learn Thai for business purposes.

I deliver one-to-one training which I believe is the most successful formula when learning a language as complex as Thai. My goal is to try and incorporate the latest technology and materials into my courses, whether it is supportive online services or Skype training for overseas people and business people with busy schedules or travel commitments.

I use materials from Paiboon Publishing which is range from beginners to advance level and tailor made materials to apply to the level of the students and their needs. I always prefer meeting the student one-to-one whether it is on-line or off-line for a complimentary session to find out what the student wishes to achieve and how we can best work together.

If you want to take Thai lessons from Adjima (Mod) either in person or via Skype, her contact details and information are below:

Adjima Thaitrong (Mod)
YouTube Channel http://www.youtube.com/user/ThaiwithMod”>ThaiwithModv
Website: Learn Thai With Mod
Location: Thailand
Times:  8 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Friday (Bangkok Time +7 GMT ICT Time Zone)
Pricing: 400 Baht per hour. 30 hrs: 12,000 Baht, 60 hrs: 23,000 Baht, 90 hrs: 33,000 Baht
Payment method: Paypal or cash payment
Teaching materials:  Benjawan Poomsan Becker books Paiboon Publishing and tailor-made materials

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Interview with Thai Skype Teacher Khun Narisa Naropakorn

Study Thai Online

Interviewing a Thai Skype teacher…

When I got stuck into the research for the Skype series, the basic benefits of learning Thai via Skype weren’t that difficult to suss. Especially for a hermit such as myself! But as I was fairly clueless about what happens on the other side of the connection, interviewing a Thai Skype teacher was a logical next step.

I chose to interview Bangkok-based Skype teacher Khun Narisa due to her megga positive student reviews. To show you what captured my attention, here are a few kudos: Kudos to Khun Narisa Naropakorn.

Interviewing Khun Narisa Naropakorn…

Khun Narisa, please tell us about your teaching background.

Khun Narisa NaropakornI was born in Bangkok, therefore my accent is the Bangkok standard.

My late father was a journalist who also owned a bookstore, so as a child I had plenty of opportunity to read up on a wide range of subjects. In many ways, my literary background paved the way for me to teach the Thai language to foreigners.

I graduated with an English Major (B.A.), and as a result, explaining the differences between Thai and English became a strong point in my teaching.

Later, I joined the U.S. language and cultural training program for Indochinese refugees in 1983 (The Consortium, Phanat Nikhom Chonburi, Thailand). Following the American method, I learned how to teach language and culture to adults.

I have been teaching Thai to foreigners for 19 years and I started teaching via Skype seven years ago. With Skype I’ve been able to expand internationally.

What are the differences between teaching Thai and western students?

When I teach English to Thai students, I instruct them to enunciate the ends of their words. When I teach Thai to foreigners, I have to tell them to close their lips, faster than the wind; they have to compete with the wind.

For Thai students learning English, only 20% ask questions. The remaining 80% sit quietly, waiting for me to speak. But when teaching westerners, our roles are totally changed as they speak up first, and I’m the one listening quietly.

I’ve developed an interest in teaching methods and learning styles. So, how do you teach languages?

To understand how my students learn, I ask them to take one or two learning styles tests: VAK and Myers & Briggs. And when I teach, I use my own learning style, which is a combination of visual and audio.

With Fleming’s VAK model, there are three main learning styles: visual, audio, and kinesthetic. I am mostly visual as I cannot learn without seeing. My second strength is audio, because I also learn while listening.

Wikipedia: Fleming’s VAK model is one of the most common and widely-used categorizations of the various types of learning styles. Fleming claimed that visual learners have a preference for seeing (think in pictures; visual aids such as overhead slides, diagrams, handouts, etc.) Auditory learners best learn through listening (lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.). Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to learn via experience—moving, touching, and doing (active exploration of the world; science projects; experiments, etc.). Its use in pedagogy allows teachers to prepare classes that address each of these areas. Students can also use the model to identify their learning style and maximize their educational experience by focusing on what benefits them the most.

If you are curious, take the test to see for yourself: VAK Learning Styles Test.

With each new student I start off using my natural teaching style. From past experience I know that the personality type I see most often is visual, so my style suits most students coming to me. And if my teaching style and the student’s learning style works well together, then I continue on no problem.

But with some students I find the need to adjust my teaching style. To get insight into how these types of students learn, I ask them to take the Myers-Briggs test. I do this because the student might miss out on 20-30% of the class if I don’t adjust my teaching style to suit their particular learning style. But I do not use Myers-Briggs with everyone, only in cases where I sense a need.

Myers & Briggs: Teachers who vary their teaching styles after learning about personality type often find they can motivate and teach a wider range of students, because they are appealing to all preferences.

If you are interested in finding out about Myers-Briggs, check out these resources:

To teach, I follow the student-centered method explained in this article by Texas Collaborative:

Texas Collaborative: Student-centered teaching focuses on the student. Decision-making, organization, and content are largely determined by the student’s needs and perceptions. Even assessment may be influenced or determined by the student. The instructor acts as coach and facilitator. In many respects, the goal of this type of teaching is the development of the student’s cognitive abilities… student-centered teaching leads to “better retention, better transfer of knowledge to other situations, better motivation for further learning, and better problem–solving abilities… Active participation by students helps them construct a better framework from which to generalize their knowledge.

What do you see as the main benefits of learning via Skype?

  1. Saves time (no travel time to and from class).
  2. Saves energy (fighting Bangkok traffic can be tiring).
  3. Saves petrol (gives a smaller carbon footprint).
  4. Saved records (chat + recordings).

How are your Skype teaching methods different from face-to-face?

Both use the same structure and order in teaching. But with the audio recordings and chats, Skype offers the opportunity to keep better records of each lesson. And the sound quality can be less cluttered using Skype because the class is being recorded computer to computer, not in a room where external noises often crowd in.

How are your Skype classes set up?

Skype has two tools I use to teach Thai:

  1. The chat box, where the students and I type in both English and Thai.
  2. The second party recording software that automatically records each lesson.

I do not use Skype’s video because it can disrupt my student’s concentration. And sometimes it slows down the internet connection, interrupting the class.

My online Skype lessons are one hour long. I advise beginning Thai students to sign up for a minimum of two classes a week for six months straight (canceling classes does not count). For those who do not have pressing engagements (work, school, etc), three to five three times a week is preferable. After six months of learning regularly, or when both of us feel they are comfortable with the Thai language, classes are cut back to once a week.

To get the most out of the course, students are expected to study three hours on their own for every one hour Thai lesson with me.

What happens during a typical Skype class?

Beginners: This level starts out using transliteration or Thai script (their choice). Students are given instructions to learn the Thai alphabet on their own. For each lesson the student picks a subject interesting to them, but I will suggest if they prefer.

In the beginners class I also focus on sentence structure and the pronunciation of tones. Some students come to me as basic beginners, while others have some knowledge of Thai vocabulary but their pronunciation is sometimes not quite right. And as I feel it’s important to get the tones down before moving on to other aspects of the Thai language, we concentrate on tones.

For all levels, if requested I keep 15 minutes spare at the end of the class to rerecord any key elements discussed during the lesson (vocabulary, phrases, etc). Doing this benefits both Skype and face-to-face students.

Intermediate students: This level is taught using Thai script only, no transliteration. Students paste Thai phrases about subjects interesting to them into Skype’s chat box and I correct their mistakes, explaining grammar if necessary. I also create sentences patterns for them to work with. Conversations are practiced towards the end of the class.

For homework, students study the new phrases and vocabulary, create sentences using the sentence patterns, as well as prepare new sentences for the next class.

The intermediate level is where I work with students studying for the 6th Grade Thai Language Proficiency and Permanent Residency tests.

Advanced students: For conversation, we talk on a variety of topics occurring in real life situations with Thai people. We also discuss current events.

I find that students at this level are more interested in the different usages of words having almost the same meaning, but not quite. Learning how to use these types of words correctly helps students sound fluent in Thai. Advanced students are often perfectionists, so we spend the time needed to iron out the small details of the Thai language.

For reading and writing we read real news and websites. We also write stories, letters, emails, and more.

How do you teach reading via Skype?

For all levels, I create exercises to strengthen reading and comprehension skills based on their lives (stories about themselves, their friends and family). I also add real life reading materials (menus, street signs, etc). A part of the class is spent discussing the reading materials. Advanced students graduate to the more difficult Thai newspapers and magazines.

How do you teach writing via Skype?

With writing lessons my students use Skype’s chat box, typing in Thai. For handwriting they can show their finished work for to me to correct, but to save them money, I prefer that my students practice on their own using children’s books.

And I’d like to take this time to point out that I’m the queen of time saving strategies. I don’t like to waste time, so whatever I can assign my students to do in their own time, I do. Especially as it’ll save their Thai study budget. I’d rather have my students come to me for the heart, the secret, the real tips of learning the Thai language. It is more important for me to have Thai students who are no longer with me, because successful students become my public relations people :-)

Khun Narisa has a quote close to her heart:

Every learner has their own gems inside. It is up to the teacher to find and polish those gems. To do that, the teacher must adjust their teaching style to match the student’s learning style.

Using her experience with teaching Thai online and off, Khun Narisa is writing a course book. It’s due to be published next year (I’ll keep you posted).

Kudos from Khun Narisa’s students…

Khun Narisa has many students (former and present) acting as her public relations people. I came across excellent reviews online at Language-school-teachers.com. And one of her students, Helge Østensen, created a site with the knowledge he’s gaining from Khun Narisa: Thai Tones (now password protected).

Wanting to have a chat with a few of Narisa’s students, I contacted Tracy and Anthony.

Tracy
K.Narisa’s teaching style is definitely unique because it’s so personalized. For example, initially K.Narisa had me take the Myers-Briggs personality test. After getting the understanding of what kind of learner I am, the lessons are then suited to what really works for me. Studying with K.Narisa in this way is definitely a different experience than studying in a one-size-fits-all classroom. And above all, I know that when I have a lesson with K. Narisa, I will get a few laughs in besides! (สนุกมากๆ) :-)

I have only great things to say about Khun Narisa and her teaching style. Before I studied with K. Narisa, I studied Thai in a classroom setting and learned the basics of reading, writing & speaking. However, I had very little confidence when speaking. Learning with K.Narisa via Skype allowed me to practice speaking in a safe, controlled environment and get all of those embarrassing mistakes out of the way in the privacy of my own home!

Also, since we use the chatbox, I get to practice typing in Thai. At first, it was painfully slow to hunt-and-peck all of those squiggly little lines that were hiding all over the keyboard, but K. Narisa is very patient and eventually I improved.

I would definitely recommend K. Narisa to anyone looking to take their Thai to the next level.

Anthony
I’ve been learning Thai using Skype with Narisa for about 14 months now. I hadn’t heard of it until I saw Narisa’s advert on a website and she mentioned it as a way to learn.

I’m glad I found it as a way to learn as it’s so easy to use and the calls are free. Apart from the obvious time difference between the UK and Thailand there isn’t a downside IMO. It’s just like talking to someone in the UK on the phone. I just purchased a Skype headset, installed Skype, added Narisa as a contact and was ready to start learning straight away.

Currently I am learning twice a week. 1.5 hours speaking and 1 hour reading atm which I feel is enough for me. I used to do more but as my knowledge and speaking and understanding have increased I felt I didn’t need to do as much.

Narisa is a very patient and methodical teacher who goes the extra mile in helping her students progress and reach their goals. As an experienced teacher, Narisa knows how to tailor her teaching methods to suit each individual student to gain the maximum results. She is able to communicate effectively with good English to help you understand and answer any questions you may have during lesson time which is essential.

I have embraced what Narisa has taught me so well and used my new found Thai speaking skills to communicate effectively when on trips to Thailand. It’s a shame that Narisa isn’t there to see my progress first hand whilst I am speaking with other Thai’s, to see how much she has helped my progress in this challenging but beautiful language.

If you’d like to study Thai with Khun Narisa, please contact her through her website: Thai Skype Teacher.

How to learn Thai via Skype, the series…

This post is part two of an eight part series.

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Learn Thai with Bon: First YouTube, now Blogger and Skype

Learn Thai with Bon

Bon: The new Thai YouTube kid in town…

Noticing her new learning Thai videos on YouTube, I contacted Bon Ratta back in February, for a mid-March post. But… the Red Shirts happened – something is always happening in Thailand, yes? – so I’m coming in late. Again. Apologies Bon!

In Learn Thai the Bon’s Way, Thai native Bon takes a sometimes wacky approach to teaching Thai. When I asked about her aims, she replied:

I have walked the streets of foreign cities where signs gave no meanings. I have been in plenty of parties where I knew nothing of what was being said around me. I am once again facing it and loving it here in Trondheim, Norway, where I’ve recently relocated to. But I was thinking, what about those who are facing the same problem as I am back in my homeland? It’s the least I can do to help make their stay a little bit easier. And what could be a better medium than Youtube?

For me, learning a new language means losing a bit of your identity. Sounds scary to some people, I know, but that really is the attitude you want to be equip yourself with when adopting a new tongue. In my lessons, I want people to get into a character as a Thai-speaking person. If you’re thinking that you’re an American attempting to speak Thai, you are going to sound exactly like one. Now, if you’re imagining yourself as a Thai, you’re already halfway there.

I try to introduce the lessons in sequence, like building blocks. I want the students to be able to form their own sentences rather than memorizing them from textbooks like a parrot. Fixed formula sometimes helps, but there’s really no learning in it. So, immerse yourself in a Thai-speaking environment if you could and get in the character!

There are a number of learning Thai videos on YouTube. Some are one-off, others offer a handful of Thai lessons and then disappear. But Bon’s been busy. Really busy.

In the month plus since I made contact, she’s added many more videos: 35 in total (btw – not all of the videos on her channel are about learning Thai, so dance around if that’s your aim). And to round up the lessons, Bon created a Learn Thai the Bon’s Way blog, where she’s offering Thai lessons on Skype too.

Bon Ratta: In this site, you’ll find all my youtube lessons plus more written explanation for each lesson. All my new lessons can only be viewed here in this blogs. We are adding non-vdo lessons here because I sometime can not produce the vdo lessons as fast as I would like to, to meet all the requested topics from the facebook fanpage and youtube :)

Bon has also been equally busy with her new site: JaideeTV/ใจดีทีวี

Rikker Thai 101: Bon is known for her blog and video series, Learn Thai the Bon’s Way. But this month she started a new website, JaideeTV/ใจดีทีวี, on which she spoofs modern Thai culture.

So, what will Bon get up to next? I’m not sure. But like others, I’ll be watching to see…

Where you can find Bon:

Bon making the rounds on the Internet:

Well done Bon :-)

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