As soon as you start teaching English in Thailand, even if you’ve only been in the country for a few weeks, you will suddenly find yourself inundated with Thai parents and students requesting private English (EFL) lessons. That’s because many Thais are desperate to improve their English skills as they know it’s a key to educational and career success.
That being said, the majority of Thais are often too shy to speak much in class, which is why one-to-one private English lessons in Thailand are so popular as they feel they will be less intimidated to participate. The problem is, it rarely works out that way.
That is why, if you are one of the tens of thousands of western teachers in Thailand who either want to teach private one-to-one or are already doing so and are feeling frustrated, you may want to read over these few quick tips. All of them have helped me teach private English lessons to hundreds of Thai students, and helped my students learn. Chances are, they will also help you.
Make it fun – Thais want learning to be fun. The biggest mistake teachers make in Thailand when teaching one-to-one English lessons is trying to make it ‘serious’. For Thais, if it’s not ‘sanuk‘ (fun), they’ll quickly lose interest and stop requesting lessons.
Being too serious will also make many Thai private students become even more intimidated. That’s why I suggest, during your first lesson with a new student, make jokes, and talk about silly things as it gets them relaxed and feeling “Hmmm, this English lesson isn’t going to be so scary after all”. The real work can start in lesson number two. But, even that, make it fun!
Use pop culture subjects your students are interested in as subjects for conversations
Many English teachers in Thailand pooh-pooh the idea of using pop culture subjects as part of their private English lessons as they don’t believe they’re ‘serious’ enough subjects. So they talk about politics, world news and other more intellectual things.
The problem is, most Thais students, no matter what their age, could not care less about these things while your job, as a teacher, is to get them to talk and to improve their English skills – no matter what it takes .
So, talk about comic books, TV shows, Thai pop stars, football players and teams and, of course, ‘lakorn’ or Thai soaps, and all of a sudden you’ll find they’re talking like they’re never going to stop. Meanwhile, their self-confidence is improving and so are their conversational skills.
You can even use pop culture to teach vocabulary and grammar, as it’s all in the way you present it.
For Thai women and girls, printing out a couple of stories about Thai soap stars can be a fabulous way to get a conversation going, as well as a fun subject for a vocabulary or grammar lesson. This website is an excellent resource for everything about Thai soaps with the beauty being you don’t have to know anything about Thai lakorns yourself to be able to teach about them.
As for Thai men and boys, with Manchester United being the number one football club for Thais, printing out the latest story about ‘The Red Devils’ is sure to spark a conversation with even the shyest student, You can even assign an essay for homework as, believe me, they’ve far more to say about Man United’s chances against Real Madrid than they do about the latest political scandal in Thailand.
Use videos – I’m a huge proponent of YouTube in the EFL classroom and I’ve used videos from it in many of my one-to-one private English lessons in Thailand.
All you need to do is find a short 1-2 minute video you think your Thai student might like and either download it to your laptop if you won’t have internet access during your lesson (you can use this excellent Firefox add-on to download from YouTube) or just watch it direct from YouTube on your tablet during the lesson if you do.
The beauty of using videos from YouTube to help teach English one-on-one to a private student in Thailand is, even if their English listening skills aren’t particularly high, there are millions of YouTube videos with English subtitles. Most Thai students can at least understand enough of the English they read in subtitles to be able to participate in a lesson.
Choose music videos, cartoons, funny videos of people falling down, cute videos of cats or rabbits, videos of football players scoring goals (this one of Thailand’s Singha All Stars beating Manchester United is currenty a huge favorite with Thais and many have a lot to say about it) or anything else you think your student may enjoy.
Finally, I’ve said it once but, as it is so important when you teach English in Thailand, I am going to say it again. Make every lesson FUN. If you do, not only will your student learn faster and learn more, they will have fun doing it.
Meanwhile, you will have an on-going private class for many months as your student will love learning with you so much, they’ll keep coming back.