My doctoral study arose from my reflections on my personal and professional experiences in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). I am a Thai-national learner of English who had studied English for 18 years in a number of schools and a university in Thailand before I finished my undergraduate degree. Before I embarked on my PhD study, I also taught English language to Thai and international students for seven years at a public university in Thailand.
English is also one of the universities entry requirements (and in some universities, students have to pass an English Exit Exam in order to graduate as well). English is also a required general education subject for every student whose first language is not English (and this is the vast majority of the student population) in all Thai universities. However, English has no official status in the Thais’ daily life because the only official language in Thailand is Thai. From my experience, as a learner and teacher of the language, many students learn English to pass the exams and to complete their degrees or to improve their career prospects. Thus, we can say that English primarily functions as a foreign language in Thailand.
Accordingly, the dominant paradigm of teaching English in Thailand is the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) paradigm which is mostly linked with native speaker norms, either the British or American English. These norms of the native speakers have been reinforced in the Thai English language teaching (ELT) in some ways. For example, from what I have seen from my own teaching context, some teachers tend to prefer to teach a particular variety of English (e.g. either the dominant British or American English) and sometimes over-emphasize the accuracy of using such target language variety in their classrooms. This preference reflects an assumption of the teachers that their learners study English to communicate mainly with native-speakers of English.
On the other hand, in this globalized interconnected era, English has increasing status in the South East Asian region and will probably have increasing status for Thais in that it is both the dominant global lingua franca and the official working language for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Article 34: The ASEAN Charter) which includes Thailand.
Therefore, I think that there is a tension between what English is traditionally viewed and taught in the Thai TESOL context and the way in which English is playing its part in the ASEAN region and the world. The pedagogic view that sees English as a foreign language (i.e. the TEFL paradigm) might no longer be appropriate for this increasingly globalized era. This is because, apart from its underlying assumption regarding the users of the language I mentioned earlier, it implies that native speakers provide the target models of English language usage (and the methods of English language teaching) while most English-medium interactions now take place between speakers of various languages and from various cultures for whom English is not a native language.
Speaking professionally, and in keeping with the reflective impulse for my doctoral study, I think that it is crucial to prepare Thai university students, not only in terms of the English language which is the tool for intercultural communication, but also other skills needed in order to interact with people from various cultural backgrounds within the region and beyond. English language teachers in Thailand, including myself, should reflect upon our teaching and question if our practices are sufficient for providing our learners with the language-based communication skills they need in this time when the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and the single ASEAN community is a prominent example of such phenomenon.
To this end, my study focused on the challenges that Thai English language teachers face as they consider how to orient their teaching at a time when English, no longer a foreign language simply, is playing such a major role in regional and global communication. In particular, I sought to explore the perspectives of some of TESOL practitioners regarding the purposes of English language teaching and the appropriate paradigms for teaching it in Thailand in this increasingly intercultural age.