My last exam actually finished around the middle of February, but I got back to Thailand in March. In the 2 weeks in between, I found a part-time job (actually it found me) teaching Thai. A professor named Don Maybin (a Canadian) at Shonan University runs a short-term foreign language course a few times every year, and this time he was looking for a Thai teacher. He knew Maria, a friend of mine from JLC, who told Moe, but he wanted to go back to Thailand right away after the exams, so I took the job in his place.
Don Maybin’s teaching technique is one of the most effective methods for studying foreign languages that I’ve seen. A course is usually around 12 – 15 hours long spread over a period no longer than 2 weeks. After the course, the students immediately travel to that language’s native country and do a few on-site tests. In this Thai course, I taught for 8 days, 1 to 1.5 hours each day, and the students actually got on a plane to Thailand on the last day of the course. At first, I didn’t think that 8 days would be enough to teach anything in Thai, so I was really surprised by the students’ progress at the end.
In a normal foreign language course, you would start with Chapter 1 "Introducing Yourself", then after finishing that, go on to Chapter 2 "Numbers", for example. Then you would go to the next chapter after finishing the present one. When you get to chapter 10, you would have forgotten most of the materials in chapter 1. With Don Maybin’s technique, you study a little bit of every chapter every day. For example, just a few words about your name and country. Then you move on to the first 6 digits. Then you go on to Transportation, Hotels, Food and other stuff. It takes only about 5 minutes for each chapter. Then in the next day, you review the old material in the chapter, then introduce new material in that chapter, then go through every chapter in the same way.
No more than 6 new words are introduced in each chapter each day, because that is probably the limit. In Don’s experience, when he tried with 7, the students had a harder time following the lesson. For example, in the chapter on Places, I started with a toilet, a pharmacy, a hospital, a market, a hotel, and a train station on the first day. Then on the second day, I reviewed the first six words before introducing six new words.
When teaching new vocabulary, using pictures makes it easier to remember the words. I put out the pictures of the 6 new words, point at each one in turn while saying the word in Thai. After repeating that a few times, I say a word randomly and have the students point at the picture. Apart from the vocab, there are a few key phrases, such as "Where is …", "Please give me…", "What do you call this in Thai?", and "How much?". For a student to be able to say these phrases, they have to get used to hearing them first, which means that I have to repeat these phrases hundreds of times. For example, after saying words at random and having the students point to it, I then say "Where is the toilet?"(for example), and even though I don’t explain the phrase, the students understood the meaning from the context. Of course, the whole lesson was done entirely in Thai as to immerse the students as much as possible and not break their concentration by switching back and forth between languages all the time.
This was a very fun experience, the students were really nice and eager to learn (sadly, it was an all-male group), and I learned a very effective method for teaching Thai. Although it was very tiring (imagine talking non-stop for 1.5 or sometimes even 3 hours, and the 2 hour long commute didn’t help either) , I enjoyed this course very much and I hope Don Maybin will invite me to teach the next one.