Several hundred thousand Thais are now living in Europe, mostly women with children. While many are Eurasian by birth, keeping them in touch with their mothers’ culture is seen as a vital part of their future and so teaching Thai to these kids has become one of the priorities for many volunteer groups of Thais throughout the continent. One of the organisations at the centre of this effort is the Federation of Thai Language and Culture Teachers in Europe (FTTE).
Set up in Lugano, Switzerland in March 2010, the FTTE has developed methods and curricula for teaching the Thai language and culture in existing schools while also supporting new ones. It raises funds to publish the series of Thai course books titled “Sawasdee”, developed by Salee Silapasatham, which are used in many schools throughout Europe and it also promotes such cultural activities as teaching traditional dance, Thai musical instruments and even organises summer camps in Thailand for children from various European countries.
Students from “Rak Don Tree Thai” group, from Waldkirsch and Kippenheim, Germany showed off their skills on traditional Thai music instruments at the FTTE Gala Dinner. The group was founded five years ago and also taught language and classical dance to Thai children.
As it marked nine years of continuous work, the FTTE held its annual meeting in Berlin from May 31 to June 2 on the topic “The Role of Thai Language (Native Language) abroad”. More than 130 members from 11 countries attended. Besides providing intensive workshops on many education-related topics, it also served as a platform for teachers to share their experiences and exchange ideas, tricks and tips on how to improve teaching Thai back home.
“The nature of teaching Thai as a second language to children varies in Europe,” says Salee, who has been recognised as one of Thailand’s best teachers of English and has also organised workshops throughout Europe for more than a decade.
“In Scandinavian countries, such as Norway and Sweden, the government provides Thai teachers to help ease the integration process for the kids. The Thai teachers give them tuition in all subjects in Thai as well as teaching the local language. These Thai teachers, all native speakers with a bachelor’s degree, are civil servants and receive the same pay as other teachers.
“Elsewhere in Europe, it is a gathering of like-minded people who see the importance of kids being able to speak and have a good command of the Thai language. This has resulted in Thai schools spreading all over the continent. Some receive support from Thailand’s Office of Non-formal and Informal Education while others are entirely organised and managed by themselves.”
Sara Fenati of Italy’s Thai–Cervia School was taking part in the conference for a second year. Last year she attended the event in Norway in a private capacity and found it so beneficial that she convinced the school board to send her to this year’s event again on behalf of the school.
“I met so many inspiring Thai teachers and learned so much. Some of tricks I learned, I was able to adapt to my class and it really works,” says Ferati who was born and spent the first 15 years of her life in Thailand before moving to Italy.
Thai-Cervia school has been established for five years and currently has three classes, two teachers and 12 students in total, ranging from five year-olds to teenagers. Sara, 22 and a Eurasian herself, says she never thought of becoming a Thai teacher but saw the importance of having a good command of Thai and grabbed the opportunity when it presented itself. “It’s fun and challenging,” she explains.
The challenges of teaching Thai in Italy come from both the private and public fronts, she adds. “We have kids whose mothers never speak Thai to them but expect that after taking a once-a-week class, they will be able to speak Thai. That’s not going to happen,” Fenati points out.
“In some cases the Italian fathers do not support the idea, which makes it even more difficult for children to have a good attitude towards the language and the courage to practice it.
Unlike in Scandinavian countries, the lack of government support means they have to pay high rent for the classroom space, which in turn becomes a burden for parents as they have to pay high fees for the class.
“But attending these events has made me so proud to be Thai and has given me the courage to continue teaching,” she smiles.
Regular members of the FTTE have also seen progress. Unakorn Silpi, a member of FTTE’s Projects and Activities Committee and a mother of two who lives in France, has been coming to the meetings since 2011. “You can see that FTTE has stabilised and became stronger. At the beginning when they just started, all members were new to it and needed some time to learn and adjust to working with each other. Now everyone knows what it is about and their roles, so working together is much smoother. Besides, it is more organised – we already know who will host the event for the next two years. The hosts-to-be can start their preparations well in advance.”
Unakorn says she has benefited a lot from the activities. “My daughter attended the FTTE’s Music Instrument summer camp in Belgium for two consecutive years. She loves it and it has inspired her to do more.”
Now that the FTTE’s “Basic Thai Language for People Living Abroad” curriculum, which was developed in close consultation with Salee and is primarily for young children, has received endorsement from the Thai Education Ministry, the organisation is working on another major task.
“We are creating a curriculum for teaching the Thai language to adults,” explains Supannee Boontook, director of Projects and Activities. “We hope to set a standard of teaching Thai language to foreigners in European countries. Once it’s finished, we will also seek approval from the Ministry of Education in Thailand. This does not mean that we will force people to use our curriculum but we want to have it as a reference that everyone can look up to and adapt to their own uses.”
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of FTTE and the annual meeting will be held in Hague, the Netherlands between April 24 and 26 on the theme “Thai Language in the Digital World”.
Published : June 14, 2019
By : SOPAPORN KURZ SPECIAL TO THE NATION BERLIN