Pidgin English

Trip Start Nov 02, 2006
Trip End Jun 21, 2007

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Nantawan would be the perfect place for a study about the development of language. 

The students here are beautiful.  I feel so blessed to be able to converse with my students.  There is one girl, Memee, that looks for me every morning so that we can talk about her life.  She is just six years old and has been placed in ESL, yet she has a vast vocabulary which she uses if prompted.  Many of the other students also have the ability to say a large number of things and yet, the grammar that they use is not English-based.

Let me back up.  While they are in pre-K they are exposed to Thai, Chinese and English through (preferably) native speakers, although the inability of the school to provide a consistent and fair workplace causes the turnover rate to be extremely high.  If the students are lucky they will grasp at least the basic components of the English language. The students at my current school are forced to speak English throughout the day once they enter kindergarten. This is done because the school is looking to receive it's international accreditation so that the Director and financial backers can raise the tuition.  So the students try to piece English words together so that they aren't yelled at (or hit) by the staff, but they fall back on the grammar structure of Thai.  "Where are you going, Teacher?" turns into "Teacher go where?" 

Many of the faculty will simply respond to the children's' questions rather than correcting what they have said first.  This leads the students to believe that they aren't making any mistakes.  Compounding this problem is the fact that the faculty is dominated by Filipino teachers, to whom English is the second language.  Although they have a firm grasp of English, the fine points are lost to them.  All to often I find myself having to correct them during a tutoring session with students.  Then there are the native English speakers who have spent too much time in Thailand and find it appropriate to speak BROKEN ENGLISH during class.  How are the children ever supposed to learn the correct way to say things if they aren't exposed to it?  So the students continue to speak their broken-English, being corrected on a rare occasion and being correctly corrected even less. 

It is no wonder they have created something so unique. 

Now one may step back and awe at the resourcefulness of the students.  And it is amazing that they can communicate with one another and with native speakers and be understood.  From the standpoint of a teacher, however, it is a nightmare. 
It is maddening to spend an hour going through a basic grammar lesson, such as the correct usage of "and' and 'or', only to have them exit the classroom and begin making the same mistakes.  They can have written twenty sentences using the correct format for "wh"-questions, but when they ask to go to the bathroom it is back to "Toilet can I, teacher?"  I do not think that the students are in the situation because they aren't trying, the school just expects too much too soon. 

If anyone out there is doing a graduate dissertation and would like to know the address, let me know :-)

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cacejos on

Pigeon vs. Singlish
Living in Singapore I see the same thing here, and it is very interesting to study (casually of course) how the way people speak here really came to be. Similar to your school, English is widely spoken in Singapore, but not good English, and sometimes I wonder where it comes from. Besides the internationally known 'lah' that prevails in spoken English here, Singaporeans regularly say things like what I heard this morning in the lift when an older woman scolded her grandson on the way to school. 'Hey, cannot like that!' - Singlish for 'Don't do that.' Can you 'off the lights' or 'up the aircon' for 'turn off the lights' or 'turn up the A/C.' Singlish is amazingly influenced by not just Mandarin Chinese, but also by Malay, and a handful of Chinese dialects, the most prominent of which is Hokkien. The result is English spoken not with Chinese grammar or Malay grammar, but in fact with some strange grammatical structure that doesn't actually exist in any real language. To top it off, they actually throw in words from the other languages into the English speech, sometimes with several languages in one sentence. Even ordering food can be funny because you would order a Kopi Bing (Kopi is Malay for coffee, and Bing is Chinese for Ice) but then ask for it Gau (which means strong in some Chinese dialect). So 'I'll have a kopi bing, gau' contains four languages and means nothing to anyone except a Singaporean... or those of us foreigners who have taken the time to learn.
Despite the government's efforts here to improve the country's English (they actually have a 'Speak Good English' campaign with ads around the city and its own website TV shows and the general pop culture encourage Singlish, and I don't see things changing any time soon. Maybe the kids at your school can come down to Singapore and add one more language's influence to the Singlish mix - Thai.

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