As a Bilingual school, Panaya’s English Program offers variety of courses taught in English, including English Language, Mathematics, and Science from the level of Grade 1 through Grade 6. This partial immersion of English language in the curriculum is to prepare our students to communicate fluently in English and use it in their future academic careers. We believe that it is imperative for students to start their foreign language studies at an early age. An early exposure to a foreign language would offer the students opportunities to acquire a basic foundation of the language. Thus, the students will be able to further their knowledge of the English language later on in their academic careers, utilizing their acquired knowledge of English from Panaya.
Since the founding of the school up to the present time, Panaya has immersed English in the core courses of its curriculum, with the aim to teach both the native Thai language along with English as a foreign language. This approach is in uniformity with the Ministry of Education’ Basic Education Curriculum (B.E. 2551) in Bilingual Education. The main purpose of this approach is to enable students in the English program school to study core courses such as Mathematics and Science in English, while conserving the cultural knowledge of the native Thai language and culture.
However, the approach mentioned above presents us with several challenges. Firstly, although English is used as the medium in many core courses in the curriculum, it is still begin taught as a foreign language (in a language class, i.e. English, Chinese). Since culture and language is inseparable and the lack of teaching of English and the culture of native English speakers’ cultures created difficulties for the students in acquiring the language holistically. Students do have a hard time relating the use of English into their everyday lives and are unaware of how English is being used, especially, colloquially. To excel at learning English, students must understand the use of the language in the particular culture which it is being used. The “ideal” setting to learn English for Panaya students under the new English Language curriculum would be conducting each class as if students are attending an equivalent level of English class in (for example,) the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
Through our experiences with the existing English Language curriculum, we have identified two key goals which we want to accomplish:
1) Focus on acquisition of English Language rather than Consciously Learning;
2) Combine culture into the study of English language.
Although both a clearly defined goals, they are related in many aspects.
Acquiring English V.S. Learning English
Through the course of learning a new language, the students will study variety of facets including grammar, speaking, writing, reading, etc. However, traditionally, English courses in Thailand are very grammatically focused, and underweighted in conversation and speaking. Vocabulary and spelling are forced upon the students to memorize, mostly, without the students’ truly understanding the meaning of the vocabulary they had just studied. This problem is frequently found in the Thai program schools with the traditional method of learning English. This method of studying English is focused on “conscious learning.” Although students can spell the words given to them perfectly and memorize the meaning of the words correctly, they are not able to utilize them, and perhaps forget those words in a matter of weeks. The fact is that the students have not acquired the material they have just learned because they cannot relate it to their current lives, social values and culture.
- Acquired: Subconscious Learning
- Learned: Conscious learning
Conscious learning is necessary for the students to actively learn particular material. But for the students to learn it, remember it and use it correctly, the students have to acquire that particular material and subconsciously store it. Once a student acquires the material, he or she does not forget it, and will be ready for the new and more advanced lessons. This is the way our brain works, in order for it to permanently store a particular thing in our subconscious part of the brain, we need to learn it, make mistakes, and learn it again if necessary, until we eventually understand it.
Learn > Make Mistakes > Re-learn > Understand > Acquire -----Subconscious storage
In order for a student’s brain to speed up the acquisition and storage process, he or she first needs to find the subject matter that he or she can relate to. With that being said, the insertion of intended lesson or subject matter in the interesting theme-driven curriculum should result in a more acquisition of the language by the students. Thus, we believe that reading is the best vehicle to drive the acquisition process of the students. With the appropriate selected reading material, a competent teacher can consolidate many types of materials into one central theme based on the reading. Furthermore, a well-selected reading material that contains cultural learning of the language is preferred. Students must learn about the culture where English is the first language in order for them to fully understand how language is used in the culture. (Culture will be discussed later on this memo).
The objective of acquiring a sufficient level of English is to provide the students the tools to be able to think critically in English. It is evident that students could not properly share their opinion critically or objectively because they have yet to acquire the material taught to them. It is difficult for students to voice their own opinions if they lack the vocabulary and grammatical skills to properly state their mind in English. Although reading alone may not bridge this gap, it certainly helps carry the tools (comprise of other skills) towards the goal much sooner if they can relate to the stories that they read. Our goal is to get them to think and get them involved in the subject matter.
Related > thinking> involving = critical thinking skills
Culture and Language
We believe that Culture and Language are inseparable. We cannot teach Thai language without teaching its unique culture and tradition, and how the language is used, which is the same in English. To fully master the language, students must not only acquire its basic grammar and vocabulary, they must also know the slangs, made-up-words- and colloquialisms. In conversation, students must be able to speak colloquially.
EXAMPLE OF TRADITIONAL THAI STUDENTS-ENGLISH TEACHER CONVERSATION PATTERN:
TEACHER: GOOD MORNING STUDENTS…
STUDENTS: GOOD MORNING TEACHER…
TEACHER: HOW ARE YOU?
STUDENTS: I’M FINE THANK YOU, AND YOU?
TEACHER: I’M FINE THANK YOU, SIT DOWN…
Who in the world talks like that, really?
As comical as it sounds, but it is the standard morning greetings currently being taught in the Thai schools. Fortunately, Panaya students in the English program are exposed to much more depth of the English language than many students in Thailand, and are able to strike up much better conversations in English than most. However, we are not afraid to teach them to say something else when responding to a question rather than just “yes, no, maybe, good, or not good.” At Panaya, we teach our students as if they would actually spend their time (even though just 50 minutes period) in a class in Canada, the US or in England. Our English classes reflect how students their age in the US would talk among themselves and to their teachers.
Culture plays an important role when it comes to the practical use of the language. The immersion of English in the bilingual schools is actually a partial immersion of “Western” culture into the Thai Educational system. Since our goal is to prepare students for the fast and ever changing world where English is the standard medium of communication, we have to expose them to the culture which they may encounter. This is where reading becomes very important in getting students to know certain past or present folklores, fables, and classical stories, which belong to the culture of the “target” country. Introduction to poetry, rhythm and rhyme can also help. Students will be able to pick up English much faster if they are able to learn and relate to the culture of the native speakers.
Immersion of Culture
It is ideal if Panaya students can learn and indentify the stories taught in the “West”:
Some examples of early school stories taught in the West: It teaches rhyme, rhythm, and phonics to students as well as stories based on “culture.”
1) “Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me,
I’m the gingerbread man.”
2) “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum I smell the blood of an English man.”
3) What did the wolf and the little pig say in the “Three Little Pigs” story?
“Little pig, little pig, Let me come in.”
“Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin, I will not let you in.”
“I’ll huff and puff and blow your house in.”
4) Humpty Dumpty
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”
5) Tongue Twister : Peter Piper
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
6) Counting Rhyme
Eeny meeny miny moe,
Catch a tiger by his toe,
If he had some let him go,
Eeny meeny miny moe,
My mother told me to pick this one.
Whether it is pun, connotation, insinuation, or references, they are all integral part of the American and British culture.
Some cultural slang that Thai students can relate to:
“It is the mutually shared Culture that brings people closer. The similarities in culture link people together!”
When insertion of culture is used in teaching languages
- Heightens cultural awareness
- Identifies similarities and differences
- Respect for multiculturalism
- Stepping stone towards Asian Economic Communities (AEC)
Developing the English Program Curriculum
1) Students must be able to think, and voice their opinion critically through speaking and writing;
2) Students must understand and grasp the concept of their assigned reading.
1) Focus on the Designed-selected reading materials as a vehicle to learn other aspects of the language (i.e. grammar, vocabulary etc.);
2) Immerse culture into their learning process;
3) Encourage the independent thinking process, teach critical thinking.
Students are able to ACQUIRE the language skills at their appropriate level