For many sound reasons, mainly the state of unreadiness of many of the Asean Economic Blueprint articles, the 10 Asean nations have decided to put back the launch of the AEC by a year.
This is good news for Thailand, which in many of its sectors is in a state of denial on the realities of what the AEC means to the social and economic fabric of Thailand in this soon-to-be brave new world.
In particular is the seemingly total lack of recognition that Thailand must increase its English-language skills and competencies if it is to compete, survive and win in the AEC environment. For at the moment, Thailand ranks near the bottom of the heap when it comes to the English language, and few seem to acknowlege that English is the official language of Asean.
This is not just a matter of overhauling the Thai education system so that children learn English with the aim that in ten or more years’ time they leave school and are confident and competent in English when they move into the labour market. It’s too late for that, although it still needs to be done, for what lies in the unknown future?
The imperative is more urgent. It is about today’s Thai adults in all industrial, business, commercial, financial, agricultral, and educational sectors waking up to the reality that shortly they are going to be challenged for their jobs and their livelihoods by English-speaking immigrants from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and the other Asean nations where English-language competencies are ahead of Thailand.
Learning a foreign language as an adult is not easy; in fact it is very difficult. But the aim should be not mastery of the language, but a step-by-step approach to effective communication. So when you ask me, “What your name?” or “Where you from?” without the verbs, I understand what you mean and I will answer politely and accordingly. And we will take our cues from that as we struggle to communicate and understand each other.
It’s an empirical observation, but stall-holders at Patpong and other tourist markets in Thailand can communicate in very effective English – albeit mostimes disjointed and ungrammatical – because their livelihood depends on it. How else can they convince a tourist to buy their fake products. And few of them have had the advantage of a formal education, let alone schooling in the English language, other than the school of hard knocks.
The rest of Thailand should take them as object lessons.