Freelance English Teacher vs. Peace Corps

In this video I talk about the differences and things to consider being an English teacher at a school and being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I think it is not a distinction easily made until you are a PCV. I split it up into three general topics to give a more overall picture, but each of these could feasibly be its own vlog. I hope this is helpful for people considering Peace Corps or teaching English abroad.

One thing I definitely forgot to mention though is the massive amount of paperwork, both in the application process and throughout service, that is included in Peace Corps, as expected with any government paid position. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a private school teacher just so I didn’t have to do all the paperwork!

Thoughts on Education from ‘This American Life’ Podcast

Listening to the recent ‘Back to School’ podcast from ‘This American Life,’ inspired by the latest teachers’ strike in Chicago and the scores of students starting out their new year, led to some reflections on the Thai education system and a possible reason as to why it’s so difficult for Thai students to learn English. A very engaging show, I would suggest anyone interested in learning about a variety of topics through different stories from various perspectives.

Friday Five

Five Things I’ve Learned About Language– My own and the many languages of Thailand

Reflects Culture
When I learned Thai, I usually was taught the positive and negative of a word, beautiful/ugly, delicious/not delicious, good/bad, you get the picture. Afterwards, my adjaan would give us a cultural lesson about when it’s appropriate to use the negative words. Guess what, it’s not often. I’ve completely forgotten what ugly is because I’ve rarely heard it. People would say something is a little beautiful (or just say you’re looking fatter). I don’t think I’ve ever said something isn’t very tasty because it might hurt the cook’s feelings. And no, you can’t get away with saying ‘no, raw fish and crickets is not my cup of tea.’ You should say it’s a little delicious and eat it anyway even if it makes you nauseous.

Just Because Someone Doesn’t Speak English
Does not make them stupid. It’s amazing to me how most people here can speak at least two languages, at least basic conversation. I give them shit for now speaking perfect Central Thai, but most of my students can talk to me in it. So at under thirteen, they are already bilingual and working on a third language. Compared to the United States and the lack of emphasis on language learning in early education, I think that’s pretty amazing.

Work It Out
After teaching English, specifically phonics, most of my students, especially when it’s adults, need to blow a few raspberries to give their mouths a break from attempting English letters. Thai comes from the diaphragm, English comes from the lips and tongue. This is especially hilarious when we go over th, l, and r sounds. This is where accents come from, when people are too lazy to literally go through the motions required of them to make the native sounding letters. I’m terribly guilty of this in Thai as well.

Uh is a Real Word
Isaan, in my experience, is even more of a ‘sound effect’ language then Central Thai. And that’s saying something. All sorts of things I thought were just a person’s reaction or own addition are actually words to give more meaning to what they just said. The one I hear most often is when someone ones to say how delicious something is, they could just say, saap laai, but adding on a weird duh on the end is emphasizing it to you. For the first month, I thought my host mom just liked making a duh sound. Until I heard everyone else saying it. My favorite ‘sound word’ is for pumpkin, bak-uu, with uu being very strong, from the diaphragm again.

How vs. What
English relies very much on how you say something whereas Thai you would add little tidbit words on the end or make some kind of sound to soften or strengthen what you say. There are polite endings for men and women as well the word na to doubly soften what you’re saying. Jeff and I like to joke that you could say to someone ‘you are a fucking idiot’ but as long as you add on a na ka or krap to the end, it would completely acceptable. It’s really hard to explain this to my students because so often they sound like robots given that they don’t know what inflection to put in a sentence or where to stress parts of syllables. And sarcasm, forget it. An entire layer of my humor is completely lost on these people. I think my ability to catch it have been put on the endangered species list as well.

‘I Don’t Know What We’re Yelling About!’

From time to time I feel the need to share fellow PCV’s blogs when they seem to capture my feelings in words that haven’t yet come to me. This one is from Jeff Jackson. With my students sometimes literally screaming into my ear, I say the title to myself quite often. That would be my only addition to my list… as soon as the kids get to know you, they’re non-stop racket creators. 

Before coming to Thailand, I had the impression people from Southeast Asia were soft-spoken people with the need for peace and quiet in their daily lives.

Bullshit.

Thais don’t seem comfortable in silence.  If there’s no noise, they just talk about rice, hot weather or if I have a girlfriend.  Here are a few more examples.

Voices
Thais hate an awkward silence and talk constantly, even when there’s no need. Many can’t seem to count or read in their head.

Cell phones
My friend Emily once told me her phone (bought in Thailand) has a Meeting setting, but it does not silence the ringer. Thais love to crank their ringers and ring tones to top volume and rarely are they near their phone when it rings. When calling someone else, Thais rarely give up after four or five rings. It’s usually a full 60 seconds before they give up. Then they call back … 15 seconds later … and let it ring for another 60 seconds.

Advertising trucks
Thais advertise the same way the Blues Brothers did for their big show: shouting through a megaphone attached to the top of their truck. They cruise through villages and big cities alike, blaring music and shouting about who to vote for in the next election or the flat-screen TV that’s on sale at the electronics store downtown.

Three funerals, two weddings and a monk ordination
Funerals last five days and they might stop the music at midnight. If they do, they resume at sunrise. Funerals are held at the home of the deceased. There’s no sympathy for neighbors. Weddings and monk ordinations don’t look or sound much different to the untrained eye.

Car stereos
Sadly, it’s not much different in the states. There’s always some late teen cranking horrible bass-booming music from his truck for everyone to hear in order to make up for his self-esteem issues.

Drunks
“It’s five o’clock somewhere” would not make sense to a Thai as they don’t look for an excuse to drink other than if they’re still alive. As early as 6 a.m. I’ve seen men downing their Lao Kao (rice whiskey) while shouting inappropriate English phrases at me (“I love you!” “Where you go?” “My friend!”) while doing their best to ignore their wives.

Dogs
Thais don’t mind when their dog is barking endlessly. Nothing irritates these people. A racing, growling dog chasing a passing bike is treated with curiosity. Huh, I think I’ll study the habits of my dog instead of getting him away from the frightened white person.

Roosters
One of my goals before going home is to kill a rooster … with my baseball bat. I would not feel remorse after the sweet spot of my bat wraps around a rooster’s neck after a full Ted Williams swing. Roosters make the most obnoxious and testosterone-filled noise in the history of the world. There’s good reason they’re restricted to farms in America. They’ve learned not to crow near the front of my house. Like a bored farm boy tipping cows for fun in a rural Iowa town, I throw rocks at roosters for kicks when I’m home.

Eating
I’m not proud of this, but one of my biggest pet peeves is the sound of someone eating with their mouth open. I go out of my way to make sure my lips are sealed when I’m eating. It’s not a difficult task and I don’t see why the entire world can’t do the same. About five percent of Thais are capable. They eat with mouth wide between every bite and once everything is grounded to a swallowable size, they smack their lips and tongue like a basset hound eating a peanut butter sandwich.

Muffler-less vehicles
There’s no muffler laws in Thailand. The same kids with self-esteem issues who blast music from their trucks also have the loudest motorcycles on the road. They fly down the road without the slightest apology in their faces.

Rain
This one can’t really be helped and I don’t mind it, but Thai homes don’t need insulation, therefore when it rains, it sounds like you’re inside a pole barn. It’s loud and talking to someone on the phone is not possible with heavy rainfall.

In-bus movie or music
Long bus rides can be tolerable when I have a good book and my iPod, but both are cancelled out with a movie or television show on the bus TV. It’s rarely at a reasonable volume where only the people on the bus can hear it and not the farmer in the field we’re passing 50 meters away. If there’s not a TV, many times there will be music. For this reason, I’m always sure my iPod has plenty of Green Day to drown out the Thai tunes (the album Insomniac works best).

Ah, but one year from now I’ll be starting a new job or graduate school and have bills to pay and many responsibilities and I’ll be wishing I was waking up at 6 a.m. to roosters, barking dogs and obnoxious Thai men because that would mean I’m still a Peace Corps Volunteer, the coolest job on the planet.

English Camp

This past weekend, my school hosted a two-day camp to get students excited to learn English. This video shows a few of the activities and songs we prepared for the students. It sounds corny, but I had a really great time and I think the students did too.

Today is day three of four of English camp (today and tomorrow at a different school) for me. It’s been fun, but I can’t wait to be back with my own students.