Problems with learning english
from a Thai person's perspective1. Introduction
As a non-native english
speaker who studied english
in the Thai schooling system and only came to study in Australia in my late teens, I appreciate how hard it is to be on top of the english
language. One of the factors that make it difficult for learners of different nationalities to learn english
is because english
, in comparison with other languages like french
, is more complex with lots of exceptions to the rules.
Even though I have spent more than half of my life in Australia, I feel that my four basic skills:—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—are still not fully developed. My least developed area is listening skill. This paper is set out to analyse the problems and suggest ways that could help overcome them.
2. Problems and ways out
2.1 General problems
In general, the areas of difficulties for different nationalities are (1, 4, 5):—
Tense, aspect and mood
Size of lexicon
Slang and colloquialisms
Level of difficulties in the areas mentioned above varies according to the extent to which the native language differs from english
, which is called “L1 interference” (1, 2, 3, 5). Thai language is completely different from english
. Therefore, Thai people have difficulties in all of them, but most pronouncedly in pronunciation and grammar. So, I will focus my discussion only on these two areas.
The obvious problem is related to consonants and consonant clusters that are fricatives (Table 1). The Thais find it difficult to pronounce them because there are no equivalents of the sounds in the Thai language (except for ‘f’, ‘s’, and ‘h’). Other difficulties are with the affricate ‘d?’, and the plosive ‘g’.
Table 1: List of consonants the Thais has difficulties in pronouncing.
Consonants/consonant clusters Sound Sounds the Thais produce
‘th’ [?] as in ‘thing’, ‘author’, ‘path’, ‘thanks’ fricative ‘s’ or ‘t’ depending on whether it is initial or final consonant
‘th’[ð] as in ‘this’, ‘other’, ‘smooth’, ‘the’ fricative ‘d’ or ‘s’ or ‘t’ depending on whether it is initial or final consonant
‘v’ as in ‘view’, ‘heavy’, ‘move’ fricative ‘w’ or ‘f’ depending on whether it is initial or final consonant
‘z’ as in ‘zero’, ‘music’, ‘roses’, ‘buzz’ fricative ‘s’
d? as in ‘jazz’ ‘join’, ‘ridge’, ‘edge’, ‘judge’, ‘age’, ‘soldier’ affricate Soft ‘g’ or [j]
‘s’ [? ] as in ‘treasure’, ‘vision’, fricative ‘ch’
‘sh’ [?] as in ‘ship’, ‘sure’, ‘national’, ‘fish’ fricative ‘ch’
Dr David Smyth (4:346) wrote “Among the initial two-segment clusters which do not occur in Thai are:— /dr, /fr/, /fl/, fj/, /tw/, /sl/, /sw/, /sm/, /sp/, /sk/, and /st/”. Some of the examples he gave were ‘smoke’ pronounced by the Thais as ‘sa-moke’, ‘frown’ pronounced by the Thais as ‘fa-rown’.
In my view, this is not a common problem, but it may be a problem for some individuals. There are words in Thai language that have the consonant clusters sounds listed by
Dr Smyth above (see Table 2 for examples of Thai words with two consonant clusters).
Table 2: Some Thai words with initial two-segment clusters
Thai words International phonetic alphabet Meaning
tw[I] two, two-fold, double
sn[I}t close, intimate
sp [??] council, assembly
sm [a?] era, time, period, age
??? sng [??] b calm
sn [??] m ladies-in-waiting
sm [?] ng brain
sl [a?] to disperse, scatter
sw [??] n heaven, paradise
As for ‘frown’ being pronounced as ‘fa-rown’, this is also not a common problem. A Thai word ‘?????’, pronounced ‘fr[?]ng’ not ‘fa-rang’ as it is spelt, is a loan word the origin of which is ‘Francais’. The french
were the first white people to come to thailand
during King Narai’s reign. The french
calls themselves ‘Francais’. The Thais shortened it to ‘Frang’, the word of which has since been used to refer to white foreigners.
Since this is an individual problem, my suggestion to overcome this problem is to point to them these Thai words and duplicate the cluster sounds as they would with the Thai equivalents.
Some Thais have difficulty in pronouncing final consonant cluster, e.g. ‘pump‘ becomes ‘pum’. Some also have problem pronouncing the alveolar lateral consonant ‘l’ when it appears at the end of the word, e.g. ‘school’ pronounced as ‘schoon’.
It has taken me years before I can pronounce the consonants and consonant clusters shown in Table 1 properly. For some consonant clusters like ‘sh’ [?]. It still does not come as a second nature to me. I need to make an effort to pronounce it correctly. Therefore, when teaching Thais to speak the words containing these consonants, my suggestion is to give students plenty of drilling exercises. Tell them not to lose hope and keep trying
The Thais have a lot of problems with english
grammar for the following reasons:
• There are no auxiliary verbs in Thai
• The Thai verb has no inflected forms. Structural words are added to clarify the time reference
• There are no articles in Thai
• The order of position of adjectives and adverbs in Thai language is the opposite from that of english
• Adjectives and adverbs in Thai function as verbs meaning to be
• For the comparative and superlative, the Thai simply add Thai words equivalent to ‘more than’ or ‘the most’ after the base word.
• The Thai nouns have no plural form.
• Third-person pronoun makes no distinction between genders
• Confusion with the english
‘verb + preposition’ and ‘adjective + preposition’ combinations
The only way to overcome these problems is to give plenty of exercises to students to do. Teachers can start by comparing the two languages and pointing out to them the causes of the mistakes so that they are aware of the mistakes and make an effort not to make them any more.
It is not possible for Thais to completely get rid of the Thai accent when they speak english
. One reason may be because of the peer group pressure and not wanting to show off. In the class room environment however, teachers should try to encourage students to speak english
with proper pronunciation as much as possible.
as a foreign or second language http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_as_a_foreign_or_second_language
2. Nick Hughes 2006 http://www.teflcorp.com/articles/107-tefl-other/315-international-mispronunciation.htm TEFL International Mispronunciation
3. Debbie Brewster 2006 Colorado
State University website http://www.teflcorp.com/articles/55-tefl-problems-facing-people-of-different-nationalities/182-problems-facing-learners-of-different-nationalities.htm
4. Cambridge University 2002. A teacher’s guide to interference and other problems, edited by Swan, M and Smith B
5. Mezrigui, Youssef. Communication difficulties in learners of english
as a foreign language : whys and ways out – 2011