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Jul 8, 2018

Thai-English As New Type Of English In Asia

By Ianpassion

There is no doubt that English nowadays gains an international status and has become a lingua franca for cross border communication. It is also the most preferred language used in research, education, business, government, tourism, and foreign affairs. 

Even in Thailand, a country which no history of colonization by any English speaking country, English is still widely used in certain range and depth. Although foreign subjects such as German, French, Japanese, Malay, and Chinese are taught optional in some schools, English is still the most important language and compulsory subject for Thai students to learn and master. 

In fact, there are many international schools, bilingual schools, institutions, and tutorial centers offered special courses for students to develop their English. However, none of them encourages Thai students to recognize a new type of English called “Thai-English” in which students can learn and use for their day to day communication.

In line of what I have mentioned earlier, given the status of English as an international language, lingua franca for cross-cultural communication, and considering the amount of users of English in Kachru outer circle and expanding circle, it is perhaps unnecessary for Thai students to master only one type of English used by the countries in the inner circle such as America, The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. As argued by some scholars like Crystal (2003),  Kachru (1985), and McKay (2003), when English is used for international communication, it is not necessary to follow all the linguistic regulations designed by the Native English speakers. So, in this article, the author would like to recommend possible reasons to recognize a new type of English “Thai-English” that go along teaching the “Standard-English” in Thailand.

First, it is maybe unnecessary for Thai students to change the style of Thai greetings that they usually do in Thailand. They can speak English without imitating the western style of greetings. They can use “Wai” (a Thai style greeting by placing the index finger right in front of their nasal) instead of shaking hands. In my opinion, doing “Wai” shows more politeness and respect than to shake hands which amongst the most important values in Thai culture.  Also, I think there is no need for Thai students to say “How are you?” in greetings. Instead, they can say their style of greeting by asking “Have you eaten?” or “Where are you going?” as they are commonly observed in Thai society. To greet someone, Thais usually asked “have you eaten?” or “Where are you going?” which these questions do not need serious answers. By doing this, Thais are speaking English with the Thai mindset.

Second, while speaking English, it is somehow insignificant for Thai students to replace polite articles before a name to address someone such as “Khun” for mister, miss, and stranger, “Pee” for elders, “Nong” for young, “Paa” for auntie, and “Long” for uncle, “Kru” for teacher, and “Ajarn” is for professor and more. To address someone without a proper article can be misunderstood that you are rude and discourteous in Thai customs. The use of polite articles before names indicates how Thais emphasize relationship. So for the sentence structure, it will go like this: polite article + names. For example, the sentence begins like this: Khun Chang, may I go out please, Pa Sherly, would you like some water?  Kru David, where are you going?  Ajarn Kristof, thank you for teaching us, you are such a brilliant professor.

Third, when using idioms for learning English, it is maybe unnecessary for Thai students to learn lots of Native English speakers’ idioms since most of them have no equivalent meanings to Thais context. For example, “Break a leg!” is an English idiom used commonly by the Americans to talk about “Good luck” like wishing to win lotto or jackpot in a casino. Another example is, “Hit the sack”, usually this idiom is added at the end of a sentence by asking someone to sleep. One more example is, “under the weather” which means someone who is “sick or not feeling well”.  Given the examples I mentioned above, idioms of the native English speakers, I wonder how Thais students would interpret them since they have no meaning at all if translated into the Thai language. Therefore, to make English closer to Thai learners, instead, teachers teach idioms of the native English speakers in the English classroom, why not Thai idioms. I think there are good Thai idioms that are easy to relate to and comprehend. For example, “eating salt and shrimp paste”, for Native English speakers this idiom is meaningless, but for Thai people, this means that enduring poverty and hardships to survive.  One more example, “eat only one bowl of namrepk” which means to live with only one wife.  For Native English this idiom is difficult to understand because of Thai namprek which is not in usually in western cuisine; however, for Thai’s the meaning is cleared and easy to interpret.

Fourth, for teaching English vocabularies, there are words that following the codification of “Standard English” is somewhat unnecessary because they carried meanings that are already comprehensible to the general public. According to Kachru (1986), considering the nativization and the localization of the English language, a new type of English can coexist with the “standard English” when it is used at a certain level by a group of people to serve the norms of the society and interaction purposes. Therefore, there are some vocabularies need to be considered to be incorporated during the process when “Thai-English” is officially accepted in Thai English classroom.  For example, Thais usually identify white skin - brown hair- western travelers “Farang”. So most of the time, when Thais describe Americans, British, or Europeans traveling in Thailand, and if their skin is white then they are labeled “Farang”. However, for people whose skin is black, whether he is American, British, Canadian or not, he is labeled “Khun Dam” rather a “Farang”. And for Asians, whose skin is brown, like people from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, they are known among Thais as “Tang Chat” or “foreigners” in English. Also, the word “Van”, Thais, instead of saying “I go to Phuket by Van”, they would say “I go to Phuket by ween.” If you notice, a modification is made from the “standard English”, but amongst Thais English speakers they understand the meaning because they are used according to their neutral context. There are more examples, which I cannot discuss in this article. What I would like to point out is, when English is used as an international language, nativization, and localization in a particular country, a modification is made which is unavoidable. No wonder why that Philippines English, Malaysian English, Singaporean English, and Indian English are now recognized and internationally accepted as new types of English in Asia.

Lastly, when Thai students are learning the English grammar, it is suggested to make the “Standard-English” grammar simple for Thai learners. According to the Thai Ministry of Education (2008), Thai students should learn and communicate successfully and use the language with grammar based on the native speaker’s English. However, it is noticeable that when Thai write English sentences, their first Language always interferes that they cannot produce a good sentence based on the “Standard English” roles. Many failed their ONET Exams because of poor grammar skills. It is interesting that even native English speakers seldom make grammar mistakes due to complicated grammar structures. Therefore, there is a need to modify the grammar structure when Thai students learn English. This tends to construct sentences in English that are simplistic but still comprehensible. The adjustment may be can start with the use of pronouns (I, you, she, he, she, they, we, and it), which they are constructed differently in Thai grammar structure. For example, instead of saying “I will go to Hatyai”, Thais mostly say first the names “Peter will go to Hatyai”. In Thais grammar they do not have the infinite article and definite article, so instead of saying “an apple” in “Standard-English”, Thais’ would rather say “apple” which is comprehensible even there is no “an” article. There is also doubling of a few English words such as “same same”,  “near near”,  etc.… And about the verb tenses, Thais only have few verbs for past tense and future tense. For example, “I have been to London” would likely be said “I went to London,” and for “I am going to, I will be going, I am about to” can be said in type of verb future tense “I will….”. “Standard-English” grammar is complicated because of lots of roles that are not easy to memorize, whereas Thai grammar is simple but comprehensible.

As English gains an international role, even a country like Thailand who has a strong national language, it cannot be denied the significance of English in different sectors and institutions. Although Thais learn “Standard-English” based on the native speakers (often American or British), there is noticeable evidence as to what I mentioned earlier that “Thai-English” has emerged itself to a certain degree level. Distinctive features of “Thai-English” have naturally developed after some years in various areas in linguistic studies, i.e., speech, speaking, discourse, vocabularies, and grammar. It can be included that the current information presented denotes a leeway for “Thai-English” to be recognized as a newly emerging type of English in Asia, and to incorporate “Thai-English” in teaching English in Thailand. 


Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language. (2nded.). Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Kachru, B. (1985). Standards, codification, and socio-linguistics realism: The English language in the outer circle.                           Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

McKay, S.L. (2003). ‘Towards an appropriate EIL pedagogy: re-examining common ELT assumptions.' International Journal of Applied Linguistics.13 (1), 1 22. Retrieved August 20, 2017, from 

Ministry of Education (2008). The basic education core curriculum B.E. 2551 (A.D. 2008) Bangkok:   ACFT.

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