This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
What Makes a Good Thai Teacher?…
Welcome to the first post in the series! So just how did this series came about? Well, my foreign friends kept asking me to refer Thai teachers who’s skills looked good, so I scanned social media to find possible candidates for consideration.
Soon enough I realised that my friends needed additional help so I came up with questions to put to the teachers. Of course there’s more to it but that’s the series in a nutshell.
Note: At the end of each interview you can download the interview questions to ask Thai teachers of your own choosing. Good luck and happy hunting!
If you are looking for a good resource to learn Thai online, check out Learn Thai from a White Guy. Upon entering your email, you'll get five free lessons to help you start learning to read Thai.
Interviewing Thai Teacher: Yuki Tachaya from PickUp Thai Podcasts…
Teacher: Yuki Tachaya
Age range: 30-35
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
YouTube: Yuki Tachaya
Products: PickupThai Podcasts (Learn real Thai the super fun way)
E-book for learning Thai The Unforgettable Day of Forgetful Tamago
PickUpThai merchandise for learning Thai (T-shirts, mugs, phone cases & more).
How long have you been teaching Thai to foreigners?
Exactly 10 years. I’ve been teaching since 2008.
What made you want to teach Thai?
I started from teaching English to Thai people. After doing that for a few years, I tried doing the opposite, teaching Thai to English-speaking people. And after having given a few classes, I discovered that I was pretty good at explaining things to people and helping them to understand, especially things that most Thai people know how to use but can’t explain. And while my students enjoyed studying with me, I also enjoyed teaching them. I then realized this is what I want to continue doing for a long time!
What motivates you to continue teaching Thai?
I myself am also a language learner. I picked up English and Japanese quite fast without living abroad. I know how to be successful at learning foreign languages and I want to use my experience and expertise to help people to be successful at learning Thai with the methods I used to learn foreign languages. I don’t just offer private lessons to individual students, but I also constantly post free and fun lessons on my website as well as videos on Youtube in order to share my knowledge with Thai learners. Most importantly, my sister and partner, Miki Chidchaya, and I have also developed our own Thai teaching/learning method through our self-made Thai learning materials PickupThai Podcast in order to reach out to a larger group of students and help more people to be successful by learning realistic, authentic, practical Thai the fun way. I don’t want to keep the knowledge to myself and waste my skills, so I want to keep teaching Thai in many different forms for as long as I can.
What qualifications do you have to teach the Thai language?
I’m a native speaker of the language and I have a liberal arts degree, with an English major from Chulalongkorn University. I’ve also completed a research student course in Second Language Acquisition at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. And I have first-hand experiences learning foreign languages so I understand what a learner has to go through (all the difficulties and obstacles). I’ve been in their shoes and I know what they have to do in order to be successful.
What student age brackets do you teach?
The youngest student I’ve taught was 15 years old, and the oldest 67.
What nationalities have you taught?
More than 70% of the students I have had are from the United States and Japan but I’ve also had students from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Holland, Germany, Sweden, China, Taiwan, and Bolivia.
What percentage of your students are beginner, intermediate, advanced?
50% beginner, 30% intermediate, 20% advanced.
Apart from Thai, what other languages do you use to teach Thai?
English and Japanese.
What is your level of proficiency in those languages?
Have you studied and/or lived abroad before?
I lived in Japan for two years (I passed the highest level of Japanese proficiency test and was awarded the Japanese Government scholarship before I had been there). I’ve also lived in United States for about five years. Currently, I spend half of my time in Thailand and half in the United Kingdom. (I could speak English fluently before I had left Thailand for the first time.)
Is your teaching approach more teacher centered or student centered?
Student centered. This is what I care about the most when it comes to teaching private lessons. Classes will only work when tailored to each student’s goals and needs.
What are some of your favorite teaching methods?
For students who already understand and speak some Thai, I love to do a free conversation with them on the topics of the their interest. I try to let my students talk as much as they can. I mostly ask questions to encourage them to speak. And I generally correct their mistakes made during the conversation at the end of the class so they know what’s the correct and natural-sounding way to say and pronounce things. I always focus on helping my students to sound natural like native speakers rather than textbooks.
What is your philosophy regarding the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing?
Learning a foreign language is all about imitating native speakers. So, it’s important to listen a lot before learning to speak and read a lot before learning to write. That way, you will be confident in what you put out. Never stop practicing listening and reading. It’s so important in helping you to become a fluent speaker and a good writer as well. On the other hand, you also should not wait until the day your Thai is perfect to start speaking or writing. It’s OK to try and make some mistakes. After a few times, you will learn the correct things and won’t repeat them.
If you do not use course books, what do you use?
PickupThai Podcast, the materials my partner and I developed ourselves because we couldn’t find any textbook that teaches Thai the way we think is the most effective – teaching the real unaltered Thai, the exact language that we Thai people speak and use, from fun stories and entertaining resources. We learn the best from what we’re interested in or enjoy. Most people give up too soon, because they lack or lost interest in their learning. We believe that it’s very important to create a fun learning process in order to help students achieve the most effective results and become successful.
What system of transliteration do you use?
The Paiboon system, just because we think it’s the one that Thai learners are most familiar with.
In your experience what, if any, are the shortcomings of that system?
The system includes some uncommon characters that aren’t in the English alphabet, although they’re pretty common in IPA (international pronunciation alphabet), so quite a few people don’t know how to read or pronounce them. For certain vowels, short and long vowels are also not differentiated so the pronunciation could be inaccurate.
What are your thoughts about the use of transliteration in teaching Thai?
It works for those who want to come to Thailand for a short period of time and only want to know how to say basic phrases to get by on their trip. For people who want to take Thai studies seriously and really want to come live in Thailand long-term, knowing how to read Thai script is a must.
In your opinion, how important is reading and writing Thai in helping foreigners learn the language?
Since there are many different transliteration systems, every time they start using a new book, they’ll have to relearn how to read. This could be confusing and unnecessarily time-consuming. Knowing how to read Thai script could help you to pronounce words more accurately. But the thing that makes the biggest difference is the fact that every single thing apart from Thai language textbooks is written in Thai script. So a person who knows how to read Thai can learn and practice Thai from any resources they could find. This gives them a huge advantage and helps them to progress much faster.
Ideally, when should foreigners start to learn how to read and write Thai?
It all depends on your goal. If you plan to live in Thailand, you should start learning how to read and write as soon as possible. But if you’re just learning Thai to be able to connect with the locals on your vacation, then there might not be a need to know how to read at all, especially if you have a short amount of time to learn to speak, you definitely should spend your time learning conversation instead. But even if you decide to learn Thai script, you can do that while also learning conversation. There’s no need to wait until you can read to start learning to speak. This is what I usually do with my students. We do both simultaneously and transition from transliteration to Thai script whenever the student is ready.
What do you believe is the hardest subject matter to teach in the Thai language?
Ending particles because they don’t exist in English, yet they are such an important characteristic of the Thai language. Thai people use them all the time, at the end of most sentences. There’s no way to ignore them. And explaining how to use each one is quite challenging.
What is your philosophy in respect of teaching vocabulary?
I only teach vocabulary from context. That way, learners will know how to apply the words in real conversation. And I don’t believe in rote-memorization. I also don’t think that it’s important to remember all the vocabulary words you learn the first or second time you look at them. In real life, when you hear the words you have learned over and over again, you will naturally remember them without using things like flashcards. And just by memorizing words without applying, you will soon forget them anyway. If you learn a word once, next time you see or hear it, you may not remember it yet and that’s completely fine and totally normal. After you have heard it ten or fifteen times, you will naturally remember it. Language learning is all about repetition, not memorization.
How do you assess whether or not your students understand what you are saying and/or teaching?
My classes are very interactive and engaging. I always ask my students to produce sentences using the vocabulary words, phrases or grammar structures that they’ve learned, and not just listen to me. So it’s quite clear and easy to know if they understand something or not from their output.
What do you do when it is obvious that your students do not understand what you are saying and/or teaching?
I always make sure that my students truly understand the information before moving on to the next lesson. I won’t be satisfied and let them move on until I make sure they know how to apply their knowledge in real usage. I don’t mind repeating things over and over at all. It’s very important that they learn, even if it takes time or even if we have to go slowly or go back to the previous lesson. Because there’s no point in reaching the last lesson and finishing a book if the student can’t really use what they have learned.
Ideally, when should an absolute beginner begin to speak Thai?
As soon as day one! There’s no reason to delay speaking Thai. You don’t need to wait until you’re fully confident and certain you won’t make mistakes. In fact, learning from mistakes is an excellent way to progress. But always keep listening to native speakers to learn the right information because after a while, you should know how to speak correctly and stop making the same old mistakes.
How do you get your students to use Thai?
I always encourage my students to practice composing sentences using words and grammar structures that they’ve learned and focus on letting my students talk as much as they can during the class, instead of me talking. On top of that, I usually let students who can speak Thai to speak as much as they can, even though they’re not fluent. And outside of the class, I also encourage them to find every opportunity to talk to any Thai friends they have, whether in real life or online.
How strict are you in respect of tones and/or vowel length?
Generally, I’m quite strict. I always correct my students’ tones and vowel length if they mispronounce, especially the words of which the meaning would change if pronounced incorrectly. Some words are more acceptable to let slide, but the pronunciation of some can be crucial to understanding.
What are your thoughts about beginners learning and using colloquialisms, slang and/or swear words when they speak Thai?
For colloquialisms and slang words, they should understand all of the words we use and know how to speak like we do. If Thai people use certain words, there’s no reason for them not to use them. For swear words, it’s different. Because not everyone swears. Some people swear less than others. Some don’t swear at all. So if they don’t swear in their language, they shouldn’t do it in Thai either. With that being said, I encourage them to learn the meanings of the words so that they understand what the words mean when they hear them but they don’t need to use them.
What are your thoughts about beginners using ภาษาวิบัติ or ‘social media Thai’?
It comes and goes with time. It doesn’t last forever. Although a lot of words don’t sound very proper and rather annoying, they do add some fun to the conversation and help people express feelings.
What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?
Practice listening and reading as much as you can. The more information you gain, the more you will be able to put out. There’s no shortcut to success. Learning a language takes time. But you won’t be discouraged if you enjoy your journey. Try to do everything you like in the language you’re learning if possible. If you like cooking, instead of watching a video teaching how to cook in English, watch ones in Thai. If you’re a movie lover, instead of watching Hollywood movies, watch Thai ones. If you like novels, find ones in Thai that you enjoy. Basically, do everything you like in Thai whenever possible. You learn the best when you’re not learning. Last but not least, if you find learning from real-life materials too difficult, PickupThai Podcast can be a good start. It’s the next best thing. Try free samples on our website and you’ll know that learning a language can be so much fun!
Thai teacher interview questions…
The download has additional questions for you to pick and choose from – enough for everyone’s liking.
Download: Questions for potential Thai teachers
Watch this space for more Thai teacher interviews.