Link to Language Learning in SIL

Thai Language Learning
Framework and Forum
by
John Hartmann
jhartman@niu.edu

Introduction: This Thai Framework  will cover the following topics: 

Short survey of Thai programs:  student enrollments, teaching personnel, teaching materials and  methods, problems in the field and suggested solutions.
Overview of the Thai Language
Language Learning Continuum
Expected Level of Absolute Speaking Proficiency in Languages Taught at The FSI
ACTFL-Based Proficiency Guidelines for Thai
Issues in Learning Thai
Resources for Learning Thai: Printed;  Multimedia; World Wide Web
Hot Links to Useful Web Sites

A preliminary document, Thai Language Learning Framework and Forum, is part of a larger project that is outlined in a separate document entitled  Southeast Asian Language Learning Framework (Version for Teachers and Other Professionals).   The latter is a detailed statement that is divided into the following components:   I. The Learners and the Learning Process; II. What Learners Need to Learn About the Target Language and Culture; III. The Learning Environment; Appendix:  Selected Bibliography of Books on Language Learning Written for the Learners.  It is hoped that readers of these documents will submit ideas, comments, and materials as a contribution to what should be an on-going, organic enterprise available to all learners and instructors of Thai on the World Wide Web.  By default, the information is based almost exclusively on the state of Thai studies in the U.S.  

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr. Terisita Ramos and Dr. Carol Compton, recent presidents of COTSEAL, for their spearheading efforts in organizing and funding the "Southeast Asian Language Learning Framework" project.  Equally gratifying is the contribution that colleagues in the field provided in workshop discussions and over the internet.  This document has many authors.  In particular, I want to express my appreciation to those who took the time to send me e-mail descriptions of their Thai programs.  Their individual narratives are an interesting, often colorful, read, and there are many lessons to be learned and insights to be gained from this collection of testimonials.  Those contributors include, in alphabetical order: 

W. Kesavatana-Dohrs (U. Washington, Seattle), Robert Bickner (U. Wisconsin-Madison), Ngampit Jagacinski (Cornell U.), Prawet Jantharat (FSI), Thomas Hudak (Arizona State U.), Susan Kepner (U.C.-Berkeley), F.K. Lehman (U. Illinois-Urbana-Champaign), Amy Meepoe (UCLA).


  I.  Short Survey of Thai Programs

The state of Thai language instruction on an American university campus in the decade of the 90's has been described in exquisite detail by Robert J. Bickner (1992) in an essay entitled, "Problems of Southeast Asian language Instruction:  The Case of Thai."  What he said then, holds true for the present and portrays a dramatic shift away from the recent past.  The most noteworthy change in Thai language programs in the U.S. is in the increase in the number of students enrolling in Thai whose cultural heritage and language background, to varying degrees of proficiency, is Southeast Asian: principally Lao, Hmong, Khmer, and Vietnamese.  At some institutions, students whose ethnic background is Japanese, Chinese or Korean also take Thai as a means of fulfilling a language requirement or meeting some other need.  At least half or more of the typical classroom population in university programs of the 90's are "Asian heritage students."  The remainder are a mix of ethnic backgrounds: Afro-American, Latin American, and European.  The new audience is a reflection of the increasingly multi-ethnic composition of American society.  In the case of the recent increase in Southeast Asian-American student populations, much of that upsurge can be traced to the influx of refugee populations following the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Vietnam in 1975 and the birth of a new generation that  began to enter college in increasing numbers in the 90's. 

A generation before that, the typical Thai language classroom was composed chiefly of a handful of largely Caucasian students who had some contact with Thais and Thailand as a result of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, or other activities such as the Peace Corps, missionary organizations, NGOs, or development programs.  The published materials that were designed to teach that generation are largely the same materials that are used today, but the new needs and problems are markedly different.  The photo below illustrates the changing scene of the Thai language learning landscape.   

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Photo of a beginning Thai class taken on the campus of Northern Illinois University in 1996 

In the spring of 1998, I conducted an informal e-mail survey of a handful of university and one government program.  The respondents were asked to describe their programs in terms of numbers of students, ethnic mix, needs and problems, materials and methods used, and suggested solutions. 

Needless to say, each instructor had their individual methods and materials based on their own training background, teaching experience, and student needs - as they see them.  Taken together, these reports are evidence of talent, thought, and energy at work, struggling to meet the many---often competing---demands of a highly heterogeneous classroom mix.  All of the approaches are responses to meet student needs, the   sine qua non of any foreign language learning enterprise.  By assembling the narrative descriptions of several university Thai programs here for the first time, an interacitve electronic forum for information, comparisons and discussion has been created.


Arizona State University

Enrollments:      Fall 1997:       Beginning-12;   Intermediate-4; Advanced-1; Independent Study-3.
                            Spring 1998: Beginning-8;  Intermediate-2; Advanced-1; Independent Study-2.
Comments:  Beginning and Intermediate are 5 credit hours; third year varies between 1-3 credits, depending on the student's wants.  Students are primarily undergrads, filling a language requirement (2 years), who have some interest, however fleeting, in Thailand.   Many have traveled to Thailand.  Heritage students are beginning to turn up, but certainly not in the numbers as in the case of the Vietnamese.
TextbooksAUA Book I and II for the first year, with the Gething Reader for the second.  Third year students usually do reading from the Jones Cultural Reader or something of their own choosing.

Comments.
  Problems really begin to appear in the second year and flow into the third --- multiple levels so extreme in some cases that separate classes have to be set up.   I remember one year having to break the second year into 2 separate courses and teach double time.  No surprise, people with in-country experience are light years ahead of those who have only had in-class Thai. There is pressure from the higher administration to replicate enrollment figures that are like first year Spanish; and this failure to understand the unique problems for the Thai program means that native-speaker funding is cut. 


Cornell University   

Average enrollments since 1989 has been 15;   prior to that it was 5.  Most of the time there have been half grads and half undergrads.  In the past two years there have been more undergrads and heritage students.  Almost exclusively, authentic materials are used, in addition to visual aids and supplementary handouts.  The sole emphasis it to teach students to think in Thai.   All four skills are required for all levels. 

Comments:  The most difficult problem is the difference in proficiency levels in each class. I think the only way to solve this problem is to have more teachers.   But with the number enrollments we have, it is difficult to convince the administration.  


Northern Illinois University

Enrollments:  Fall Semester 1997:  Beginning level-20: 3 grads (1 Caucasian-American, 1 Khmer, Burmese); 17 undergrads (1 Thai-Filipina; 1 Khmer; 4 Lao-American; 1-Thai-Afro-American; 5 Afro-American; 5 Caucasion-American);  Intermediate level-3 (all grads - 1 Caucasian-American, 1 Indonesian, 1 Filipino); Advanced-1 (undergrad Caucasion-American); Directed Study-1 (grad-Caucasian-American).  Spring Semester 1998-Beginning-14; Intermediate-3; Advanced-2. Of the six students who did not continue with the second semester of Beginning Thai, 5 had Thai/Lao/Khmer background.  They were basically illiterate in Thai and picked up enough literacy in the first semester to satisfy themselves.  The other non-continuing member was a graduate student who was preoccupied in preparing for his graduate qualifying exams and preparing to leave to serve in the Peace Corps.

For the past several years, NIU has actively recruited minority students, many of whom come from inner-city Chicago, which has been notorious  for their neighborhood high schools.  Many of these students enter the university ill-prepared, have poor study habits and place their social life above scholastic pursuits.  Many also work part-time to support themselves.  They take Thai as a way of meeting the undergraduate foreign language requirement for the B.A.  For those with Asian backgrounds, they feel comfortable in the class and display confidence that they will get an A without much effort - some to the point of arrogance that non-Asian-background students find annoying.  Because of the ethnic mix in the classroom, there are many moments of tension over matters of racial sensitivity, and   I found that I needed to  monitor student behavior and  remarks in order to preserve harmony.

All of these considerable challenges aside, by making the class as "interactive" as possible, by the end of the first semester, all students can carry can carry on a simple conversation based on the first ten lessons of the AUA Thai Language Course Book I, and the first ten lessons of the Thai primary school reader that I simply refer to as "Maanii," following the name of the young girl who is the main character in the story. (The Maanii lessons have been put on the World Wide Web at www.seasite.niu.edu.)

Mondays and Wednesdays are devoted to the AUA book and the development of conversational skill based on the dialogs and the narratives that appear in every fifth lesson. Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to the Maanii materials. These same beginning level students will have finished the AUA Book I and the Maanii Book I by the end of the second semester. In addition, they can read an authentic Thai menu and order something from one. I invite students to have lunch at our local Thai restaurant to try Thai cuisine and their Thai language skills. I intentionally place a good deal of emphasis on Thai food prior to the conclusion of the course, knowing that the majority of these students will never visit Thailand, but the chances are good that they will go into a Thai restaurant at some point after leaving the university. In this way, the classroom experience connects to the real world, and the prospect of eating out in a real Thai restaurant is a motivating factor.

On Thursday, we take the last 15-20 minutes discuss and practice the contents of the exam in terms of a particular grammatical structure they may have learned the previous three days or a limited number of question types to elicit answers based on the material that was covered in either the AUA or Maanii lesson.

Every Friday we have a student-centered exam which requires each student to use three skills: speaking, listening, and writing, They write in Thai script only--- never in phonemics. At the outset, they learn to select words from a randomized list that they use in their answers. In effect, their writing at the outset is a combination of recognition and writing; they are not expected to learn to spell words memory, because then the quiz would be a test of spelling memory, which is too much of a burden for this type of mixed class. As the semester progresses, they are expected to write more and more from memory. Interestingly the questions they come up with are usually more imaginative than the one's that I have drawn up in the past. Many students, including the slower learners, take immense pleasure in creating questions that they feel are original or humorous. They actually look forward to "performing" on Fridays. Turn taking is never predictable on my part. Everyone sits in a semi-circle each day, and on Friday I may begin the with the student on the left, the right, or the middle. Each student is supplied with a single sheet of yellow "legal" paper and asked to write with a pencil so as to erase easily. Neatness is insisted on because beautiful penmanship is a highly valued part of Thai culture that must be taught. In the end, it becomes a source of pride for the student. Samples of these student quizzes are shown below.

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If time permits, following the Friday quiz, I will show a video or short film. Some Fridays during the second semester, I will play kareoke videos and hand out the lyrics for a sing-along. If there is not enough time on Friday, I will re-schedule the video (Thai sports, travel, cooking, culture) for the following Monday. I have considerable flexibility built in to my syllabus because each year's class varies considerably in the pace that I can push them and the amount of videos that I feel are appropriate. Several of the videos are ones that I have made during sabbaticals or other visits to Thailand: Songran in Roi Et, or a visit to a Muslim village in Pattani, for example.

At the outset of the course, students receive a syllabus along with a statement on the goals of the course in functional terms. Both statements appear below.


BEGINNING THAI COURSE SYLLABUS (Sample)

Syllabus: Beginning (Intensive) Thai-FLTH 103
Time: 2-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; DuSable Room 409
Instructor: Prof. John Hartmann
Office hours: 1-2 p.m. M-F & by appointment; Room 314 Watson
Telephone: 753-6462 (office); 758-5030 (home); email:
jhartman@niu.edu

Texts: AUA Thai Language Course, Book I (Fall) and selections from an authentic Thai Reader

Weekly Schedule

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Development of listening and speaking proficiency.
Tuesday,Thursday: Practice in reading and writing skills .

Course Objectives

The objective of FLTH 103-104 is to achieve an ACTFL (American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages) high-novice/low intermediate level of proficiency in using spoken Thai in realistic situations. Reading and writing proficiency will build on listening and speaking skills.
Performance (language use) objective are spelled out in a separate handout.

Multimedia Center

There will be a lab orientation to familiarize you with the resources of the new foreign language multimedia center. In the center you can use a set of audio tapes covering the AUA books that you can use for comprehension and speaking practice and other media and technology.

Evaluation/Grading

During the course of the semester we will have weekly quizzes every Friday (starting the second week) covering materials up to that point. These quizzes will determine 50% of your final grade. Homework, class participation, and lab work will constitute 20% of your course grade,
and 30% will be judged from your end-of-semester individual oral interview and final written exam.
At the end of the semester, each student will have a 1/2 hour interview with the instructor to demonstrate his or her level of listening and speaking comprehension that has been practiced in class, at home, and inthe language lab.

Grading scale: 90-100: A; 80-89: B; 70-79: C; 60-69:D; below 60: F.

Attendance

Daily attendance and active class participation is essential to skill learning, which is what learning a foreign language is. Class attendance will be recorded. You will have 5 days of unexcused absences. Beyond that, you will need a written excuse from your doctor, parent, or advisor. Unexcused absences in excess of 5 days will result in a lowering of your final grade one full grade. Come and discuss your problems with me early. At least give me or the department a call to
let us know what is happening.

FLTH 103-104 is an intensive language course, which means that the pace and performance expectations are twice as great as a normal 2-year 3-days-a-week course, such as Spanish or French. Your own motivation and hard work will be the keys to your success.

Problems

If you are having academic, health or personal problems, discuss them early. If you wait until the end of the semester or until after the final exam, there is little or nothing that can be done to assist you. I do not give Incompletes. Nor do I give make-up exams.


LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY GOALS

Suggested Achievement/Proficiency Goals for ThaiBased on ACTFL
Guidelines: First 140 classroom hours + Computer time + Homework

I. Listening and Speaking

At the end of the first year of intensive Thai (5 hours of classroom instruction/ week; 10 hours of homework/week; 2-3 hours of lab), which ideally should total approximately 200-250 hours of exposure to Thai, the student should be able to carry on a conversation to:

Name single Objects:

1. When asked, "What do you see?", be able to name some things in a room: pencil, pen, paper, book, chair, table/desk, door, light, blackboard, floor, ceiling.
2. Give their own name, names of family members.

Use Common Expressions and Polite Forms:

1. Hello/Good-bye. How are you?
2. Excuse me.
4. Thank you very much.
5. See you later.
6. Where are you going? and be able to answer, if asked.
7. Answer the question, "Who have you come to see/are you looking for?"
8. Say, "Excuse me. I don't understand."
9. Say, "Excuse me. Could you say that again?"
10. Say, "Excuse me. Do/can you speak English/Thai/ eat Thai food?"

Deal With Numbers:

1. Count from 1 to 1 million. Recognize and count Thai currency.
2. Tell time (official 24 hour and colloquial "moong" daytime), date, and year.
3. Know the 5 periods of daylight and some of the things you do: eat breakfast in the early morning, go to classes in the late morning, etc.
4. Give or find out addresses and telephone numbers.
5. Ask/tell someone their age, their birthdate, how many siblings they have.
6. Ask/tell someone how tall, heavy they are (in metric system).
7. Do some simple arithmetic and convert from A.D. to B.E. (Buddhist era) and to the metric system.
8. Count things using six basic classifiers for people, pencils, pens, paper, books, animals/clothing/furniture.

Give/Receive Directions and Street Locations:

1. How to walk from one place to another following a simple map.
2. How to get directions to a men's/woman's bathroom.
3. Tell right from left, up, down, in front, in back.
4. Looking at a cross-section of a house tell where rooms are, what is done in them, and who uses them.
5. Look at a map and say the names of streets that things are located on or where certain people live, work, eat, study: someone's house, a restaurant, barbershop, embassy, an intersection or traffic circle.

Talk About Colors:

1. Be able to look at pictures and tell what colors are shown, the colors that people are wearing, including one's own clothing.
2. Discuss one's favorite colors, the colors of one's hair and eyes.
3. Describe the colors of one's house.
4. Tell where the White House is located.

Give Simple Descriptions and Make Comparisons:

1. Tall-short; fat-thin, long-short; hot-cold; good-bad; big-little.
2. Who/ what is taller, fatter, hotter, better, bigger, etc.
3. Use the TOPIC + comment/question form in asking questions. as in:
"Of the Father and Son, who is taller?"

List at least 50 verbs/adjectives:

come, go, see, watch, look for, meet, encounter, sit, lie down, go get,
take something, take someone somewhere.

Use two word verbs (see AUA Lesson 17):

1. take something somewhere for someone.
2. take/lead/accompany someone or some animal to someplace within
reasonable distance.
3. take someone to a distant place and drop them off.
4. send something to somewhere for someone.
5. drop someone off someplace.
6. have someone do something.
7. do something for someone.

Know the positions/order [pre/post/main] and meanings of:

1. /daˆy/ ได้
2. /haˆy/ ให้
3. /pay-maa/ ไป มา
4. /yùu/ อยู่
5. /mii/ มี

Use "Heart Words":

1. happy
2. kind
3. satisfied
4. sorry

Use the Question forms:

1. Yes/No
2. Eh?, I assume.
3. And how about?
4. Negative interrogative.
5. A or B?
6. -----or not?
7. ------right?
8. --------I am (saying it) correct(ly)?
9. What?
10. Where?
11. Who/whose?
12. Why?
13. When?
14. How/in what way?
15. How much vs. how many?

Verbs with overlapping meanings:

1. to know something vs. someone/someplace/ vs. "polite know"
2. to ask for something or permission to do something, vs. to ask a
question.
3. to say, speak, tell.
4. to want something/want to do; have to-need to do vs. need something

Forms of "Please":

1. Please open the door.
2. Can I say something, please?

Pronouns, Names and Kinship terms:

1. I and you - formal when speaking to adults.
2. Lovers speaking to each other (e.g. in love songs).
3. Adult to child.
4. Parent or "relatives" to child and vice versa.
5. Teacher to student(s).
6. Kids with each other.

Talk about oneself:

1. Name.
2. Where you live.
3. Your family members and where they live.
4. Pets.
5. What you like or dislike: colors, foods, personalities, cities, states, countries, restaurants, movie stars, teachers, universities, politicians.
6. What you are doing this year.
7. What you will do next year or in the future.
8. Your love life/significant other.
9. Plans for having kids.
10. Where you would like to live, work in the future.

II. Reading and Writing

By the end of the first year of intensive instruction, the student will be able to read a Thai basic primer, common signs, an official Thai document that asks for basic personal information, and a simple restaurant menu. Writing proficiency expectations are limited to writing lists (e.g. foods, colors) and short phrases and sentences.


The highly-motivated student will make considerably more progress than the one with little interest and involvement. Below is a sample of a young woman who went to Thailand after having taking beginning-level Thai with me in 1993. She decided that she wanted to continue her study of Thai there and to receive university credit for it. So I told her to take pictures, write up dialogs and vocabulary lists centering around the photos and to submit her work to me for a grade. Her work and level of proficiency speaks for itself. She has demonstrated an ability to read, write, speak, and comprehend Thai at a solid intermediate level. Had she gone on with her Thai, in a couple more years, she would likely be at the superior level, all things considered.

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Go toThai Conversation and Vocabulary


University of California at Berkeley

Comments:  I used  Life and Language video tapes, etc, with a second-year class last year. I agree that they are very useful.  The students like them, but the "Farangs" found the people hard to understand.  As always, for the "Khon Thai" everything was a piece of "khanom," if you will.   They (the farang contingent, that is) watched them two or three (or more) times, first reading along [i.e., the script in the accompanying text] and gradually abandoning the reading.  The filmed segments were a little "scripty" but so much better than anyting else we've had.

Last semester, for the first semester novice class, I used Benjawan Becker's Thai for Beginners.  This book, which has just been revised to correct a number of "errors," is imperfect but very user friendly.  It worked well for our class.  More important, for those without access to a formal class who can find a Thai to practice with can do well with this book.  One may disapprove of the transliteration, because she dispenses with  /th/ and /k/ and so on, so that the book would be more widely usable.  She uses dt for /t/ and bp for /p/.  I don't mind this at all, and prefer it to hearing student say "pie tee-oh" forever, as in "pie" of "apple pie,"  which in my experience often afflicts people who started with the "official" transliteration system and depended upon it for months on end.  Her book has no pronunciation horrors like "ugh," and the like.  I try to get rid of the romanization as soon as possible.  And the students alwayss want to do this, as soon as they find out that that the Thai letter equivalents of /t/ + /aa/ = /taa/ 'eye', and that they can either learn one alphabet or two; and always, they choose to go with Thai orthography more or less cold turkey.  I must admit that at the beginning I keep the existence of things like "mahawithayaalay" [university] and "ongkaansahaprachaachaat" [The United Nations] to myself. 

For second year and other advanced students, I have used the Bangkok Post "translation series," from the Net.  The students liked these very much. They are not word for word; so much the better.  I have also made some "collections" of short stories, from the 1930s to the present.  These are too hard for most students, however. One class read WEELAA NAY KHUAT KAEW, by Praphassorn Sevikul. This was very successful (as far as we got) because it is about late adolescents, full of slang, and lots of dialogue. They took parts and read it like a play.  I have just begun to use the graded reader from ANU (in preference to Benjawan's THAI READER), and it seems very good. From very easy essays to long and difficult ones.  As ever, there is a problem bridging the gap between second-year texts and short stories/novels/newspapers. The ANU materials will be of  great help in this regard, I think.  I think having the students interview each other is a good idea. I   provide the topic and also the questions, which I construct so that after the big interview "schmooze-fest," I can ask questions. ("Khun Bob, what was Khun Ruth's favorite movie? Why?" and so on.) I've developed some hand-outs of conversational Thai, working with a Thai friend who also is a great Thai (and English) teacher. The students love them, but they are a little hard to use. They're great to learn from, but it's hard to use them in class. I'll be glad to supply a sample.  I find using Thai movies problematical. Mainly, they just depress the students who thought they were doing fine, and then feel hopeless sitting through a two-hour movie they can't understand.


University of California at Los Angeles

The Thai Program at UCLA is described in the following informal e-mail response from Amy Meepoe.  Amy taught Thai as a graduate teaching assistant, which is the case in many, if not most, university programs of the 90's.  She completed her doctorate in 1998, and, presumably, a new graduate student or temporary instructor, will take her place. Or, the teaching of Thai at UCLA could be dropped entirely. The growing tendency to hire temporary instructors or "native speakers" to teach Thai rather than tenure-track faculty sadly mirrors the way of the 90's:  downsizing and the hiring of "temps" or "contract" instructors.  In 1998 there are only five tenured professors of Thai in the U.S in the more than twenty universities that have centers, programs, or course offerings in Southeast Asian Studies listed by the University of Minnesota project on the Less Commonly Taught Languages.
(To see the list, go to: http://carla.acad.umn.edu/lctl/access.html

The Thai program at UCLA is part of South and Southeast Asian Languages (SESEAL) program, Department of Applied Linguistics and TESL.  The program was established four years ago, in the fall of 1994.  So far, only introductory Thai is offered.

Numbers and Ethnic Mix: There are about 12-16 students each year (throughout three quarters).  Most students are of Thai heritage who were born in the U.S.  Most of them knew only the Thai used in their household and family;  some knew only how to say "hello" and "thank you."  But those who are admitted in the introductory Thai class are illiterate or almost illiterate in Thai.   For the past two years, there have been more non-heritage students --- 3-4 students.  This year (1998), there were 12 students, with 3 non-ethnic Thais, one of whom knew nothing at the beginning of the course. 

Needs and Problems:  Here students need all language skills. Some need more conversational practice than others, especially non-heritage students and those with fewer Thai skills gained from home and family.  The mix of speaking levels creates a lot of problems in class. The heritage Thais improve their listening/speaking skills much faster than non-Thais, and students from other Southeast  Asian heritage backgrounds are faster than Anglos.  All students need to learn how to read and write, the reading and writing system, reading and writing skills, etc.  All students started the course at about the same level in terms of reading and writing.  Some non-Thais do better than Thais in writing.  In terms or reading (sentences, and stories, not decoding), heritage Thais have an advantage. 

Approach:  Methods, Materials, Syllabus.  After using the AUA book for a few times in the Fall quarter of 1994, the book and its approach were abandoned because most of the students were beyond the beginning level of the  AUA lessons.   Because they had some Thai background, interest in the Thai language, or in Thailand, or Thai food, etc., I developed my own approach, most of which came from my ESL teaching experience.  Basically, I take an interactive (or communicative) approach, with a lot of talking between teacher and students, students and students, for them to practice in class, especially among themselves.  Students like to talk (and chat).   To have them practice conversational skills, which most of them lack, I have them record their 5-minute (at least) conversations with a classmate (Fall/Winter quarter) and later a native speaker (Winter/Spring quarter), and turn in the tape 4-6 times a quarter.   I listen to those conversations, give only necessary comments (e.g. when the student repeatedly forgets to say a critical word or phrase, or makes the same mistake repeatedly).  My approach is:  considering each student's level, if he/she can carry on a conversation, with and without mistakes, that is good.  They don't have to be perfect and error-free. 

Reading Skills  Overall, I take a discourse and context-based approach.  I do not encourage them to use dictionaries.  I give them context before reading by having them talk about themselves on the same topic of the story we are going to read (in Thai).  This takes a lot of drawing pictures on the board at the beginning of the course (Fall quarter).  Pictures help non-Thais to understand what I'm talking about.  Most of the time, I read for them in class, have them read quietly, then aloud (most heritage students really need to read aloud, since they have problems with decoding, and mostly just guessing when words look similar).  I ask general questions about the story.  Then, I have students write their own story under the same topic. 

The Reading/Writing System I follow the sound system rather than the alphabetical order.  First, I teach them what sounds there are in Thai, consonants, vowels, and tones.  At the beginning, both phonetics and Thai scripts are used as a means of communication in writing, e.g., tests.  Phonetics is gradually eliminated as they learn more of the reading/writing.  But in reading stories, there are many words and ways of spelling that we don't cover at that time.  I'd rather have them read for information than perfection. 

Fall Quarter  Two consonant classes are introduced: mid class and low class (only sonorants).  about half of the vowels are taught.  Listening/speaking skills are focused on in Fall;  a lot of basic conversation topics are covered. 

Winter Quarter  This is the most difficult time for me to teach and them to learn.  The rest of the consonants are taught: high class and low class (including the "leading H plus Sonorant clusters), the rest of the vowels, and tone marks. All skills are evenly advanced but somewhat more in the direction of developing reading proficiency.  In some years, we have a special session for only conversations for only those who need extra practice.

Spring Quarter  The focus is more on reading and writing.   Difficult spellings are taught.  Conversations are done in class as class discussions.  Basically, in all three quarters, all skills are practiced.

Learner's Materials: Solutions to the Problem of a Mixed-Level Class  I have developed my own teaching materials and put them together as a course packet.  Now [after 3 years] I have more materials than I can use in each quarter.  Apart from the course packet., I also write extra exercises for class activities or homework.  I use a lot of games for class activities as well, e.g., pictionary, taboo, charade, treasure hunt, scategories, etc., for them to practice while having fun.  This is how I found out that heritage Thai are not so careful with how words are spelled.  They can guess when they read, which is an important skill, I think, but they don't spell as well as non-Thais. 

We also use authentic materials, some of which are in the course packet, e.g., advertisements, articles that I have to edit to make them easier, authentic Thai conversations (native, and from students).  In the Winter or Spring quarter, we learn Thai songs and watch a Thai movie. 

Since it is a mixed-level class, it takes a lot of energy to keep the heritage students motivated and not bored.  I tell students at the beginning of the Fall quarter that they are not all at the same level and warn the Thai heritage students that they will have a difficult time spelling and reading -  problems which they later admit to having.  A lot of activites and games help to keep the class going and not boring, though sometimes non-Thais who are shy are lost and do not understand what is going on in a game.  Special sessions on certain skills help particular students.   Moreover, in the Winter and Spring quarters, students have to work in groups and come up with a 5-minute skit to play in class.  The student's skits are entertaining and understandable for most, if not all, students, since it is their level, and a skit provides context.   - - - Amy Meepoe, UCLA, March 15, 1998


University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

Enrollments:  Beginning-12, on average; Intermediate-5-6.  Students are in two categories.  The majority by far are students from Thai families who were either born in Thailand or here, but know some sort of Thai or Lao form home use and, alas, think they know more than they in fact do. So there is a certain amount of un-teaching to do for starters.  It is a good thing to have this mix in class, where the students with more childhood or household Thai act as a goad and a help to the students with less background.   I [Prof. Lehman] and one TA do all of the teaching; I concentrate on phonology, grammar and review.
Materials:  By default, we are using Ajan Peansiri's still unpublished text, which works very nicely for various reasons.  This is supplemented by our own materials on special topics and special readings.  Next year, we will experiment using books designed to teach English to Thais.  We try to get out of using romanisation as soon in the first term as possible.  We have found this past two years that, again, using Thai teaching modules for teaching little Thai kids the writing system works wonderfully in getting the U.S. students to work with the consonant classes and tones better than anything else.


University of Wisconsin-Madison

Enrollments:... Beginning-10; 9 undergrad, 1 grad; 4 native speakers of English with no exposure to Thai in the home, but 1 with AFS experience.  Ethnic mix: 3 native speakers of Hmong (parents bi-lingual in Hmong and Lao); 2 native speakers of English with one Thai-speaking parent and some exposure to Thai at home; 1 native speaker of English from a Lao-speaking home.
...Intermediate-2; both undergrad; 1 native speaker of English with no Thai in home but AFS experience; 1 native speaker of English form a Lao-speaking home.
...Advanced Thai-4; 1 undergrad, 3 grad; 3 native speakers of English with no exposure to Thai at home; 1 native speaker of English with one Thai-speaking parent; CYIT program returnee now doing an MA.
...Literature Class:  The Thai Short Story.  Only two this year, one undergrad, one grad.   Enrollment varies from this year's low of 2 to about 8.  I offer the course once ever four semesters.  We read 12-15 short stories a semester, more if the class is really fast, and discuss interpretation, meaning, them, etc.
...Directed Study:  Two students each semester (different individuals, and so a total of four for the year). 
Problems and Comments:
1.   Small classes with great variety within the group.  Advanced level has one student who has worked thought the two prior years of academic classes but has never been to Thailand.  It also has a former CYIT student who studied in Thailand for 9 months after doing intensive elementary Thai.  Also one former NGO volunteer with lots of "street" Thai, and one WorldTeach volunteer with about 4 months residence in Thailand.  It is really four classes in one.
2.   The elementary class now has a number of students who are taking the course for a language requirement, with the mistaken idea that since mom and dad can understand it, it must be easy, or at least easier than French or Spanish, and that it probably won't be much work. This shift in purpose leads to a big shift (a negative one) in motivation.   Thus we have both highly motivated and nearly completely unmotivated  students together in a small group.  Hard to teach!

Ten years ago, before the "heritage" student arrived in the university in significant numbers the motivation problem was not a real factor.  There was always the predictable variation in skills, but I could count on nearly everyone who bothered to register for Thai to be interested enough to try to keep up most of the time.  While most of the "heritage" students work very hard, a number do not.  But the worst examples are not actually among the "heritage" students; they are the strays who enroll on a whim.  I used to be spared these problems since most students with no real interst in language study wound up in Spanish. But these days, I get kids with no motivation even to get to class, who arrive late, bring breakfast in with them, think nothing of starting a conversation with another student in the middle of class, and so on.  But this is me me venting and is probably neither new to you, or useful.

Materials:  This is the biggest problem, of course.  We still use AUA for elementary work because it has the tape set.  But we also supplement the book greatly in order to keep it interesting.  We still use the Gething and Bilmes Reader for intermediate level and supplements.  Advanced class uses a number of readings, beginning with selections from the Thai Cultural Reader, but also including a lot of realia that the instructor brings. I'd like to explore using the electronic items that are becoming available, but I've been chair for the past five years and during that time have turned most of the classes over to an assistant (TA or lecturer or combination thereof, depending on the year) until I've worked off whatever karma it is that has brought me here.


University of Washington-Seattle

Enrollments:    Beginning(301-303)-25-27, declining in subsequent terms (302,303) to around 15 students.
Ethnic mix: 
I.  About half of the students in the Beginning level are undergrad students who have some background in Thai.  These students are fluent in Thai (some more than others).   This group includes Thai and Lao students, interracial students, and to some extent Vietnamese or Cambodian students who used to live in Thailand.  This group represents the biggest problem for the class.  It is discouraging for REAL beginners.  It is also very difficult to teach since there are two groups of students with different needs. The heritage students take Thai in order to fulfill their language requirement (one year of foreign language).  Most of them are not motivated and are there for an easy grade.  With this experience, I am not a proponent for a two year language requirement because I have to deal with students who do not want to be there in the first place.  The university does have a rule that students cannot take first and second level classes if they are native speakers.  But the definition of native speakers is so lenient that I hardly can exclude anyone from the class. (To be considered a native speaker, students must finish 7th grade education in Thailand.)  So if they really insist on taking Thai, I can do nothing about it.  I have two solutions for this problem.

a.  Add code requirement.  Every student who wants to register for Thai classes (at all levels) have to come to see me and to get the add code and so I can evaluate their language abilities first and give them the "add code" for the appropriate class.  I started doing this last quarter, and it worked out well so far.  If heritage students want to take the Beginning class, they really have to fight to get in.  And most students are too lazy to do anything further.  It is really hard for me to kick them out once they are already in the class because the system does not help me at all.

b. Accelerated Thai.  Following the Vietnamese experience and Tom's advice, I will be offering Accelerated Thai for students with oral proficiency but do no know the Thai writing system.  This class will concentrate on reading and writing.  I'm anxious to see how it will work out.  I will let you know.

II.  "Farang" Students.  The second group of students are the "farang" [Caucasian].  Some are undergraduate students who have been to Thailand and want to go back there again.  Some are graduate students who choose Thailand or Southeast Asian countries as their areas of specialization.  The are really anxious to learn Thai and are normally hard working.  Some of these students will continue to Intermediate, Advanced, and Independent Study. 

III.  Non-Matriculated Students. These people are not students at the university but want to learn Thai for different purposes , since the university is the only place in Seattle that offers Thai language instruction extensively.  I had one student who had a gay boyfriend in Thailand, one who was looking for a Thai wife, one who was a co-owner of a bar in Phatphong!!, etc.  There are also other students with legitimate reasons.   some are businessmen who go to Thailand on a regular basis.  Currently, I have a retired ex-military with a Ph.D. in history who wants to conduct research in Thailand.  

Beginning class:  Syllabus and Textbook

I teach students the Thai writing system right from the beginning.  We do not use the phonetic system at all.  The approach is interactive and communicative.  I try to incorporate games and role play as much as possible.  I also use authentic materials in class and make up listening exercises that will sharpen students' listening skills (which is the most difficult skill for students to retain.  We us the language lab regularly, at least once a week Beginning class has four sessions per week in class, one in lab.

I have been fishing for textbooks since I started teaching Thai about 10 years ago.  I used AUA for a couple of years, then I used Toward Proficiency in Thai [unpublished] by Ajan Peansiri for a couple of years.  With these texts, I had to prepare tremendous amounts of materials to make them communicative.  This year, I tried Beginning Thai, published by Australian National University.  In the beginning of the book, the units are topic-oriented, which is conducive to the communicative approach.  However, the later units become less coherent.  So it is very hard to teach the class communicatively.  It is also hard to supplement those lessons that have scattered vocabulary.  so finally I am writing a beginning-level text myself.  I'm about half way done, so it should be ready for next academic year.   The text is interactive and communicative, with exercises on reading from authentic materials and listening exercises ( to increase listening skills). I'm going to Thailand this summer to get more authentic materials and to find an artist to illustrate my text.

Intermediate Thai  Some students take this class because they have to do two or three years of language (i.e., students in international studies or graduate students).   Some take the class for their personal interest, i.e. heritage students who want to learn more about their language and culture.  I normally have less than 10 in this class (around 5-6 students).  It is a 5-credit class.  I use Gething's  Basic Thai Reader and supplement it with authentic material and listening exercises.  I also do a lot of role play in this class to practice what they learn in the class.

Advanced Thai  This is the smallest class, normally around 2 to 3 students. Some years I have 6 students; some years I have none.  The majority of the students in this class are graduate students.  Sometimes there are heritage students who want to continue.  This year, I use revised materials from AST (Chiangmai).  Students in this class are usually diversified.  I might have some students that just finished intermediate Thai from SEASSI in the same class with someone who spent a year or more in Thailand.  Sometimes, if the class is small, I will allow students to pick their own materials.  Some graduate students might want to read what they are working on in their field.   If the class is big, I have to select materials as best I can that will address students' needs, and it is a difficult thing to do. 

Independent Study  Students need my permsission to take this class.  Since I have a full load of teaching already, I normally will work with students who really need to take Thai (i.e., FLAS recipients), or students that are so good that I can not say no.   I usually do not work with someone who is not already my student.   

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    II.  Overview of the Thai Language

Mary Haas has been credited with establishing the study of  Thai in the U.S.  Before World War II, Southeast Asia was the realm of scholars from European countries that had colonized it:  Britain, France, and the Netherlands.  Because Thailand had never been colonized, knowledge of her language, culture and history was very limited.  The invasion of Southeast Asia by the Japanese in the 1940's changed all of that, when it was realized that some knowledge of the region's languages and cultures was essential.  The country's linguists were called on to study the Far Eastern Languages and commanded to produce useful handbooks, reference grammars, and vocabularies as rapidly as possible.  The task of describing Thai fell to Mary Haas and a small cadre of young scholars that included Li Fang Kuei and William J. Gedney.  Her major and lasting contributions to the study of Thai are her books   Spoken Thai (Vols. I & II, 1945-48), co-authored with her then husband, Heng R. Subhanka.   Subsequently, she published Thai Reader (1954), The Thai  System of Writing (1956), and  Thai-English Student's Dictionary (1964). 

Follow this link to a very brief profile of the Thai Language.

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 III. Language Learning Continuum

(From: Articulation and Achievement: Connecting Standards, Performance, and Assessment in Foreign Language. 1996. New York: The College Entrance Examination Board. pp. 24-28.)

 

Language Learning Continuum
STAGE I

FUNCTION

Students develop
the ability to:

  • greet and respond
    to greetings;
  • introduce and
    respond
    to introductions;
  • engage in conversations;
  • express likes and dislikes;
  • make requests;
  • obtain information;
  • understand some ideas and familiar
    details;
  • begin to provide information.

CONTEXT

Students can perform
these functions:

  • when speaking, in
    face-to-face social
    interaction;
  • when listening, in
    social interaction
    and using audio or
    video texts;
  • when reading, using
    authentic materials,
    e.g., menus, photos,
    posters, schedules,
    charts, signs, and
    short narratives;
  • when writing
    notes, lists, poems,
    postcards, and
    short letters.

TEXT TYPE

Students can:

  • use short sentences,
    learned words and
    phrases, and simple
    questions and
    commands when
    speaking and writing;
  • understand some
    ideas and familiar
    details presented in
    clear, uncomplicated
    speech when
    listening;
  • understand short
    texts enhanced by
    visual clues when
    reading.
ACCURACY

Students:

  • communicate effectively with some hesitation and errors, which do not hinder comprehension;
  • demonstrate culturally acceptable behavior for Stage I functions;
  • understand most important information.
CONTENT

Stages I and II often include some combination of the following topics:

  • the self: family, friends, home, rooms, health, school, schedules, leisure activities, campus life, likes and dislikes, shopping, clothes, prices, size and quantity, and pets and animals.
  • beyond self: geography, topography, directions, buildings and monuments, weather and seasons, symbols, cultural and historical figures, places and events, colors, numbers, days, dates, months, time, food and customs, transportation, travel, and professions and work.

 

 

Language Learning Continuum
STAGE II

FUNCTION

Students expand their
ability to perform all the
functions developed in
Stage I.
They also develop the
ability to:

  • make requests;
  • express their needs;
  • understand and
    express important
    ideas and some detail;
  • describe and
    compare;
  • use and understand
    expressions indicating
    emotion.
CONTEXT

Students can perform
these functions:

  • when speaking, in
    face-to-face social
    interaction;
  • when listening, in
    social interaction
    and using audio or
    video texts;
  • when reading, using
    authentic materials,
    e.g., short narratives,
    advertisements,
    tickets, brochures,
    and other media;
  • when writing letters
    and short guided
    compositions.
TEXT TYPE

Students can:

  • use and understand
    learned expressions,
    sentences, and
    strings of sentences,
    questions, and polite
    commands when
    speaking and
    listening;
  • create simple
    paragraphs
    when writing;
  • understand important
    ideas and some
    details in highly
    contextualized
    authentic texts
    when reading.
ACCURACY

Students:

  • demonstrate increasing fluency and control of vocabulary;
  • show no significant pattern of error when performing Stage I functions;
  • communicate effectively with some pattern of error, which may interfere slightly
    with full comprehension when performing Stage II functions;
  • understand oral and written discourse, with few errors in comprehension when reading;
  • demonstrate culturally appropriate behavior for Stage II functions.
CONTENT

Stages I and II often include some combination of the following topics:

  • the self: family, friends, home, rooms, health, school, schedules, leisure activities, campus life, likes and dislikes, shopping, clothes, prices, size and quantity, and pets and animals.
  • beyond self: geography, topography, directions, buildings and monuments, weather and seasons, symbols, cultural and historical figures, places and events, colors, numbers, days, dates, months, time, food and customs, transportation, travel, and professions and work.

 

 

Language Learning Continuum
STAGE III

FUNCTION

Students expand their
ability to perform all the
functions developed in
Stages I and II.
They also develop the
ability to:

  • clarify and ask for
    and comprehend
    clarification;
  • express and
    understand opinions;
  • narrate and
    understand narration
    in the present, past,
    and future;
  • identify, state, and
    understand feelings
    and emotions.
CONTEXT

Students can perform
these functions:

  • when speaking, in
    face-to-face social
    interaction and in
    simple transactions
    on the phone;
  • when listening, in
    social interaction
    and using audio or
    video texts;
  • when reading short
    stories, poems,
    essays, and articles;
  • when writing
    journals, letters,
    and essays.
TEXT TYPE

Students can:

  • use strings of related
    sentences when
    speaking;
  • understand most
    spoken language
    when the message is
    deliberately and
    carefully conveyed
    by a speaker
    accustomed to
    dealing with learners
    when listening;
  • create simple
    paragraphs when
    writing;
  • acquire knowledge
    and new information
    from comprehensive,
    authentic texts when
    reading.
ACCURACY

Students:

  • tend to become less accurate as the task or message becomes more complex,
    and some patterns of error may interfere with meaning;
  • generally choose appropriate vocabulary for familiar topics, but as the
    complexity of the message increases, there is evidence of hesitation and groping
    for words, as well as patterns of mispronunciation and intonation;
  • generally use culturally appropriate behavior in social situations;
  • are able to understand and retain most key ideas and some supporting detail
    when reading and listening.
CONTENT

Content includes cultural, personal, and social topics such as:

  • history, art, literature, music, current affairs, and civilization, with an emphasis on
    significant people and events in these fields;
  • career choices, the environment, social issues, and political issues.

 

 

 

Language Learning Continuum
STAGE IV

FUNCTION

Students expand their
ability to perform all the
functions developed in
Stages I, II, and III.
They also develop the
ability to:

  • give and understand
    advice and
    suggestions;
  • initiate, engage in, and
    close a conversation;
  • compare and contrast;
  • explain and support
    an opinion.
CONTEXT

Students can perform
these functions:

  • when speaking, in
    face-to-face social
    interaction, in simple
    transactions on the
    phone, and in group
    discussions, prepared
    debates, and
    presentations;
  • when listening, in
    social interaction
    and using audio or
    video texts, including
    TV interviews and
    newscasts;
  • when reading short
    literary texts, poems,
    and articles;
  • when writing
    journals, letters,
    and essays.
TEXT TYPE

Students can:

  • use simple discourse
    in a series of
    coherent paragraphs
    when speaking;
  • understand most
    authentic spoken
    language when
    listening;
  • create a series of
    coherent paragraphs
    when writing;
  • acquire knowledge
    and new information
    from comprehensive,
    authentic texts when
    reading.
ACCURACY

Students:

  • can engage in conversations with few significant patterns of error and use a wide
    range of appropriate vocabulary;
  • demonstrate a heightened awareness of culturally appropriate behavior,
    although, as the task or message becomes more complex, they tend to become
    less accurate;
  • are able to understand and report most key ideas and some supporting detail
    when reading and listening.
CONTENT

Content embraces:

  • concepts of broader cultural significance, including institutions such as the
    education system, the government, and political and social issues in the
    target culture;
  • topics of social and personal interest such as music, literature, the arts, and
    the sciences.

 

Language Learning Continuum
STAGE V

FUNCTION

Students expand their
ability to perform all the
functions developed in
Stages I, II, III, and IV.
They also develop the
ability to:

  • conduct transactions
    and negotiations;
  • substantiate and
    elaborate opinions;
  • convince and
    persuade;
  • analyze and critique.
CONTEXT
  • Students can perform
    these functions in
    almost any context,
    including many
    complex situations.
TEXT TYPE
  • Students can perform
    these functions in
    extended discourse
    when appropriate.
ACCURACY

Students:

  • use culturally appropriate language, characterized by a wide range of vocabulary,
    with few patterns of error, although speech may contain some hesitation and
    normal pauses;
  • comprehend significant ideas and most supporting details.
CONTENT

Content embraces:

  • concepts of broader cultural significance, including social issues in the target
    culture, such as the environment and human rights;
  • abstract ideas concerning art, literature, politics, and society.

Go back to Topics

 


IV.  Expected Level of Absolute Speaking Proficiency
in Languages Taught at The Foreign Service Institute

The chart below categorizes Thai, Lao, Burmese, and Vietnamese as a Group III language. Thus, for a superior "aptitude" FSI student --- who is by definition highly motivated and whose career and pay scale depends on his or her language proficiency --- to achieve a 1/1+ rating (which correlates with "survival" language skills only), it would take 480 hours of instruction in the spoken language. Consider the fact that an intensive two-semester, 10-credit hour university course is only 340 classroom hours. Then the task of achieving spoken proficiency in a a tonal Southeast Asian language, such as Thai, involves a great investment in time. If we add the challenge of learning to read and write the language as well, as most serious university programs do, then the time investment covers a span of at least four years, ideally with a summer or semester in residence in Thailand. The fact is that university students who do achieve a 3/3+ FSI equivalent have had prior residence in Thailand as Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, or employees of NGOs, etc. If anything, the chart helps to dramatize the long-term, lifetime dedication needed to achieve a high level of proficiency in Thai. This FSI chart has its flaws and critics; nevertheless, it provides the learner and teacher of Thai rough comparisons of the time needed to become competent in some of the major languages of the world. Because Thai is both a tonal language and one that employs an Indic-derived alphabet that attempts to preserve etymological spellings, it surly ranks as one of the more time-consuming languages, one that requires thousands of hours of exposure and practice. There is no such thing as a "short route" to learning Thai.

(FSI Chart - Revised April 1973)

GROUP I: Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Haitian, Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish

Aptitude for Language Learning

Length of Training *

Minimum

Average

Superior

  8 weeks   (240 hours)

1

        1 / 1+

  1+

16 weeks   (480 hours)

  1+

2

  2+

24 weeks   (720 hours)

2

   2+

3

GROUP II: Bulgarian, Dari, Farsi, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Malay, Urdu

Aptitude for Language Learning

Length of Training *

Minimum

Average

Superior

16 weeks  (480 hours)

1

        1 / 1+

1+ / 2

24 weeks  (720 hours)

  1+

2

2+ / 3

44 weeks  (1320 hours)

       2 / 2+

       2+ / 3

3 / 3+

GROUP III: Amharic, Bengali, Burmese, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Khmer (Cambodian), Lao, Nepali, Pilipino, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sinhala, Thai, Tamil, Turkish, Vietnamese

Aptitude for Language Learning

Length of Training *

Minimum

Average

Superior

16 weeks  (480 hours)

0+

1

1 / 1+

24 weeks  (720 hours)

1+

2

2 / 2+

44 weeks  (1320 hours)

2+

3

GROUP IV: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

Aptitude for Language Learning

Length of Training *

Minimum

Average

Superior

16 weeks  (480 hours)

  0+

1

1

24 weeks  (720 hours)

1

  1+

  1+

44 weeks  (1320 hours)

  1+

2

  2+

80-92 wks (2400-2760 hrs)

  2+

3

  3+

* The number of hours is the theoretical maximum at 30 hours a week.

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V.  ACTFL- Based Proficiency Guidelines for Thai

Click below to go to Thai Proficiency Guideline...
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/thai/ThaiLLF/proficiency.htm

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VI.  Issues in Learning Thai

Several major issues have dominated the teaching and learning of Thai in the past.  The issue that seems to generate the most fervently held sets of beliefs is when to begin teaching the native Thai script.  The earlier goal of learning Thai in the U.S. was not necessarily for scholarly purposes but rather to enable students being trained in the language to function in everyday situations and assignments in, for example, the U.S.embassy or military, the Peace Corps, or as a graduate student conducting field research in the social sciences.  Oral proficiency was stressed at the expense of literacy.  An examination of the materials used by the Peace Corps, the FSI, DLI, AUA, missionary training schools, etc., shows that the language is presented largely in romanized form.  In its defense, romanized Thai gives the student with no prior exposure to the language a guide to the spoken language quickly, if employed as intended by the text's preparer.  As with many other orthographies, English included, the spelled and spoken forms are not always a perfect match.  Thai spellings of some very common classes of words - days of the week, for example - preserve to a certain degree, their Sanskrit origins.  Common sense dictates postponing control over such opaque spellings until the student is proficient orally.  Nevertheless, as can be seen from the reports from various instructors, teaching in Thai script at the earliest practicable moment is the situation in today's multi-ethnic class.  And experience shows that, if done properly, with attention paid to the differences that exist between spoken and spelled pronunciations, students actually take pride in the fact that they can write in Thai orthography and abandon their reliance, if there was one, on the romanized form soon in the game.  In the end, the Thai alphabet is a remarkably efficient phonemic representation of the sound system, of the vowels, in particular.  The same cannot be said of English.       At NIU, both IPA transcription and Thai script are use side-by-side the first several weeks.  The IPA is used as a pronunciation guide only;   students are never asked to write with it.  Rather, they are warned not to write in it because it will become a crutch and develop an attitude that the Thai script is impossibly difficult.  In interviews with students made by an outside observer (graduate researcher), students reported that after the first month, they stopped reading the IPA entirely.  In fact, they reported that they eventually forgot how to read the IPA once they became used to the Thai orthography.  Samples of beginning student writing were displayed earlier.  (Click on images of "sample text" under the description of the program at Northern Illinois University above.)

Another issue is tones.  What is the threshold of tolerance on mispronunciation of tones? How are they best taught?  In a study of "Non-native Production of Thai Acoustic Measurements and Accentedness Ratings." Ratree Wayland (1992) found that the rating scores for non-native speakers were lower in the level tones (high, low, mid) than for the contour tones (rising and falling).  On a scale of 1-5, 5 being perfect authenticity, the non-native speakers averaged scores were as follows: falling 3.92; rising 3.89; mid 3.44; low 3.35; high 3.28.  Only some of the non-native tones were judges as "native-like" in productions obtained during oral readings of a wordlist.  The study also concluded that "even after years of exposure to Thai, the production of Thai by native English adult learners cannot escape the detection of a foreign accent by native Thai listeners." (p. 365)  Moreover, the extent of exposure to the target language does not seem to predict degree of accentedness, particularly when such factors as amount and quality of L2 are not controlled for (Munro, M.J.:1993:61).  Years of working residence in Thailand may, however account for a higher rating score.  The highest rating in 6 subjects came from a subject who had 3 months of intensive training as a Peace Corps volunteer, followed by 2 weeks follow-up training after 5 months in country.  He spent nearly 3 years working with Thai co-workers whose English was minimal.  Daily conversation was almost exclusively in spoken and written Thai.

References

Munro, M.J.  (1993).  Production of English Vowels by Native Speakers of Arabic: Acoustic Measurements and Accentedness Ratings. Language and Speech, 36:1, 39-66.

Wayland, Ratree.  (1997).  Non-native Production of Thai Acoustic Measurements and Accentedness Ratings.  Applied Linguistics, 18:3, 345-373.

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VII.  Resources for Learning Thai: Printed, Multimedia,
and the World Wide Web

http://www.seasite.niu.edu/thai

Cornell Southeast Asia Program: http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu/SoutheastAsia/

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London : http://www.soas.ac.uk/SoutheastAsia/Thai.html

Council of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages: http://www.wisc.edu/ctrseasia/cotseal.html

Newsletter of the Council of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages: http://www.wisc.edu/ctrseasia/nletter1.html

Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~caps/seassi/

Mekong River Information Center -- Provides interesting SEA sites: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~biltonen/mekong2.html#Thailand

Khosana -- The Thai/ Lao/ Cambodian Studies Group:  http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8617/khos.html

USIS Thailand

South and Southeast Asia Video Archive: UW Madison

CARLA: Less Commonly Taught Languages

University of Minnesota Project on the Less Commonly Taught Languages---List of  Thai programs:http://carla.acad.umn.edu/lctl/access.html

University of Massachusetts Language Resource Center---for Thai and other LCTLs.http://www.umass.edu/fclrc/thai.htm

Languages of the World Web Site from IRL (2004):  http://www.nvtc.gov/lotw/

 

Go back to Topics


VIII.  Hot Links to Useful Web Sites

Interactive Learning Resources for Learning Southeast Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultureshttp://www.seasite.niu.edu/

Center for Southeast Asian Studies-Northern Illinois University & Links to Other Southeast Asian Resources: http://www.niu.edu/acad/cseas/

Links to Thai radio, T.V., and TIS (Thai Information Service, Washington, D.C.)
http://www.radio.iirt.net/

Links to Thailand Travel Sites
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/dest/sea/thai.htm - helpful general information for the tourist
http://www.bangkokpost.com/ - Bangkok newspaper in English; currency rates; travel information
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/basic_reading/currencies/notes&coins.htm - all about Thai currency
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/basic_reading/food/restaurant_talk.htm - eating in Thai;  restaurant talk
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/basic_reading/food/food.htm - more on food
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/conver_vocab/prepage.htm - fun talk and pictures from student diary
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/ThaiLLF/profile.htm - A profile of  the Thai language
http://www.cdc.gov/travel/seasia.htm - Health Information for Travelers to Southeast Asia
http://www.asia-discovery.com/thailand_travel_tips.htm - Thailand Travel Tips 

& Many Other Sites:
Thailand the big picture Media Services- Audio/Video Programs
How to view Thai document Netscape : X-Windows
THAI Airways International Home Page
Holger Theobald Home Page - travel notes from India Thailand China, ascii-art, family medicine research, Svar på vanliga medicinska frågor. Akademiska folkdanslaget. Free medline search.
City.Net Thailand
Internet Thailand Guide in using Thai Font
Thailand the big picture: Government Directory
Nation Weekender Magazine
Bangkok Post Homepage
W3C/ANU - Asian Studies WWW VL
Welcome to NPR
Thai Recipes
Culinary herbFAQ
Little Thailand : Spice Cafe - Eat@Home
Loxinfo InterCast
Nation Multimedia Group
Global Focus : Human Rights 1998
The Association for Asian Studies
MEKONG TRAVEL SIGHTSEEING TOURS THAILAND VIETNAM LAOS CAMBODIA
WWW Hmong Homepage
Thailand Yellow Pages, Thailand Business Directory
http://www.inet.co.th/www/thai/
http://www.thailao.com
http://www.baanthai.com/sprae.shtml
http://hem2.passagen.se/siamthai/books.htm
http://www.infinity-net.co.jp/korat/thai/travel/etravel.htm
http://ipl.org/youth/hello/thai.html
http://thaigate.rd.nacsis.ac.jp/refer/index.html
http://seasrc.th.net/bib/
http://city.net/img/tra/mag/map/bangko.gif
http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Pagoda/6561/langua.htm
http://www.dco.co.th/index.html
http://www.1000traveltips.org/thailand.htm
http://www.cilt.org.uk/  
http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/languages/

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SUGGESTIONS INVITED

contact:  jhartman@niu.edu

- 1999 -