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Comparing English Language Learning in the Philippine and Thailand Setting

Updated on June 5, 2014
English Learners from Around the World
English Learners from Around the World | Source

Why Learn the English Language?

Why would people in Asian countries like the Philippines and Thailand bother to learn the English language when they have their own languages to learn? Learning the English language has become a concern of many countries for its citizens because it appears to be the closest one we've got to a universal language. This has absolutely nothing to do with the superiority of any culture but has got everything to do with trying to bridge communication gaps specifically in the world of business.

English Language Learning in the Philippines

The present Philippine educational system provides for the use of two official languages as a medium of instruction namely Filipino and English. By virtue of the country's history of having been under American colonization, the use of English in teaching Filipino students was a natural consequence. Its public educational system has been established by Americans and the first teachers were Americans.

English is the designated medium of instruction for Science, Math, and English subjects usually comprised of Language and Reading while Filipino is used for the subjects of Filipino and Araling Panlipunan (formerly Social Studies). Filipinos study English as a second language as it is commonly used in business transactions and work-related functions even in the local scene. English proficiency is usually associated with higher education and is considered a plus factor when seeking employment.

Note: The word "Filipino" can refer to the people or language of the Philippines depending on how the word is used in this article.

Filipino Students
Filipino Students | Source
Thai Students
Thai Students | Source

English Language Learning in the Thai Setting

Thai students are required to study English from the first year of primary school through university. They study English as a foreign language. In spite of the established presence of the British and French sometime in the 19th century, Thailand managed to remain free of European domination specifically in its culture and language.

The study of English is done within the context of traditional Thai curriculum. This simply means that they pursue learning of the English language while continuing to behave according to Thai culture. The Thai government recognizes the importance of the English language as a useful tool in communication and professional endeavors thus its support for the existence of English camps as a suitable place to practice what was learned in school.


TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language while TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Both refers to the study of the English language by speakers who have their own native languages. TESL is used in the Philippines while TEFL is used in Thailand. The suitability of the approach is based on whether the native country of the learner is considered a predominantly English-speaking country as in the case of the Philippines or a Non-English speaking country as in the case of Thailand.

TESL sometimes prove to be a misnomer in some countries since the presumption that English is the second language in a particular country is not always true. It is very possible that English is widely spoken in a country which has other existing and used languages that are more dominant. The designation of English as a second language in the Philippine setting is quite clear however because of its recognition as a medium of instruction and official language in formal education.

Thailand does not have such treatment of the English language thereby giving a clear indication of its categorization of English as a foreign language. Thais however, acknowledge the importance of English by the very fact of its inclusion in the school curriculum as a subject. The degree of difficulty in learning English is said to be related to the degree of difference of the native language from English.

It has been observed that Filipinos generally find it easier to learn and speak English than Thais do. This is probably due to the high degree of assimilation of Western culture experienced by Filipinos resulting to more exposure to the English language beyond the classroom walls. I wonder how native English speakers would fare if they were the ones learning either Filipino or Thai?

English as a Global Language
English as a Global Language | Source

Turning the Tables

As mentioned in my other hub, learning conversational Filipino is relatively easy so native English speakers will probably find their way and speak it in no time with constant practice. The more formal form of the language may require more work for mastery. An obvious advantage for these learners is the similarity between the English and Filipino alphabets. Except for two letters, all the rest are exactly the same as the English alphabet.

Learning Thai is entirely different . Thai is considered a dominant language which cannot be spoken less than perfectly thus the great difficulty in learning it. It should be noted though that Thai people are quite forgiving of foreigners who try to learn their language and will see mistakes as funny rather than insulting. Speaking Thai is like a rigorous exercise in tongue inflection, sound intonation, and word order. Anyone who can afford to learn Thai in Bangkok should do so since total immersion holds the key to mastery.

Tongue Twisters
Tongue Twisters | Source

Eliminating the Language Barrier

Learning a foreign language is a step forward towards eliminating communication barriers. English is acknowledged as a global language but the current business environment necessitates learning other languages especially with the rise of Asian countries in the global economy.


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