Revisiting English in Thailand
Keywords: English studies, Isan, language policy, multilingualism, Northeast Thailand
Khon Kaen University, Thailand
John Draper is a Project Officer with the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Programme, based at the College of Local Administration at Khon Kaen University (KKU) in Thailand. In addition to over a decade of English teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels in both the Lao PDR and Thailand, he is a researcher on multilingualism in Northeast Thailand and on language policy in Thailand. He holds an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Southern Queensland, and his thesis was titled A sociolinguistic study of a Lao (Isan) community of Northeast Thailand: Implications for language maintenance and language planning. John Draper is affiliated with the Center for Research on Plurality in the Mekong Region at Khon Kaen University.
The article considers the impact of English in Thailand in the context of Thailand’s minority peoples, especially Thailand’s largest minority, the Isan of Northeast Thailand. It addresses the issues of bilingualism and multilingualism in Thailand and examines to what extent these have been implemented. It also considers linguistic obligations placed on Thailand as a result of its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Place of birth is presented as a significant individual difference in terms of predicting academic success, either due to the barrier of acquiring an education in the medium of education serving as a second language or because of the quality of education in minority areas. Statistical data supporting this conclusion is presented. The development of education and general educational standards are considered, as is achievement in the national language, Thai. The role of English in Thailand is reassessed, together with its potential for developing the lives of minority people. Official multilingualism is suggested as a solution to Thailand’s obligations to both its people and to policy developments at the level of ASEAN.