Monday, September 8, 2014

One Month In: A Short Picture Book and Musings on Language Learning

This is my life right now...

Every morning I wake up at seven thirty to go to work. But it's okay, because I wake up to this...


I teach outside of the city, but it's okay because I like the quiet. When I'm anxious for culture, I can go here

 
 
Or see this.
 
 
 
I get lost amid statues,
 

 
 
pay respects on the way,
 
 
have lunch on a boat dock
 
 
or buy jars made from clay.
 
 
If I need a reminder of why I came so far away from home, I find it in God's simple pleasures, like a mooncake, a coconut, or a trip to Silom.
 
 
 
Of course life isn't like this every day. This pictures were taken almost a month ago. I'm going on week four of teaching, and that is an adventure in itself! But I needed a reminder this morning of just how magnificent Thai culture really is. You can never boil it down to little quips and phrases, and I refuse to do so. To try to understand Thai culture from the perspective of a foreigner, a "farang," is like trying to guess the color of a fruit flesh's without peeling the skin. It's impossible to know.  Thailand has a huge tourism industry; everywhere I go I see tourists, mostly Westerners. Bangkok has a massive ex-pat retiree community and many more sex tourists. (For more information on the sex trade in Thailand, go here.) One of the biggest complaints I hear is that Thai people don't understand Westerners. For English teachers like me, it can be frustrating trying to communicate in a language that many people don't understand or seem motivated to learn. Indeed, Thailand is ranked near the bottom of Southeast Asian countries for English speaking ability. Many are concerned about the effects this will have on Thailand and its economy with the launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) incentive in 2015. After all, the official language of Asean will be English--not so much to communicate with the Western world, but to communicate with each other. Isn't it curious that English is becoming the common language of the Asian world?
 
I could go on and on about the sociocultural implications of a world gone mad with English fever. For a wonderful Ted talk on the subject, click here. But the fact still remains that millions of Thais speak little to no English in an economy increasingly reliant on foreign (mostly English-speaking) tourism.
 
So should they learn?
 
Many of my students are here because they want to take over a family business, work in tourism or work with foreigners, and they know English will allow them to get there. But my students--university students in general--area small percentage of the population, most of which exists in the rural provinces of the country.  I know nothing about the schooling system in Thailand, except that it is compulsory. I do not know the level of English language teaching in the school system. But classes are obviously conducted in Thai--the native language to so many.
 
Which leads me back to the question: should Thai people learn English to communicate with foreigners or for international business? For the latter, perhaps, but I'll skip that debate for now. How about the former: foreigners? Tourists? Visiting English professors?
 
Or should we learn Thai? Wouldn't that be more helpful?
 
Or maybe a little of both?
 
So much upset in one's daily life--regardless of location--comes from miscommunications that get blown out of proportion. It seems to me that this can be easily remedied through language learning, not just Thai speakers learning English, but English speakers learning Thai (like myself). I feel frustrated when I can't connect more deeply with someone because of a language barrier. This is something I want to change. But I think there needs to be more emphasis on language learning, as opposed to just English language learning. If language learning is one-sided, there can be no cultural exchange, only cultural domination. This is not what the world needs.
 
My goal for this year, before I arrived, was to learn how to be a teacher. I am learning, but I'm realizing that building relationships with my students--and anyone else from Thailand, for that matter--requires more work on my part, because I have to find ways to put myself in their shoes...and their sandals :)
 
I think learning language is a beautiful way to do that.

 
 
 
 

No comments:

Post a Comment