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To speak English or not to feel colonised, what is the question?

Pattaya One

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A-Fool-in-Paradise-web-pic1-210x300.jpgBritain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair made a three-day visit to Bangkok in January and kicked off the Thai government’s 2012 English Speaking Year programme.

The programme “aims 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.  This program will be initiated in schools and involve plenty of academic activities.  These activities will let teachers and students have opportunities to speak English and build up their confidence in using it without excessive concern about grammatical errors ... one day a week teachers and students should do academic activities together by speaking in English.  The Ministry of Education will provide an English preparation course for teachers as well.”

The reason for Thai academia suddenly paying lip-service to the English language is because academics and industrialists have warned that, “Thailand may find itself at a disadvantage because of inferior English skills when Southeast Asia becomes a single community.  The launch of the ASEAN Community in 2015 will see a free flow of professionals and skilled workers among the ten member states (Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia).”

Thais will be able to look for jobs outside the country but they will have to brace themselves for challenges from regional competitors over positions in multinational and international organisations based in Thailand that require English as the working language.

“If we want to be able to compete with other Southeast Asian countries, we have to start at universities now,” said Mr Paron, the president of the Darunsikkhalai School for Innovative Learning.  “Most Thai students coming out of universities cannot communicate in English,” he said.

The secretary-general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission admitted that English skills were not a competitive advantage for Thais but hoped the country still had enough time to prepare itself for the eventual change.

“We have a problem with the English language.  Countries such as Singapore and the Philippines hold an edge,” Mr Chinnapat said at a forum on Thai education and the ASEAN Community held in September.  “We still have three years to go to produce qualified personnel.”

This all sounds wonderful but the Thai Olde Guard of Ultra Nationalists is kicking and screaming.  Back in October 2010, the Education Ministry scrapped a plan to make English the country’s second language, saying it could lead to misunderstandings that Thailand had been colonised in the past.

“The ministry had carefully considered the proposal and found it might lead to misunderstandings among people and agencies responsible for implementing the policy.  Other countries that have declared English a second official language were normally viewed as former colonies.”

The ministry will make English the main foreign language instead of the second official language, the Education Minister said.

WILL YOU PEOPLE JUST GET OVER IT!  So you weren’t officially colonised?  So bloody what?  You were, at various times, conquered by the Burmese, the Khmer and the Japanese.  The fact that none of them wanted to hang around long enough to make Siam a colony is just pure luck.  I really wish that at some point one invading warlord or general had carved the words, “I hereby declare Siam to be a colony of …” deep into a giant stone.  That would have settled the matter once and for all and we could all move on.

What of the countries that were colonised?  The citizens of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Hong Kong don’t currently walk around wailing, gnashing teeth and lamenting the day the first British gunboat laid anchor off their shores.  Ok, the Vietnamese and the Cambodians may not feel the same way about the French, but they are well over it now.  The best bread in Southeast Asia is baked in Cambodia and Vietnam thanks to the French (I am going to wash my mouth out with soap!)  And the Vietnamese and Cambodians, in general, speak English to a greater extent than Thais.  They don’t seem to fear the world will think they were colonised by the British.

InPattayaNow?d=yIl2AUoC8zA InPattayaNow?d=qj6IDK7rITs

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