An Investigation of Thai High School Students’ English Language Learning Problems

Several studies (e.g. Wong, 1985; Thongsongsee, 1998; Crowe, 1992; Songsangkaew, 2003) revealed that way to improve English language teaching is an investigation of the students’ English language problems. Factors that affect language learning strategies and problems include: 1) linguistic problems, 2) sociocultural factors on second language learning, 3) barriers to intercultural and second language communication and 4) teaching/learning strategies. Linguistic problems are first and foremost important factor. According to Roos (2011), if one is to observe how and where we acquire language form, we will be surprised to learn that most of us have picked up our ability to communicate orally through visual audio and interpersonal means. In other word, we learn to speak though interaction with family and/ or the television. That is not to say that the IQ aspect of language acquisition is not useful. The semantic of language helps the student to be able to write and communicate within a guiding framework.

The problem is many students are left feeling limited and afraid of showing their potential or expressing themselves simply because they feel shy of this framework and the fact that the framework can be used as judging their ability to communicate. Although many modern pedagogy tend to focus on students learning through inquiry, experience, and self-expression, it is very important to work within a disciplinary framework that allow for learning to be assessed effectively. Second language learners can also face challenges of feeling a sense of incompletion and fossilization, as found by Mitchell & Myles (1998). In the Thai context, Thongsongsee (1998) investigated linguistic and cultural difficulties encountered by Thai student graduates from American universities. Her findings indicate that psychological and environmental factors such as, a good understanding of the culture of a new environment, and a cross-cultural adaption to new class-room strategies can play and influential role in determining the success of a non-native ESL/EFL learner. In the study, social factors such as being able to make new friends who spoke the native language can also greatly increase success.

Sociocultural factors on second language learning also affect language learning of another language. The social aspects of language acquisition also take in consideration the study of gender, race, religion, age, sex, and other environmental factors. These social factors may eventually determine the outcome and opportunity available for language acquisition, and application. Social factors are also directly related to the division between the various socio-economic classes, which further determines the educational opportunities and resources available for the individual learner. Songsangkaew (2003) studied the language function difficulties experienced by Thai students at tertiary levels attending American Universities. Her finding suggests that although Thai students were able to score a decent grade on their TOEFL, their understanding of grammar and structure did not necessarily transfer into real life situation. According to these students, grammar and structure helps to a certain level, but environmental factors can greatly influence their success at an English speaking University.

The two main factors for these challenges are psycho and social linguistically related. Barriers to intercultural and second language communication also influence language learning and learning strategies. Crowe’s study (1992) illustrated that Asian students particularly experienced language problems in writing English as well as speaking. The findings indicated that Asian students rely heavily on rote memorization of grammar rules and structure. His study and observation show that students struggled in making language application transitions from their memories of grammar syntax. They also struggled with cohesion of language usage, both in writing and speaking. This often leads to lack of confidence in their academic ability, and can even result in plagiarism when it comes to written and research based work.

The main challenge of learning and acquiring a second language is the lack of opportunities in applying knowledge gained within the classroom, and using it outside in their daily lives. Many students’ learning environment and context are limited to the resources provided in the classroom and their learning environment. This leads to a bubble of technical knowledge and limited language ability that creates linguistic specialist, rather than language users (Chumchaiyo, 2002). Teaching/learning strategies are influential factors. The strategies are commonly used in language learning classroom include grammar translation method (V. Cook, 1991; Chang, 2011), audio lingual method (G.Cook, 2000; Horwitz, 2008), direct method (Richards & Rodgers, 2001), silent method (Gattegno, 1971) and whole language method (Horwitz, 2008). The effectiveness of each approach is dependent on the level of the student and the requirement of the design course. As concluded by Harmer (2007), certain methodology that works well with beginner level students may prove to be ineffective with the higher level students. There has been lots of debate in the academic world of teaching on what method are better.

To no conclusion, expert now agree that the effectiveness of a learning approach is directly related to context. Language learning strategies are the key to success and knowing students’ problems will help improve their learning strategies. This present study therefore explored how the four factors affect Thai learners’ English language problems and their learning strategies that enable them to overcome and effectively deal with some of the challenges mentioned above with the following research questions: What are the English problems perceived by Thai Students?

Name : ThanThamajaree, Amporn Sa-ngiamwibool

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